First of all, I have to admit I am not by nature a gambler. Whilst I am not particularly cautious in my general, day-to-day modus operandi, I am a little unsure about the concept of handing over money that you might not then get back in the form of shoes, wine, cocktail etc; surely you're better off guaranteeing that nice pair of TopShop trousers than perhaps ending up with nothing?
Well, yes and no. My two previous forays into the heady world of gambling (I'm using the term quite loosely here, as befits a slightly unadventurous girl from the suburbs) have been fairly successful: a £10 win on the office Grand National sweepstake (which, to be fair, involved no more skill than picking a scrunched-up piece of paper from a Tupperware box passed round by a History teacher), and - more excitingly - a night on the BlackJack in the now-defunct Hard Rock Casino that yielded me about £80 profit which I promptly spent on drinks for everyone.
So it was with a mixture of excitement and trepidation that I heard of Grosvenor Casino's plans to open their latest venue just a stone's throw from my house, at the Parrswood Entertainment Centre in Didsbury. And it's taken me this long to go because I just felt a bit, well, nervous of the whole thing. Surely the place would be filled with scary American men in 1930s-style hats, and hard-nosed women with furs, and evil-minded croupiers who would take all your money whilst cackling in a Machiavellian manner?
In the end, Grosvenor took pity on me, and invited me in for a "Learn to Play" session at a nice quiet time when the scary, be-hatted Americans would not be there (if, indeed, they ever are). The lovely Rob showed us round, manfully pretending not to notice when he had to more or less physically drag Mr Liz from the impressive bar area, with its big screen football and separate Games Lounge - where he no doubt envisages himself sweeping the leader board at FIFA in the company of those who, unlike his wife, are NOT too mean to play against him. They also hold live entertainment here and - most importantly - serve a very good Cabernet Sauvignon that ladies may amuse themselves with once they've lost their husbands to Sky Sports News (put a man in a room with a TV screen and he will watch it, no matter what's on it: this is scientific FACT).
The venue also boasts a restaurant with a surprisingly classy menu - I certainly wasn't expecting to dine on a prawn & crayfish cocktail whilst Mr Liz delicately snaffled some smoked Scottish salmon with pickled ginger and wasabi cream - a really interesting combination that I was forced to sample several times whilst also admiring the generosity of crayfish in my own starter. For mains, Mr Liz had the steak special (chilli spiced minute steak flash fried and served with dauphinoise potatoes) whilst I had the Roast Duck basted in plum sauce, served with garlic and ginger pak choi and chilli noodles. I was expecting duck breast; what I got was far, far better - pretty much half a duck, served on the bone, with gorgeously crispy skin: even allowing for the dodgy perspective on this admirable photo, it was still MASSIVE. How Mr Liz managed to help with this AND then eat the dainty little treacle sponge you see here I will never know.
The food here is not particularly cheap, but it IS good, and service is faultless and friendly. They also run some enticing-looking deals: for example, on Wednesdays and Thursdays, you can choose two courses from the set menu and receive a cinema ticket for £11.50, and a range of well-priced "snacks" are served in the bar area (any venue that considers a full burger a "snack" has my vote every time).
Anyway, bolstered by our training session with Rob, where he patiently explained to us how to play and didn't once look cross at my foolish questions and poor card skills, we decided to have a quick flutter on the tables before we left. By this point I am no longer nervous: having had two glasses of the aforementioned excellent Cabernet Sauvignon, in my head I am now Sharon Stone, sashaying elegantly round the tables to the admiration of all who behold me ("well", a friend with limited and slightly confused film knowledge said afterwards, "I hope you had knickers on") and dazzling all-comers with my tenacious table skills. In reality, we had a few nice games of BlackJack on a table with some cheery middle-aged ladies who were also new to gambling, supervised by a charming young croupier who chatted with us and even gave us advice when needed - absolutely nothing to be scared of whatsoever.
The upshot? I will be going again, even if it's just for a drink at the bar or a meal in the restaurant; I fear I may be banned from the tables anyway after pretty much cleaning up last night. Yep, that's right - one £2 stake (of Mr Liz's money) + five swift, all-conquering games of BlackJack = enough money for a Triple Nom Burger and some dirty fries at Almost Famous tonight. Everyone's a winner...except, of course, Mr Liz.
- Grosvenor Casino Didsbury is at Parrswood Entertainment Centre, Didsbury, Manchester, M20 5PG and is open everyday from midday until - gulp - 6am.