Music, Flapjack and Public Transport

Well it has been a busy week for my husband and I, one that we have been looking forward to for a while. Thus you get a slightly long and rambling post.

About 6 months ago I got a Facebook notification that one of my favourite bands, Epica, were going to be playing in Manchester. I immediately booked tickets and arranged my work schedule so that I could finish early that day. That was to be on Thursday November 12th.

Then we were invited to a family reunion with my father’s family. It would be on the other side of the country but we decided it would be worth the trip. So, again, I booked time off work and added it to my calendar. That was to be on Saturday November 14th. We decided we would take the train from Manchester (where we live) to Grimsby (where my parents live) on the Friday night and drive down to London with them on the Saturday, it would be considerably cheaper. We could then drive back to Grimsby with them on Sunday and take the train home again that evening.

A short while later I saw that another of my favourite bands were also going to be playing in Manchester in November, how exciting! I was a bit unhappy when I saw the date however: Friday November 13th. That would mean travelling to my parents’ house on the Saturday, getting straight off the train and getting into the car. But, I really love Garbage and have done for many years so I decided that it would be worth it. This time I booked to leave work early on the Friday and also booked off the following Monday to recover.

So, Epica on Thursday, Garbage on Friday,family reunion on Saturday and a heck of a lot of travelling.

Roll on November.

As it is near the end of the year my husband and I realised we had some holiday left to use before the end of the year so we decided to save our energy and book the days of both gigs off as well as the weekend and following Monday. Fun times.

Work disagreed. I had already promised to go help out our new Union rep in Nottingham, originally we had decided to do this on October 30th and make our recruitment/question day Hallowe’en themed. Then the date changed. Yep, you guessed it, it was now going to be right in the middle of our week off. On Friday the 13th I was heading to Nottingham.

I was also going to have to bake as we were tying it in with a Children in Need themed cake sale.

Thursday

I decided to make some flapjack and a chocolate cake for the bake sale.

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Flapjack is a wonderfully simple recipe, I used one from the river cottage website.

Ingredients

 

  • 175g unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 150g demerara sugar
  • 250g medium porridge oats
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • 2 bags of dark chocolate chips

Method

  • Preheat over to 180°C.
  • Heat together the honey, butter and sugar until the butter has just melted but the sugar is still grainy.
  • Take off the heat and stir in the porridge oats and salt.
  • Pour half the mixture into a greeced 8 inch square pan and press down firmly.
  • Bake for aproximately 10 minutes.
  • Run a knife around the edge of the tin and leave to cool for 5 minutes before turning out onto a wire wrack.
  • Repeat with the other half of the recipe.
  • When the flapjack has cooled cut each square into 8 pieces.
  • Melt the chocolate and pour over half of each piece of flapjack.
  • Allow to set.
  • Yum.

For the chocolate cake I must confess I had some help from Betty Crocker but I think we can all agree I was pretty busy.

That evening we went to see Epica ^_^.
They had two opening bands Scar Symmetry and Eluveitie. I really liked the second one who used a lot of folk instruments like a hurdy-gurdy, a violin and various pipes. I am not keep on growling lyrics but enjoyed the instrumental parts and the female led vocals.

Epica were, of course, amazing. They seemed to be enjoying the show and each others’ company, which is always good to see. I particularly enjoyed the wearable keyboard which allowed the keyboardist to move around like the guitarists. I am still envious of all sopranos. We got home at about midnight.

Chris and I are in here somewhere. Photo from Epica’s Facebook page.

Epica

Friday

At 6:30 the next morning I was up and heading out for Nottingham, carrying a large chocolate cake, a bag of Union goodies and a big tub of flapjack. Several people commented on the cake so at least I know that it looked tasty.

My train was late so my ride at the Nottingham end had to leave without me. I could not call her because she would not have her phone at work. So I called my work and asked for the number for her office. They gave me one and I called it. I work in insurance, I got through to a soup kitchen.

So I tried again and was given a different number. This belonged to a rather grumpy man and was a private number. Oops.

Third time lucky I finally got hold of my colleague and got directions to her office. I decided that the easiest way to get there was to take a tram. I have been on trams in Manchester, Rome, Paris and various places in the Netherlands. I have never been on a tram that had special stop buttons and did not stop at every stop. I did not realise I had to press anything and so my stopped sailed by. I got off at the next tram stop, changed sides and caught the tram back again. This time I pressed to the stop button repeatedly. Again the tram did not stop and I watched my destination slide past again. I got off at the next stop and just walked. It seemed easier.

Overall the day was good. I answered a lot of Union questions, sold a lot of cake and came home very tired.

Which of course made it a perfect time to have a quick change and head out to Garbage!

My friend Kim came with us as well since she has very good taste in music. Garbage were playing up at the University in Academy 1. There was a gig in Academy 3 as well (a much smaller venue). Our gig had people of all ages but the other seemed to be mostly teenage girls. Kim and I had never heard of the band they were going to see and decided that we felt old (We are 29 and 31).

Garbage were fantastic. Because this was a 20th anniversary tour for their first album they played the whole album (out of order) and b-sides from the singles. It was also the chattiest gig I have ever been to with the lead singer discussing sex, sexism, how they met and all sorts of random stuff that came into her head. Again a really good atmosphere and we had a great time. If they are playing near you go and see them.

Pictures are courtesy of Kim who has a much better camera in her phone than I do.

 

Once again we got home after midnight. No worries, we didn’t have to be up until 5am on Saturday.

Saturday

Our train was supposed to be at 6:13. This would get us into Grimsby just before 9am giving us time to stretch our legs before heading down to London about 10ish. We got to Manchester Piccadilly train station at 5:50. Then our train was cancelled. The next train was not until 7:20 so we decided to go and get a cup of tea. A 7:20 train would get us there before 10am although we would not have time for a break between trips. I am not a morning person, as anyone who has ever stayed over at my house will tell you, but I drank my tea and kept my griping to a minimum. It may have escalated a bit as the next three trains by the same company were also cancelled. I kept checking ours on the website and it said it was ok but I was not having high hopes.

Still 7:20 came and a train arrived. Chris and I got on and started to get settled, we put our bags up on the rack… we realised that Chris’ bag was still in the teashop. Chris legged it back to get his stuff while I stood half on, half off of the train hoping he made it back before I had to start an argument with the train conductor. Thankfully he did and we settled down properly for our trip.

Now Grimsby is normally a straight through trip taking about 2.5 hours. That is when the train runs all of the way though. Ours got cancelled at Sheffield, still an hour and a half away from Grimsby. And there were no trains going to Grimsby that we could change to.

We decided to get as far east as we could on the basis that, if absolutely necessary, my parents could pick us up in the car if we got close enough. There was a train going to Scunthorpe, which is only half an hour outside of Grimsby. It was a local stopping train which meant it would take forever but it was going the right way. The national rail website also stated that there was a train running from Scunthorpe to Grimsby. It was also supposed to leave Scunthorpe 2 minutes before our train arrived. We asked if anything could be done about that. No.

I fell asleep on the Scunthorpe train, hardly surprising, I hope you will agree. When I woke up we were stopped at a platform that seemed to be in the middle of a field. I waited for the train to continue. It stayed suspiciously still. Then the conductor came on the tannoy, because of a problem with the tracks we were going to turn around and go back to Doncaster, one of the previous stops. Doncaster is an hour away from Grimsby. We called my parents who told us to get off the train where we were and they would pick us up and head south directly from there.

Now it was 9:30 –  45 minutes after we were supposed to have gotten to Grimsby – and the furtherest east we could get was a field in the middle of nowhere. Well, actually in the middle of Hatfield and Stainforth but I think that everyone who is not from there will agree that that is the middle of nowhere. There were horses in a nearby field and we did briefly consider seeing if we could borrow them to get a bit further east.

We eventually took shelter in a local Asda’s where they were kind enough to let me use the staff toilet. It also gave us an opportunity to stock up on junk food for the trip.

As you may have guessed my parents did find us and, after a 5 hour trip, we managed to find our hotel. From there everything was straight forward. The family reunion was a lot of fun and I did a lot of dancing. The trip home was long but uneventful (thank heavens). The sleep on Sunday night was deep and well needed.

Super-duper Hen Do

I’m afraid this post is a little late (sorry Kim!) since my hen do was actually 2 weeks ago now but things have been a bit busy around here. I can’t believe the wedding is next Saturday! A friend at work went to a 3 day wedding last week and the planning that must be involved in that is unimaginable to me.

Fortunately I had zero planning to do for the hen party as my fabulous maid of honour did all of the work and everything was a complete surprise to me. And what a lot of work she did too! Our group convened just before 2pm on Saturday and got home around 2am on Sunday after a four part party! Amazing.

Kim, planner extraordinaire, had been careful to make her hints about the day as cryptic and worrying as possible. For example, when I asked her what sort of clothes I should wear she answered that it would have to something I could bend down in for the daytime event. Hmmm… She did say she wasn’t going to make everyone wear something stupid… except for possibly me. Fortunately I escaped with a main ‘costume’ of a circlet veil and a ‘Bride To Be’ sash. She did make us look stupid though…

So part one of the hen do was bowling! This was not something I would have guessed since I knew we were staying in town and I didn’t know town had a bowling alley. Apparently it’s only been there a month or two. So off we went to All Star Lanes in the Great Northern which was appropriately American themed.

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It’s been a while since most of us had been bowling but we valiantly pressed on with the sides down. I got an impressive 9 on my first roll, only to follow it with 5, 5!, gutterballs. But once we got going the points started pouring in. We like to tell ourselves that anyway.

Kim

Kim

Susie

Susie

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Mom and I

Mom and I

Mom (who will now tell me off for putting up this picture of her.)

Mom (who will now tell me off for putting up this picture of her.)

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Annie

Annie

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Cris

Cris

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Katie

Katie

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She just had to go one better than the rest of us.

She just had to go one better than the rest of us.

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Kim had also prepared a variety of games, challenges and forfeits for the day. None of us were allowed to say the name of my fiance, Chris, which was made all the most amusing by having Cristina (who usually goes by Cris) in our group. We each had a name badge, her’s said ‘She Who Must Not Be Named’. Yes my friends are also geeks.

No one slipped up on this until after we had finished bowling but we didn’t make it out of the centre without me mentioning the cursed name. That was when I got the forfeit:

Possibly not my sexiest look.

Possibly not my sexiest look.

Kim had also arranged a less embarrassing forfeit for anyone who lost a game. I guess that is why she worked so hard to win at the bowling.

Bowling may not be our talent but it sure is fun.

Bowling may not be our talent but it sure is fun.

As the lowest scoring bowler my mother’s ‘Partner In Crime’ Annie had the forfeit:

I think she looks very glamorous.

I think she looks very glamorous.

After the working up an appetite bowling we headed down the road to Opus One for one of my favourite things, High Tea!

Kim and I have been here a couple of times before so we know they do a good spread.

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Most of us went for the traditional afternoon tea with finger sandwiches, scones with jam and cream and a variety of cakes. I think the scones were my favourite part of the meal, light and sweet. Cris had the gentleman’s high tea which has things like pork pie and mini fish and chips instead of sandwiches. It looked good although sadly I didn’t get any pictures of it. It looked so good that Kim commented to me that we should bring Kieran (her partner) and Chris out for one. Ooops…

She actually ended up using the 'C' word more than I did!

She actually ended up using the ‘C’ word more than I did!

To keep the fun flowing Kim also had a game for us to play during our meal and pulled out some post-its and pens from her bag of tricks. We played a hilarious game of couples Guess Who I Am while we waited for our food. I think the winner got theirs within four or five questions but there were several occasions of people using their 20 questions and being none the wiser. Katie got the glasses for this game having the only historical couple in the game. I was the only one who wrote a fictitious couple which I thought was interesting and Kim got the only non-romantic couple whom I had never even heard of.

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We did take the moustaches off to eat after I tried to drink with mine and failed miserably.

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I just thought the glasses would add something.

Since Kim had not made everyone wear something that made it obvious we were a hen do she insisted I came to the ladies’ with her as ‘context’ for her moustache. For the record, it is a very nice bathroom with real towels and everything.

Kim also used her sticky notes to have everyone write down a date for Chris and I, they are secrets and whenever we need a date after the wedding we can draw one at random. We then have to follow the instructions. I hope none of them say ‘Go to Spain’ because that could be tricky for a mid-week date.

Since we were on a hen do I also got a special present from the management.

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The chocolates were a rich fudge-like treat and I adore strawberries with melted chocolate.

We found this in the restaurant/hotel lobby. After all, what would a hen party be without one?

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After lunch it was time for a quick trip home to change into evening wear before heading out again (5 women, 1 bathroom, you do the maths!). Sadly Katie had to go home at this point but were joined by my lovely soon to be mother- and sister-in-law.

For our evening festivities we went to Manchester 235, the casino in the Great Northern. I think this was a great choice as it is a very glitzy, hen partyish thing to do. Also I have never been to a casino so it was very exciting!

When we arrived there we were ushered into the VIP lounge for our own private cocktail making class. Those of you who have read previous posts will know that Chris and I both enjoy making, and drinking, cocktails so this was particularly cool. Since Kim enjoys drinking the cocktails we make I guess it wasn’t an entirely self-choice of activity :p.

Anyone who has ever been out with me knows I am a complete lightweight so when they started me off on a shot of something strong and strawberry I was already well on my way. It may help explain the following pictures if I point out that Mom is as bad as I am and also that we made A LOT of cocktails so that even the hardiest drinker was giggling.

We started off with a cocktail everyone made.

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The first cocktail was strawberry vodka and amaretto topped up with bubbly and garnish with a strawberry. Yum yum. So good in fact that when Annie wasn’t looking Mom started drinking her’s as well!

For the other cocktails the guys teaching us would make a sample one and pass it round then ask for a couple of volunteers to try it themselves.

Firstly we had a cosmopolitan. As the bride (and someone who likes cosmopolitans) I thought I should be first to volunteer. This round was a straight up contest between Sandra (Chris’ Mom) and myself. She won and got to have a shot as her reward. I got to light a piece of orange peel though which was quite exciting.

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See the cosmopolitan in the front? I'm sure we took pictures of the cocktails up close but I don't seem to have them, they must have been on someone else's camera.

See the cosmopolitan in the front? I’m sure we took pictures of the cocktails up close but I don’t seem to have them, they must have been on someone else’s camera.

The next cocktail on the list was Kim’s favourite: the Mojito! My Mom and Susie took on this challenge as Kim wanted to taste both and be the judge.

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I'm not 100% sure how it got a moustache.

I’m not 100% sure how it got a moustache.

After this the challenges got more tricky with Sandra and Cris competing with Annie and Kim to make a coffee cocktail… only using one hand each!

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Next up was a Hudson/Hardman duo competition with Sandra and I competing against my Mom and Sandra’s daughter Vicky. To make it more interesting Mom and Mum were both blindfolded and Vicky and I had to guide them. They couldn’t decide which Sex on the Beach was best so we all got shots.

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They also made a personalised cocktail for me after asking my hens for some of my characteristics.

It was passionfruit, spiced rum and strawberry puree muddled together then chipped ice was added and the cocktail was topped up with champagne. While they were making it the manager came through and told them to use the good Crystal champagne which we later found out was £365 a bottle! This was definitely the most expensive drink I’ve ever had. It was good too. To top it off the hollowed out passionfruit skin was filled with 65% proof rum and set on fire and a strawberry was added to garnish. And, if that’s not enough pizzazz for you, cinnamon and sugar was sprinkled on top causing a whoosh!

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You can't see the flames as well here but Annie and I's reaction should speak volumes.

You can’t see the flames as well here but Annie and I’s reaction should speak volumes.

As well as the one they made Annie and I also made this cocktails. Annie put the correct 1 measure of rum in her’s. I couldn’t remember how much went in so I asked and was told ‘whatever you want’ so I put in two O:-).

There were so many names suggested that I couldn’t pick so I amalgamated them into one: Raunchy Rachel’s Fairy Cup of Tea on Fire! Delicious.

But the alcohol didn’t end there (sorry liver).

I believe this is called a Jaeger train? You lift the end cup and...

I believe this is called a Jaeger train? You lift the end cup and…

... the shot glasses end up in the larger cups, how clever is that! And I could even do it decidedly tipsy.

… the shot glasses end up in the larger cups, how clever is that! And I could even do it decidedly tipsy.

Many thanks to our good natured teacher, one of whom even ended up wearing a ‘I said Chris’ moustache over his real moustache.

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After the cocktail class we stayed at Manchester 235 for a 2 course dinner (with wine of course, we had free drinks vouchers after all).

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The food was very good as was the dinner time game of ‘I have never’. Amusing the ‘loser’ at this game was Chris’ Mum and the ‘winner’ was mine! My mother really is a child of the 60s and 70s.

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During dinner several other people had to wear the moustache (thank heavens, Kim and I were getting tired of our monopoly after several failures each).

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Adventurous moustache!

Adventurous moustache!

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But the evening wasn’t over yet!

Kim had also booked us in for a gambling lesson plus we had vouchers for a £5 bet each. As I said I had never been to a casino so this was a new and fun experience. The guy teaching us how to play was also excellent so I would highly recommend the casino.

First we learned blackjack, at which I was doing alright. Unfortunately finding a £2 in table after the lesson was hard, most of them were £5 in.

He even gamely wore our glasses.

Then we had a lesson in Roulette.

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I played a few real games of roulette as well and managed to turn my free £5 into £15 so I was pretty chuffed. Mom did significantly better at the fake game unfortunately, winning a fake fortune.

My winnings.

My winnings.

Susie won a pound but it was a fortuitous pound since on the way back from cashing it a random man playing blackjack bought each of us a drink. Win. Thank you random man.

So overall we had a great and hilarious night. Thank you to all my hens, you are so much fun! I hope you had as good a time as I did. And mostly a huge thank you to Kim who orchestrated everything perfectly.

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Comedy Store

If you are in Manchester any time and looking for a fun night out I would definitely recommend a trip to The Comedy Store. We’ve been twice now (see, it must be good, we went back) for family birthdays and have always had a really good evening.

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We went on a Saturday for the “Best In Stand-up’ night which meant we got a variety of 4 or 5 comedians including the MC which means if someone doesn’t tickle your funny bone there are plenty of others who will. Overall Chris and I have found that the standard of comedy is pretty high and always has me giggling. I particularly enjoy watching hecklers get ripped to shreds.

The theatre itself is two floored (although the bottom floor has been the only one open when we were there) and quite cosy but not claustrophobic. The smoke blowers and the ‘comedy store’ lights make for a cluby atmosphere which works well on a Saturday night. It is also a good place to people watch between shows as quite a variety of people come.

They do a 7pm and a 9:30pm slot so it makes a nice after dinner entertainment still leaving time to go out on the row of bars next to it. Just don’t fall in the canal outside!

You can make a real evening of it and even eat there, which is what we did both times and then went to the later show. With 2 courses for £14 in their downstairs restaurant or a selection of bar food upstairs there is some selection and I can vouch that the food in the restaurant is pretty good.

Wild Mushrooms in garlic and cream on toasted ciabatta

Wild Mushrooms in garlic and cream on toasted ciabatta

Thai Fishcakes with a chilli and coriander salsa

Thai Fishcakes with a chilli and coriander salsa

Chicken... I can't actually remember what kind >_<

Chicken… I can’t actually remember what kind >_<

Homemade Steak and Ale pie with chips, vegetables and gravy

Homemade Steak and Ale pie with chips, vegetables and gravy

Chicken again! My memory is awful.

Chicken again! My memory is awful.

Italian Meatballs in a plum tomato and basil sauce with garlic bread

Italian Meatballs in a plum tomato and basil sauce
with garlic bread

Red Thai Chicken Curry with rice and naan bread

Red Thai Chicken Curry with rice and naan bread

Chicken wrapped in Parma Ham stuffed with Mozarella with roasted new potatoes and garden peas.

Chicken wrapped in Parma Ham stuffed with Mozarella
with roasted new potatoes and garden peas.

I had the mushroom starter and the red Thai curry and both were delicious, although in fairness I love anything with mushrooms!

After dinner a member of staff escorts you to your seats for the show which is a nice touch, we have always had good and attentive service there.

If you do go to the comedy store one word of warning: Don’t sit in the front row!

New Camera

Since we are going to be honeymooning in Rome Chris and I decided we needed a new camera. My normal digital camera is pretty good at outdoor shots and has very good zoom and panoramic but it is no good at all for low light/indoor conditions. Plus I really love taking pictures and wanted something with a bit more finesse than a point and click.

So, with the Jessops grand reopening we got ourselves a great deal and then took it for a walk in Manchester to practice. Some were taken by me and some by Chris.

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Admittedly most of these are outside shots and you can tell we are still playing around with the settings. I will be doing an indoor test run at the John Rylands or the Town Hall as soon as I have time!

Free Alcohol

A quick post on getting very lucky, all at once, with alcoholic drinks:

Chris and I enjoy a drink but aren’t big drinkers however if the alcohol in question happens to be free what can you do? We have a habit of running around Manchester collecting free things but this particular week was a winner!

On Friday night Chris had a work night out at Barcelona (the bar, not the country). They regularly do bogof offers on cocktails which they were taking advantage of. Ok, so it’s more half price alcohol than free alcohol but since I had someone’s drink after they decided they didn’t like it mine was free.

Margaritas

Margaritas

 

Margaritas are one of my favourite cocktails. I first had them in New Mexico after going into a bar with my father and asking the waitress to recommend something. She made me an entire cocktail shaker of presidente margarita and I have been hooked ever since. They are citrus-y and slightly sour whereas I usually like sweet things but still, sooo good.

Chris also had a Long Island Iced Tea. Not usually my favourite (I don’t like actual iced tea) but there ones were very good. I don’t know if that is a good thing or not if you do like Long Island Iced Teas. Either way I would have one again. I also like these glasses.

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The only problem with Barcelona is that you have to get two of the same cocktail so you better have similar tastes! As it is just around the corner from our house in Manchester’s Northern Quarter I would definitely go there again.

The next day I dragged Chris along to a wedding fair. As well as the usual free fare of hair stuff, face cream, lots of bits of a paper and a few sweets we also were literally wined and dined with some curry samples from Tampopo (delicious, definitely going for a full meal some time) and champagne from one of the jewellers. Free champagne day is a very good day!

On the bogof scale we also stopped off at a Slug and Lettuce for breakfast and to try our new camera out through windows. And what better things to have with breakfast than breakfast cocktails (it was not actually breakfast time, we had skipped a meal!).

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In spite of the horrendous name I actually rather like the Slug and Lettuce. This is partially because they do a rather nice pecan pie (and the first one I ever saw in England) and I have fond memories of sitting outside on one of our few sunny days eating said pie and drinking strawberry belinis. Since the bogof has been on since at least last summer it seems to be around to stay. Overcome the revulsion of the name and try it, they do give decent sized portions. Of the two drinks we had Chris’ (the orange one) was definitely better, the banana was good but a little bitter.

On Sunday we decided to go for a walk around town. We weren’t looking for anything in particular and had nowhere to be so when we saw a bus offering free whiskey we thought ‘what the hey’ and stopped. I actually went off whiskey a while ago after having a mixer of whiskey that was much to strong but having a tiny taster with cloudy apple juice was really rather nice. I had not tried the two together before and it does work well.

So thus far Chris has had 2 half price drinks, a champagne and some whiskey and I have had a half price drink, a margaritas, a champagne and some whiskey. But here comes the big finale.

There is a bar in the Northern Quarter that has always driven me crazy. Call me pedantic but a bar called bluu (no capitalisation even!) should be blue not, as it is, predominantly red. Look at their front page and you will see. I usually therefore avoid going there even though they have comfy chairs and amusing pin up pictures. They are a bit pretentious but then, most of the northern quarter is! When your flatmate comes home and says ‘I have vouchers for free cocktails’ you say ‘yes’ first and ask ‘where’ second.

So Chris and I found ourselves at the grand reopening of bluu/red bar. And I have to say I was impressed with the cocktails we had.

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These were Apples and Pears which fresh fruit. Admittedly there is a LOT of ice in there but they also did not stint with the alcohol measures. The cocktails were tasty and the soaked fruit delicious. That being said, for the same price, you can get a cocktail at the Hilton and, let’s face it, the Hilton is much classier and has a far better view. You can also freak yourself out with the clear floor section 23 floors up, always a winner after drinks :s. I do like the current trend for things in jam jars though, it is fun.

So you see, if someone offers what else are you going to do but have a few drinks?

Ning – Northern Quarter

This post is a little late (read 3 weeks) due to a few health issues so please forgive me. Now presenting… VALENTINE’S DAY!

I am a complete romantic and fortunately for me my other half is as well and decided to take me out for a lovely meal… the day before Valentine’s day. We may be romantics but we are also practical and going out one day earlier is about half the price, gives more menu options and will have fewer crowds.

Chris works on the opposite side of the Northern Quarter to our house so every day he has to trot down Oldham Road to get to the office. On the way he passes Ning, a Malaysian and Thai restaurant which always smells heavenly. After many weeks of saying we should go Valentine’s day seemed like the right occasion. Since it won the 2012 Asian Curry Award for Best Malaysian Restaurant we figured it would be pretty good. Let’s just say that the award was well deserved!

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As well as smelling fantastic Ning always looks warm and inviting with long purple drapes and big lights.

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Since they have a 2 courses for £14.95 deal we decided to splash out and get starters as well as mains.

Chris started with Calamari with a sweet chilli sauce for dipping. Calamari is a new dish to Chris so he wanted to try it and thoroughly enjoyed it. He said the calamari was cooked well without getting to a rubbery stage and well flavoured while the chilli sauce was spicy without being overpowering. I have had calamari before and tried a piece and I have to say I agree. I don’t usually like anything from the ocean due having worked in fish factories too often but calamari is not too fishy. It just goes to show, it is always worth trying something!

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I decided to have the Masalodeh. If, like me, you have no idea what this is without looking at the menu description it is as follows: “Delightful Indian-inspired lentil fritters made with onions, chillies, cumin & fresh curry leaves, servied with either a yogurt & mint (V) or sweet chilli dipping sauce (Ve)”. I had it with the yogurt and mint option but also had a quick dip in Chris’ sweet chilli and can confirm both work well. The fritters themselves were very solid (I had expected the crunchy surround to cave when I cut into it but the whole ball was full of yummy lentils) and just the right amount of spicy, warming without making you run for the milk. The yogurt complemented the drier fritters perfectly. I would definitely have this again.

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For mains Chris decided to have Nyonya Lime curry with chicken which he describes as “sweet, well spiced throughout and utterly gorgeous.” It comes in chicken, seaford or vegan. To accompany he had some egg friend rice which came in it’s own little container which I thought was rather cute.

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I opted for Ayam Percik: chargrilled, marinated chicken breast on a bed of spinich with the ‘chef’s special’ curry sauce. I figured if I am having Malaysian for the first time what better place to start than with a Malaysian and chef’s special? I was pleasantly surprised with the amount of chicken I got in mine, several large pieces! The chicken itself was tender and well flavoured. The spinich had been cooked perfectly and had just right amount of crispness still. The sauce, however, was fantastic: it was very sweet but not overpowering, the flavours were well proportioned for maximum taste, spicy enough to be warming but not enough to burn. Highly recommended. I had mine with jasmine sticky rice.

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Rice bowl 🙂

Since it was (almost) Valentine’s day we opted for the alcoholic drinks. Both of us found drinks on the cocktail menu we had not previously tried and wanted to but will now definitely want to try again!

Chris had a lychee martini. At first I thought he had an egg martini :s. I have since learned that alcohol soaked lychees are delicious but have a similar texture to calamari. Quite odd.

Chris had a lychee martini. At first I thought he had an egg martini :s. I have since learned that alcohol soaked lychees are delicious but have a similar texture to calamari. Quite odd.

 

Mai Tai! I have always wanted to try one. Light and dark rum with apricot brandy topped up with juice. I love fruit brandies.

Mai Tai! I have always wanted to try one. Light and dark rum with apricot brandy topped up with juice. I love fruit brandies. It is also pretty.

 

We were so full after dinner we decided not to have dessert and went for a walk instead. A whole two blocks to Home Sweet Home for a cup of tea night cap. Funnily enough while there we ran into Kim who was going to some sort of cheesecake meeting, of which she has yet to post pictures. We stuck to a plate of their famous cookies.

A warm, homey way to end a warm, exotic night out.

 

Bonbon, Northern Quarter, Manchester

A couple of weekends ago Chris and I decided to have a bit of a treat and go to the new chocolate shop which has opened around the corner from our house. Largely because we keep walking passed it and it looks delicious!!! It is called Bonbon and it is chocolate boutique. How cool is that?

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I think we may have actually found heaven. Walking into a shop where they make all of their chocolates on site on a cold day definitely qualifies, I wish I could have photographed the smell, mmmmmm.

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This was the sign on the door so we thought we should do an independent verification. It just had to be done!

After sampling I think the sign may be correct. The hot chocolate, which comes in normal, orange, banana or salted caramel, was thick and fruity and utterly gorgeous.

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Served in cup sized bowls it was wonderful just to hold and sniff since my fingers were freezing cold. I went for the banana and Chris had orange. Basically it was a big cup of melted chocolate with just a little spring water to make it drinkable. Very rich!

We also decided to splurge and split a piece of flourless chocolate torte (gluten free therefore Kim!). The hot choc and torte were so rich we couldn’t actually finish the one piece between us.

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Yummy!

While the store itself is very small and only has 2 tables it was still very charming and had a Northern Quarter independent vibe. I liked the decor which was a mix of homemade and shelves and shelves of chocolate. The lady serving was also a Northern Quarter quirky kind of lady and was absolutely lovely, we had quite a nice chat while we were waiting for table to free up.

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While it is not cheap the quality of the chocolate definitely makes it worth it, especially if you are limiting your sweet intake and want a real treat. We each got one truffle to take home for later and they were literally melt-in-your-mouth fantastic, smooth and sweet.

And look at all the choices!

And look at all the choices!

Since they are made in Manchester I think they would also make a cute present for someone. Or for me… hint hint Chris :p

He also greatly enjoyed the sugar overload.

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Definite sugar high!

The store seemed to be doing well while we were there and we hope it lasts. Completely charming, 10/10!