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Friday, 25 May 2012

Opera North's Carousel Comes to The Lowry: Local Girl's Lack of Talent Cruelly Revealed

Now, as previously noted, I am a woman of many talents - in my head, at least. I can't count the number of times I've moved an attentive audience (the cat, bribed to stay with liberal promises of Dreamies) to tears with beautiful renditions of various modern classics that are surely wasted in the confines of my own kitchen. And sometimes, I dance and pirouette my way across the floor towards the beer fridge with the natural grace and poise of an exceptionally talented gazelle.

Of course, it only takes a visit to The Lowry to see anything by Opera North to remind you what real (as opposed to delusional) talent actually looks like. This remarkable Leeds-based company have previously won a reluctant Mr Liz over to opera through their sultry, steamy Carmen, and come pretty close to converting me to Gilbert & Sullivan via their spirited Ruddigore; this week, it's the turn of Carousel, a Rodgers and Hammerstein classic that I had - inexplicably - never seen, not even the film version. And I have to admit that, reading the programme notes beforehand, the whole thing sounded pretty bizarre.

Obviously though, being Opera North, it was superlative in pretty much every way. The story is as follows: young man (the splendidly named Billy Bigelow) puts his arm round young girl (Julie Jordan - only people with alliterative names are allowed to go out with each other in THIS world) on the carousel; both are fired from their jobs as a result. Meanwhile, Julie's friend Carrie is engaged to be married to a Mr Enoch Snow - he owns a fishing boat and is therefore, ahem, quite a catch *smirks at own wit*. Julie is not proving so lucky in her relationship: Billy misses the female attention he used to get on the carousel and has a hankering to go back - until Julie gives him some news that forces him to rethink how he can best fulfil his responsibilities to his wife.

I'll say no more of the plot, just in case you've never seen it, but suffice to say that the second half includes a clam bake (why have I never had one of these? why?), a trip to heaven and a mid-section entitled simply "Ballet" - and it still works. This is partly because the songs are great - I know my work colleagues certainly enjoyed the selection of "Songs from the Shows" I performed for them the following day - and include the infuriatingly catchy June is Bustin' Out All Over and a fairly well-known ditty called You'll Never Walk Alone ("typical Scousers," commented Mr Liz, controversially, "they nick EVERYTHING"*). The whole cast was as pitch-perfect as you'd expect, with standout performances from Joseph Shovelton as Enoch and Claire Boulter as Carrie.

*I take NO responsibility for this remark, or any other made by errant gentlemen with whom I am connected.

The staging was beautiful, with notable scenes including the opening number on the carousel, the scenes set in heaven, and the ballet of the second half. A key scene just after the interval perhaps lacks the required violence that would make it truly convincing, but the packed house was certainly most appreciative of the whole thing, and it speaks volumes about Opera North's peerless reputation that they can pretty much fill such a large venue on a Wednesday night.

And me? Well, I've discovered where my true talents lie: sitting outside Lime, drinking Prosecco and eating olives, and then checking my watch and having to SPRINT across the square two minutes before the performance starts. It's nice to know that we're ALL good at something...

- Carousel is on at The Lowry until Saturday 26th May and then spins away to prepare for its residency at London's Barbican Theatre in August and September - for full details visit the Opera North website.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Mr Trotter's Pork Crackling Dinner AND 30 Years of the Hacienda: Local Girl May as Well MOVE IN to Harvey Nichols Manchester

Now, I've not yet spoken to the powers-that-be, but it strikes me that I have come up with a most lucrative premise for an exciting new TV show - I'm pretty sure it will spark a bidding war and more or less line my coffers for the rest of my life. Loosely based on the "Dancing with the Stars" format, my own, thoroughly original show is provisionally entitled "Accidentally Hob-Nobbing with the Stars", and features a jaunty young girl (preferably me - I do own the format, after all) hanging around a classy venue, drinking wine and waiting to bump into famous people.

And based on this week's experiences, the most promising venue looks to be the Manchester branch of Harvey Nichols; which, coincidentally, is a most convenient location for me to get to for filming, should I be appointed to star in the show. To wit, consider the following evidence:

Thursday night saw the Menswear department transformed into a splendidly middle-class, middle-aged tribute to the Hacienda - frankly, I'd go clubbing a lot more these days if I could dance in a corner of Harvey Nichols, drinking Prosecco and eating mini cones of fish and chips, between the hours of 6 and 9pm. The event marked the start of the 30th birthday celebrations in honour of the legendary club's original opening in 1982 - Ellesse have produced a limited edition polo shirt with buttons made from bits of the Hacienda building (who kept these bits? and did they think they might come in useful as buttons for polo shirts a few years down the line? that's foresight at its FINEST). Mr Liz saw the cost and refused to buy me one, citing the reason that, apparently, polo shirts "don't suit" me rather than 'fessing up to the actual, "yes, I AM too mean" reason. Anyway, there was a fantastic Q & A session with Peter Hook, Graeme Park, Ange Matthews and Anton Razak, chaired by John Robb, followed by DJ sets from Hooky and Parky (I can use these nicknames as am budding TV star) - a fine night was had by all, although I must remember not to ask some bloke who turns out to be Peter Hook to move out the way of a photograph I am taking when the film crew are actually present.

Friday night looked similarly promising - an event I previewed a few weeks ago with breathless anticipation had finally arrived, in the form of the Mr Trotter's Pork Crackling Dinner hosted in the Second Floor Restaurant by Tom Parker Bowles and Matthew Fort. To be honest, I'd have needed the film crew with me from the very start for this one: the lift took an age to come down from the second floor, and when it eventually did arrive, it was packed to the very gills with a fleet of perma-tanned, middle-aged American men sheltering a precious cargo in their midst - a twinkly eyed, curly haired, nut brown Barry Manilow. "Ooh!" said a friend, later. "Did you start singing that you were Lola, a show girl?" The brief answer to this is, no, I did not: firstly, I didn't think of it in time, and secondly, I can't be expected to perform when the cameras aren't there - I shall save it all for when the show is actually in the bag.

So, after the bonus Barry, on to the main business of the evening. Food writers Matthew Fort and Tom Parker Bowles have brought their new brand of pork scratchings to the Harvey Nichols Foodmarket, a momentous occasion suitably marked with a special porcine dinner thrown in Mr Trotter's honour. We kicked off with drinks in the Brasserie bar where - splendidly - gorgeous staff glided round bearing elegant trays containing bags of Mr Trotter's scratchings for us to delicately rummage in; I'm no expert on pork scratchings, but these struck me as a highly superior breed - generously sized, tasting of pork rather than just salt and fat, and with just the right amount of crunch (no-one wants to lose a filling in front of a respected food critic, after all). It also turns out that, in the hands of a cheffy genius like Sam Everett, they can be seamlessly incorporated into a three course gourmet dinner (always useful to know, in the unlikely event of actually managing to prise any bag of scratchings from Mr Liz's eager paws) - this is what we had:

Starter: Scallops served with black pudding, Mr Trotter's Pork Scratching and herb salad. Now, it takes real imagination to understand that a pork scratching can be used to make a devastatingly delicious crispy topping for a tender, fleshy young scallop as seen here. And yes, how cute is that little roll of black pudding? You may also be unsurprised to know that the accompanying sauce was SO delicious I was forced to run my finger round the plate whilst the imaginary film crew were busy doing some general location shots.

Main: Pork loin, served with confit pork belly, pig's cheek hash brown and a Mr Trotter’s Pork Scratching. This clearly wasn't a meal for non pork-eaters, but for me, this dish really showed off how versatile a meat this is - soft, pillowy loin perched atop a meltingly unctuous slab of pork belly, guarded by perky little piggy towers. Spectacular.

Dessert: Baked egg custard, served with Mr Trotter's Pork Scratching Brittle, chocolate mousse and maple granite. In truth, this was the one we'd been waiting for - how would pork scratchings fare in a sweet course? Actually, of course, it's perfectly logical - anyone who's ever had salted caramel will instantly understand that sprinkling crushed pork scratching on top of a thick layer of chocolate mousse can only be a good thing: a sort of savoury, porky popping candy if you will. I think Muller Corners are missing a trick with this one, and look forward to see Pig Corners joining the existing Fruit version in the near future *quickly patents idea*.

But, I know what you're thinking - that the food sounds all well and good, but where are the stars? Well, first of all there was Matthew Fort, gamely making a circuit of the restaurant to talk piggy goodness with everyone, clearly mindful of his responsibilities as host of the event. And then there was Tom Parker Bowles, who plonked himself down at our table (I suppose actually it's entirely possible that we were sitting at HIS table) and proceeded to entertain us for three hours with a number of stories that I can't possibly repeat here other than to say he likes Game of Thrones and enjoys being told he bears a passing resemblance to Kiefer Sutherland.

So, I think you'll agree that my fledgling career as top TV mogul is off to a promising start - with one disappointing omission. I've still not met Mr Trotter, but don't worry, I'll track him down - and this time I'll make sure the cameras are rolling...

- Harvey Nichols is at 21 New Cathedral Street Manchester M1 1AD.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Holland's Pie Delivery: Local Girl Now Fully Indoctrinated into WORLD OF PIE

Now, much as we may like to pretend that we care not a jot for what others think of us, I suspect that actually, most of us care very much indeed. And it can come as something of a slap in the face when we find out the bitter reality of how people truly perceive us: take this blog, for example. Clearly, I had hoped to present myself as a highly discerning, cultured individual with impeccably refined tastes - a knowledgeable connoisseur, a doyenne of sophisticated living. And yet. An email arrived a couple of weeks ago, out of the blue, that indicated that perhaps, just perhaps, others see me differently.

For the email was from Holland's Pies, purveyors of "proper pies and puds" (although I quite like the concept of an "improper", minxy sort of pie), proudly produced in Lancashire for over 160 years. Would I like to try them? Well, once I'd come to terms with the fact that rather than the ethereal, waif-like Florence figure I'd hoped, I am clearly coming across as a good sturdy, pie-eating sort of girl, I decided that YES, I would. Because unless I've had one at a chippy without realising it, I've lived in Manchester for the best part of twenty years now and NEVER HAD a Holland's pie. This is clearly a serious offence for a girl married to a Wiganer - I'm fairly sure divorces have been granted over smaller matters than this; indeed, Twitter was aghast when I confessed to my lack of pie-eating experience, collectively deciding that I probably hadn't had any kind of childhood at all (or indeed, perhaps any kind of adulthood either).

Anyway, Holland's promised to send some pies, and I thought no more about it until last Friday, when I came home from work and was met at the door by a boy with a face full of eager news. They're here, he whispered in a voice simultaneously hushed by awe and quivering with repressed, disbelieving joy, come and see. Tugging eagerly at my sleeve, he led me into the kitchen, where an air of reverence pervaded and Mr Liz was so overcome that words failed him entirely and he could only point at the worktop with an arm that I SWEAR was trembling slightly. For here was a bag, a CLOTH BAG, proudly proclaiming HOLLAND'S PIES and containing a whole FAMILY of pastry-based goods. It was hard to know what excited him more - the pies themselves, or the bag that SPOKE of pie...

So, we had pies for tea. The sausage roll was consumed as a "starter", a kind of carbohydrate warm-up, followed by the Meat Pie (beef and pork), the Steak & Kidney Pudding and the Cheese & Onion Pie - please don't worry that this meal sounds unhealthy, as I served it with carrots, thereby negating any potentially adverse effects. For me, the Cheese & Onion was a clear winner - essentially Northern fondue in a pastry case - while Mr Liz preferred the meaty options. I think the Meat Pie might be an acquired taste that my Southern-raised sensibilities are not yet ready for, but I look forward to trying the Steak Pie (maybe not the Potato and Meat one) that has been secretly stashed in the freezer to prevent over-excited boys eating themselves into a meat coma at one sitting. These pies were sent to us free, but we were not pressurised into saying nice things about them - Holland's genuinely seem very confident in their own product, and are keen for more people to try them.

So, whilst I'm obviously still a junior, trainee sort of pie-eater, I feel that I've completed another stage of my application for a permanent Mancunian visa. And if you see a jaunty boy out and about with a Holland's Pie bag, then do give Mr Liz a wave.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

New Menu Launched at Gusto Didsbury: Local Girl Breathes a Sigh of Relief AND Finds Cheap Cocktails at The Sanctuary

By and large, I am not a big fan of change. On the whole, I enjoy things being the same: I like, for example, that the same friend cooks the same meal on the same weekend in December every year, even serving the same cocktails with EXACTLY the same results (she makes a mean Amaretto Sour) - if it were to be any different, well, it would just be wrong. Similarly, I will argue until my dying day that certain types of tea drunk at different times of day really do taste better in one particular cup as opposed to another - and if my first cup of the day was served in the mug I like in the evening, well, all HELL would break loose. Probably.

So when a restaurant to which I am already most partial announces a new menu, I can't pretend this isn't potentially an area of some concern to me: what if they get rid of all my favourite things? What if life is NEVER THE SAME AGAIN? All these feelings and more ran through my fevered frame when Gusto - the estimable Italian chain to whose Didsbury branch I am a regular and gluttonous visitor - launched its new menu this week. WHAT IF THERE WAS NO CALAMARI?

Well, obviously it was all fine; better than fine in fact. The new menu has kept all the old favourites whilst introducing some new, improved dishes alongside as a kind of bonus; thus, for example, the starters remain largely unchanged, but their ranks are now swelled - thrillingly - by the introduction of half-size portions of all the pasta dishes (although this does now facilitate the very worrying possibility that I will get into the habit of eating pasta, followed by pasta, leading my thighs to expand to the size of China whilst an army of whippet-thin Didsburyites just have a half-portion as their main meal.)

However, I am getting ahead of myself. The evening began with cocktails: it was a dry, sunny evening for once, so a metaphorical casting-off of galoshes was performed, to be replaced with a chi-chi scarf purchased in Sorrento draped fetchingly around a thirsty neck that was just ready and waiting to celebrate the stopping of rain with the guzzling of drink. Drinking in Didsbury can be a pricy business on any day of the week, so we were impressed to find that The Sanctuary (next door to the new Tesco, about which I will say NOTHING) has launched a new cocktail menu which is available as two-for-the-price-of-one all day, every day - nice menu, too, featuring some interesting and well-made selections. Here you see the Dib Dab (a lemony, gin-based delight that Mr Liz considered manly enough to be acceptable) and the Spiced Raspberry Mohito, made with Chambord and more than a healthy dash of rum. As both of these cost just £5.25 and we'd bagged a lovely squashy, comfy sofa, there is a very real possibility that had we not been booked in at Gusto, we might just have accidentally stayed here all night.

Luckily, we did make it out of that sofa, as Gusto was on fine form. This place is always busy - it's a sign of quality, I think, that Gusto and Felicini are both consistently well-supported despite being pretty much opposite each other - and last night was no exception, full to bursting with lovely, cheerful, noisy people chattering away over a bottle or two of Primitivo. We browsed the new menu over olives, and then went for the following:

Starters: we decided to share here - obviously we had to have a portion of calamari as it's actually ILLEGAL to visit Gusto and not do so, but we also tried one of the new dishes: gnocchi with slow roast pork, cherry tomatoes, pesto and rocket at £5.50 for a half portion. The calamari was as good as ever: melt-in-the-mouth-tender squid encased in light, crisp batter - and it's a relief to note that, as ever, I ended up with slightly burnt fingers from trying to eat one the second they arrived on the table - plus ca change, eh? Our bold experimentalism on the gnocchi was rewarded with dainty little dumplings drenched luxuriantly in a pesto so fresh it made the whole dish taste like the healthiest meal on the planet, studded with teasingly elusive shreds of tender pork and the odd perky tomato. My only criticism here is that I prefer my gnocchi a little larger; this is purely because I am a long way from being small and dainty myself though, so perhaps they should consider following TopShop's lead and introducing a "Tall" range of gnocchi alongside the existing "Petite" model *helpful marketing/cheffy face*

Mains: now, Mr Liz always has Diavolo pizza at Gusto. Always. Indeed, so often does he order it as a takeout on the Monday nights I work late that he was instantly recognised by a member of staff openly astonished to see him actually eating something else. For, reader, he DID have something else - albeit still a pizza. The "Al Salsiccia" is one of the new ones (the "Marinara" is the other), and is topped with home smoked Italian sausage, shredded pork and mozzarella - it's definitely a boy's pizza, this one, loaded with so much meaty goodness that some of it slithered off onto the plate, where it was quickly snaffled by an evil/enterprising* wife.

*delete as applicable according to viewpoint.

My own choice was one of the new dishes in the meat section: marinated rump of lamb with spinach and aubergine cannelloni. The lamb was very good - caramelised and sticky on the outside, perfectly pink as requested on the inside - but the real revelation here was the cannelloni: one long tube filled with a mixture of cubed aubergine, mushrooms and pine-nuts and then covered with a tomato and marscarpone sauce. The sauce was rich without being cloying, and the vegetables had reached that admirable stage of cooking where each retains some bite and independence whilst simultaneously melding softly together. It's a pity this doesn't appear in its own right as part of the pasta selection - I would order it time and and time again, even without the lamb. We also had a side order of fried courgettes: shards of soft vegetable made entirely unhealthy by the application of batter and salt and - therefore - utterly, utterly delicious.

Finally, to pudding. I have written before in praise of the Bombolini, and would normally have never looked beyond their enticingly doughy appeal had I not earlier spotted another table ordering a dessert that looked - quite frankly - unmissable. This was the Gusto Sundae: ice cream, whipped cream, fruits and chocolate sauce, topped with a flake and a homemade biscotti emerging, phoenix-like, from the snowy masses below. This is not a cheap option at £6.95 but is easily big enough for two to share - and you have to admire a restaurant that provides both a flake (for the traditionalists) and a classy biscotti (for the, ahem, native Italians like myself). I'm afraid the picture shown here is a little over-exposed, but as it looks like this gorgeous dessert is being admired and snapped by the paparazzi, I think it is actually entirely fitting.

One last word for our fabulous waitress Fliss who - along with the rest of the staff - had bravely eaten her way through the new menu on Wednesday in order to be professionally knowledgeable about its contents. This dedicated and selfless training had clearly paid off, for she was most helpful in recommending and describing the new dishes to us.

So was it a perfect evening? No. It would have been, but I can confirm that a chi-chi Italian scarf draped fetchingly round one's neck during dinner becomes markedly less desirable if found to contain food items upon arriving home - all I can think is that Mr Liz must have PLANTED that piece of chocolate ice-cream there as a cruel joke...this would NEVER have happened to Audrey Hepburn.

-The Sanctuary is at 653 Wilmslow Road, Didsbury M20 6QZ, and Gusto is but a short stroll down the road at number 756.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Local Girl Won Over by Manchester Bank Holiday Weekend

A couple of years ago now, something happened to me that made me fall out with Manchester. In fact, there was a brief period when, had it been possible, I would have gladly moved to a small cave at the bottom of the sea and been happy never to lay eyes on the Kingdom of Mancunia ever again.

Things change though. Little by little, Manchester has wormed its way back into my good books, rather like the persistent ex-boyfriend who suddenly remembers how to treat you properly after he's messed up one too many times - Manchester knew it had overstepped the mark, and was determined to win back my affections. And win them back it has, in an all-out display of such towering loveliness that I may indeed never consider leaving ever again. In just one Bank Holiday weekend, I was able to do all of this, and the fact that I mostly had to do it all in the rain and cold is but the SMALLEST of niggles.


1. Heaton Moor Market. This super-cute little market has been running for over a year now, tucked away behind the estimable Kro Bar on Shaw Road, but had it not been for Twitter (the font of all knowledge) I would not have even known it existed. Here, I bought some lovely spicy chorizo from Spanish food importers Levanter (who softly strummed on a guitar whilst I browsed), some pork, Stilton and asparagus sausages, and also learned that I am incapable of walking, talking and eating meatballs all at the same time courtesy of Little Bird Catering's amazing travelling meatball stall. You can also buy coffee, cakes, crafts and (presumably) items that do NOT begin with a "c" (causages?); there is also normally a stall selling homemade scotch eggs that are apparently legendary, but - in a stroke of almost insufferable cruelty - he was unable to attend this month. Oh well - I shall just have to go again.

2. Just when you think the day can't get any better, it transpires that a friend (now even more beloved than previously) has won a bottle of El Jimador tequila with all the trimmings at The Yacht Club in a Facebook competition. So yes, the day bed that comes as part of the prize is cold, and drafty, but we are soon sporting luxuriously warm tequila coats, and dancing along with the Mexican band on the deck of this most elegant of bars. And - who knew? - it turns out that tequila slammers can be performed with virtually any fruit or vegetable item, providing one with a healthy, balanced diet even when half-cut.

3. And when your fingers have become so cold they can no longer grasp your cocktail, what better way to warm up than a short skip across Hardman Square to Southern Eleven, a cosy and welcoming place serving outrageously moreish American BBQ in hopelessly generous portions. I'm due to go again for a full review, but suffice to say that I have dreamt of the pulled pork every night ever since, and still regret the small piece of warm cornbread I was forced to leave lest the zip on my dress explode.


Another day, another winner - this time a lucky friend had won two tickets to the North West Spring Wine Festival at St. Peter's in Ancoats, and was looking for a wine-minded companion to accompany her *steps forward, bravely, nobly, tasting glass in hand*. Once over the initial childish thrill of drinking wine in a CHURCH, this was perfection all the way - lovely people, in a beautifully judged venue (not too many exhibitors, not too few - I was content but still standing by the end), and, most importantly, really great wine from a range of brilliant independents. AND Mr Liz picked me up afterwards, thereby saving me the indignity of being tipsy on public transport in the middle of a Sunday afternoon.


Now obviously, by this point, the thought of work was beginning to loom large; time for one last hurrah, however, as the award-winning Black Dog Ballroom's new sister bar on New Wakefield Street was offering a tempting 50% off food, and as it was becoming increasingly clear that I had no intention of cooking anything, Mr Liz cried to be allowed to go and was told YES. We perhaps didn't see it at its best - at 12.30 on a cold, wet Bank Holiday it was all but deserted - but this seems a really promising venue.

Tall and thin, the familiar Black Dog pool tables and booths line the lower floor, whilst a flight of stairs leads up to a lighter, airier top floor with a glass roof upon which the rain lashed furiously throughout our visit (indeed, the staff had to rush out and rescue the sofas from the roof terrace, so fierce was the deluge). Still, the food was decent (Mr Liz counted in sheer joy and disbelief the number of different meat items atop his Brucie Bonus pizza), the staff delightful, and the music suitably loud - nothing like a blast of the Foos to remove the last of the Wine Festival fug from your brain.

Would many other places have afforded all this in just one weekend? Manchester, you might just have convinced me to commit to you once again - as long as you keep up the good work, obviously....

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Forthcoming Events at The Lowry, Salford: Opera North's Carousel and Jim White Allow Local Girl to STOP WRITING ABOUT FOOD

Quite astonishingly, come December this blog will be celebrating its fifth birthday. No-one is more surprised by its unexpected longevity than myself, for I am sadly aware that I am somewhat prone to flightiness, and boredom, and sloth, and all the other essential attributes that point firmly to a short attention span and a blog that will flicker very brightly for a couple of months before slinking quietly off to watch television instead.

That said, the blog hasn't exactly turned out as planned, having originally been envisaged as a highly organised, sleek, efficient sort of enterprise, barking succinct yet eloquently pithy comment on a range of highly intellectual cultural events. Patently, this has not happened, and you have instead been presented with a number of incoherently enthusiastic ramblings on topics ranging from food, to drink, to food - passing through an occasional musing on shoes just to ensure a bit of variety. So it is with some relief that I scan my diary and discover that - amongst all the eating and drinking - I am in fact booked in for a couple of events that might just qualify as CULTURE.

Both are at the estimable Lowry, which has long been a favourite venue of mine (and not just because it has helpfully surrounded itself with shops, restaurants and ample parking, although these do of course help). First up is Opera North's production of Carousel, which arrives hot and breathless in Salford on Wednesday 23rd May, fresh from its opening run in Leeds. I've yet to see a Rodgers & Hammerstein musical, but following my triumphant conversion to Gilbert & Sullivan last year, I'm pretty sure that Opera North will do a similarly sterling job in widening my musical tastes still further. Full review - including notes on which ice-cream I had at half time and which song I sang along with the most memorably to the delight of cast and audience alike - will follow the event, but you can have a sneaky peek here - it looks great, and Opera North are ALWAYS brilliant.

Staying on a musical theme, I am also looking forward to see Jim White play the Lowry's Quays Theatre on Sunday 10th June. This much-acclaimed American singer-songwriter released his debut album back in 1997, but I am something of a recent convert to his slightly off-beat, country-esque charms. Mojo say of his latest album, Where it Hits You, "once an Americana pioneer but now an elder statesman, White is still showing young pretenders a clean set of Cuban heels ★★★★", while I say: "I listened to this album this morning, the day after a friend of mine won a bottle of tequila at The Yacht Club Bar, and it soothed me, and was nice, and made me feel better, and everything...★★★". You see? I could easily be a music journalist *carefully gets bow and adds another string*, although you could always listen to some of his music here if you feel - quite unreasonably - you need to make your own judgement.

Anyway - that's the culture box ticked for a few weeks; now I'm off to have some crisps...

Friday, 4 May 2012

Long-Awaited BrewDog Bar Opens in Manchester: Local Girl Has to Go to Bed Early

Now, there are obviously a whole RAFT of reasons why Mr Liz counts his blessings on an at least thrice-daily basis that he has the amazing good fortune of being married to me. There's the constant availability of witty banter on virtually any topic, for example; as long as that topic encompasses some discussion of appropriate height of shoe heels for various occasions, or the behaviour of Derek in this week's episode of Smash, obviously. Or there's the helpful running commentary I am wont to give during the watching of any film, or the way I constantly faff about on social networking sites when he's driving me somewhere. It's all really terribly endearing, I'm sure.

But then, this week I have taken a gigantic, unprecedented leap up the ladder of good-wife-ness, a move that will carry me unsullied through any amount of bad behaviour over the next few weeks. It all began last week, with an out-of-the-blue email from independent beermakers BrewDog: would we like to attend the press launch of their new Manchester bar on Peter Street, and sample some of their tasty, beery wares? As a beer amateur, I didn't know: did we want to go, Mr Liz? The response prompted by this seemingly innocent request was little short of extraordinary: the sight of a grown man marching round the house, every so often raising his fists aloft in sheer triumph and shouting "BrewDog! BREWDOG!!", is not one that I will readily forget.

For it turns out that in the world of beer (and there IS such a world, as any number of eager, thirsty boys will attest to), BrewDog is a very big deal indeed. Born in 2007 when the very enterprising Martin and James decided they were bored with insipid, industrially brewed lagers and ales, the brand has gone from strength to strength - to the point where several different people told me at the launch last night that they had literally been waiting, open-mouthed, impatiently pacing, for the opening of the new bar. And indeed, the bar - a cavernous, be-girdered space - was packed to the iron rafters last night, thanks to an opening night special where any can of rubbish lager could be brought along and exchanged for a pint of BrewDog as part of the Crap Beer Amnesty, a move that really tells you all you need to know about the ethos behind this place: they really want to get Britain drinking good, flavoursome, honest beer that actually tastes of something.

So, on to the beer. As a confessed lightweight - and on a school night to boot - I kept to the lighter end of things, with the winningly titled Dead Pony Club romping home a clear favourite. This is a dangerously easy beer to drink - a seductively fruity pale ale coming in at just 3.8% (although presumably those "just 3.8%"s DO start to add up if you drink about nine of them). I also enjoyed the hoppy Punk IPA, and the strong-but-lush Hardcore IPA - actually ordered by Mr Liz, but snaffled by Mrs Liz, who drank it before realising it was circa 10% proof. Being patently NOT hardcore in ANY way, I retired gracefully at this point, leaving Mr Liz to try the BA77 lager ("chewy, in a good way"), Sink the Bismark (the strongest lager in the world, at a terrifying 41%) and the much-recommended Tactical Nuclear Penguin. These latter two are served in teensy measures, as befits the fact that the smallest of mouthfuls seems likely to floor any innocent passing grandma who (quite reasonably) mistakes either of these thick, dark liquids for a nice drop of sherry; Mr Liz preferred the Penguin, although that might just be because the name has the word "penguin" in.

Obviously my beer education has a long way to go, but I feel I have made a promising start here, in an atmosphere that really couldn't have been more welcoming - the staff are happy to offer enthusiastic and knowledgeable advice, and the long tables down the centre of the bar encourage conversation between strangers who wish to bond over a shared love of beer. BrewDog Manchester - joining the fleet of existing doggery brewery bars in Aberdeen, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Nottingham and Camden - is a proud and welcome addition to the city centre drinking scene, and one where I see MANY hangovers in the making...

- BrewDog Manchester is at 35 Peter Street, Manchester M2 5RA.