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Monday night saw The Beagle in Chorlton launch its first Meet The Brewer event. As a longtime fan of the Port Street events and an enthusiast of Magic Rock beers it seemed natural to go. However, following last week’s abrupt closure of The Beagle’s kitchen, you can’t help but wonder what’s going on with the place at the moment. So it was with some curiosity that I made the trip down to hear Richard Burhouse, one of the founding brothers behind the brewery, talk about his beers.

First of the night was Curious, Magic Rock’s everyday pale ale. With this one Magic were aiming for a session ale high on hops flavour and aromatics. Drinkability, as well as consistency in product, seemed to be the intention here. Richard likened the fermentation process to producing beer with a ‘hops cafetiere,’ which makes sense considering its lightness. This ale would be perfect cold on a sunny day, but personally I found it a bit lacking in body. Not a bad ale, and certainly it has a time and place, but not one I would order regularly.

Next up was High Wire, which is described as a tribute to American West Coast pale ales. With this beer Richard explained that they were aiming for a pint that worked as a cask beer as well as a keg, with dry hopping giving extra aroma post-fermentation and the cask adding roundness and balancing out the aromatics. The ale itself had a strong citrus aroma with refreshing grapefruit tones.

Two hald pints of Magic Rock brewery's High Wire at The Beagle in Chorlton.

Following this half came a platter of lightly seasoned grilled asparagus with a pot of whipped basil mayonnaise, and at my table we pondered why The Beagle decided to abruptly change its food offering last week. Having been for dinner there on two occasions I felt that the menu was sound in concept. After all, when you have the well-reputed Aumbry’s Lawrence Tottingham as ‘chef-at-large’ you figure that you can’t go too far wrong.

However, I found that while the menu struck just the right balance between contemporary and classic there were some flaws with the food proposition. Prices veered towards the expensive and on one occasion they served my mum raw chicken, embarrassing given that I had raved about the place to her following my first meal there. Whatever the issues (and it should be stated that staff were great in their response at the time) were while munching on those tender asparagus stems, it seemed a shame they couldn’t be resolved.

Onwards and upwards, though. The next half was my favorite and what I like to (try) and make my session Magic Rock pint, Dark Arts: Surreal Stout at 6%. Where to start, I love this beer so much. The finest dark chocolate, dried Christmas fruits, blacker-than-night espresso, silky treacle; all of these are in a glass of Dark Arts. There is a velvet sweetness as you sip, which fades to roasted after-notes.

Following this came Cannonball, a 7% IPA. Richard said that Magic Rock always aims for ultimate drinakbility in their beers, and that is difficult to achieve the higher you take the percentage. So gas was added and Cannonball is served cooler than other IPAs to help keep the drinker’s palate fresh.

Human Cannonball came next. This double IPA doesn’t pull any punches. It’s full of hops, deep, sweet yet bitter, and fragrant with spiced citrus fruit. A great beer, but at 9.2% it has to be handled with care.

Last up was the Inhuman Cannonball, of which only six kegs were made so it felt quite special to get to try it. It was a treat of citrus and sweet malt. For a beer at 11% it’s dangerously drinkable too, so probably a good job that this one was served in thirds.

Magic Rock brewry and Indie Man Beer con posters.

1. Pretend you are in a 19th century Russian novel

Inside the Bolshoi
Get dressed up in your fanciest clothes, go to the Bolshoi and reenact that scene from Anna Karenina where everyone slags her off behind their fans before the ballet starts. Round the evening off with dinner at Café Pushkin; the traditional, elegant surroundings and impeccable service is très aristocratic.

Tips: There are two theatres in the Bolshoi; the old theatre has recently been renovated, and the newer one hosts more contemporary performances. Book Café Pushkin in advance either in person or over the phone; the staff will put you to shame by speaking both English and French flawlessly.

2. Be a tourist

St Basils Cathedral, Moscow
The Kremlin, St Basil’s Cathedral, Red Square, Lenin’s Tomb: Moscow’s main attractions are incredibly impressive so spend a day or two taking them in. Don’t forget to venture down to the Church of Christ the Saviour and marvel at how Pussy Riot managed to get their instruments through the (extensive) security.

Tips: There are two queues in the park outside the Kremlin for the Armoury and the Ivan the Great Bell Tower. The ticket booths open twice a day and when they do civility breaks down in seconds (it’s worse than Primavera the year the booze cards broke).

3. Explorestation sign on the metro
From the crazy (cat theatre?) to the disturbing (Gulag Museum) there is a hell of a lot to get up to in Moscow. But it’s massive city and if you don’t speak Russian it can be tricky to negotiate. So get a good guide book and decide what you want to see in each area.

Tip: Lonely Planet does a good Moscow guide that comes with a map and a common phrases section.

4. Drink (a lot)

Russian rye beerWhat else are you going to do in a country that has only recently reclassified beer from the status of a normal, ordinary drink – on a par with, say, Coke – to an alcoholic beverage? And from small Soviet-style cafeterias serving beer brewed on-site to sleek alfresco cocktail bars there is some truly first rate drinking to be done in Moscow.

Obviously try the vodka (ice cold in 50g and 100g measures) but don’t ever ask for a mixer and don’t let them leave the bottle – that will end badly.

Tips: For beer, head to the Zhiguli Beer Hall on Novy Arbat, where the ale is both excellent and reasonably priced. For elegant cocktails in pretty surroundings head to Hermitage Gardens, where Chaikhona No 1 does a mean Old Fashioned.

5. Slurp sour cream till it oozes out of your pores

lots of russian food
Restaurant culture in Moscow can border on the absurd. Chandeliers suspended inside of birdcages, clay sculptured walls and a river running the length of a dining room, and a shed-full of garden equipment hanging from the ceiling in a Spanish eatery; all of these are things that actually exist in the city’s restaurants. Subtle it is not.

That said there is so much good Russian food; cured salmon, cream cheese, dumplings, street vendor buns with a cheesecake-like filling, stuffed breads and stuffed pancakes, rich soups, broths, pickled vegetables and cream infused casseroles, and any other cuisine your care to mention. So eat up, it’s all good.

Tip: Cafe Pushkin is fantastic but expensive. Stolovaya 57, a nostalgic cafeteria in GUM, is right by many of the main tourist attractions and well-priced for the area. Award for best meal though has to go to Strelka Bar, near the Red October Chocolate Factory.

6. Feel the power of the state

Soilders assemble outside the Bolshoi
Communist architecture is all about making you feel like a tiny part of the whole, and modern Russia still likes to let you know who is in charge. If you visit near any public holidays expect to see more soldiers and police officers than you will have ever seen in one place at one time. Catch yourself on the metro gazing at (yet another) bust of Stalin and thinking that he looks kind of cuddly.

Tip: Go to Park Pobedy to visit the Museum of the Great Patriotic War. Afterwards admire the juxtaposition of gigantic symmetrical buildings set against a skyline filled with modern financial high-rises.

7. Go as far off the beaten track as your visa will allow.

IMG_1179
When you apply for your tourist visa you have to give them your itinerary. With a normal visa you won’t be allowed more than 25km from the city you are staying. However, get away from the tourist attractions and just marvel at the place; you will never see people picnicking on the motorway or be able to wander around a half-built amusement park in Manchester.

Tip: The metro system is great for getting around the city. It’s an attraction in itself, it’s cheap and trains come about every 90 seconds.

8. Relax and enjoy it

Russian flag
Arriving in Moscow at night you might feel like you’ve awakened in a world based on an 1980s imagining of the future. A pirated copy of Blade Runner may have inspired the architects’ vision. The disorientation isn’t helped by the fact that you don’t even have the first clue about the language and you might well have been told numerous horror stories about things that happen to tourists in the city.

Tip: See 1! Seriously though Muscovites are friendlier than you might have been led to believe and in the unlikely event you do get stopped by the police for your documents a photocopy is sufficient.

“Are you sure you need that much fancy dress?” my boyfriend asked as I reeled off the 10 or more items from face paint to a tigers tail I had crammed into my bag.

“You just don’t understand,” I moaned, trying to work out a way to fit an Indian headdress into already over-packed rucksack without crushing the multi-coloured feathers.

“This is Wilderness festival!” I added with a sense of smugness. “Everyone will be doing it!”

And you know what? I was right.

From the moment we walked into the festival on Friday afternoon, to the day we left, you could hardly go five minutes without seeing someone dressed as a fox (the most popular costume of the festival by far), in a headdress, wearing facepaint or just casually wandering about in a tail.

Families, teenagers, twenty somethings and everyone else joined together in a festival of fun, frivolity and fancy dress.

Welcome to the wild. Welcome to Wilderness.

Wilderness Festival caught my eye many months before; it seemed like a dream come true. I had already point blank refused to go to another festival containing loud awful reggae mixed with no sleep and unbearable heat (my experience of Exit Festival last year in Serbia borders on the traumatic).

I wanted plenty of fun, with clean (ish) toilets, melodic indie music and a cool relaxing lake to wash away my hangovers.

I can say that it truly delivered: a magical, often hilarious, sometimes tiring, but mostly brilliant three days in the wild.

As the lovechild of the Secret Garden Party and Lovebox, Wilderness focuses on the festival beyond the music. While many music festivals include a disproportionate amount of time missing things, due to drunkenness, bar queues, weather etc, Wilderness is quite the opposite.

Every corner was filled with art, theatre or music. Hundreds of people performing the Birdie Song at the Village Hall tent and a group of flight attendants encouraging people to join the ‘Mile Pie Club’ by getting stuck into a mass cream pie fight, were just two of the highlights.

And though it may not have all been about the music, there was plenty to listen to. The main stage was tiny in comparison to most festivals; the crowd could barely fill a Northern Quarter bar on a Saturday night.

The bands differed from the upbeat beats of Crystal Fighters, to the melodic tones of Cloud Control.

The crowds danced and cheered accordingly, or lay in the grass sipping various alcoholic beverages.

Slowly as the evenings began to close in, people appeared in that nights’ fancy dress attire; on Friday girls in flapper dresses were surrounded by boys in fedoras, Saturday saw masks of varying degrees of quality for the masked ball and on Sunday it was tribal paint and headdresses.

Around 10 o’clock people would wander towards the woods where they were treated to a film, a club or a roller disco.

From midnight people would move further into the forest and explore the late night parties. Lights hung in the trees, mystical circus performers danced as people moved from tent to tent dancing to electro swing and Balkan beats.

It’s difficult to review Wilderness; there were so many things we missed from an attempt at a record breaking skinny dip, to making all number of craft items, from rings to wooden chairs. There was a freezing cold lake that only I, out of my friends, managed to successfully swim in.

The food could be a review in itself and ranged between Thali curries to mac and cheese. Those with money could treat themselves to one of the exquisite banquets by Michelin star chefs but, alas, our wallets could not quite stretch that far.

The only disappointment was Moro, a Morrocan restaurant, hyped up heavily by the organisers. Nearly 40 mins in a queue left us with a very disappointing lamb wrap each, which could have been eaten in one bite.

Wilderness was a festival that required no effort. There was no grimacing as you waited for a band through endless sound checks, no waiting for 30 minutes for a lukewarm beer and no suspicious burgers or poorly cleaned toilets.

Dancing to a swing band dressed as a flapper girl, falling ungracefully into the lake, seeing people run in slow motion to Chariots of Fire, singing along to Stornaway, discussing drunken facts about Who Framed Roger Rabbit, facepaint, tails and literary slams.

Wilderness was truly magical.

Photography by Sarah Khoo.

I clocked him before he reached our table gliding serenely, lighter than air, across the polished exposed floorboards.

‘Strumming my pain with his finger…,’ Lauryn Hill purred from the PA system. I stared at his tray, my eyes popping out my skull at the sight of the oreo cookie garnishing the glass. Pathetically grateful and desperate for sugar.

The sweet creamy milk laced with woody chocolate cookies, diffused with flecks of ice: the sugar instantly absorbed, the ice soothing my throbbing head.

‘…and so I came to see and listen for a while.’ sang Lauryn. It was a perfect moment. Serene.  After a slurp I pressed the glass to my temples, one at a time, and prayed the staff wouldn’t judge me.

Despite questioning in a previous post if Manchester’s bar and club scene was becoming a little  samey,  I have to admit I like Trof’s latest offering, Gorilla, on Whitworth Street.

Not sure how I’ll feel about another Black Dog Ballroom, mind. The night before we’d been past it as we stumbled through the Northern Quater on our way to Stevenson Square, a long line of Printworks refugees tailed around the corner.

But Gorilla I like. It’s got a dinner feel to it with these angular aluminium tiles above the bar, and there’s a gin parlour upstairs that, thankfully, is not open at 11am on a Saturday morning, which is when I tend to stumble in, pick something off the breakfast menu and slump on the table waiting for someone to bring me liquids.

Last time, I chose the waffles, bacon and maple syrup, which was possibly a mistake. Kristian went nuts for it, figuring there’s nothing not to like about a dish that contains salty, sweet and bready elements. But I’m someone who likes savoury and pudding to be clearly signposted and the bacon just seemed out of place to me. Good coffee though.

This time round there was no messing about. I was dying and there was no room for error. I plumped for the vegetarian breakfast, knowing that my stomach couldn’t handle a plateful of pork.

I asked for extra veggie black pudding, our server told me that I was making a wise choice. I felt comforted by his assurances.

The Mediterranean vegetables that it came with were glossy with olive oil and herbs de provence. The homemade hash brown, that came separately, was like tasting a hash brown for the first time, as it should be. Pure and good. The egg, perfect and fresh.

And our server had been no false prophet; while the veggie black pudding lacked the depth of its blood-filled counterpart, it was crumbly and unctuous.

I work close by and I’ve popped  in once or twice on my way home. They have a deal going on cocktails and wines between five and eight, but if I’m drinking on a school night it’s because I want something specific and Augustiner Helles comes in at around £4.50, which while not far off the going rate for a decent beverage can still come as a bit of a shock.

I was pretty enthusiastic when the waiter politely asked if we’d enjoyed our meal.  I said it was          amazing and maybe that was a bit much, but it seemed, with the sugary milkshake working on my hangover, that anything was possible now.

I could go into town, watch a film, get out of the city, catch a train to the coast, I could do it all again if I wanted to. It was all there for the taking now that I’d steeled myself with grease and milk.

(I ended up in Bury.)

October in Manchester is festival season and so is one of our favourite months of the year. We have no idea how we’re going to fit in everything we’d like to do, but we’re going to give it our best anyway. No doubt we’ll report back as to our various successes and failures. Let’s take a look:

Thursday 6th October to Sunday 9th October

Grimm Up North

If you have any interest in horror, sci-fi, or fantasy then you’ll want to check out the programme for Grimm Up North, which is filled with a number of potential gems. Chief among them is the premiere of The Wicker Tree, the new offering from Wicker Man director Robin Hardy that may or may not be a follow up to the seventies classic (it depends on who you ask). Also of note: a special preview of Retreat, a tense thriller starring Cillian Murphy, Jamie Bell, and Thandie Newton.

Friday 7th October to Monday 17th October

Manchester Food & Drink Festival

Despite Carlos Tevez’s protestations, Manchester is a great city for food at the best of times, but October is always the highlight of the culinary calendar. On the simplest level, the abundance of food stalls is a joy to behold, and it’s always worth making one or two (or three or four) trips to the festival hub at Albert Square. Beyond that, there are plenty of fantastic little events, from the Whiskey Festival and the Big Indie Wine Fest to Secrets From A Kosher Kitchen at the Jewish Museum. Don’t forget to bring your appetite!

Monday 10th October to Sunday 23rd October

Manchester Literature Festival

A festival that not only celebrates Manchester’s artistic heritage, but for two weeks places the city at the centre of the literary world. A wide range of events – from walks to readings, from interviews to award galas, not to mention some fascinating lectures – ensures that there should be something for everybody. The festival actually stretches into November, with Anthony Horowitz discussing the first official new Sherlock Holmes story since the death of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Jeffrey Eugenides reading from his eagerly awaited new novel. Our pick of the bunch, however, is Literary Reputations: Katherine Mansfield, which will examine the life and career of one of the greatest short story writers of all time.

Friday 14th October to Sunday 16th October

Manchester Weekender

With a remit to bring the best of the city together over the course of three days, Manchester Weekender celebrates cultural diversity whilst placing plenty of emphasis on the arts and crafts scene, with various workshops designed to get the creative juices flowing. The Secret City Arts programme seeks to highlight obscure artists whose greatness deserves wider acknowledgment, and a range of family-friendly events means that everyone can get involved.

Saturday 15th October to Sunday 16th October

A Carefully Planned Festival

Whilst the absence of In The City this year is lamentable, local promoter Carefully Planned has stepped into the breach with a two day festival taking place across four Northern Quarter venues. The line-up is filled with some of Britain’s best and brightest, with plenty of great Manchester bands to discover and one or two surprises to boot. And all for the unbelievably reasonable sum of £10. Don’t delay: get your ticket booked!

Monday 17th October to Sunday 30th October

Manchester Comedy Festival

The country’s comedy scene can be a difficult beast. The leading lights are divisive figures to say the least, and figuring out where to start in terms of the vast number of lesser known comics is the type of conundrum that puts many people off altogether. We usually just end up listening to the same Bill Hicks sets we’ve heard dozens of times. However, this year will be different; this year we’re going to get out there and discover some new favourites. A few shows have already piqued our interest: RIchard Herring: What Is Love?, Lorcan McGrath is a Smart Wrestling Fan, and The One Handed Show: A History of Pornography being among them. Oh, and don’t miss Adam Buxton’s BUG: The Evolution of Music Video. We’ve already got our tickets booked.

Saturday 22nd October to Sunday 30th October

Manchester Science Festival

Public interest in the sciences seems to be undergoing something of a resurgence at the moment, and events such as this deserve a large share of the credit. Since starting back in 2007, Manchester Science Festival has grown and grown, and this year looks set to be its biggest ever. Events fall into various categories: some celebrate the city’s scientific luminaries, whilst some seek to involve laymen such as ourselves in discussions of the grandest concepts imaginable. It’s the Alan Turing events we’re particularly looking forward to; few men have lived more incredible lives than he.

We’re exhausted just thinking about all of the above. Do let us know what you’re looking forward to, though, and if there’s anything we’ve missed that’s worth getting excited for.

Recently I’ve been wondering if it would be possible to exclusively eat Manchester-associated food for a whole day.

Think about it. We have the Manchester Egg, Eccles Cakes and Bury Black Pudding. There’s enough there to take you through until tea time, with Vimto (both hot and cold) to drink. And come evening you could round off your day with a Lancashire Hot Pot and a Manchester Tart.

But while yes, it would be possible,  it’s probably not practical. It is, however, entirely possible to make the Manchester Tart in the comfort of your own kitchen. I did it this evening, and pictured above and below are the results of my culinary endeavours.

Most of you will remember the Manchester Tart as a pudding mainstay of school dinner menus. Presented in an oblong steel tray with a wibbly coconut-sprinkled top, it was the natural choice when confronted with an alternative of a yellowing apple for desert.

I have fond memories of the jam-laden base topped with gooey bananas and smothered in custard. I found this easy to follow recipe from the BBC, but there are lots of more involved recipes available (for those with more time), and you have to assume they would produce better results.

My version involves a pre-made custard, because frankly making your own looks daunting and, when you factor in the vanilla pods, a touch costly too. I’ll also admit that the pastry is also pre-made; however, I feel toasting the coconut at the end went some way towards making up for this. Well, maybe not. Still, the results were delicious, and I doubt it will survive the evening in the fridge.

On our last visit to Berlin, nearly a year ago, we happened upon a lovely little German restaurant on Oranienburger Straße. We’d been searching for somewhere traditional to eat, having grown sick of the plethora of (admittedly tasty) Turkish kebab houses, warm bakeries, and half-price sushi places.

The pictures below aren’t from that particular meal (of slow cooked knuckle of pork with buttered potatoes and sauerkraut, and roulade of roast lamb with red cabbage and potato dumpling, since you ask), but were the starting point for our culinary German adventures.

We both agreed that there was something quite familiar about the staple Bavarian fodder that reminded us of traditional northern British dishes. All the mainstays are there: a protein consisting of meat or cheese; a strong carbohydrate element in the form of potatoes or bread; and more complex flavors introduced via gravy and stewed vegetables such as cabbage, which add a contrasting acidity and sweetness to cut through the salty meat and heavy potatoes.

If you happen to be in Berlin yourself and fancy some good quality, traditional food then head to Weltrestaurant-Markthalle. Note: when they over you the option of a small portion or a large portion they really do mean large.

Traditional Pork Schnitzel on a bed of fried potatoes with a gravy boat of creamy mushroom sauce. This came with a bowl of fresh green salad, which counterbalanced the plate of indulgent fried food.

Käsespätzle - a traditional dish of thick noodles combined with a cheese sauce topped with battered, deep-fried noodles and a fresh garden salad.

Two meltingly succulent pork chops with a couple of lightly seasoned bread dumplings on a bed of warm sauerkraut and swimming in a deeply meaty gravy.

 

Chicken Liver Pate serve with caramelised onions and watercress; and Beetroot Cured Salmon. Both served with toast.

At Onward, Manchester we don’t discriminate. Mexican, Thai, Indian; we love ‘em all. But there is something particularly satisfying about rich, decadent British cuisine that offers a nod to the England of yesteryear, the nation of Mrs Beeton and roasted game, and of spiced puddings and gravy. This type of cuisine has really returned to the limelight over the last ten years, and gets us very excited indeed.

We picked the Mark Addy for a celebratory meal a few nights ago. As  a mainstay of the Manchester food and drink scene for the last thirty years, it is an establishment my parents – who lived in Eccles for several years before hopping over the Pennines to Leeds – have fond memories of, and somewhere I consumed many a cheese and pate board during my penny-pinching student days.

On our latest visit we found that the menu has been expanded to include a host of gastronomic delights, including rumps of lamb, pressed tongues, and buttered bucklings. The  are a few places in Manchester that specialize in this particular brand of sumptuous Englishness: Sam’s and Tom’s Chop Houses quickly spring to mind for their Victorian menus, which are heavy and oozing with cream. Delicious food, but they can leave the dinner with a feeling that they’ve overindulged.

The Mark Addy’s menu takes a slightly lighter approach, suffused throughout with the imagination and traditional leanings of it head chief Mr Robert Owen Brown. Pictured above is the beetroot cured salmon, which came served on a black ceramic tile, accompanied by thickly sliced dry brown toast dribbled with pungent creamy horseradish. The visual drama of the tilted tile, scattered with maroon flesh, taken with the white bread, and cut through on the palate with the heat from the horseradish put me in mind of a deconstructed English sushi.

Wood Pigeon with RS Ireland Black Pudding and Claret

The mildly gamey pigeon came served rare with black pudding from Ireland sitting snugly on top of a velvety fondant potato. The Fish and Chips with Mushy Peas was a delightful example of the dish, and a Smoked Pork Fillet served with Bacon came with a lovely light sherry cream.

The vegertarian in our group was satisfied with Braised Wild Mushrooms with Pennyroyal and Vegetarian Black Pudding, which came to the table encased in a very large onion. The flavors lived up to the theatre of the dish; however, the vegetarian options on this menu are not extensive, and this was the only main on the staple menu not to include meat.

To finish: Sarsaparilla, Yorkshire Parkin, and Rum Raisin Ice Cream and Chocolate and Ginger Cheesecake. Every bit as good as they look.

The unexpected delight of the food at the Mark Addy was that it felt indulgently rich, with a touch of old world charm, yet none of the courses were so dense as to give you that ‘fit to burst’ feeling five minutes after you finish. Which was fortunate, as it meant we still had room to finish with the imaginative and deliciously executed desserts pictured above!

As I was sitting at a picnic table in Picadilly Gardens watching a harassed mother and her sulky teenage daughter lock horns over the contentious issue of back to school shoes, it dawned on me what the point of the Manchester Picnic and, by extension, the self-proclaimed “city centre management company” City Co really was.

The event, which lasted from Friday to Sunday, saw food purveyors from across Manchester gather to flog their delicious wares to parents and shoppers, whilst activities in the form of science demonstrations, Printworks DJ sets, and cutesy pirouetting teddy bears kept children and teenagers entertained.

Behind a carefully constructed kitsch facade, accompanied by a well-executed marketing campaign and some humanising website copy, City Co have clearly worked hard to create an event that gives people a reason to come to Manchester and spend their money.

This isn’t a bad thing. People need to spend in order to ensure that everything positive that has been achieved in terms of making Manchester the UK’s real second city is not for naught, now that the country’s economy is well and truly in decline.

City Co seems to be a force for good; Manchester needs people to visit, and City Co provides a platform for businesses and the council to work together to make this happen. And some of their initiatives are really very clever, such as promoting Manchester as a leading photographic destination. This helps gain the city publicity amongst art and media types, after which promotion continues at no cost, courtesy of the images taken by amateurs helping to create strong word of mouth.

The motives for other initiatives are a little more opaque, however. Perhaps I’m being dense or have not quite thought it through, but I cannot see why an organisation that is essentially a PR machine needs to provide a business crime reduction service; surely that is the job of the police, and any information concerning criminality in the city shouldn’t be restricted to “members only.”

Anyway, I digress. Back to the picnic.

Pictured above is an Aumbry’s Bury Black Pudding Scotch Egg served in a sleek black box with homemade ketchup. I salivated as the chief deep fried this golden-crumbed globe of oozing pudding with a quails egg tucked up inside. It’s easy to see why they are described as “legendary” in Prestwich, where Aumbry is based.

Next up was a City Cafe Venison Sausage barm, slathered in Jagermeister Jam with a token bit of salad. Chunky, meaty, and gamey but not overbearingly so, all-in-all it was surprisingly subtle. The Jagermeister Jam was really more of a sauce, but it added a sweet balance and some sharper end notes to the earthy tones of the meat.

The banoffee cupcake pictured next to it is from Dessert Harvey Nichols. Personally, I’m not a massive cupcake fan. The icing is generally overbearing, and they have become something of a twee affectation in recent years. I like homemade ones; it’s mainly the ones that appear in large boxes  as corporate gifts or as an alternative to a wedding cake that I have a problem with.

As for the one above, it was extremely sickly, and might have been more successful had it been either just toffee or just banana. Lurking within the suspiciously light crumb was a centre of flavourless sweet brown gunk standing in for caramel, and adorning the top was a sugary banana icing with, inexplicably, a small chocolate digestive hidden underneath.

That said, Harvey Nichols were kind enough to give us a discount leaflet for their restaurant, and I reckon we’ll make our way over at some point. And we’ll be keeping our eyes peeled for more events like this in the future.

The Manchester Picnic certainly worked as an exercise in getting us to spend time and money in the city centre. After we had eaten, we went for a wander around the shops, and I bought some fairy lights from Habitat, which is going out of business.

The guy on the till said he will be given just one week’s notice before him and all of the other staff find themselves out of a job; they aren’t yet sure when this will happen, though. This brings home the importance of events like the Manchester Picnic in terms of drumming up city centre trade.

Above: The spiced-to-perfection Plantain and the sadly absent Jerk Chicken.


Since his Dragons’ Den appearance, Levi Roots has planted Caribbean food firmly in the national consciousness, and despite his range of sauces, pre-packaged meals, and Domino’s pizzas being a touch too sweet and short on spice for my palate, the increased number of establishments now serving this cuisine is certainly a fantastic upside to his success.

Mind you, Caribbean food has long been to Hulme what Indian food is to Rusholme. Once you have had a taste of sizzling jerk chicken breast nestled atop a pile of coconut and scotch-bonnet infused rice and peas, you may find that your long-standing affection for fire-engine tandooris begins to wane.

There are several fantastic places in Hulme you can visit for your African-Caribbean fix. Yaba, located on Hulme High Street, is a solid neighborhood restaurant, with a menu largely comprising warm, comforting, slow-cooked stews.

There are certain things you expect from a neighborhood restaurant: homeliness, friendly service, reasonable prices and, most importantly, good, honest, home-cooked food. Yaba definitely delivers on these fronts.

This wasn’t my first visit to the restaurant; given that it is so close to my apartment, and that jerk chicken with rice and peas is my go-to food when I am in need of comfort (read: slightly worse for wear having had too much to drink the night before), it’s no surprise that I’ve popped in a couple of times before.

This time I was in for a slight disappointment, as I didn’t get my chicken fix, because the grills were apparently broken. No matter, though, for the Curried Goat was pretty delicious – chunks of melting meat in a mean and spicy sauce, served with a pile of rice, vegetables, and a mini-dumpling for mopping up the stray dregs at the end.

Hangover hunger pangs being what they are, I could’ve eaten a touch more than the portion I was provided with and, greedy though we may be, that seemed to be Kristian’s main complaint too (though fear not, we also consumed a plate of spiced fried plantain for the price of £3, and both of us agreed that it was wonderful).

He plumped for the stewed oxtail; rich on-the-bone flesh in a thick gravy, made all the richer for the hours that it had spent being slowly infused with succulent bone juices. The spices add provocation to the familiarly English taste of stewed meat – kind of like your grandmother’s casserole with a bouquet garni scoured south of the equator. Comforting yet exotic. Again, it came with the familiar rice and peas (although you’re also free to choose a more carb-based options, such as chips, if you fancy), vegetables, and the same cute little dumpling. Both mains came in at around £8 each.

So two great mains and two happy customers. Negatives? Well the vegetables were overcooked, no question about it. And they don’t serve alcohol, although they do offer a selection of homemade drinks, including a refreshing ginger beer that packed enough punch to shake away my remaining cobwebs. You can bring your own booze, if you like, but you will be charged £7 for corkage/provision of glasses.

If you would like to sample the whole menu there is an all-you-can-eat buffet on Fridays and Sundays. For more information please see the Yaba facebook page.

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