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Friday, 29 November 2013

New Menu at SoLIta: Greedy Girl Vanquished by Giant Schnitzel in Manchester's Northern Quarter

I should probably start by confessing that for a food blogger, I'm pretty set in my ways. Yes, it's nice to try new places for the blog, but if I'm choosing somewhere to eat rather than being invited to review, you could probably count my regular haunts on the fingers of one hand. I like to think of this as incredibly noble loyalty rather than the utter predictability it actually represents; dependability rather than a fairly shameful resistance to change.

One of these regular haunts is SoLIta. Indeed, when I turned up on Wednesday night to have a try of the new menu, my very charming server stopped mid-way through her speech about the possibility of upgrading fries to sweet potato when she stopped and noted that I would know that anyway, having been in just last week. Really, the only way to cling on to the remnants of your shattered dignity in this kind of situation is an aloof perusal of the specials board and some murmured assurances of the existence of an exceptionally greedy twin sister.

And truth be told, great swathes of the new SoLIta menu are not actually new at all - most of the old favourites are still on, joined by a few new faces jostling and pushing at each other for the honour of making me fat. The most likely front runner for this priviledge is the new soup, so often a healthier choice on a restaurant menu but - reassuringly - not so at SoLIta: I can confirm that the Loaded Baked Potato Soup would comfortably sustain a family of four through a hard winter (or me, through a cold night in the Northern Quarter). This is a thick, creamy, buttery affair, studded with large pieces of potato and topped with cheese and crispy bacon pieces; I mixed the whole lot together and simply applied my face to the bowl. Meanwhile, across the table, my dinner companion was investigating the biggest change to the menu - the arrival of a ten-strong selection of chicken wings, graded from "Smilin'" (the Sweet BBQ) to "Screamin'" (the Cry for Help, which I've had before, and which did indeed make me cry). We went for the PBJ from somewhere in the middle - satisfyingly meaty wings coated in a really moreish combination of peanut butter, jelly and soy that reminded us of chicken satay. Beware though that much of the sauce had collected in the bottom of the dish - you may wish to take steps to rectify the distribution curve here, unless you want to end up like the shameful party who had to use their fingers to consume the last of it.

On to mains, where I must admit to deviating from the new menu at the sight of the legendary Parmo on the specials board. I've had this before and loved it - breaded chicken schnitzel topped with bechamel sauce and melted cheese, and served with meatballs, marinara sauce, fries and garlic mayo. Sounds pretty greedy doesn't it, perfect for a girl with a healthy appetite who never willingly leaves a scrap of food on her plate (and allegedly snarls if someone even attempts to remove any item from said plate). Well, greedy doesn't begin to cover it: this is how it arrived...

...and although I battled bravely, I was vanquished, and had to send more than half of the chicken back uneaten. (And yes, OBVIOUSLY I woke up the following morning wishing with all my heart I'd brought it home with me.) There was simply too much food for one person here, and whilst it was delicious, it was wasteful, particularly as it costs £16.90 - it could be scaled down, or billed as a sharing dish (and believe me, I don't use the words "sharing" and "dish" in the same sentence lightly).

The Black Angus grain fed prime rib steak caused similar problems, although I DO have only limited sympathy for someone who orders the 14oz rather than the 10oz and then complains it is too big. This was a beautiful piece of steak, full of flavour and cooked perfectly rare as requested, but the sheer size of it meant it went cold very quickly. To be fair though, this was more our fault than SoLIta's - I would order this done medium next time (and, not so big).

Clearly there was no chance of us managing pudding, so instead we had Old Fashioneds from the excellent cocktail menu and called it a night. Service was flawless and friendly, and the food was as ruinously tasty as ever - still though, if I'm leaving food then something has gone seriously awry with portion sizes. I'm going to sit here and think carefully about what I've done. And then, no doubt, order just as much again next time...

- SoLIta is at 37 Turner St, Manchester M4 1DW. We were not asked to pay for our food or drinks, but I eat here all the time and may as well pay large portions of my salary direct to Franco, so you know I wasn't swayed by the freeness.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Celebrate Christmas in Manchester - But Not Until December Please

Now, I've overheard some debate in recent weeks about when exactly it is acceptable to begin celebrating Christmas. The general consensus appears to be December 1st, and I must concede that even I - that most fervent of festive supporters - considered the playing of Mariah Carey in Debenhams last weekend a little on the premature side. So in keeping with this general mood of restraint, here are a few Christmassy things I have my eye on for December...

1. Christmas Extravaganza at Oddest, Chorlton - Sat 7th December. I've become very partial to Chorlton since the powers-that-be so obligingly extended the Metrolink, and I am most interested in an all-day shindig that offers me a hog roast (which will be slow roasting all day on the terrace, and served up with rum plum chutney, cider sage and apple sauce) as well as live music from a number of acts including Jo Rose and Walk, Christmassy cocktails with names like Bailey's Bauble, hot cider and mulled wine, and winter ales. The free winter festival starts at 1pm and appears to have no official end time, suggesting it carries on until all the booze has gone or the majority of customers have fallen over, whichever comes the sooner.

2. Breakfast with Santa at Hard Rock Cafe, Manchester - Sat 14th December, 9-11am. If you can't wait until the big day, Hard Rock are promising a visit from the big man a full 11 days ahead of schedule along with a full English breakfast and party games, all for £7.50 per child and £9 per adult. They are also doing a three course Thanksgiving dinner for £25 on November 28th, but I'm not allowed to mention this due to the pesky December curfew thing.

3. Levenshulme Christmas Market - Friday 20th December. I'm a big fan of this independent market - it offers a range of food and gift stalls and has a lovely feel to it. I've been to the November one this morning, and purchased some pork, bacon, sprout and chestnut sausages from Bobby's Bangers (which are even better than last year's, following advice from a sprout-loving girl that they required more of the green stuff), bread from Robinson's Bakers, and cheese and butter from Winter Tarn Farm - and, shamefully, have already eaten most of it. The next market will be an evening affair, which means ideally I need someone to pick me up and transport me there so that I may drink mulled wine and warble winsomely along with the Christmas carols - interested chauffeurs may apply via the normal email address.

4. And finally, just when you think Christmas is over and all the fun has been had, you remember about the Bop Local Not Quite New Year's Eve party at Chorlton Irish on 28th December. Resident DJ Phil Beckett will be welcoming Inspiral legend Clint Boon as his guest DJ - past experience suggests we will all drink too much, and cry a bit when we do the singalong with Clint when he plays This is How it Feels (or maybe that was just me, I can't quite recall). Advance tickets £8 from the Bop Local website or from Chris at Chorlton Irish. There is also a Bop Local Christmas party in Prestwich the night before for any particularly hardcore boppers who can manage two nights out in a row.
- Oddest is at 414 – 416 Wibraham Road, Chorlton M21 0SD; Hard Rock Manchester is in the Printworks on Exchange Square; Levy Market can be found on the carpark of Levenshulme Train Station; Chorlton Irish Club is at 17 High Lane, M21 9DJ. And by the way, I lied - all that stuff about waiting till December is nonsense, and that's precisely why I've consumed two mince pies during the writing of this post.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Christmas at Spinningfields, in which I conquer the ice (sort of) and enjoy a lovely big sausage

When I was about 7, I went to an ice skating party. These were very much the fashion for birthdays at the time, and were something of a living nightmare: a bunch of faintly vicious pre-adolescent girls, hyped-up on sugar and rivalry, vying to be the queen of the ice and not afraid to spike a fellow competitor in the process. Think Mean Girls but with lethal blades and you're pretty much there; indeed, as someone who possesses neither a competitive spirit nor any sense of balance, I've remained highly traumatised by the whole experience ever since.

So when an invite came to try the ice rink at Spinningfields last night, I was pretty tempted to say no. Still, it's amazing what you'll agree to once you've got a few drinks inside you, and after a couple of glasses of red and a splendidly-girthed hotdog at The Long Bar (in its new winter guise as Bierhaus, a Bavarian-style beer hall), I found myself teetering on a large expanse of frozen water as my far more talented friend (and let's face it, a load of very small children) sailed off confidently and gracefully into the distance. And actually, although I was rubbish, and held onto the edge most of the time, it was really quite a lot of fun - no-one pushes or goes too fast, AND there are plastic seals and penguins that the less talented Torvills among us may cling onto for dear life.

I was also very impressed with The Long Bar, or Bierhaus as it now is - I was never really keen on this pop-up in its summer form, finding it a little lacking in atmosphere and rather full of suits for my liking, but the venue has been transformed into somewhere snug, welcoming and friendly, with good music (on the evidence of last night) and a roaring trade in pies, frankfurters and pretzels. There is no pretence here - the hotdogs come out of a shiny foil packet and the sauerkraut from a jar - but you can't really argue at £4.50 a pop (and an extra quid for the pretzel necklace that I proudly wore and consumed on the bus on the way home, much to the envy of my fellow passengers). Indeed, had it not been a Wednesday night, my friend and I agreed that we could have essentially remained happily ensconced here until physically ejected at the end of the evening.

In fact, Spinningfields looks as if it's really got its festive act together this year, as tomorrow sees the launch of the Spinningfields Christmas Market, which will run every Friday, Saturday and Sunday in the run-up to Christmas and will rotate an impressive roster of 82 traders as well as featuring street food collective Guerilla Eats. There is also a helter skelter which looks fun, but as I have a fairly irrational fear of my bottom proving too big for the slide and me becoming wedged halfway down as a result, I won't be going on this any time soon. After all, these lifelong fears can only be conquered one at a time, and whilst I feel the ice may still have the upper hand, at least I didn't fall flat on my backside in front of a load of sneering children...

- Full details of Christmas at Spiningfields can be found here on the website. I received a free drink at The Long Bar and a free skate session, but paid for everything else I ate and drank. I'll just leave you with another picture of, ahem, me showing them all how it's done.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Mullen Bartending Cocktail League Round 5, in which an excited Didsbury Girl runs amok at Walrus...

Now, being a cocktail judge is amazing. You get to go to great places with lovely people and try interesting cocktails for free, and I would never wish to sound ungrateful about this fact. Trouble is, whilst free cocktails are all well and good, I've been having trouble convincing the mortgage company that a cheeky little gin number might serve as an acceptable equivalent for this month's installment - turns out that, in thoroughly antiquated fashion, they are still looking for actual cash money payments. So, while I was at work last Wednesday, the ever selfless Didsbury Girl was drafted in to replace me for Round 5 of the MLeague - here's how she got on...

Round 5 of the Mullen Bartending MLeague: Remy Martin at Walrus

When Liz (owner of this blog and famous for her bird-like appetite and very restrained attitude to alcohol consumption) asked me to step into her sling-backs and take her place at a cocktail judging, I was honoured. The more I thought about it, I realised it was a role I was born for and had long been in training for.

The cocktail du jour was Remy Martin. This cheered (and warmed) me up no end as I'd arrived soaked and shivering, desperately in need of a brandy to fortify me against the typically seasonal Mancunian weather.

During the next hour, five very different cocktails were placed before us for scrutiny. Some were magnificent, some were innovative, some were pretty, but they all without exception contained delightfully generous quantities of Remy Martin.

Kicking off the evening in style was The Centaur made by Ollie from Walrus. A deliciously puddingy drink, served with shards of dark chocolate which when eaten with the cocktail, were joyfully reminiscent of a chocolate orange.

This was followed by the Loic Remy from Cord. This is apparently the name of a footballer (see I knew this cocktail judging would be an education) and was for me one of the prettiest drinks of the evening. Cheekily fruity, it was definitely a cocktail you could drink any number of in an evening without being sick (I think you're beginning to sense my level now).

Next up was Eaux-de-vie made by Adam from Tusk Bar, this was another pretty little number. It felt almost like a boozy health drink. I love pomegranate juice so this was right up my Champs-Élysées. I do prefer a more bitter cocktail rather than sweet, but I'd have happily polished this off without complaint.

The next cocktail drew appreciative gasps from the judges when it was brought to the table. The Remy Martina made by Veronika from Apotheca was just beautiful. My picture could not do it justice (damn you crappy Samsung camera phone), but served in a tall glass with pretty pink rosebuds on it, with a little stack of Turkish delight to nibble on, we agreed that it was perfection. The Turkish delight perfectly complimented the flavours in the cocktail. Amazing.

Lastly we sampled the East from Simple, this was a fuzzy orange concoction. Prettily, but simply presented, looking like a big foamy orange sherbet. It was good too, but the orange swamped the Remy Martin a touch too much for my tastes.

So, cocktails judged we retired to consider our (unanimous) verdict. And the winner was.... The Remy Martina made by Veronika from Apotheca. It was very pretty and pretty prefect, not to mention probably the best cocktail I'd had in a very, very long time.

It is with regret that I hand my cocktail judging hat back to Liz, I did have a thoroughly enjoyable evening, tried and loved some cocktails I probably would never normally have ordered and I've made some new friends. Until the next time then, santé!

Jane normally blogs at Hodge Podge Days - go visit her there, or simply go into any pub in Didsbury and you're likely to come across her at some point.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Jon Parker Lee: New Exhibition Comes to Manchester's Northern Quarter

Oh Manchester. SO much to answer for. Little did I think when I arrived here as a rosy-cheeked undergraduate clutching a new pencil case and some laughably unformed literary pretensions that I would still be here one hundred years later, and still so much in love with your sexy, rainy, grimy beauty that I really couldn't consider living anywhere else (except maybe Paris, if anyone's offering - I don't like snails, but can speak French and am pretty good at working a ballet pump).

So I'm looking forward to a new exhibition opening later this month at 2022NQ, a venue that seems able to turn its hand to most things and where I have had some thoroughly memorable nights out in recent months. Jon Parker Lee is celebrating ten years as a freelance photographer with an exhibition looking back over his time in the business - a period which has seen the move from film to digital (largely a good thing, obviously, although resulting in the posting by certain souls of several hundred near-identical look-at-me, I'm-on-a-top-night-out and I've taken loads of photos to prove it pictures), as well as social shifts such as a change of government, gay marriage, and somebody else FINALLY winning the Premiership.

All of this and more is documented in Jon's exhibition, and as he is a Manchester-based photographer there will be plenty of pictures of our fair city - in both its most pictureseque and, erm, less salubrious guises: “You get to see all kinds of lives, from people living on sink estates where the burglars are stealing the roofs from over their heads, to back stage with the world’s biggest selling music acts; and the latter isn’t generally much more glamorous than the former.” The exhibition runs from 22nd November to 8th December, and promises to be well worth a look if the following images are anything to go by.

- 2022NQ is on Dale Street, and the exhibition will be open Fridays 12 noon - 12 midnight and Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays 10am – 5pm.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Laugh Local at Chorlton Irish Club: Friday 8th November

About twelve years ago I went to a comedy night in Manchester. I won't say where it was (although you can probably guess), but it was horrific: full of baying stag parties and hyped-up office nights out, with nasty overpriced drinks and a selection of comedians who were not only unfunny but were downright vicious to those unfortunate individuals sitting near the front. I cowered unhappily at the back, vowing never to set foot in such a testosterone-filled bullring ever again.

However, there are certain people whose judgement I trust, so when the lovely Alison (of mighty Bop Local repute) says that Laugh Local is an entirely different kettle of fish, I believe her. First of all, it's at Chorlton Irish Club, which - to the best of my knowledge - is not specifically known as a popular stag night destination. Secondly, the night is compered by Justin Moorhouse, who simply looks too cuddly to be unkind or vindictive (although I have been wrong about this kind of thing before). Thirdly, for this Friday's Laugh Local, anyone who works for the Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service can get in for the reduced price of £7.50. This is not only generous, heartwarming etc but should also mean that the place is packed with handsome types who could rescue a kitten from a tree in the blink of an eye should the situation arise. Fourthly, there's a bit of a disco afterwards from the Bop Local DJs. And finally - and this is what really sold it to me - you get a pasty supper as well.

This month's Laugh Local features Archie Kelly, Caimh McDonnell, Ben Lawes and David Stanier, with tickets costing £13.50 from the Bop Local website or from Chorlton Irish Club. I'm actually really looking forward to it...although I will still be making sure I sit safely at the back...