Now, whilst I like to think I do have SOME talents, it may come as no surprise that the sporting world is not one in which I have ever really excelled. At school I was quite good at netball, but as this was purely on the strength of me being taller than all the other girls I'm not sure this really counts - I was passable at the high jump for the very same reason. I do not in fact have a competitive bone in my body; I have to leave the room if people playing a board game start becoming a little aggressive, and can't even watch quiz shows on television - I had to follow Manchester's recent triumph on University Challenge via Twitter, occasionally posting the plaintive request "are they still winning?" to a largely very helpful timeline.
So when the people behind Black Dog Ballroom announced that they were opening the cunningly-titled Dog Bowl on Whitworth Street West, promising Black Dog bar brilliance combined with five ten-pin bowling lanes, my initial thought was something along the lines of "oh - has Cocotoo's gone? That's a shame." I have been bowling once before, but found that it broke my fingernails, and that I didn't like putting my feet in those funny shoes, and - most tellingly - I was poor at it. Where I lack talent I often lack enthusiasm - thus the review you see below of the actual bowling bit has been contributed by Victoria, a more competitively-minded friend. I'll be back in a minute, with some dinner...*screen goes wavey, voice over fades in*
Never let it be said that I am unaware of my faults. Indeed, as soon as Liz invited me to attend the review of Dogbowl, I knew why. I don’t have a competitive streak as such; it’s more of competitive CORE.
When we arrived at the bowling desk, full of anticipation and giddy from the huge cocktails we had just devoured, the first thing I noticed was a small black and yellow flyer. A postcard sized challenge! “Three strikes in a row and a game for you and three friends FREE!” I could not stop myself envisioning the moment I achieved ultimate bowling glory (I believe this feat is called ‘a turkey’ by the professionals). I could just imagine the whole of Dogbowl rising to their feet in rapturous applause of my bowling prowess. Alas, it didn’t quite work out that way, but I had a marvellous time anyway and here’s why.
Those of you who have visited the big, gaudy bowling chains will know that the most trying part of the night is setting up the electronic scorer; at Dogbowl the delightful staff do all that for you. The lane area is spacious and yet you are never far from the ball release machine. The balls themselves are giant pool balls decorated in spots and stripes and as you would expect the balls come in a variety of different weights, so there will be a weight to suit you. As a dainty, girly type I mostly threw the ‘6’ ball which was the lightest ball there, but sufficient enough in power to allow me to get one strike (Hurrah!).
The game proceeded smoothly and we didn’t encounter any of the technical hitches that seem so common when you visit one of the bowling chains. I didn’t win, but for once that didn’t really matter as I knew I was on to a winner having discovered this gem of a place, and after all that exercise I was STARVING! *harp music ends; camera goes back to the studio*
There's a lot more to Dog Bowl than bowling - so whilst my competitively-minded friends all amused themselves by chucking ball at some small sticks, I was drinking an excellent Porn Star Martini from the enticing cocktail menu. At just £7, this was considerably cheaper than those available elsewhere in the city centre - and it was better: sweet and smooth without being sickly, with a jaunty flaming passionfruit on the top and a cheeky shot of champagne on the side. Meanwhile, my bowling reporter was drinking a Big Kahuna, a cocktail SO TALL that she actually had to stand up to drink it - in the photograph you see below I have had to adopt a squinty angle just to fit it in.
We also liked the food. The four of us shared three "small plates" as starters - the pork crackling with spiced apple sauce, the Southern fried dill pickles, and the BBQ shrimps, each priced at either £3 or £4 and thereby offering excellent value. Pretty much everyone's favourite was the pork crackling, a generous portion of crisp, piggy goodness with a perfect (and very loud) crunch, but as it is difficult to justify this nutritionally, I shall swiftly move on - not that our mains were any healthier. The non-Mr Liz male of the party couldn't take his eyes off The DB's, a mighty burger featuring a 1 lb beef patty, pulled pork, beef brisket, smoked bacon, onion rings, BBQ sauce and fries - he ate it all, and was applauded for being a REAL MAN. Mr Liz, meanwhile, was very much enjoying a portion of boneless fried chicken wings - obviously he had ordered these with the ‘Barking Mad hot sauce, lest his masculinity be called into question by the burger exploits going on elsewhere on the table. The two ladies both went for the three piece fried chicken meal served with Texas toast, creamed potatoes and gravy: the chicken was good and the creamed potato excellent, but I thought the gravy a little thin - and the Texas toast seemed to be a slightly unnecessary presence, lurking on the plate in all its threatening, bready heft. On the side we shared some Elvis Fries - a double portion of mixed potato and sweet potato fries with cheese, gravy, chilli peanut butter and bacon jam which simply defies words - the kind of thing you have to keep eating, even though you know it's wrong. Victoria even found room for pudding, a Bourbon pecan pie that she praised most highly, just before her arteries packed up for good.
The food here is good value and very well done, and despite my lack of bowling enthusiasm I would come here again for the food and the cocktails (although perhaps not that often - one would have to play a LOT of games just to burn off a MOUTHFUL of Elvis fries). Dog Bowl allowed two of us to bowl for free and contributed towards our meal, but did not require us to say nice things - in practice, we paid for much of our meal ourselves, and felt that prices were very fair. Will you see me a-flinging myself down a lane anytime soon? Probably not - but you might just see me at the bar with a VERY tall cocktail...
- Dog Bowl is at 57 Whitworth Street West, Manchester, M1 5WW; tel. 0161 228 2888.