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Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Local Girl Finally Finds Natural Habitat at New Manchester Gin EMPORIUM, The Whim Wham Cafe

I often think I should have been born in the nineteenth century, perhaps around 1836 or similar. True, I'm not sure about the whole outside toilet thing (although I DO quite like the idea of those great big tin baths in front the fire - I'm having first water, mind) or indeed, the general lack of home comforts that would likely befall me: I'm picturing a mattress made of straw, perhaps to be shared with a family of mice and a smaller sister or two, although I'm not entirely sure of the historical accuracy of this - we only really did Hitler at school. But I'm exactly the right build for those nice bodicey-type dresses and - most importantly - to the best of my knowledge, the whole of Britain lived almost entirely on gin during this period, thereby making the 1800s my natural milieu of choice.

Now, much to my delight, Manchester has its own mecca for sophisticated, urbanite, gin-loving wenches like myself in the shape of the new Whim Wham Cafe, snugly housed under one of the railway arches on Whitworth Street West. As with many of the best recent Manchester ventures, word has spread via Twitter, and as anyone who uses this particular social networking site will know, it's both exhilarating and infuriating in equal measures to find your timeline clogged up with well-meaning folk trumpeting about how they're swilling gin cocktails in the most gorgeous new place.

Well guess what? I've been swilling gin cocktails in the most gorgeous new place, and you must go there immediately. Frankly, you should go there even if you don't like gin (although if I see you, I will look at you disapprovingly), as there is a good selection of British beers (local where possible - Mr Liz had a manly pint of Beartown Brewery Polar Eclipse whilst all around him were drinking pink gin frippery), and the food is really quite something. Owners Alix and Jessica have set their stall out to offer top-quality artisan produce, locally sourced where possible, including award-winning pies from Neil Broomfields's Great North Pie Co. and cheese and meat platters served with their own chutney. For starters, I went for what is fast-becoming Whim Wham's signature dish - Slow Poach Mackerel in Horseradish and Worcester Liquor served with Apple and Beetroot Salad. This is Alix's own invention, and can be seen here in all its fishy, tangy, it's-salad-so-it-must-be-good-for-you glory (nb - my friend chose this as well - I didn't order and consume BOTH of these, although I would have liked to).

For mains, Mr Liz rather predictably had pie (Classic Lancashire Cheese and Onion), which came with Lemon and Thyme Potato Salad for £7.50. Please note that, as this dish contained no meat, Mr Liz considered it a healthy, noble sort of choice, despite the fact that any normal person could quickly identify the double potato and pastry combo that sadly negates his virtue. The rest of us chose the Slow Roast Oxtail with Chickpea Mash and Cabbage, seen here after the de-boning pixies had worked their magic and before I'd licked my plate clean (turned out this was not, unfortunately, a suitable activity for anyone who had erroneously decided to wear white jeans for the evening).

Did we need pudding? No, but if someone will offer to sell you a big slab of Sticky Toffee Pudding served with Salted Caramel and Peanut Butter Ice Cream from Ginger's Comfort Emporium for a FIVER, then frankly you'd be mad to say no. Other choices - the Double Chocolate Slice with White Chocolate Ganache and the Pecan Tart with Cointreau Cream* - also went down well.

*If you look closely at the illustrative evidence here provided, you will observe the ONLY fault with the whole evening - regardez the NAKED Pecan Tart. However, my friend decided not to draw attention to the missing cream for fear she'd be brought a vat of it and then burst.

Last but clearly not least, the GIN. Between us we sampled The Whim Wham Martini, a Black & Blue from the "Long Drinks" section, The Gin Wham spritzer and the straight up Vimto Smile (a winning combination of Manchester's finest and Sloe Gin). These are all priced between £5 and £7.50; our favourite was the Martini, a potent hit of Hendrick's, Cherry Liqueur and Martini Rosso, with a secret ingredient which we fancied might be something to do with cloves, or perhaps aniseed (further testing to be completed before final decision taken on this matter - I take my professional duties VERY seriously).

This compact little bar looks set to be a huge success, and deservedly so. Hardened 19th century wench/good-time girl/show pony that I am, I was worried a new place brazenly promising itself as "Manchester's Epicurean Eatery and Gin Saloon" could never live up to its name. I am pleased to say it does - and then some...*goes off, flouncing skirts, can-canning for sheer joy*

- The Whim Wham Cafe is at Arch 64, Whitworth Street West, Manchester M1 5WO - no website as yet, but you can hunt them down on Twitter and Facebook or, you know, just go and visit them.

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