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Saturday, 19 January 2013

Manchester's Whim Wham Cafe Offers Warming Winter Welcome to Intrepid Arctic Diners

Now, before you turn away in boredom and petulance, I will make it clear from the start that this is NOT a blog post about the weather (nor will there be any horse jokes, but that's a whole other story) - we've all seen quite enough pictures of cheery-cheeked souls having tremendous fun sledging, having snowball fights etc etc whilst we weary Manchester folk go about our normal business in our traditional annual millimetre of wintery precipitation. I do have to remark, however, that it was quite ridiculously cold last night, with the sort of biting, icy wind that makes you want to curl up on the sofa, in pyjamas, with some kind of hot beverage; certainly the sort that gets you wishing that you didn't have a restaurant reservation, booked during the comparatively balmy climes of last weekend.

So I thought, briefly, about cancelling. But there are a handful of bars and restaurants that I would brave any kind of weather for, and one of them is The Whim Wham Cafe on Manchester's Whitworth Street West - so, thankfully, the booking survived. I've written about this charming little gin saloon many times before: it offers a small but perfect selection of dishes made from proper, artisan ingredients (local where possible), a number of lovingly crafted gin cocktails, live music, and an owner - Alix - who is never less than impeccably turned out (I note in passing that Mr Liz was also extremely well-turned out last night, and put this down to "the Alix effect" - an added bonus).

We started last night with a swift gin cocktail. There are two long, spritzer-style drinks on the menu, so I had the Gin Wham (gin, ginger wine, ginger ale - and remember, ginger is a star food *healthy, virtuous face*) while Mr Liz had the Cherry Lips (gin topped up with a frisky, fruity combination of cherry and blackberry *healthy, virtuous etc etc) whilst we perused the menu (which I actually know off-by-heart, but had to peruse again in order to justify cocktail). There are always nice things to be had on the Specials Board, and the Potted Wild Rabbit called seductively to me from the Small Plates specials (not literally - rabbits are not really ones for much talking, particularly once potted). This turned out to be a great choice - gamey, shredded meat packed into a ramekin and served with bread and the Whim Wham's legendary homemade Piccalilli. Mr Liz went for the Baby Leaf Salad of Mrs Kirkhams Smoked Lancashire Cheese and Balsamic Bacon with Chilli Marinated Beetroot (yes, I HAVE copied and pasted all that) and this also proved a surprisingly wise option on such a cold night, with the salady ranks swelled by generous amounts of good, salty cheese and bacon and warmed by some pleasingly fiesty beetroot.

On to the mains (or Big Plates, in Whim Wham parlance), and for me there was no looking beyond the Shredded Pork in GB Sauce, served with baby baked potatoes, bread and apple and fennel coleslaw. The GB Sauce is described as "A blend of Great British ingredients, including ginger beer, cider, honey & Worcester Sauce", and mighty fine it is too: fruity, sweet, tangy and - reluctantly - shared with a waiting Mr Liz. Meanwhile, he went straight to the Page of Pie and chose the Classic Cheese and Onion - these are supplied by one of our favourite Pie Men (Neil at Great North Pie Co) and are all terrific, particularly served up with the satisfyingly wintery mound of mash and peas seen here seconds before being converted to the kind of fuel required to get us safely home in such cold conditions.

We shared a pudding, not because we were in any way still hungry, but because a/ the Sticky Toffee Pudding at the Whim Wham is ace, and b/ for an extra pound they will serve it with a scoop of ice-cream from another of our favourite food producers, Gingers Comfort Emporium. We like the Salted Caramel and Peanut Butter Ice Cream - aka Chorlton Crack; it is even nicer than it sounds, and perfectly acceptable even in Arctic conditions.

Food prices are pretty reasonable at the Whim Wham, with Small Plates around a fiver and Big Plates mostly between £10 and £12 - portions are generous, and it's worth keeping an eye-out for pre- and post-theatre dining offers. And the best thing? I don't know whether it was the welcome, the food, the gin or the wine, but our journey home was DEFINITELY less cold - I reckon with the application of just one more wine jacket, I'll have this winter weather sussed...

- The Whim Wham Cafe is at Arch 64, Whitworth Street West, Manchester, M1 5WQ.

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