Now, whilst I like to think I can turn my hand to most things, I am not necessarily the first person you would think of as your go-to girl for anything to do with technology. I can count on one hand the pieces of kit I have properly loved over the years: my 1980s Sony Walkman, with its squeaky orange foam headphones and voracious battery-devouring habit; the Sky Plus box and the fact that I don't think I've sat through a single TV advert since falling for its charms; and, most recently, my iPhone. I am quite ashamed how much I admire and cosset the last item on this list - I've stopped short of buying it a sparkly outfit, but only just, and I have apps for pretty much everything I never needed to know.
Still, despite these new-found shallows, it was still something of a surprise to be asked to give my opinion of a new app - a pleasant surprise obviously, indicating that someone somewhere had finally realised that I am more than capable of writing about clever and important things, things other than food, drink, shopping and generally gadding about. Until, of course, I noticed that the app - Vivi in Stile - is by Peroni, an excellent beer with which I have more than a passing acquaintance, and aims to provide the hungry and thirsty gadabout with information on the best places to eat, drink and shop in Manchester. Did I want to download and try the app, and report back on it? Well, as such a proposition seemed to involve some selfless eating and drinking in Manchester, I decided to broaden my horizons and push myself to the limit by giving it a go.
First things first - to download and have a look at the app. The content is largely but not exclusively Italian, and offers a list of recommended restaurants, bars, museums, galleries and boutiques in Manchester along with a brief write-up of each one by such local luminaries as Ruth Allen and Katie Popperwell - places are helpfully listed in order of those nearest to your current location. We elected to go with the Italian theme for our first foray by visiting Carluccio's in Spinningfields, although I questioned this at first: surely we should go to new places, that we'd never been to before? Indeed, replied Mr Liz, sporting his best hangdog expression, but I have NEVER been to Carluccio's - you always go with your friends, and leave me at home, and come home stinking of red wine and garlic *sad, mournful face*.
So we went to Carluccio's on a Saturday lunchtime, and found it packed to the gills with a cheerful cross section of the Manchester population - Carluccio's seems to appeal to all age groups, no doubt due in equal measure to its no nonsense Italian food and its pleasingly well-stocked deli section. We shared the Antipasto Massimo at £11.95 - triangles of good, salty focaccia bread, Napoli and Milano salami, roast ham, stuffed chicken, green bean salad, caponata, roast vegetables and olives spread seductively on a bed of slate. We followed this up with Fritto Misto (me) and Bistecca di Bue Con Patate (Mr Liz); or, in English, a massive dish of fried crispy calamari, whitebait, prawns and sea bass fillet served with garlic mayonnaise, and a chargrilled 8oz ribeye steak with rosemary potatoes and pepolata red pepper sauce. The food here is always good, the wine list is pleasingly Italian and the service professional and friendly; I have always liked it here, and now Mr Liz also likes it, and is even sadder he hasn't been before.
In the interests of us both trying somewhere (sort of) new, we also paid a visit to Browns, that venerable old establishment at the top of King Street which began life in 1902 as a banking hall. Last time I came here it was the Athenaeum, a big old smoky pub full of big old smoky people; its new identity as a sophisticated brasserie suits it much better, and although prices seem to have headed skyward since the old days, an hour spent in here listening to a nice man playing the piano and sipping on a glass of good red (me, not the nice man playing the piano - that would be a different talent entirely) is a pleasant one indeed. We were a little taken aback to be charged £9 for a pint of lager and that aforementioned (small) glass of red, but we were impressed with the quality of our plate of bar snacks. These are classy snacks indeed - you choose as many as you want from the chalk board and are charged accordingly; we went for six, including picante peppers stuffed with goat's cheese, salmon, smoked haddock and lobster croquettes, and - best of all - crab crostini. These were all exemplary, but not cheap at £19 for the selection you see here; still, you get what you pay for, and you can always eat Pringles on the couch at home the following night to redress the economic balance.
So, now the review is done, will I use the app again? Yes, I will - it's succinct and well-chosen in its recommendations, and lists a number of interesting-sounding shops that I plan to visit in the near future. The links to each location's own website are also useful - you can browse the list to see what you fancy and then click through to look at menus etc in more detail. I do have to stress that I was under no obligation to be nice about the app, and I would query the rather random inclusion of a few places in the suburbs (for example, one in West Didsbury, one in Chorlton, one in Whalley Range) - surely the app should either be City Centre only, or go the other way and include a more comprehensive list of suggestions for slightly out-of-town places? Still, this is a minor quibble - this is a nice app that would be useful for visitors to the city but also offers up a few new suggestions for the locals. You can download it here for Apple and here for Android; meanwhile, I'm off to add "Techno IT Wizard" to my Linked In profile...