There's been a growing consensus over the last few years that, whilst Didsbury remains a pretty nice place to live, it doesn't necessarily have much to offer in the way of a good night out. Yes, it has some Old Man Pubs of indescribable charm, but sometimes, just sometimes, you want to go to a venue where you don't lower the average age range of the clientele by about thirty years the second you walk in. And yes, I love Gusto, but in the face of not much competition it has become very clear to me that girl cannot live on pizza alone.
Recently though, signs of improvement are afoot. Didsbury Lounge has been around for a year now, and is soon to be joined by Chalk Bar and Grill and - thrillingly for greedy girls - Northern Quarter behemoth SoLIta, which is all set to take over the old Cibo site on School Lane. We also have a new pub, The Stoker's Arms, which has replaced the not-really-much-lamented O'Neill's on Wilmslow Road. There was a soft launch and - naturally - Didsbury Girl and I were amongst the first to have our big thirsty faces pressed up against the window; in the end, they gave up and let us in.
The new space is hardly recognisable from its O'Neill's days - all the nasty internal partitions and glasswork has gone, and the place feels twice as big and ten times as light as a result. The drinks list is also very much classier than before; drinks here are not cheap, but I'd rather pay an extra quid or so and be given Hendrick's gin with Fevertree tonic (and a slice of cucumber without even asking for it) than slum it at Wetherspoon's - although this attitude does admittedly become more relaxed the closer I get to payday and to the very bottom of my bank account.
The food also looks promising. Bearing in mind this was just the soft launch, we enjoyed our meal very much - my salt and pepper squid could have done with more oooomph in the seasoning but was a massive portion for £5.25 and had that perfect combination of crispy outsides and tender insides: no excess chewing needed here. Didsbury Girl very much enjoyed her tomato and red pepper soup, and would apparently have licked the bowl had she been at home - this is exactly the kind of high-end, knowledgeable comment that gets us invited to these things in the first place.
For mains, I had the pork & chorizo burger with caramelised red onion & fries - a satisfyingly hefty burger with an excellent flavour thanks to the chorizo and some good, crispy, salty chips. Across the table Didsbury Girl was finding that the veggie options were limited (although more are promised) but had no complaint with her bean burger and homemade coleslaw. The dessert was the real star though - we shared the salted caramel & chocolate tart with clotted cream and barely managed to refrain from actually fighting over it, particularly the precious salt crystals lolling so seductively amidst the caramel layer. If you ever see two girls fighting on the pavement on Wilmslow Road it will undoubtedly be either over a man (who won't deserve it) or this dessert (which does).
So, The Stoker's Arms looks like being a great addition to Didsbury. The staff and management are young and beautiful and charming, and food prices are reasonable - the weekday fixed price menu at £11 for three courses looks a real winner. Whether the burgers we had could compete with SoLIta, I'm not entirely sure, but I think both venues will work together to attract a whole new crowd to an increasingly desirable Didsbury. Just make sure please there's always room for us locals...
- We were invited as guests of The Stoker's Arms and were not asked to pay for our food or drinks. Nor, however, were we asked to write or blog about the place - just to give our honest feedback.