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Sunday, 30 June 2013

47 King Street West: Traditional, yes - but none the less Tasty

Now, there's a popular misconception that when Anthony Burgess said "all human life is here", he was talking about Catholicism. He wasn't, of course; he was actually talking about Manchester on a Saturday evening as viewed from a window table in 47 King Street West. In the course of a couple of hours last night I saw shoppers, families, women with pushchairs, stag parties, mahogany-coloured girls in neon heels so high one of them really did fall off them whilst crossing the road, an old lady with an actual tartan shopping trolley and - my personal favourite - a WAG-wannabe making her friend photograph her as she leaned across the bonnet of someone else's sports car. All part of life's rich tapestry, and rather fitting really - for 47 King Street West could not be more different from the restaurant we had eaten at the previous night (but more of that later).

47 King Street West is on the little bit of street that runs down the side of Kendals, also home to San Carlo and Cicchetti, and whilst I suspect it often plays second fiddle to these two giants it has been quietly building a good reputation for itself and is fairly full at 7pm on a Saturday night. The venue began as a tea room when it opened at the end of 2011 (and still offers afternoon tea), but has now expanded its range to offer an evening à la carte menu of British and French classics - head chef Rod Francis (you might remember him from Mash & Air) is classically trained in French cuisine and it shows. First up, we are brought a small taster of the Chicken Liver & Foie Gras Parfait, which I hope Mr Liz will not like. Tragically, he loves it, as do I - rich without being cloying, the masterstroke here is the inclusion of a few tiny shards of sweet tomato at the bottom in order to break up all that meatiness. It looks a little grey in this picture - I wished to photograph its inner pinkness, but once the surface was broken it was pretty much gone.

Then on to the starters, and my plate of Pan Fried Scallops with a Spicy Chorizo Cake is the standout dish of the night. Any decent restaurant should be able to procure some fat, sweet scallops and cook them properly, so the interesting thing here is what they are served with. The chorizo cake is indeed spicy, its warm kick contrasting beautifully with the comforting blandness of the plump scallops, and the tiny pieces of chorizo dotted artfully around the plate also provide a satisfying chewiness to the texture of the dish. Mr Liz has the Moules Marinere (again, a dish that shouldn't ever really be messed up) and enjoys a/ the palpable freshness of the mussels, b/ the generosity of the portion size, c/ the provision of two sturdy slices of bread and butter to mop everything up with and d/ the richness of the cream and shallot sauce, which is the perfect consistency to coat the mussels rather than run straight off them. I do not enjoy sitting opposite a man with cream down his chin and - somehow - across the backs of his hands, particularly as rumour suggests he is what I have chosen as a life partner.

Mains consist of Pan Fried Duck Breast with Rosti Potato, Braised Pak Choi and a Raspberry Jus for me, and Oven Baked Veal with Confit Ratte Potatoes, Sauteed Leeks and a Tarragon Cream Sauce. These are both delicious but perhaps lack the finesse of my scallop starter: my rosti is perfectly executed, but the duck is not quite as pink as I would have liked, and I could have managed a little more jus. I also have to give some of my duck away to a can't-believe-his-luck Mr Liz, and whilst I fully applaud a desire to give value for money, if a serving of something is too big for me then it's probably safe to say it's on the overly-generous side. Mr Liz's main is plain but good: essentially a veal schnitzel served with small roasted potatoes and leeks, it looks a little beige on the plate - I feel it is lacking something, although I can't quite put my finger on what this might be and happily eat the forkful I am proffered.

Desserts are equally traditional, with Eton Mess for me and Hot Chocolate Indulgence Pudding for my sticky-chinned companion. Mr Liz's is the more exciting - you have to allow 15 minutes for it to be cooked, and it arrives, seductively molten, in a teacup that proves too hot for Mr Liz to ever grasp hold of, despite his increasingly desperate attempts to do so. My Eton Mess is a well-executed classic, with a good ratio of cream to meringue to fruit, and some entirely unnecessary ice cream hidden at the bottom. I eat it anyway, and then have to get a taxi home as I am too fat to waddle to the train station.

Overall, we have a very pleasant dining experience - the food is good, the staff are lovely and the wine list is well-chosen, with nothing on the main list over £30. If "pleasant" sounds like an faint insult, it's not: it's just that there are no surprises here. This is not cutting-edge dining - it's traditional, classic cooking at reasonable city centre prices (between £11.95 and £23.95 for a main), and sometimes that's exactly what you want.

And the other restaurant I mentioned at the beginning? I'll be writing up Room next week, but at first glance you'd be forgiven for thinking that the two would be pretty similar - different ends of the same street, similar prices, menu full of nice things most people would enjoy eating. However, whilst Room pushes the boundaries in constantly coming up with twists on classic dishes, 47 King Street West just serves them up as they are. An uncharitable soul might suggest that 47 King Street West is a little dated, but for me it's all just part of Manchester's rich tapestry - now excuse me while I go and drape myself over that Lamborghini.

- 47 King Street West is at, erm, 47 King Street West, Manchester M3 2PW, tel 0161 8391929. We were invited to review the restaurant via Manchester Confidential and were not asked to pay for our meal.

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Launch Night of Vega Lounge at Manchester235: Local Girl Fails at "Poker Face" and Discovers ANOTHER Reason for Visiting The Great Northern

One of the most exciting things about living in Manchester is seeing previously unloved locations transformed into shimmering, tempting oases where one may eat nice things, and drink pretty things from a fancy glass, and talk with lovely, like-minded Mancunians who are all equally pleased to have another section of their fair city made enticingly inviting. I think it's fair to say that when the Great Northern Railway goods warehouse was first converted to a leisure complex a few years back, it was at best ignored and at worst deliberately avoided - a slightly soulless space reserved purely for those wishing to park their cars or run on a treadmill in the gym (and it will surprise you little to know that I am not one of these people), with the rest of us merely scurrying past on our way elsewhere.

Now though, I find myself spending an increasing amount of time in this part of town; indeed, deliberately seeking it out. Here's why:

1. When it's sunny, the Summer Cider Garden sets up outside, and sells you passionfruit Rekorderlig that tastes like pop. They have now been joined by Almost Famous and Penelope's Icecream for the summer Beach Club - and as the Famous building burnt down yesterday, it is actually our moral duty to support them by eating burgers with them as often as possible in their new pop-up.

2. When my friend and I recently went to see The Great Gatsby at the AMC, it cost us £4.50. True, it was a Sunday morning, but still - this exciting saving was later redeployed in the purchasing of celebratory Prosecco at the nearby Mark Addy.

3. A new bowling alley, All Star Lanes, has opened to pretty rave reviews. I have never bowled - and quite frankly don't fancy putting my feet in those funny shoes - but those in the know like it, and say the cocktails are good, and the chef there is a mate of Simon Stanley's and therefore must know what he's doing. Rihanna went there recently, but don't let that put you off.

4. And finally, Manchester235 is much, much more than just a casino. We've been impressed with the food and the service on the couple of occasions we've eaten at Linen, which is a pretty classy restaurant and worthy as a desination in its own right - it can be accessed separately from the casino and you don't have to be a member. Now the bar at Manchester235 has been given a sexy overhaul and is most desirable as well, as myself and Liquor Chick discovered when we went to the launch night last Thursday (along with most of Manchester, it seems). Formerly known as Fusion Bar, the new Vega Lounge promises to be "a new Northern Star" and looks at first glance to be more than capable of fulfilling this bold claim - the bar itself is sleeker, and larger, and sexier in a space-age sort of way, and the new leather-seated booths are worrying comfortable (I made Liquor Chick sit on the outside of the booth, all the better for claiming it was easier for her to go to the bar than me). Even better, one of the main advantages of a casino bar is the opening hours - you could, in theory, remain in one of these booths from 12 noon until 6am, should you have the stamina of an ox (a THIRSTY ox).

Still, opening hours don't matter if the cocktails aren't tempting, and luckily they are. They've gone for a casino theme with some of their signature drinks which - to be honest - I thought looked a little contrived when I read the initial press brief; however, you'd have to be a stronger person than I not to fall for the £15 Poker Face: a sharing drink which offers two fruity, foamy martinis along with two shots of champagne and two exuberant feathers which I wished to wear in my hair but was not allowed.

We also tried The Vault, a show-stopping, giant contraption that arrived at table carried by two gorgeous girls with deceptively strong upper arms and with two bottles of champagne poking seductively out the top. The fuse was lit; the smoke (well, dry ice) rolled; and pretty much the whole bar gathered round to look. What was the point of all of this? No idea, but I liked it - and it normally comes with your choice of sharer cocktail rather than champagne, so will presumably look a little different and may make perfect sense.

Finally, we tried the Shot Roulette - the world's cutest mini roulette wheel with artfully arranged shot glasses round the edge. The premise is simple - you spin the wheel and drink whatever shot corresponds with the number that comes up; however, one of them is a bogus shot, a hidden evil presence lurking amongst the good stuff. I won't spoil the surprise, but suffice to say that Liquor Chick "won" it, and drank it, and has been regarded with a mixture of new respect and bewilderment ever since.

If this all sounds a bit gimmicky, then that's because it is - but it doesn't make it any the less fun. If you're not tempted by such gambling-based giddiness then a full menu of reasonably-priced drinks and cocktails is available, several of which I have already got my eye on - you can see the full list here via the link at the bottom of the page.

Apparently the party went on into the small hours - I left Liquor Chick making faces with the City Life girls and made my way home doing my best Poker Face on the bus and thinking sadly of all the glamour I'd left behind. Still, it's not as if I won't be back to this really very nice part of town to see what else The Great Northern has to offer...

- The Great Northern Complex can be found at 235 Deansgate, Manchester, M3 4EN.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Independence Day Celebrations in Manchester: Cocktails at Neighbourhood and Gin at The Whim Wham Cafe

Over the years, much has been made of the fact that England, as a population, is rather better at celebrating other people's festivities than its own. We do NOT, for example, get a day off work for St George's Day, and you certainly see more green-hatted individuals roaming drunkenly about the streets for St Patrick's Day than their dragon-slaying counterparts on England's equivalent. Even allowing for the fact that we've thrown ourselves pretty wholeheartedly into celebrations for Golden Jubilees and Royal Weddings in recent times, I can't help worrying for a nation whose idea of having a good time is to organise a concert involving Paul McCartney and Jessie J.

Little wonder, then, that Manchester is gearing itself up to revel next week in the name of Independence Day. A couple of items look worthy of note, and they couldn't be more different; even more helpfully, they are on different days. First up are the festivities at Spinningfield Restaurant and Bar Neighbourhood, whose 4th July Stars and Stripes Party starts at 6pm and offers a free cocktail for anyone who shares a name with a Hollywood star (they're thinking people like Will Smith, Pamela Anderson, Bradley Cooper, Kate Hudson, Julia Roberts and Michael Jackson). You have to take ID (one which has presumably not been altered with crayon), and as I do not share a name with any of these famous folk I will just have to content myself with ordering a big plate of their excellent lobster tacos and watching as Julia et al scrap it out at the bar.

Friday 5th July sees celebrations of an entirely different kind at The Whim Wham Cafe, whose Gindependence Day party is surely worth attending for the name alone. The night marks the return of The Whim Wham Club, albeit to a new home, and sees something of reunion of all the club's favourite performers: expect burlesque from original Manchester Girl Lola Pops, live music from Emma Divine, and sterling piano from Henry Botham, along with a gin saloon cocktail as part of your £6 entry fee. The evening starts at 9pm, and if you want to eat then drop them an email to reserve a table.

So if you catch me talking in a poor American accent next week, fear not: it's all just an excuse to drink a little more gin than usual...

- The Whim Wham Cafe is at Arch 64, Whitworth Street West, Manchester M1 5WQ.
- Neighbourhood is on Avenue North, Spinningfields, Manchester.

Monday, 24 June 2013

New Competition: Win an Aperol Spritz Kit

So, you've just read today's post on the new Aperol Spritz Social bar at Spinningfields, and are now embarking upon one of two possible courses of action. Some of you will have noted that the sun is now shining, and are halfway to Spinningfields already, leaving nothing but a cloud of speedy dust in your wake as you bear down on the bartender with a fist full of cash ready to be swapped for Aperol. Some of you though will be wringing your hands in anguish, crying "Liz! It DOES sound amazing, but I have work tomorrow/am mourning the demise of Rafael Nadal/am engaged in a Breaking Bad marathon/fear the pyjamas I am currently sporting are unsuitable attire for a nice bar*"

*delete as appropriate

Fortunately, help is at hand, for you can win yourself all you need to make a whole phalanx of Aperol Spritzes right HERE. I have two Aperol Spritz Kits to give away, each including 1 bottle Aperol, 1 bottle Prosecco and 1 bottle Soda water, and it really couldn't be easier: just read the following, and then answer the devastatingly difficult question at the end.

How to make (Competition Kit includes the below)
Making an Aperol Spritz is as easy as 3, 2, 1 - just get a large wine glass and follow the simple instructions:
Add 3 parts of Prosecco or any other dry sparkling wine to a wine glass
Next add 2 parts of Aperol
Add 1 splash of soda
And top with Ice cubes and a slice of orange

Sunny and full of vitality, the achingly hip and unique Aperol Spritz taste is deliciously Italian but with total international appeal, fast becoming a cult aperitif in the UK, as well as throughout Europe and across all continents. To win one of two Aperol Spritz Kits, containing everything you need to create the perfect Aperol Spritz at home, all you need to do is answer this question:

What proportion of Prosecco to Aperol to Soda Water makes the perfect Aperol Spritz?

To be in with a chance of winning, simply email your answer to by midnight on Friday 5th July, when two winners will be drawn at random. Good luck!

The Aperol Spritz Social: New Spinningfields Pop-Up Brings Some Italian Sunshine to Manchester for Wimbledon Fortnight

Regular readers of this blog will by now have surmised that I am not an elite sportswoman. True, I walk to the fridge on a regular basis, and once ran for a bus when it looked likely I might miss out on valuable eating and drinking time, but otherwise my sporting life revolves entirely around watching other people do it, usually on the tellybox. Hurrah, then, for the arrival of Wimbledon fortnight, when we might cheer on the plucky British girl as she labours her way through to round two, and hope against hope that Andy Murray might actually win this year, and thank our lucky stars that the Centre Court roof will forever spare us from Cliff Richard conducting a singalong during a rain break.

This year's Wimbledon fortnight looks set to be even better than usual though, with the arrival of the Aperol Spritz Social in Spinningfields. Manchester is of course already most partial to a glass or two of the orange stuff - SoLIta in the Northern Quarter made it their (and our) drink of the summer last year, and now this new two week pop-up bar looks set to convert any laggers to the cause. Just in case you are yourself a lagger but are too shy to say, Aperol is a bitter sweet Italian liqueur which is best mixed two parts Aperol to three parts Prosecco and one part soda water to make the hideously addictive Aperol Spritz (and if I'm being brutally honest here, I do not always have soda water to hand and find it not entirely indispensable - as long as you've got Aperol and Prosecco, you'll probably get by).

The new bar was launched last week at Rosso restaurant but has opened at Spinningfields today, where it will remain until Sunday 7th July. Tennis fans (and those who simply enjoy seeing Rafael Nadal in shorts) will be able to watch all the action on a giant TV screen, in a deckchair, whilst enjoying an Aperol Spritz or ten; the evenings promise live music on the Aperol Spritz Stage from 6.30pm on Fridays and Saturdays, as well as a game or two of that increasingly fashionable pursuit, ping pong - although as my hand-eye co-ordination is poor at the best of times I can hardly think that a few glasses of Aperol is likely to improve this any.

The pictures you see here are from the launch party at Rosso and are therefore of a more indoor nature than the Aperol Spritz Social, but I promise the drinks will look just as pretty wherever you are. The pop-up will be open Sunday to Thursday from 12pm - 12am and Friday and Sunday 12pm -1am, so get yourself down there a/ while it's still open and b/ while there are still some Brits left in Wimbledon - hurry!

Friday, 21 June 2013

New Summer Menu at The Whim Wham Cafe: Local Girl Plans New Diet Entirely Around Shire Eggs

Sometimes, a particular venue makes itself such an indispensable part of your life that you find it hard to remember what you did before it ever existed. Such a place is The Whim Wham Cafe, which opened its gin-perfumed doors to the world just over 12 months ago and has been luring me back ever since on a shockingly regular basis; indeed, I have not only started using the nearby Oxford Road train station as my main transport hub of choice, but have also been known to deliberately misread my train time so that I might "kill some time" necking peerless gin cocktails whilst waiting for the next one.

The Whim Wham Cafe is about far more than just the gin though: it also prides itself on being an epicurean eatery of the highest order, with a focus on good-quality but good-value artisan produce, local wherever possible. Last night some of Manchester's bloggers got to try the new summer menu that launched earlier this week, and I can confirm that it is - if possible - even better than some of the dishes I've had here previously. We were lucky enough to try almost all the small and large plate options, but in dainty-sized portions (presumably to prevent any hapless bloggers actually suffering physical explosion), so the pictures you see here are of much smaller dishes than in actual real life.

First up, the Small Plates. Owner Alix doesn't appear really to believe in the concept of the "small" plate, more in the "generously-sized" and "even more generously-sized", but these are the closest things to starters on a Whim Wham style menu. The first two dishes are knockout - the Homemade Shire Egg (a quail egg all nicely wrapped up in a snug jacket fashioned from Cheshire rabbit, Lancashire black pudding and panko bread crumbs, served with mustard butter) and the Honey & Star Anise Glazed Pork Ribs. The latter had been on the go for twelve hours, a fact patently obvious both in the tenderness of the meat and the depth of flavour in the sweet, tangy sauce, and the egg was quite simply a revelation - even those at the table who claimed not to like black pudding found themselves won over by such a thrilling combination. I also very much liked the Potted Spiced Crab, which replaces the wonderful potted rabbit from the winter menu and is just as good, offering quite a kick with its notes of cayenne pepper and smoked paprika. My least favourite of the four was the Marinated Lamb Pieces, served with mint yoghurt and toast - the flavours were perfect, but the lamb just fractionally on the chewy side. I'm pretty sure that this might have been down to the pressures of serving a table of baying bloggers though - as a breed, I've noted that the food blogger likes to eat something at least every three minutes (if not, indeed, more frequently).

There are also some interesting new salads on the menu, two of which we tried last night. The Slow Poached Mackerel Salad, poached for three hours in an apple, horseradish and Worcester Sauce liquor, was a firm favourite of mine last summer, and whilst I do have to admit preferring last year's beetroot-heavy version, customer feedback on the new, lighter pomegranate accompaniment has apparently been really positive. Everyone was also pleasantly surprised by the vegetarian salad option: the Blueberry, Mint and Pickled Walnut Salad with Forest of Bowland Lancashire Cheese and Rocket was a hit with even the most committed carnivores at the table.

On to the Big Plates then, and despite my childish inability to hear this term without thinking about Alan Partridge and a Travelodge, these were all very good indeed. The Slow Roast Shoulder of Lamb served with braised summer vegetables, rosemary-crushed potatoes and a mint and caper sauce actually drew gasps of approbation from several people (myself included) - the lamb was as tender as you would expect from the slow roasting process, and the flavour was innovative and fresh, with the woodiness of the rosemary given a real lift by the lightness of the mint and capers. The Beetroot Bourgignon - beetroot slow cooked in red wine with Jerusalem artichokes and wild mushrooms - was redolent with the earthiness of the root vegetables (although I prefer not to speak of the effect that Jerusalem artichokes have on Mr Liz); I would have preferred a slightly softer texture in the accompanying braised lentils, but I think this is just a question of personal taste. Finally, a beautiful Smoked Haddock, Prawn and Leek Fishcake served with wilted chilli greens and a soft poached egg, and the second of the vegetarian dishes - a Wild Mushroom Cobbler. This last dish was the surprise of the night for me - I loved the mixture of wild mushrooms, spinach and roast baby plum tomatoes, topped with a dainty cheese scone and will probably order it again next time. I also plan to sit next to Keeley (the expert cocktail reviewer at 4 Manchester Women) at all blogger events from now on, as not only is she excellent company, she DOESN'T LIKE MUSHROOMS, and therefore donated her cobbler to me *helpful, clearing-up-leftovers face*.

In my opinion, The Whim Wham Cafe continues to go from strength to strength, and Alix and Jessie are to be applauded for sticking to their principles when it comes to offering up such interesting seasonal, locally inspired menus. Last night was a blogger perk and I did not have to pay for my food or wine, but my bank statements will bear the sad truth of exactly how much of my time and money I spend in here - and I really can't see this changing any time soon.

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

Saturday, 15 June 2013

The Lady Boys of Bangkok: The Glamorous Amorous Pavilion Sets up at Old Trafford, Manchester

Much to Mr Liz's eternal chagrin, he has found it exceptionally difficult over the years to get me to pass through what he considers to be the hallowed gates of Old Trafford football ground. To this day, I have been but twice - the first visit being a Sport Relief outing and the second a trip to admire some Brazilian skills during the 2012 Olympics; indeed, whilst Mr Liz stands there burbling about theatres of dreams etc etc, I am more likely to be seen high-tailing it down the road to the nearby cricket ground, or the shops and restaurants at The Lowry Centre.

He cannot perhaps be blamed, then, for demonstrating some suspicion at my sudden enthusiasm for hopping onto a tram in the next few weeks and making my way not to Damson Media City (where I would normally prefer to be going) but to Old Trafford itself. Nor do I plan to get beyond the carpark, for that is where the shimmering beauties who make up The Lady Boys of Bangkok will be pitching their marquee of delights between June 21st and July 6th for the Manchester leg of their Glamorous Amorous show. Don't be thinking this is just any old tent though - The Sabai Pavilion is a fully carpeted palace which seats nearly 400 people, with a licensed bar and a Thai restaurant in the foyer, where I fully envision myself perched at a table in the cabaret room whilst sipping on something sparkly.

The show itself looks to be frankly beyond words, promising a set list that ranges from J Lo to Whitney, via Cheryl Cole, Saturday Night Fever and - um - Gangnam Style. I've not been to see a Lady Boys show before, but general consensus amongst friends who have is that you should simply go with it - they are funny, and talented, and professional, and beautiful (sickeningly so, by all accounts - I may have to dig out a bit of make up and a sequin or two if I'm not to be hopelessly outclassed). I'm going in a couple of weeks, so expect a full report then.

And Mr Liz? He isn't coming along. I thought I might find him an uncomfortable outdoor seat with minimal leg room and leave him sitting there, in the rain, clutching an overpriced pint in a plastic glass just to really recreate the Old Trafford experience - meanwhile I'll be taking up my place at my cabaret table and ordering that first bottle of fizz in the Sabai Pavilion...

- Full details of The Lady Boys of Bangkok's Glamorous Amorous show can be found here.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Two New Bars for Spinningfields: Manchester Rain Fails to Dampen (sorry) the Spirits at The Long Bar and The InBloom Bar

Oh Manchester - you really like to make things hard for us, don't you. Take last week, for example - I spent most of it lolling listlessly about the house, garden or workplace, complaining feebly about the heat and baying insatiably for a steady stream of cold drinks, lest I may expire altogether. During a rare spell of uprightness Mr Liz and I walked through Spinningfields last Thursday night, noting the crowds of hot-panted Mancunians sunning themselves on The Lawns whilst waiting for the outdoor screening of Labyrinth to start, and smugly congratulated ourselves on living in such an amazing city. We saw Manchester in the sun, and we saw that it was good.

Well, what a difference a week makes. Fast forward to Wednesday just gone, and the launch party for the two new summer hostelries located each side of the Spinningfields lawn - The Long Bar and The InBloom Bar. The crowds of Mancunians are still here, but the skimpy dresses and shorts have been replaced with macs and umbrellas, and the big screen that so proudly displayed David Bowie's best fright-wig last week is now barely visible through the shimmering curtain sweeping in gusts through the distinctly brisk air. That's right: it's Manchester, and it's raining.

Still, this is why we love Manchester - it has simply ignored the weather and turned up in its best finery to celebrate anyway: I even see one brave girl in a maxi dress and sandals, with no umbrella or coat (oh no, wait - that was me). We visit The Long Bar first, the more industrial of the two spaces with its sculptured curves and, um, very long bar, and sample a Long Bar Iced Tea cocktail. This is a little too sweet for me, as although it supposedly combines rum, gin, vodka and Cointreau with watermelon, lemon juice and mint, I can't really taste the last two ingredients and find it a little cloying. Still, it seems to be going down a treat with the numerous men in suits lining the bar.

A quick sprint across the path (and I mean quick - you try strolling daintily in maxi dress and sandals during a monsoon) brings us to The InBloom Bar, an altogether more rustic affair that is much more to my liking. Here there are no men in suits; instead, we find fleets of ladies in pretty dresses, sipping elegantly on Prosecco and Bloom Gin and Tonics, and a band playing a brassed-up version of Beyonce, and cute girls with hula hoops, and gorgeous girls carrying round deli boards loaded with olives, cheeses, Italian meats and hummus. You DO have to use your imagination a little, as the bar is essentially a small hut over which ivy has been artfully draped, but there is a lovely outside space here, with plenty of comfy seating that I feel may beckon next time the weather is fine for Screenfields.

Bit by bit, Spinningfields is turning itself into a great area for a night out. I remember when there wasn't really much here, but a willingness to embrace the pop-up (remember last year's Yacht Club?) and to welcome a range of different bars and restaurants has brought new life to this part of the city - as shown by the fact that The Long Bar and The InBloom Bar between them took over £100k in their first 10 days of operation (most of it mine, probably). Manchester will continue to enjoy itself whatever the weather: give me a choice between seeing Rihanna at the Arena and dancing in the rain to a brass band, I'll take the latter any day.

PS Many thanks to Gareth Davies Photography for allowing me to use his lovely photos - they are definitely less grey than my own turned out. There are more photos on his webpage, and you can also check out both bars by going to Facebook or Twitter - or indeed, by going in person, which is better as they will sell you some gin.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Oldham Coliseum Theatre: Noel Coward's Hay Fever, Sebastian Faulks' Birdsong, and an Unfunny Girl with a Bad French Accent

Now, when I started this blog some two hundred years ago (well, nearly 6), I had no hesitation in choosing its name, no doubt imagining an all-encompassing, far-reaching, wide-ranging romp around every single last area of the city. Looking back over previous posts, however, it becomes sadly apparent that, in practice, this has not exactly been the case; indeed, an uncharitable soul might suggest, with some accuracy, that a better name for the blog might have been "Things to do in central Manchester, ideally in locations that can easily be accessed from the train station, with occasional forays to places in Didsbury that I can walk to from my house".

Thus I am ever grateful when something out of my normal radius is gently pointed out to me. I have become a convert to Royton Real Food, for example, and am now thinking of becoming most interested in another location just down the road from this monthly food paradise - Oldham Coliseum Theatre. Quite aside from the fact that this is a building full of history, dating from 1885 and the only surviving theatre from this period in Oldham, there are a couple of things coming up that I very much want to see. From tomorrow until Saturday 29th June, Noel Coward's Hay Fever is playing - forget the fact that this was written in 1924 by a fey gentleman with a penchant for a cigarette in a long holder, for this play is still funny and always will be. It's one of those country house pieces that show the British upper classes at their toe-curling best, focusing on the fairly horrific Bliss family and their treatment of their weekend guests - you may wish to make a helpful sign to hold up near the start of the performance that simply advises "RUN AWAY NOW".

And then, looking further ahead, the first week of July sees the arrival of Birdsong, adapted from one of my favourite books and recently seen on TV with the pouty-mouthed Eddie Redmayne in the starring role of Stephen Wraysford. This production trumps that particular piece of casting, however, as the touring show not only stars Sarah Jayne Dunn (meaning that Mr Liz will have something pretty to look at and will therefore be distracted from the cultural nature of proceedings) but also features Arthur Bostrom. If you are of a certain age you will already know who Arthur Bostrum is; younger readers should be advised that he will find it most amusing for you to stand up during the performance and call out witty remarks about "pissing by the door"*.

*NB The actor will NOT, in truth, find this amusing.

Full details can be found on the theatre's website. See you there - I'll be the one being physically ejected whilst still laughing uproarously at my own joke about it being a "Good Moaning"...

Sunday, 9 June 2013

New BBQ Menu Launches at BrewDog Manchester: Local Man Gets Tram to Fetch him from Didsbury SPECIALLY

Now, if you live anywhere within a 50 mile radius of South Manchester, you can hardly have failed to notice that a couple of weeks ago - amidst much fanfare - the tramline between Chorlton and Didsbury finally opened. In fact, such was the excitement that you would have been forgiven for thinking that until this moment, Didsbury had been almost entirely cut off from the world, accessible only down a treacherous dirt track and with only the very occasional message getting in or out thanks to a team of exceptionally brave carrier pigeons. Don't get me wrong - I'm for anything that brings people and business to the area; I just think that for a part of Manchester already well-served by train and bus, the tram is a NICE-to-have rather than a NEED-to-have.

That's why I knew to be suspicious when Mr Liz began continually asking to get the tram into Manchester rather than any other form of transport. Turns out that the tram stop at St. Peters Square is - most fortuitously - perfectly placed to allow the thirsty traveller to sate his thirst in one of Mr Liz's very favourite places, not just in Manchester but indeed in the whole of the world: BrewDog. We've both been big fans since the Manchester outpost of this Scottish craft brewery opened in May last year, so it was with no little excitement that we leapt upon that shiny new tram last week and headed off to try the newly launched BBQ menu. The burgers and pizzas here have always been excellent, but it was apparently time for a change: thus a cute clipboard-style menu offering four mains (more at weekends) and four sides to soak up all that lovely craft beer.

Despite a seemingly limited choice, we found it hard to choose, and eventually settled on the brisket (for me) and the pork loin ribs for Mr Liz. These were priced at £10 and £9 respectively, and came with a side dish of our choice as well as a very good salad (which, as predicted, Mr Liz simply didn't have space for when it came to it). For my side I chose the Smoked Mac 'n' Cheese, largely because fellow blogger Mrs Petticoat had simply tweeted me a number of messages shouting MAC 'N' CHEESE!! MAC 'N' CHEESE!! when she heard I was on my way to eat there; nor was she wrong to do so. This was quite simply one of the best of its species I have ever tasted, with an artery-busting ratio of rich, smoky cheese to pasta, and a healthy smattering of crunchy breadcrumbs on the top. Mr Liz was allowed to try it, and pronounced it good, but nothing special, at which point it was taken away from him once more and he was left in silence to contemplate the (considerable) error of his ways.

Meanwhile, his own side of Burnt Beans was also excellent - smoked beans in a BBQ tomato sauce with some sexy, meaty cuts of brisket mixed in, just in case the two giant pork loin ribs weren't animal enough for him. He proclaimed that the ribs had a very generous ratio of meat to bone, and just enough fat to ensure a tender texture; he also liked the fact that ribs came dry, with a bottle of BBQ sauce provided so that he could add as much or as little as he wanted (he's not a saucy fellow, and often finds BBQ items drowned in too much gloop for his liking). I had no such qualms, of course, and smothered my brisket in sauce, pausing just long enough to note that in terms of texture and taste, the BrewDog brisket was vastly superior to my previous brisket provider of choice, Southern Eleven. This is perhaps because BrewDog have understood the importance of quality meat when cooking this style of food, and have continued to source their supplies from Chorlton legend WH Frost as he marches on with his colonisation of Manchester, one restaurant at a time. NB, you will note in the pictures that the sides came the wrong way round with the mains, a mistake quickly rectified but only after I'd taken the photographs.

Any quibbles? Two, and only small ones. Firstly, I found the bread that came with my brisket a little redundant - I understand that they don't want anyone to leave hungry, but it just didn't really go with the meal and certainly wasn't needed. Secondly, whilst I applaud a small menu done well, we did feel that in a venue like BrewDog, where we often find ourselves standing up at the taller tables whilst having a pint or two, some smaller items that could be easily consumed whilst in the midst of a busy bar might fit well on the menu. Still, these are minor indeed - I'm already planning to go back so I can try the vegetarian offering of chargrilled halloumi burger with hummus, smoked mushrooms, beetroot and charred veg, all washed down with my new favourite beer, Fake Lager. And Mr Liz? Well, now that he can combine BrewDog beer AND ribs all in one handy venue, I fear I'm never going to get him away from that tram stop...

- BrewDog Manchester is at 35 Peter St, Manchester M2 5BG.