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Monday, 27 August 2012

BrewDog and Trof Take Over Manchester's Deaf Institute for Night of Beer-Loving Boy's Dreams

Like many others, on Thursday evenings we have been watching The Hairy Dieters, looking on as a couple of gentlemen who are both overweight and impressively hirsute attempt to correct their excessive lifestyle and lose a bit of weight (which, one can't help thinking, could surely be at least partially achieved with a stricter haircut). Anyway, their new regime, in which they eschew alcohol and deliciously fatty, creamy, cheesy, sugary foods, has surely been an inspiration to us all, no doubt prompting many viewers to take a long, hard, critical look at their own lifestyles and make appropriate adjustments.

Mind you, I missed it last Thursday, what with going to The Deaf Institute to eat six deliciously fatty, creamy, cheesy, sugary foods individually matched with ales from the BrewDog stable of craft beers. When I previewed this event last week, I'd already pretty much identified it as Mr Liz's dream event - and arriving at the venue appeared to confirm that not only did approximately half of Manchester share the same dream, but they were also living it; the beautiful Victorian music hall was filled to capacity with excitably thirsty Mancunians thrilled with the prospect of quaffing large quantities of decent beer, on a school night.

With so many people in attendance, the event did take a little while to get going, but once underway, the peerlessly knowledgeable Josie talked us through each of the BrewDog offerings (a measure of how good she was can be seen in the fact that everyone listened to her, rather than simply banging on the table and shouting BEER! BEER! BEER! as I suspect may happen at less well-run gatherings) as trays of food and beer magically appeared before us. I don't have photographs of everything I'm afraid, as whichever particular Victorian designed and built the venue paid scant regard to the low-quality flash offered by the iPhone camera, and you should also not understimate the speed with which a table full of hungry boys can fall upon a tray of food that you are currently trying to photograph.

You can read the full line-up of what we ate on my original blog post here, and I can offer you photographs of the tasty but dainty mini Yorkshire pudding paired with 5 A.M. ale and the splendidly chunky fish goujon partnered by Punk IPA (which was by far my favourite beer of the evening, but I already knew that before I went). I can also confirm that the brownie was excellent, despite being eaten whilst running down Grosvenor Street after my bus in a comedic, Penelope Pitstop type manner. N.B. Some people have claimed, uncharitably and unjustly, that the food looks RUDEY in these photos, but I'm confident that such misconceptions lie in the mind of the beholder and not in the skill of the photographer or the innocent intentions of the chef.

As well as the six billed ales, there were also a couple of extras at the end - we didn't have time to stay for the 32% Tactical Nuclear Penguin, but Mr Liz did manage to snaffle a quick taste of the Paradox Jura Beer, aged in whisky casks and thereby combining two of his keenest interests; unsurprisingly, this was his favourite drink of the night. Overall, the night offered excellent value for money at £20 a head, and the service and the quality of the food were both very good considering the popularity of the event (the quality of the beer goes without saying). If there's another one, I shall certainly be in attendance...and if it involves missing a TV show about dieting, then so much the better...

- The Deaf Institute (part of the same group as Trof, who also had a hand in this lovely event) is at 135 Grosvenor Street, Manchester M1 7HE; the BrewDog Manchester bar can be found at 35 Peter St, Manchester M2 5BG. I will leave you with an image of the wallpaper in the ladies toilet at The Deaf Institute (where, you will note, the lighting is EXCELLENT) - if you know of better decorated bogs in Manchester, I'd like to hear about them please.

Friday, 24 August 2012

The Alchemist on New York Street, Manchester: Giant Chicken Makes 70s Child VERY Happy

Eagle-eyed readers may recall detecting the smallest smidgeon of disappointment (hastily and professionally concealed, of course) when I was unable to attend the opening of the new Alchemist on Manchester's New York Street: early reports suggested that this was a splendidly sparkly new venue with all the charms of its Living Ventures sister Alchemist at Spinningfields (interesting and innovative cocktails, well-judged soundtrack, buzzy and convivial atmosphere), only in a bigger, better, no-bottle-neck-at-the-bar-when-really-busy location. You can read roving reporter Olivia's verdict on it here.

On Wednesday evening, however, it was all about the food. If you've already eaten at the Spinningfields venue, you'll know what to expect from the menu, which is essentially a slightly frantic dash around the world's cuisines - a sort of "best of" collection of global comfort food. This is the kind of eclectic approach which can cause great dismay when attempted at a fine-dining venue, but is a real strength somewhere like the Alchemist, where eaters are likely to be a group of sociable souls on a cheery night out, all fancying different food items with which to mop up their exquisite cocktails. That's not to say that the food here isn't good - it is; it simply doesn't pretend to be anything it's not. Here's what we had, and here's why we liked it:

Starters: we over-ordered here, as we obviously had to try the calamari (Mr Liz's starter of choice, wherever he goes), but also really fancied the Bar Snacks Platter offering chicken wings, nachos, potato wedges and beer battered prawns with dips for £10.95. Were these high-end, carefully constructed, dainty affairs? No. But everything was good - hot, salty, tender calamari; crunchy puffs of batter enclosing steamingly juicy prawns; nice sturdy potato wedges; hideously moreish wings spiked with chilli, salt and pepper. The surprise hits, though, were the nachos - smothered in sweet, cheesy goodness to the point of saturation. You KNOW you're looking at a good plate of nachos when you can't find a single naked corner to grasp hold of.

Mains: now, I've deliberately not read it yet, but I hear a well-known Manchester reviewer was less than impressed recently with the Special Fried Chicken in a Basket offered at The Alchemist. Personally, I can't really see how anyone could fail to enjoy a dish of chicken in a basket, that comes in a basket shaped like a chicken - the pleasing nature of this kind of amusing symmetry is surely irresistible, particularly to someone born in the 1970s and therefore brought up on a succession of far less ironic chicken in a basket dishes. The chicken was blisteringly hot, in a crispy coating that clearly contains some kind of habit-forming substance in the light of the chicken cravings with which I awoke the following day. There were too many chips, and the accompanying coleslaw was a bit on the bland side for my taste, but the chicken was magnificent; I am seriously worried that any glamorous, elegant cocktail evening I ever attempt here will always be significantly derailed by a moment of chicken weakness at approximately 10.30pm - I may resort to carrying one of those moist towelettes on my person at all times. Mr Liz went for the Rib Eye Steak Frites - a hefty slab of 28 day aged meat cooked perfectly to order and served with (too many) chips and some nicely creamy peppercorn sauce. This was £15.95; the splendid chicken basket just £9.95 - not to enjoy it is to miss the point.

Dessert: we shared a pud, and there was only ever one choice in contention - the Belgian Waffles with cinnamon, sugar and vanilla ice cream at £3.95. These were seriously good, and plenty big enough to share, even with one of the sharees being Mr Liz. It would also have been rude not to try a couple of the famous cocktails whilst we were there - the Porn Star Martini with its sidecar shot of Prosecco was perfect (although to be fair, it should be at £10 a go), and the Dry Iced Tea, served in a teapot spewing out a plume of dry ice, was as exciting as ever. And with the food coming in at under fifty quid for both of us, we felt entirely justified in a glass of wine and a couple of beers as well.

So whilst the Alchemist NYS doesn't really break any earth-shattering new ground, it continues a winning formula. And if the number of people here on an anonymous Wednesday night is anything to go by, the newest member of the Living Ventures stable looks set to continue the success as well.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Rat Pack Live, Blues Brothers Live and An Evening of Burlesque all Come to Manchester: Local Girl Casts Off Shakespeare Shackles

Sometimes, it's hard to accept that we are who we are rather than who we think we should be. Getting older of course helps with this: being advanced in years has finally gives me the confidence to admit that I don't like festivals (mud/chemical toilets/crowds), or Dickens (too long/too smug/too pompous), or certain city centre bars (queues/ridiculous prices/clientele almost exclusively young enough to be own child), amongst other things. And now, the final bastion has fallen, at last. For, despite being an English lecturer with a great love of my subject (Dickens aside, although I've tried with him, I really have), I have finally admitted to myself that when I go to the theatre I do NOT WANT to watch something worthy, or highbrow, or noble, or educational. What I actually want is to see people singing, dancing, high-kicking and generally jigging about in an ebullient manner, preferably with moments where I can myself sing along, just quietly, under my breath.

I can't begin to tell you how liberating a feeling this is. No more Chekhov on a wet Wednesday night; no more "interesting" interpretations of Shakespeare's oeuvre. Instead, I am delighted to say that I will be seeing all of these merry productions in September:

First up is Rat Pack Live at The Lowry on September 7th, an evening of big band swing featuring the music of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jnr. I wrote about this a couple of months ago when I was running a competition to win tickets so I won't say too much more now, other than wishing the winners of the competition a lovely time and hoping for their sake they will not be seated next to me, for the fact that I don't actually know the words to many of these songs will NOT prevent me from attempting to sing along.

Next up is The Blues Brothers - Live, also at The Lowry Theatre, on the 20th and 21st September. The original film is one of two I remember watching with my older sister when I was about 10 (the other was The Rocky Horror Picture Show); clearly, I was too young to understand either of these wasted masterpieces, but gamely pretended to know what was going on and laughed at all the bits my sister laughed at (although a beat too late to be entirely convincing, obviously). Anyway, it's 30 years since the death of John Belushi, so it's fitting that this production - the only officially licensed production of the Blues Brothers outside of America, and presented in association with both Judith Belushi and Dan Aykroyd - should hit Manchester. This particular show, a Hartshorn – Hook Production, won rave reviews at the Edinburgh Festival in 2009 and looks GOOD - I might even stand on my seat for this one*.

*Note to anyone reading this from The Lowry: I promise I will NOT stand on my seat at any point during this production.

And finally, just when my show-girl heart was fit to burst anyway, An Evening of Burlesque is coming to Manchester's Palace Theatre on Friday 21st September. Now, I'm pretty much of a newcomer to all this burlesque business (I'm fairly sure that having sat through the Cher movie of the same name and occasionally high-kicking into the kitchen to put the kettle on does not qualify one as an expert in this field), but I DID go to the Moulin Rouge earlier this month and am looking forward to seeing the UK's first (and only) touring burlesque show in the, erm, flesh, as it were. The producers promise "it’s all tease, no sleaze" *watches Mr Liz's face fall* and that there will be corsets, killer heels and stockings aplenty *watches Mr Liz brighten up again* as some of the world's most famous burlesque stars take to the stage (and me, from the comfort of my seat).

Of course, this new-found liberation won't last - I'll just make sure I enjoy it while it lasts...*goes off, can-canning just a little*

Further information on all productions can be found on The Lowry and The Palace websites.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Trof and BrewDog Bring You an Evening of Beer and Food-Matching at Manchester's Deaf Institute; Local Man in Not-Working-Next-Day Shocker

As I have grown older, I have become increasingly susceptible to the seductive charms of beer. I put this down to two key factors: the newly prevalent proliferation of decent beers that actually TASTE of something, and - probably more significantly - the ever-increasing distance between my current self, and the eighteen-year-old version who used to force down plastic pint glasses of evil brown murk at Owen's Park bar purely because they cost 90p.

And so it is with no little excitement that I note that super-cool Northern Quarter bar Trof is teaming up with legendary craft beer experts BrewDog to offer an evening of beer tasting and food-matching at Manchester's Deaf Institute next Thursday, 23rd August. This promises to combine two of my very favourite things, ie BOOZE and FOOD, in a unique environment - the Music Hall is apparently being transformed into an old-fashioned Beer Hall for one night only, meaning that if I play my cards right I can triumphantly file this one away under "Culture" rather than the more usual "Oh dear GOD - is she eating again?" category.

Advance tickets are £20 a head, and can be booked here. For this, you get hefty half-pints of a range of BrewDog draft ales, cunningly matched in some of the following combinations:

- Mini Yorkshire puddings with pork and sage chipolatas, tomato, apple and 5 A.M. chutney, matched with 5 A.M hoppy amber ale. Mr Liz has been a surprisingly keen advocate of the mini Yorkshire pudding, despite the presence of the word "mini" (normally something of a deal breaker) within its name, so he'll be looking forward to this one.

- Punk IPA battered haddock goujons with homemade tartare sauce, matched with Punk IPA, a contradictory, contemporary take on classic India Pale Ale. If I were the sort of person who made their own fish and chips rather than sending Mr Liz to the nearest chippy, I like to think I would put beer in the batter, although whether I would be allowed by Mr Liz to use BrewDog in such a manner is doubtful.

- Mature cheddar cheese rarebit, matched with Hardcore, another, even more radical IPA with crafted on a rich, toffee canvas. Not being renowned for my hardcore nature on work nights, it is possible Mr Liz or anyone else seated close to me might start picking up my beer slack round about now (note: NOT a euphemism).

- Individual Lancashire cheese hot pots with homemade pickled Dogma cabbage, matched with Dogma, a heather infused Scotch ale, at a heart stopping 7.4 per cent. 7.4%? Ditto (see above).

- Cheeses from near and far with assorted Alice Porter chutneys, matched with Alice Porter, a unique take on this traditional drink from the British Isles. I rather like the idea of "cheeses from near and far" - I'm picturing myself standing on the table, looking through a telescope, crying "Ahoy, Cheese". Maybe those who have sat near me purely to pick up my beer slack will move away round about now.

- Frosted chocolate brownie, matched with Lost Dog, an imperial porter with notes of red berries created in collaboration with the award-winning Lost Abbey brewery. Chocolate and beer? I stand to be convinced, although it certainly SOUNDS nice.

All of this takes place between 7 and 10pm, and the only thing - the ONLY thing - that threatens to spoil the occasion is that Mr Liz has just told me he's not working next Friday - BAH; I think we can ALL see where that beer slack will be going...

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Fresco Freddo's Gelateria Brings Joy to Manchester and a Dream Come True for Mr Liz

Whether we choose to share it with the rest of the world or prefer to nestle it close to our hearts, we all have a dream. For some, it may be a grandiose vision of world peace, of an end to famine, and violence, and hatred in all its forms; for others, it might be the no less important hope of making life better close to home, one careful step at a time. And sometimes, just sometimes, the fates smile upon us and our dreams come true, illuminating our lives with a shaft of brilliant sunshine that makes the world shine a little brighter, just for a moment or two. And after eight years of marriage, I yesterday found out my husband's own dearest hopes and dreams, the tenet upon which his entire moral code is founded.

Mr Liz's dream was to eat every flavour of ice-cream on sale in an ice-cream shop. And now, thanks to the new Fresco Freddo's Gelateria on Manchester's Oxford Street, that dream has been fulfilled.

But let's rewind a little - you may wish to imagine some harp music and picture the screen going wavy - to our arrival at the super-cute new shop that promises to bring some Italian joy to the shores of Mancunia. The counter houses 22 different varieties of gelato and sorbet (NOT ice cream, do note - gelato is much lower in fat as it is made with milk rather than butter cream, although this is unlikely to justify the behaviour of someone who has eaten all 22 flavours in one sitting *looks askance at Mr Liz but says nothing*) as well as offering waffles and Kimbo coffee from Naples for those who are too self-conscious to order ice cream for breakfast.

The welcome at last night's soft launch really couldn't have been warmer, with owner Reem enthusing about the different flavours and really keen for us to try them and enjoy them; indeed, it was this lovely, blameless lady who uttered the immortal words to a breathlessly excited Mr Liz - "oh, do try them all." Never one to look a gift horse in the mouth (or at a full ice cream counter from afar), he did just that, claiming brazenly that it was for the sake of the blog that he put himself through such gluttony. And this might just have worked, had his feedback been more constructive than "this one's really nice, and this one's really nice as well, and I also really like this one, and this one is nice too."

And actually, it's true - they are all really nice. Eventually some favourites did emerge - from the gelato selection we all loved the Peanutella (you can already tell from the name that there is nothing but good to be had in this particular concoction), the Hazlenut and the Pistachio. The real winners were the sorbets though, with the Lime and Mint proving the runaway favourite, tasting as it does like a Mojito. As the sorbets are fat-free, I tried them all with clear conscience, and can confirm that the Lemon, Raspberry and Passion Fruit varieties came in a close second - luckily you will be able to buy a mixed cone containing up to three different scoops in order to alleviate the burden of choice here. And, you know, if you walked both up AND down Oxford Street you could also put on a fake moustache and go in again.

This is a really charming new business run by truly lovely people - it deserves to do well, and judging by the reactions on Facebook and Twitter last night, the whole of Manchester is ready to welcome it with open arms; not least that lucky, happy boy whose dreams finally came true here.

Fresco Freddo's can be found at 83 Oxford Street, Manchester M1 6EG; if there's a large boy hogging the counter you have my permission to boot him out the way - he's HAD his turn for now.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Alchemist NYS, Manchester - Roving Reporter Raves, and Demands Special Pad

Now, as I'm sure that many of you will be aware, I am a brave sort of soul, not really the type to complain about being poorly, or about MISSING OUT ON THINGS AT HOME IN BED WHEN THE WHOLE WORLD IS CAROUSING AND HAVING A REALLY GOOD TIME...wait, sorry - where was I? Ah, yes - not one to complain, which is why you would have had to have gone over my Twitter timeline with a very fine toothcomb indeed to glean that last week I had a touch of tonsillitis and was confined to bed. This unfortunately-timed illness coincided with a rash of lovely events that I would very much like to have attended, including the launch of the new Alchemist Bar on New York Street in Manchester; ever the consummate professional, however, I managed to procure a roving reporter to attend in my stead (I KNOW - from my SICK bed - ALWAYS working). This is what the lovely Olivia made of it all...


It’s no mean feat opening up a new bar, especially in a fast moving and vibrant city like Manchester; with so many cocktail bars in the city now, you’ve got to be something pretty special to get noticed... and that’s exactly what the Alchemist NYS does. They know what to do and precisely how to do it.

From the very minute we walked through the door there was a vibe about this place, a special vibe, the type of vibe that makes you want to go EVERYWHERE and see EVERYTHING. And when I say ‘see’ of course I pragmatically mean taste everything too, after all how could I really comment on how good the cocktails were if I didn’t test at least a few of them. So that’s exactly what I did.

First up was the White Cosmo, a refreshing and unique potion of St Germain Elderflower liqueur mixed with white grape juice and lemon bitters and finished off with a vodka-laden frozen white orchid. For a let’s just say ‘well experienced’ cocktail sampler like myself this was liquor heaven *licks lips, tries to refrain from jumping on the next train for another hit*. Other sampled cocktails included the French Martini, Rosebud, Apricot Bramble, Lemon and Cherry Pie and Passion Fruit and Lychee Meringue Martini. I particularly enjoyed being fed, by a very glamorous assistant, the Passion Fruit and Lychee Meringue Martini which was accompanied by a spoon *plans to mark this down as my new favourite ‘food’*. And the most special thing about the carefully selected cocktails on their menu... their uniqueness, a finishing touch that just makes that bit of difference to take it a step away from the norm and every other Cosmo (or whatever it might be) out there.

This is one stylish hub with all you need from a city centre bar. There are a number of different areas in this spacious bar, from booths to luxurious Chesterfields, large bar standing areas and an outside terrace. What more could you ask for? Whether you’re in the mood for a meal or just a drink, I’d definitely put this place on your ‘to do’ list *checks diary for next available visit*.

The Alchemist is part of the prestigious Living Ventures group, and whilst a number of drinks were provided free at the launch that Olivia attended, she chose to stay on after the free bar had finished and purchase a number of additional cocktails. Rumours that she has got above her station and demanded I buy her a spiral-bound reporting pad for next time are, as yet, completely unfounded.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Room Manchester - New Chef, New Menu, Same High Standards...Same Old Greed

Some restaurants have the ability to retain a fond corner of your food-loving heart, even when you've not been there for a while. Such a restaurant is Room, housed in the imperious old Reform Club building at the top of Manchester's King Street - this was once a regular haunt for me, before my head was turned by the fancy new upstarts popping up in other parts of the city. And, to be honest, a couple of recent comments from fellow foodies on Twitter had suggested that maybe this dear old friend was not quite the place it was, and no longer hitting the dizzy food heights to which it once aspired.

Well, the new menu launches on August 14th, and judging by the tasting evening I attended on Tuesday to introduce some of the new dishes, Room's reputation is in safe hands. New chef James Wallis has kept with the Room tradition of taking familiar old classics and updating them with a modern twist, resulting in dishes that manage to be both comforting and interesting, as seen in the selection that follows. Do bear in mind that these were taster dishes and therefore might not exactly resemble what you'll get from the 14th (in a good way - yours will probably be BIGGER).

Starters: we were lucky enough to try three of the new starters: Pork & Apple (pig’s head with apple & vanilla puree, served with crispy ear), Gazpacho, and Rollmop herring served with beetroot & vodka pickle, horseradish, dill and candied walnuts. Of these three, the standout dish was the Gazpacho - much to my surprise, as I would never normally select a soup in a restaurant. Perhaps I just don't think of soup as a real food, or I associate it with the painfully healthy versions I make at home when the mud-encrusted specimens at the very bottom of the smug middle-class vegetable box begin to look at me accusingly. This, though, was perfect - sweet, tangy, well-seasoned; I would definitely order this again. The herring was within a whisker of being a knock-out dish, offering a stunning combination that just needed a little more kick (or, to use the technical gastro-terminology, "oomph") - my fellow diners and I agreed that a little more acidity in the fish and a bit more horseradish in the sauce would take this dish to a new dimension. The pressed pig's head was suitably tasty and the crispy ears were delicious (although I only got one piece, and wasn't quick enough to swipe any more from Mr Liz's plate); the sweetness of the puree also worked well with the salty chewiness of the pig. So far, so good.

Main: only one main was presented for our delectation, and on paper it looked a little wintery - a Lamb Hotpot dish consisting of braised shoulder hot pot, sweetbreads and sliced loin, served with confit potatoes, peas, and carrots in cumin. When it showed up, though, this was my favourite dish of the night - I know it's pretty commonplace in restaurants these days, but I still can't quite shake the childish pleasure of being served different cuts of the same animal all on one plate, feeling somehow that I'm getting several dinners for the price of one. Here, the elements all worked perfectly together - the freshness of the vegetables against the pinkly tender loin, the deliciously chewy sweetbreads and the intensely savoury flavour of the braised shoulder. Recommended.

Desserts: I'm not really a pudding person, but the experts at the table (including a pastry chef) proclaimed the duo of proferred desserts a real triumph and a high point of the meal. One enormous slate carried a strawberries and cream Eton Mess, paired with Chocolate & Milk – marquise, hazelnut, milk puree and ice cream, the former in particular showing Room at its wittiest and most creative, with its basil and strawberry quenelle and impossibly cute meringue batons. The chocolate marquise was a little on the rich side for me, but the fact that the aforementioned renowned pastry chef on my right polished off mine as well as her own speaks volumes of the quality here.

So, Room, I'm sorry. I'm sorry I abandoned you, with your beautiful staircase, your airy, high-ceilinged restaurant with its giant red lampshades (which, incidentally, was pretty much full on a Tuesday night) and your enticing half-price Champagne sale that runs till the end of September. Now I've rediscovered, you might just never get rid of me again...

- Room is at 81 King Street, Manchester, M2 4AH; tel +44(0)161 839 2005.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Linen Restaurant and Fusion Bar at Manchester 235: Giant Steaks and Flaming Zombies

Now, I have embraced the recent trend for a more casual style of dining in Manchester's eateries with some enthusiasm and not a little ketchup on my face. I've drunk from jam jars in Almost Famous, perched on the patchwork sofa and trying deperately to eat a Triple Nom burger from a little low-down table without depositing half of it in my lap; I've fought with a similarly gannet-minded friend over the last piece of chilli cornbread in Southern Eleven in a MOST undignified way; I've been allowed to eat crispy chicken skin in the sancified guise of Rooster Fries at SoLIta. And I love them all.

Sometimes, though, it's nice to go a little bit old-school. I have a huge fondness for a traditional, "proper" restaurant - the ones with beautifully starched white napkins and tableclothes (even though I DO always spill red wine on them, no matter how carefully I pour), with elegantly upholstered damask chairs and wine glasses that magically top themselves up whenever alcohol levels get dangerously low. Of course, there is a danger that this type of restaurant can be stuffy, and arrogant, and over-priced; I am pleased to report that Linen, where we dined last night, is none of these.

Linen is the restaurant attached to Manchester 235 Casino in the Great Northern complex on Deansgate; I suspect many people don't know of its existence, or don't realise that it operates independently of the casino, as it was quiet on what was admittedly a filthy wet Tuesday night. Still, I'd heard good things about the food here, particularly since new(ish) Head Chef Jarda arrives at Linen fresh from helping transform the Malmaison Brasserie into superior grillhouse Smoak last year. Here's what we had:

Starters: I quite fancied everything from the starter list, but in the end I went for Brixham Crab with spiced gazpacho, chillies and spring onions while Mr Liz chose seared squid and chorizo salad with harissa dressing, both priced at £7.50. Both dishes were almost perfect but not quite - both were generously sized and offered classic combinations of high-quality ingredients, but Mr Liz felt some of the squid was a fraction chewier than it should have been, and my crab was icy-cold, clearly straight from the fridge. This is not really the restaurant's fault - we were the first diners of the evening, and obviously seafood dishes cannot be left lying about at room temperature on the off-chance that someone will wish to order one shortly. Still, the chill did take the edge off the flavour of the crab, and whilst the punchy, sweet gazpacho was spot on, the dish as a whole would have worked better if I'd been able to wait for it to warm up a little (I couldn't).

Mains: It was on this course that the meal really hit its stride - Mr Liz tried the 8oz rib-eye steak whilst I went for the 10oz pork cutlet served with crispy pork cheek, spring peas and a sauce of gribiche, capers, shallots and gherkins. The steak was served perfectly pink, and achieved that happy texture of a well-cooked rib-eye - tender enough to cut easily, but with just that right amount of sturdy chew that characterises this cut of meat. The accompanying peppercorn sauce was also excellent - unlike some of the bland offerings that are served up with steak, this one had a hefty, spicy, warming kick to it (and I should know - ALL my chips were surreptitiously dipped into this when Mr Liz wasn't looking).

My own choice of main had largely been made on the strength of the accompaniments - I love a nice saucy dish, and this certainly met my requirements. A pork chop is a pork chop (albeit a fine one), but the pig cheek croquette was the star of the plate - densely-packed flakes of what is, to my mind, quite the tastiest part of any porcine friend. I also enjoyed the sauce - gribiche is essentially an egg sauce, a little like a rich mayonnaise, and this one worked well with the plainly-cooked chop, the generosity of the gherkins and capers helping to cut through the richness. My only quibble here is a churlish one - I found the portions on the large side and couldn't finish my chop; luckily no food goes to waste when dining with Mr Liz, and I had rather brought it on myself by ordering a variety of side dishes that, frankly, I didn't need. Sides are priced at £3.95 each, which may feel a little steep when you've already paid £19.50 for your steak, but I would suggest perhaps just one (the pleasingly sturdy hand-cut chips, or the fine mashed potato) to go alongside the steak rather than the, ahem, three that we ordered.

Desserts: Now, the advantage of giving your husband half your chop (no euphemism intended) is that you have essentially left yourself some room for pudding. I had the fromage blanc and vanilla mousse served in a crispy dark chocolate shell with summer berries - a light, sweet, slightly lemony froth of a dessert, although I did find the chocolate shell superfluous and ate round it. Mr Liz enjoyed his syllabub with strawberry and rhubarb compote, and left the restaurant confident that he had had an entirely healthy option, despite eating a spare chocolate shell he had found lying around on a nearby plate.

We drank a very good Pinot Noir priced at £22, and service was faultless throughout - helpful without being intrusive. The restaurant is open every day and is keen to bring more people in during the week - to this end, they are offering what looks to be an excellent-value set menu at £17.50 for two courses or £20 for three - I will definitely be back to try this. I also have my eye on the private wine room, where a table for four nestles enticingly amongst a sea of fine bottles, and the chef's table, where a party of six can watch Jarda rustle up a special eight course menu, and then delicately scoff the lot. Have a look at the restaurant's website for more details.

Whilst on the premises, it seemed churlish not to have a look at Fusion, the adjoining bar. They are rightly proud of their cocktails, and a quick look at the extensive list explains why: these are classics with a twist, made with knowledge and enthusiasm (and in some cases, FIRE). I had the 235 - Amaretto, Creme de Fraise, strawberry puree and champagne - and it was absolutely delicious, although rather tame compared to Mr Liz's Zombie. This appears to be the best cocktail in the history of the world - gold and dark rum, apricot liqueur, pineapple juice, fresh passionfruit, and a flaming shot of Wray & Nephew rum served in the recently-hollowed out passion fruit shell. It is spectacular, SO spectacular that a passing couple saw Mr Liz's being made and had to stop for one each of their own. Prices here are in line with most other city centre bars at around £7-£8.50, but the selection is more interesting than most, and - terrifyingly - they serve until 6am.

We were invited to review both the bar and the restaurant and so did not have to pay for our meal or our drink, but were encouraged to be completely honest and unbiased in our feedback. Whilst the restaurant was quiet and lacked a little atmosphere, I would definitely eat here again, and have already suggested Fusion as a meeting place for a forthcoming night out - if I can just manage to drag Mr Liz past all those gambling tables AND keep the whole 6am thing from him...