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Saturday, 29 September 2012

Manchester's Seven Word Wine Review Dinner at The Market Restaurant: Local Girl Gets Legs

Now, I have to admit that I've always been markedly better at drinking wine than at tasting it. Confident with a corkscrew from the age of three, I am peerless in the art of opening the bottle, pouring a generous glass, quaffing said glass, and then repeating this process ad infinitum, preferably whilst lying on the sofa. All that other stuff though - the holding it up to the light, the swooshing round the glass, the wafting, the inhaling, the admiration of mysterious properties such as "legs", the earnest discussion of all things chocolate and cherry, gooseberry and grass - has always been a little beyond me, not least because after all that hard work and effort it appears you are expected to simply POUR AWAY the wine into a nearby receptacle, such as a spittoon or, in my case, a husband.

I have, however, been broadening my bibendary horizons in recent weeks. Last month, I quaffed knowledgeably with The Didsbury Wine Club and learned many things - most notably that Reserve Wines sell a marvellous Bordeaux and that too much wine on a school night is not always entirely a good thing. And then last night, I found myself at The Market Restaurant in the Northern Quarter in the company of 17 lovely, enthusiastic and - by the end - quite drunk people convening for the second Seven Word Wine Review dinner. The premise here is simple - you bring along a bottle of wine that you love and which costs under £20 (*pretends is regularly in the habit of spending £20 on a bottle of wine rather than more usual £7.99 or similar*) and then share it with the other guests, explaining what it is and why you like it. And yes, I too was surprised to find that a bottle of wine will serve 17 people (albeit in rather daintier portions than is my natural inclination to pour).

We started with a sparkling red, then moved on to whites, and then hit the reds, all the while cleverly multi-tasking by eating the three course meal that appeared by magic in front of us - pate, followed by steak, followed by gargantuan cheese platters. The benefits here are so astonishing that quite frankly I can't believe I've not been going to this sort of thing for years - you get to try loads of different wines that you might not normally choose, and because you're not paying a restaurant mark-up on any of it you can spend a little more than perhaps might be in your nature *looks askance at Wiganer husband*.

My favourite wines of the night? In terms of white, it was the St Clair Pioneer Block Sauvignon Blanc, brought by wine enthusiast Si and purchased from Majestic Wines. And, rather immodestly, my favourite red was the Chateau des Gravieres brought by, ahem, me; although any glory I might have claimed from "discovering" this gem was somewhat negated by the presence of Omar - the very man who introduced me to it last month at The Didsbury Wine Club. To be honest, though, I enjoyed most of the wines, and even if I hadn't the joyous company would have more than compensated - no pretensions here, just nice, knowledgeable people talking about what they enjoy drinking and keeping mercifully quiet about legs and gooseberries.

Mind you - if anyone has any ideas what I should take to the next Seven Word Wine Review dinner then do please be in touch - both our wines last night may have been a hit (they are pictured here in a "before" and "after" shot) but I might just need your help if I'm to keep up the pretence of being a classy wine-drinker...

- Last night's dinner was organised by the lovely Gordon: you can follow him on Twitter as @everymanwines or check out his excellent wine blog here. We paid £20 a head for our three courses at The Market Restaurant and they brought so much excellent cheese even I couldn't get through it all (although I did try).

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

An Evening of Burlesque at Manchester's Palace Theatre: Local Girl (Thankfully) Keeps Clothes ON

Now then, let's be honest about this: Manchester, much as I love it, does not always make it particularly easy for its residents to feel sexy. Take any night last week, for example - even the most cursory of glances at a random selection of Mancunian timelines would have indicated beyond any reasonable doubt that Manchester was pretty much at home, in its pyjamas, on the sofa with the heating on, drinking hot chocolate with brandy in it. To many of these Mancunians, even the thought of taking their clothes off long enough to jump into a hot bath seemed HIGHLY unpalatable.

Let us spare a moment then, to ponder the fortitude, bravery and downright selflessness of the plucky ladies and gentlemen performing at Manchester's Palace Theatre last Friday night in An Evening of Burlesque. This was a filthy wet night - cold, showery and miserable (although Mr Liz did manage to convince himself it was weather enough for a cheeky banana gelato at the nearby Fresco Freddo's beforehand) - yet here they were: suspenders jaunty, corsets laced, tassels poised, purely for our entertainment (and that was just the MEN).

I have to be honest and say I didn't really quite know what to expect from An Evening of Burlesque, basing my imaginings on a vague awareness of Dita Von Teese and a recent visit to the Faerie show at Paris' Moulin Rouge. And perhaps it was unfair to judge the show based on this admittedly rather sketchy body of existing knowledge, but the first half was certainly something of a disappointment - a mish-mash of traditional variety-style acts, fire-eating, singing and suspenders. It lacked any kind of cohesion and left the (clearly well-oiled) audience of hen parties and birthday celebrants baying for more; it seemed very tame and - dare I say it - a little unprofessional. A confused, slow version of Ice Ice Baby performed by compere Ivy Paige pretty much summed this half up for me - a little dull, a little wrong, a little, well, odd.

What a difference an interval makes. The second half was fabulous: Ivy Paige won us over with a VERY funny section involving an audience member who was supposedly stalking her; the Folly Mixtures quartet of burlesque dancers, kept exceedingly under-wraps in the first half, were finally allowed to show off their beautifully sparkly and strategically placed tassels in a series of group and individual pieces which were far more engaging than their earlier equivalents; and the star of the show, Amber Topaz - the original "Yorkshire Tease", as seen below - got to show off her full range of considerable talents (by which I mean that she sings beautifully, as well as being funny AND sexy - get your minds out the gutter).

So overall, a good night - if the first half had been up to the standard of the second, I would have been so overcome with burlesque spirit that I may well have treated my fellow travellers to a quick strip on the bus on the way home, inclement weather or not. As it was, I kept my clothes firmly on, and hurried home to turn the heating on, don fleecy pyjamas and have a nice cup of hot chocolate...

Sunday, 23 September 2012

A Tribute to the Blues Brothers - LIVE Gets Local Girl Dancing in the Aisles at Manchester's Lowry Theatre

Now, although I like Edinburgh very much, and visit on a pretty regular basis (not least because Mr Liz claims at least twice a year that "something may have changed" at the Scotch Whisky Experience, thus necessitating yet another trip), I have never actually been when the Edinburgh Festival is on. There are two probable reasons for this. Firstly, I am mildly claustrophobic, and just thought of the vast number of people likely to descend upon this fair city at Festival time makes me feel a little anxious. What I suspect to be the real reason, though, is the vague notion I have of what the Festival might be like - a notion that involves an entire weekend of picking the wrong things to see, thereby earning oneself the pleasure of sitting through a selection of fairy tales performed entirely through the medium of dance and/or mime, or perhaps some scary, shouting, wild-haired thespians banging on drums whilst loudly proclaiming the complete works of Ibsen in Norwegian, and possibly backwards.

I do understand, of course, that the Festival is (probably) not really like this. I know plenty of people who go every single year, and who speak with passion and excitement of the times they have discovered a true gem lurking amidst the Hungarian drummers - a thrill I myself will never experience. Fortunately for me, I did manage to catch up with one of these gems in the altogether safer environs of The Lowry Theatre last week, as the Hartshorn-Hook production A Tribute to the Blues Brothers - Live made its Manchester debut after three successful seasons at the Fringe AND a run on the West End. This is essentially an hour and a half of insanely catchy music interspersed with the odd key line from the original film, and is exactly the kind of way that EVERYONE should spend Thursday nights: sitting in a darkened theatre wearing sunglasses as two men - one thin, one fat - sing great songs accompanied by enthusiastic and talented musicians, and doing a small, surreptitious dance at the back of the box during the second half to help burn off the big fat portion of confit de canard consumed before the show (actually, this might just have been me).

The show has apparently now played to over 10,000 people (9,995 more than have seen the Hungarian shouty Ibsen, no doubt), and is the only one in the UK licensed to use Jake and Elwood, the Blues Brothers characters. As if that wasn't enough, Hartshorn-Hook Productions (founded by Louis Hartshorn and Brian Hook five years ago) are a Manchester-based company, so whilst Jake and Elwood have now packed up their bumble-bee suits and moved on from our fair city, you should certainly take the chance to see them next time they're in town - keep an eye on the Hartshorn-Hook website for details of upcoming shows.

As for me, I'm off to plan my next holiday - I hear Edinburgh is just LOVELY this time of year...

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Things to Cheer You Up in Manchester - Books, Crafts and Films to Banish Those Autumn Blues

Well, season of mists and mellow fruitfulness it may be, but so far I have only noticed September offering increasingly dark evenings, motorways clogged with cars bearing sulky-faced back-to-school children (and teachers), and a high chance of discovering the cat sprawled in front of a radiator that has now had to be turned on. Still, whilst it may be tempting to simply retreat under the duvet and wait for more exciting times to come (Bonfire Night, Christmas, anything that licences daytime drinking), there are actually a number of nice things you could be doing instead...

Go to a book festival. This is always a promising option, as attendance at something so literary during the day pretty much means you can spend the evening in whatever pursuit you choose and feel no form of guilt whatsoever. This weekend it's the Alderley Edge Community Book Festival, organised by Oxfam and due to open today at 11am with Edwina Currie reading from the latest instalment of her memoirs (and I think we ALL remember some of the disturbing details she revealed in the LAST one). Also appearing are Erica James and Melvin Burgess, and there will be an auction of rare books as well. It's all for a good cause, so get yourself down to Festival Hall - I will probably permit an ice-cream after to reward you for your generous efforts.

Cunningly combine a cinema-cum-pub visit. This one has WINNING IDEA stamped all over it - simply show one of Mr Liz's favourite films (Clerks) in one of Mr Liz's favourite venues (a pub - in this case, the Black Lion in Salford) and provide beanbags to loll on and burgers and beer to purchase - it's like a perfect kingdom of man, the opposite in fact to all those sad, awkward males you see lurking miserably outside the changing rooms in Top Shop. The showing forms part of the ‘Masters of Cinema’ series curated by Future Artists, the creative collective who run the arts venue at the pub - Hitchcock's Vertigo will be shown the following week to form an intentional contrast to the slacker vibe of Kevin Smith's classic. Clerks will show at 8pm on Tuesday 18th September, and advance tickets for just £4 a go can be bought here (remember to take plenty of beer money though).

Get Crafty. I'll be doing a proper post on this once I've had a chance to get down there and have a look, but just a quick heads up that Manchester Craft & Design Centre in Manchester's Northern Quarter is currently celebrating its impressive 30 year history with a specially commissioned Crafting History exhibition that runs until 10 November. Now, I love beautiful things, but as I was apparently born with plenty of thumbs but no elegantly able fingers, I have to admire work that other people have done rather than ever create my own - pieces on show here include a site-specific installation by ceramicist Carys Davies (I will not be letting Mr Liz anywhere near this, as I can already imagine the potential for breakage) as well as other gorgeous things such as this exquisite necklace by Julia Roy Williams *wants*

The exhibition runs until November 10th, and you can find out more about it on the centre's website.

So maybe September's not looking so bad after all, particularly with the Manchester Food and Drink Festival on the horizon as well...

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Hey Little Cupcake's New East Coast Collection Proves There's Life in the Old Cake Yet...

Over the last six months or so, I've heard plenty of people pontificating on the decline of the cupcake. The trend for small, tasty cakes temptingly slathered with buttercream and then decorated to resemble small, perfect works of art is over, they opine pointlessly, no doubt pottering off to nibble earnestly on whatever it is we are meant to be eating these days. Now, I do concede that the cupcake has become somewhat ubiquitous, and the fact that those lambs to the slaughter on the Great British Bake Off would never even dream of trying to impress the terrifying Hollywood/Berry combo with something as obvious as a cupcake does suggest that these innocently pleasurable mouthfuls have become distinctly cake non grata.

And yet, there are two clear lines of defence here. Firstly, something that tastes nice and makes people happy does not suddenly stop tasting nice and making people happy overnight, just because some grown-up somewhere says so. And secondly, saying that cupcakes have had their day hardly accounts for some of the innovative flavours and designs currently being produced by talented bakers who understand that people DO still want to eat cupcakes but perhaps might quite like to try something new as well.

Enter Hey Little Cupcake (they do have an exclamation mark, but I have temporarily suspended it, lest this post begin to sound rather over-excitable), a small but perfectly formed cupcakery and tea room tucked away on Little Quay Street in Manchester's Spinningfields. This week they launched their new East Coast collection, offering seven flavours which aim to take the greedy purchaser on a gastronomic journey along America's East Coast, generally agreed to be far more interesting and exotic than the normal cupcake path I beat between the sofa, the kettle, and back again. Here's the collection in full, with a different one introduced every day this week:

Monday - Florida Key Lime Pie. Digestive biscuit base with a lime sponge and topped with a refreshing lime cream frosting.

Tuesday - Boston Cream Pie. Vanilla sponge with a custard filling topped with custard buttercream and rich dark chocolate ganache.

Wednesday - Lady Baltimore Cake. Cherry and raisin pink vanilla sponge topped with light 7 minute meringue frosting and crushed pecans.

Thursday - Mississippi Mud Pie. Oreo cookie base under a rich chocolate Yorkie pudding filled sponge and topped with chocolate buttercream, fresh cream and chocolate sprinkles.

Friday - New York Cheesecake. Digestive biscuit base with vanilla cheesecake sponge topped with vanilla pod cream cheese.

Saturday - Brooklyn Blackout Cake. Espresso and rich dark chocolate sponge filled with a chocolate fudge filling and topped with chocolate buttercream, dark chocolate ganache and chocolate sprinkles.

Sunday - Kentucky Jam Cake. Cinnamon sponge filled with raspberry jam and topped with Carmel buttercream, cinnamon sprinkles and toffee sauce.

I was lucky enough to be given a box of four to try (clearly my reputation as an inveterate cakehead goes before me): the Key Lime Pie (sharp, sweet, zesty, gone), the New York Cheescake (tangy, not too sweet, good hit of real vanilla, also gone), the Kentucky Jam (rich, sweet buttercream offset by warmth of the cinnamon, not quite enough jam for me, also gone) and the Mississipi Mud Pie (generously reserved for Mr Liz and therefore not yet gone, as he possesses an irritating amount of self control). You see them here in all their glory - just imagine how pretty they looked BEFORE I carried them across Manchester and then tried to resist licking all the icing off them on my train journey home.

Each of these beauties costs £2.75 - find me a similarly priced treat that can bring a similar amount of pleasure and I too will sound the death knell for the cupcake. Until then, if you'll excuse me, I've got someone else's cake to be eyeing up...

- Hey Little Cupcake! is on Little Quay Street, Spinningfields, Manchester M3 3HF - they are open every day, and as it's Sunday today you've got till 4pm to go and grab your Kentucky Jam Cake - go, GO!

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Didsbury Wine Club: Local Girl's Hopes of EVER Staying In Cruelly Scuppered

Now, for all the crazy and unfounded accusations regularly hurled my way about how I'm never at home, always out, blah blah BLAH, I am actually very fond of the odd night in - the kind where pyjamas are donned immediately after work and the sofa embraced like a long-lost friend. However, it's starting to look very much as if a couple of extra days in the week might be needed in order to facilitate this night in, for it's getting increasingly difficult to find an evening that is not now regularly ear-marked for something nice, particularly round these here Didsbury parts. For example, Monday night is supper club at Love 2 Eat Deli whilst Thursday night is pie night; Tuesday nights bring free cheese and crackers at the Dog and Partridge whilst the weekend is just, well, the weekend. That pretty much just left Wednesdays as a shining beacon of early-to-bed-ness (apart from the last Wednesday of every month, which is of course Mark Addy Gourmet Night - you see the problems I'm up against here), a reliably nothingy sort of night with which to charge ones batteries ready to go again during the remainder of the week.

Well, turns out Wednesdays are not so reliable as they once were, for they are the preferred meeting night of the estimable Didsbury Wine Club - which is, essentially, a group of like-minded South Manchester quaffers who meet up on a regular basis to appreciate wine, discuss wine, learn about wine and, most importantly, neck loads of the stuff. Frankly, it's a wonder it's taken me so long to get on board with this one: yesterday was my very first Wine Club, although it most certainly shall not be my last. Venues and events vary from month to month: this one was at The Violet Hour in West Didsbury, a Euro- and Olympic-inspired event which pitted wines from seven different countries against each other in a fight off to the death (or whatever the wine equivalent of this might be - a fight to the pouring-down-the-sink-ness, perhaps). This is the sight that greeted me on my arrival...

...although, tragically, it soon transpired that I was expected to share this little haul with the twenty or so other cheery souls also in attendance. The ebullient Omar explained the rules of the competition (which frankly were perhaps a little more complicated than necessary for a group of people each about to drink seven glasses of wine) and we were away: in groups of four we graded each wine out of ten and then had a go at guessing the price of each, tasting three whites and four reds in total - an Italian Pinot Grigio, a South African Sauvignon Blanc, an American Chardonnay, a Chilean Reserve Merlot, a Spanish blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Tempranillo, an Argentine Malbec and a Bordeaux from France (all of which were sourced from the superb Reserve Wines on Burton Road). My favourite was the Bordeaux, closely followed by the Malbec - these were the overall joint winners as well, which indicates either that I have an excellent grasp of what makes a good wine and all-round impeccable taste, or (possibly) that these were the final two wines sampled by a group of people who appeared progessively less keen to spit any of the wine out into the receptacles provided.

The evening ended with one of the teams each winning a bottle of the most popular wine (I'm a little vague on how these winners were decided, as once it became horribly clear that I was not one of them I did lose interest somewhat) to take home, and even those people who had NOT won (fix! fix!) would have been hard-pressed to feel that seven generous glasses of wine for the event price of £15 did not represent excellent value. Joining the Wine Club is free, and new members are always welcome - see the website for more details. There is also a Manchester Wine Club, and there will soon be a Chorlton one too, as well as plans in the pipeline for other locations.

In fact, the ONLY negative I can come up with is that I shall clearly become a regular - so next time you're haranguing me for never staying in, please remember that it's simply not my fault...

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Perfect Saturday - Liquorice Bar, WestFest and the Return of the Alchemist Chicken in a Basket

Sometimes, a day just goes right. And to be honest, you know you're off to a winning start when you wake up to find that a/ it's Saturday, and b/ you feel tip-toppity despite taking part in a Liquorists Rum Trail the night before. And here's how the day got EVEN BETTER...

1. A sunny WestFest. This was the fourth annual celebration of the independent businesses that flourish along West Didsbury's Burton Road, and for me it was the best. The sun was shining, the beach was back at Folk, the queue for free fish and chips at Frankie's Fish Bar was as long as ever, and - best of all - a pop-up tavern had appeared outside Rhubarb. Here I sat, drinking icy-cold white wine and snarfing cartons of crispy fried chicken, coronation coleslaw and pulled pork roll, enjoying the sun whilst a stream of familiar faces meandered past - perfect.

2. The Return of the Giant Chicken. You may recall my joyful introduction to the chicken in a basket at the Alchemist NYS a few weeks ago; indeed, I was pretty much the only Manchester food person who celebrated this happy hen during a week when she found her tasty wares much maligned. Well, my charming dinner companion loved her bulging basket - and this time, even the coleslaw was good. And anyone who queries the fact that I had fried chicken twice on Saturday will simply be directed back to the beginning of this post to re-acknowledge that this was a day when everything went right.

3. Discovery of a New Cocktail Bar. Again, less charitable souls might suggest that I already know of plenty of Manchester drinking holes, but I'm always ready to welcome a new addition with open arms - particularly when it's running a range of tempting offers. The bar in question is Liquorice, which opened a few weeks ago in the former Destinos restaurant on Pall Mall just off King Street, and has already undergone a few changes in the form of new management. From what we saw, though, Liquorice deserves to hang around - we liked the dark, muted tones of the decor (even though from our lovely leather banquette we could see up a side street where two different men enjoyed full toilet facilities during the course of the evening), we liked the friendly knowledgeable staff (and the fact that they allowed us to bully them into playing our choice of music on the very well-stocked ipod behind the bar), and we VERY much liked that selected cocktails were two for the price of one (particularly as this selection included two of our favourites in the form of Amaretto Sour and Dark 'n' Stormy - both exceedingly well executed).

We also sampled a few of the signature cocktails, including the eponymous Liquorice - you can see it here in all its layered glory. A combination of fruit and extremely punchy liquorice is never going to be to everyone's taste (indeed, someone on Twitter referred to it as a real "Marmite" cocktail, and I can see why), but I loved it - a really unusual drink that I would order every single time. We were also impressed with the Flaming Mai Tai (which really showcased the quality of the Virgin Gorda rum used in making the drink), the Parma Violets-esque Aviation (pictured alongside the Liquorice), and a superlative Porn Star Martini, and felt that prices were pretty good for this part of town - the Liquorice, for example, is £6.95. We even had a small, surreptitious dance in our corner when the music got REALLY good - think New Order and Primal Scream as well as slightly more, ahem, up-to-date songs.

So, I ate, I drank, I danced, I basked in the sun...but the very best bit about about Saturday? After all that carousing, husband cabs was ready and waiting and I was in bed for midnight, ready to do it all again the next day...

Monday, 3 September 2012

Stuart Roy Clarke Exhibition at The National Football Museum: Mr Liz (yes - Mr Liz) TELLS ALL

Over time, it has come to my attention that Mr Liz has quietly but steadily been acquiring something of a cult following. Upon meeting him for the first time, people are apt to exclaim - with some excitement - "So YOU'RE Mr Liz", in a tone that suggests he has done something very clever, or very funny, when he hasn't. And as if that wasn't bad enough, an erroneous opinion seems to have emerged that he is somehow under the thumb, and put upon, and chastised on a regular basis, when this in fact only happens when he absolutely deserves it, and has brought it upon himself. Still, just to prove that my wifely generosity knows no bounds, tonight for one night - and one night only - Mr Liz SPEAKS...
(Photograph: FC United by Stuart Roy Clarke
Credit: Stuart Roy Clarke - The Homes of Football)

Now some regular readers of this blog may have come to the conclusion that it is predominantly about shoes, handbags and food. Possibly linked in with a touch of wine here and there.

Not that there is anything wrong with that, just that Manchester has so much more to offer in terms of culture, history and education. Which is why Liz has asked me to do my first ever guest blog on what should probably be renamed 'Cultural Things to do in Manchester (that doesn't involve, food, shoes, handbags, shopping, etc.)'.

Take the National Football Museum for example. Originally located at Deepdale in Preston, it has recently moved to the Urbis exhibition centre in Manchester. For anyone with even the slightest interest in the beautiful game this is an absolute must see with a range of special events, guest speakers and temporary exhibitions all worthy of note along with interactive football games for the little (and in some cases, not so little) ones.

Which brings me on to how I spent an engrossing hour this week.

Currently the temporary exhibition space is filled with a series of images by the official Football Trust photographer Stuart Roy Clarke, and on Friday he was on hand for an all too brief hour to explain some of the thinking behind some of his most iconic photographs.

While the influx of money into football can be considered a good thing, it is undeniably bringing about a change in football as clubs become businesses first. I doubt that anyone can deny this has resulted in improved facilities for fans and players, but in doing so we are at risk of losing an essential part of what makes the game so accessible to so many. These days it seems that the results on the balance sheet are more important than the results on the pitch. Stuart Roy Clarke realised that, in the aftermath of the Hillsborough disaster, football was at a pivotal moment and that things were about to change within the game. Therefore he set out to document as much of this as possible before it was gone, resulting in his 'Homes of Football' exhibition.

While ostensibly a football photographer, Stuart Roy Clarke's photography is about much more than just two teams of men running after a ball. It's about the fabric that surrounds football just as much as the game itself. He manages to capture the details, the passion, the glory, the disappointment, the expectation, the hope, the excitement and the emotions. In his own words, the football match is merely the icing on the cake as he strives to show balance in his photography, between what happens on the pitch and what happens on the terraces, between the events during the game and the events before. His photographs are just as likely to focus on the tea ladies as on the terraces with everyone involved being regarded as equally important within the context of The Match.

I found Stuart Roy Clarke to be an entertaining and interesting speaker, happy to engage with those of us who had made the trip to the exhibition as well as sign autographs for the kids. For those, like myself, who like the technical details, Stuart Roy Clarke uses an old school Bronica (film, not digital) camera and works with a fixed lens. His images are un-doctored and reflect the colours and events as they happened, not how he may have liked to imagine them after the event reflecting a truth that is often missing in modern photography.

The National Football Museum showcases the history of a game that has culturally shaped our nation, and Stuart Roy Clarke's exhibition shows us an aspect of football's recent history that is in danger of being forgotten. Whether you are a Red or a Blue there will be something there for you to enjoy. The exhibition is on level 3 of the National Football Museum until the 31st of December, admission is free and it's open seven days a week. Please see the Museum website for further details.

...So there we go - Mr Liz has been liberated, valued and given a platform to proudly proclaim his words aloud to a waiting and appreciative world. Obviously, this WILL be the last occasion he'll be allowed to speak for some time, or I'll never hear the end of it...

Saturday, 1 September 2012

The Liquorists' Rum Trail: Manchester Rejoices at NO HANGOVER GUARANTEED

Amongst the many good things about getting older (better wine, better shoes, better restaurants, going to bed early with no shame, thinking about joining the Women's Institute), lurk one or two that are not nearly so welcome - hangovers, for one. Of course, it may just be that when I was younger I simply adopted the unarguably effective practice of never stopping drinking, thereby delaying the inevitable through a continuous "topping-up" process, but I just don't remember having real, work-stopping hangovers until I was about 25. Now, I sometimes get hangovers when I've not even been drinking, and it is with great relief, therefore, that I can confirm that The Liquorists' mighty promise of "No Hangover Guaranteed" continues to hold good - for me, anyway.

If you've seen my previous posts on The Liquorists, you'll know that they are - to use their own words - "plonk pushers": in other words, they organise devilishly alcoholic trips around Manchester based on one particular spirit. We've previously blazed the Whisk(e)y Trail around the Northern Quarter and sailed upon the mighty Gin Barge; last night, it was the turn of RUM - six bars, six tots of rum, six rum cocktails and - most importantly - NO HANGOVER GUARANTEED.

*ignores cries of "can't be done!" from the back*

The trail started at 7pm in Hula Bar, a blink-and-you'll-miss-it little gem tucked away on one of the corners of Stevenson Square. Here, we met 14 other cheery souls all similarly intent on the pursuit of rum goodness, and Barry, our genial host for the night, doled out the first rations of the night - Plantation Rum by Bibendum Spirits, a clear, slightly sweet shot that slipped down no trouble at all. The deliciously tangy Atlantic Boat Club Daiquiri soon went the same way and we were swiftly moved on, despite the fact that Hula were playing Tiffany and I wanted to stay.

A brief, brave walk through the rain (luckily I had my virtual rum mac on) brought us to Keko Moku. This was my least favourite venue of the night simply because it was so busy - normally on a trail you sit in a specially reserved area, but the pocket-sized nature of Keko made this impossible. Still, we very much enjoyed the shot of 12-year-old El Dorado Rum (most people's favourite drink of the night) and the accompanying Swizzle cocktail, which contained both blood orange AND tea, and is therefore clearly suitable for promotion as a breakfast item.

Next up, Odd Bar, and a bit of a departure from the shot-and-cocktail theme: here, our Matusalem rum was served with a glass of pale ale. Now, I prefer a cocktail to a beer any day of the week and therefore sacrificed my glass to the greater good (ie not having a hangover the following day), but those who tried it proclaimed the combination to be a triumph - especially Mr Liz, who remained suspiciously quiet on where exactly my pale ale might have disappeared to.

Fourth stop was Tusk, a venue I very much liked as the musical selection (like Hula) seemed to suggest that we were somewhere in the late 80s/early 90s, although it was perhaps all a little too brightly lit to flatteringly showcase a group of people who had been necking strong spirits for several hours now. Here we had a shot of the 63% Wray and Nephew Jamaican Rum (which we found was much easier to drink with the addition of a splash of water) and a lovely cocktail described as halfway between a daiquiri and a margarita.

Just across the road now to the newish bar/deli/restaurant The Blue Pig, a very promising venue if the platters of bread, cheese and meat that we devoured here are anything to go by. On my way to the toilet I was beckoned over by a young man who seemed very keen to speak with me, my rum-induced delusions (still got it, even though I'm a hundred and ninety five years old, still hot even after twelve pints of rum, etc etc) cruelly shattered when it transpired that he'd been admiring the bottle of Brugal Blanco on our table and wondered how much it cost to buy. MEH.

Finally, we were whisked away in a fleet of taxis to our last, secret location (not actually that secret if you know ANYTHING about The Liquorists, but I won't spoil the surprise) for Pussers Navy Rum, a Painkiller cocktail (essentially rum and coconut milk in a tin mug) and a big fat Thai Green Curry just to soak up some of that booze. Whilst you do get little taster platters at each venue, nothing placates a rum-filled stomach like curry and rice, and I say this after years of extensive scientific testing (*notes with some satisfaction that all those years at university were not, in fact, wasted*).

So, once again, a great night was had by all. The Liquorists are brilliant people - enthusiastic, generous and knowledgeable, and their trails are great value. We went on a Friday, but prices are from as little as £35 a head if you go on a Wednesday night - see the website for full details as the Rum Trail runs until the end of September. And the very fact that I'm sitting here at 9.30 the next morning writing up the blog should prove that it's true - The Liquorists really do offer NO HANGOVER GUARANTEED...*

*NB, those on the trail (naming no names) who sloped off to Whim Wham or Socio Rehab afterwards and drank MORE have no-one to blame but themselves - you have broken the terms of the GUARANTEE *stern face*