altrincham · cheshire · Events · Food and Drink · Preview/Review · Uncategorized

Spend a happy hour or two on the new Altrincham Pub Tour

The word ‘tour’ adds a certain sense of panache to an activity doesn’t it.

It evokes a sense of discovery, education, gravity.

I mean it depends on the context of course.

I’m buying tickets for the Little Mix (or insert band you’ve heard of but are old enough to have given birth to – albeit amidst scandal as you were doing your GCSES) Tour

does not suggest this.

But replace

I’m going on a pub crawl

with

I’m going on a walking pub tour

and you’re literally good to go.

So. Imagine my glee when I found a new justification for going out for a drink, when the lovely people at Altrincham Unlimited kindly invited me to join them on the inaugural said tour – part of the new campaign Explore Altrincham.

Hosted by celebrated and hugely engaging Manchester writer and tour guide extraordinaire (honestly he was ‘extraordinaire’) Jonathan Schofield, the event takes you on foot to four of the best drinking establishments in Altrincham, interspersing historical fact with witty and entertaining anecdotes.

Yes I laughed out loud at a story about buttermilk and a potato – and I rarely ‘laugh out loud’. I usually make a kind of expelling of air type gesture at best.

Starting off at the Orange Tree Inn, walkers/drinkers/’pupils’ can buy a drink and settle down to listen to tales from Jonathan of the area, the pub (and the tragic tale from 1880 of its previous incarnation and site) and local life back in the day (a handy phrase I bandy about to cover a multitude of dates and decades).

We were even treated to anecdotes (and sandwiches) from the lovely landlord, Damien, of ethereal happenings in the establishment.

For anyone concerned about the physical aspects of the tour, the four stops are not too far from each other, the first three really aren’t and the first two certainly aren’t.

For the next destination was next door neighbour, the Old Market Tavern.

Indeed, Damien informed us that at one time we wouldn’t even have needed to step outside to get to our next destination, as you could used the adjoining cellar to gain access. However given the haunting story of who currently hangs out down there, I was relieved to hear that the passage is now bricked off.

Here we learned of local tales of political skullduggery and underhand tactics to pull in the voters – astonishing! Thank goodness systems across Britain and indeed the world are now free of such practise.

Almost using the green cross code, a short hop across the road takes you the very floral Old Roebuck. Or Roebuck. I’m never sure but have you seen the delightful beer garden?

It was here that we learned of bizarre pub games and sports back in the day even odder than Beer Pong. What? It’s weird.

And all I’m saying that is that I’ve never seen an entire cow’s head consumed on Man v Food.

Ribs schmibs.

It is at this point that walkers/drinkers/’pupils’ are treated to a trivia test – musical interlude, if you will. In small teams, we were to ‘name that tune/artist/band’ – all with local links.

Top tip – make friends with somebody on the tour who is essentially a walking Shazam (hi Richard).

The final destination (and what an apt phrase given its name and origins – I’m smug right now) is and was the subterranean Belgian bar Mort Subite.

Here, the lovely owner Wyn gave us a potted history of the building (the rumours are true – it was the mortuary) and raison d’etre of the bar.

It was here that our memories and concentration skills were tested, as the quiz and indeed tour reached its climax and us ‘pupils’ had to demonstrate what we’d learnt.

Some of us demonstrated it better than others. Then again some of us had enjoyed their Sauvignon Blanc more than others (what, I don’t even like wine…👀).

And so endeth the story of a lovely group of local residents and Altrincham enthusiasts who one evening this week, embraced history and Beer and left leaving a little more wobbly informed.

It is at this point I emphasise that I remember a lot more detail from the stories than I have shared – I simply don’t wish to spoil the tour for you. Ok?

Genuinely, I urge you to delay no more and head to Altrincham Unlimited – Explore Altrincham for details, dates and booking information for both this event and the general walking tours.

Occurring on the last Thursday and Saturday of each month, they’re already proving popular.

So head along and learn a little more about this market town we all think we know but definitely love.

Dining · Events · Food and Drink · lifestyle · manchester · Preview/Review · Uncategorized · wine

An A in Fizzical Education – Altrincham Fizz Festival 

Last year I attended the Fizz Festival in Altrincham and had an absolute top drawer time of it. Read my account below and book your tickets for this year’s before they sell out! 🥂

Fizz Festival 2017 – Alty – 18/19 Nov

(Below originally published 17/11/2016)

Imagine a world where a whole festival of Fizz arrives on your doorstep. 

Run by Cracking Wine, last weekend was Altrincham’s 2nd Fizz Festival, Hale Geezer’s 1st attendance and 30 seconds in;  red-faced. Not the ‘glow’ of someone who likes their drink more than just a friend, but more the deep puce that bedecks only the foolish. 

I’m no stranger to wine, sparkling or otherwise. My drinking career now in double figures, two wine-tastings and a champagne masterclass under my belt, I hoped not to show myself up at the first stall. 

Hope springs eternal…

wrote Alexander Pope. 

And so it was only a matter of time before I made my first fizz faux pas.

This lovely lady looked at me as I awkwardly approached Fizz Guru

Hello!

Hello!

Awkward pause on my part as I read out the lady’s own flyer to her as she waits patiently for me to say something normal.

I don’t. Lady offers me prosecco, still stone cold sober and socially awkward, I make a kind of ‘mmmm’ noise. More of a still wine/champagne fan, I usually drink prosecco as a substitute for the latter, feeling hard done to, (please note I no longer hold that view) and so I’m ready to roll out my usual 

I drink prosecco but it’s actually a bit sweet for my taste

line when I clock the bottle from which I’ve just tasted and, noting the ‘extra dry’ on the label, gleefully add

Although this is lovely and dry and so really nice.

I’m pleased. I was too sober and awkward to even notice what it was but I’ve nailed it here. I’ve begun the tasting with not only a declaration but an intelligent one.

I wait for the lovely lady to place a crown on my head and pronounce me attendee of the weekend when she tells me sweetly (which as it goes is apt) that extra dry on prosecco bottles often means the opposite. The Fizz Guru proved her credentials in one sentence.

Pop, Fizz, Sip…Make a Right Tool of Yourself
It still doesn’t make sense to me but I had to go and didn’t wait for the explanation. I said thank you. And went to a second stall, far away from pitying eyes. 

My prosecco education only just beginning, I next meet this lovely man from Con Gusto. I look at him pleadingly, and his six open bottles of prosecco. Keen to erase the memory of the daftness surrounding my first Fizz of the Festival, I clutch my flute like a 21st century adult female version of Oliver Twist towards him. 

Please sir, can I have some more

No that would be mental and technically incorrect as I hadn’t yet tasted any of his wares. I just like an oft-used literary analogy.

No, he came to my rescue and  before I had chance to show myself and my co-taster up (yes there was a witness to my woe – my husband who is a kind of passive foot in mouther, such is the regularity to which he bears close witness to my acts of awkward), the lovely man started talking. He left no room for me to trip up. And so I learnt that prosecco should not just be treated as a substitute for when I tragically can’t have champagne, it should be tasted and treated with respect. As I’ve tarred all prosecco with the same rude brush, I missed an obvious clue as to why the ones I don’t like, I don’t like. For a start a good prosecco should have the name of the house/vineyard on the label, not just an Italian random word (Vaporetta a case in point). 

Speaking of labels, I truly was seduced by the first of the wines I tasted: 

The picture is of the house where the grower and his family live. This blog post won’t be me trying to impress you with my notes of notes of apples and hay, and so forth but know that I bought this lovely tipple as consider it a light aperitif and, dare I say it, a session prosecco.

Having tried another three we were swayed by this more flavoursome affair and when a Fizz preserver was thrown in, I was in love.



 We even managed to throw in some knowledge of Italian sparkling wine – we knew from experience that the Italians do not consider the flute necessary and that the Italian’s version of champagne was not prosecco but in fact one that I had been introduced to in Northern Italy a couple of years ago. Yes reader, I cannot remember what it is called. 

A google later – Franciacorta.

Buoyed, we visit Hush Heath and I fully admit to being one of those heathens scared of the prospect of English Sparkling Wine. In fact as with prosecco, I have been educated and have a new found respect. Attending the festival, I was accompanied not only by my husband but an attitude of ‘I am looking forward to the champagne, not so much its fellow fizzes.’

Silly me.

The lovely lady (I know: I do know other adjectives but they were! They were all lovely!) grabbed us immediately with her enthusiasm and passion for the Kent based producer and family who run Hush Heath, that interest was piqued even prior to anything being popped.

Reader, I walked away with two bottles, one of which is served in 1st class on British Airways and on the Orient Express. How quintessentially English. And what a lovely drop!

By now I was feeling very happy and very confident (read pleasantly…tipsy) and headed over to the Champagne Thienot stand. 

A wonderful gentleman regaled us with tales of this champagne house which, for 30 years, is fast building a reputation for modern luxury. Not a mass producer, the champagne is reassuring difficult to come by and the chosen house Hollywood opted for at the Oscars.

Thienot we liked you, we really liked you!

(if just one person gets this reference, I’ll be ever so pleased)

Red Squirrel really opened up our eyes (and wallets) with its sparkling Chardonnay where the wine is bottled before fermenting is finished, leaving the fizz to happen inside the glass. As our (yes) lovely teacher taught us, that means each bottle is unique.

After trying a Canadian sparkling wine and revisiting an Austrian sparkling wine last tasted on a trip to Salzburg almost 10 years ago, we took away with us this lovely NV:

Finest Fizz flashed its fairylights our way and we enjoyed a journey  which began with Skinny Rose (275 calls a bottle if you’re wondering) and lovely. As well as bringing with me a bias against prosecco and English sparkling, I’d never rated Rose but in a Fizz form it’s generally delightful.

From this lovely fellow in the checked shirt, we took away a Fizz stopper accompanied by this fantastic Lopez-Martin Carte D’Or Premier Cru NV:


Anyone still reading may have noticed that this post has gone from being quite text heavy to decidedly image led. This may or may not directly correlate with my levels of sobriety by the time I’d reached the latter stands. 

may or may not 

Over at Laurent-Perrier, we joined a great family with whom we enjoyed a talk from a gentleman who took us through his famous wares, providing a great context to each bottle – which champagne was the polite gathering, which was more Christmas morning, which was the more heady New Year’s Eve. After the funny anecdote about the Frenchman and the scotch egg…

I’ll just leave that there

We all needed a break. We needed a Kit Kat and so we all took our fingers and our fizz and tasted the Demi Sec which was perfect for dessert; the Kit Kat proving a superb substitute for a chocolate fondant.

With wobbly legs and a fuzzy head, I took respite from the fizz and headed over to Booze and Burn and their amazing array of candles.


In the absence of smelling salts, this was just what I needed to reawaken my senses and separate brain from booze. 

Recycling at its best, they use eco soya wax and recycled wine bottles and their heady scents are sensational. I also learnt a none Fizz fact  too – soya wax also burns evenly and so you don’t get that wasteful ring when the wick has burnt down.

The two lovely (yes) ladies s(c)net (sorrynotsorry) me on my way with a beautiful Pomegranate Noir:

Last and not least (really not) was the friendly fizz purveyor of Oddbins (Chorlton)

His stand was pretty and I drank my first (and admittedly) not my last, sparkling red, the beguiling yet ominously titled Black Queen Sparkling Shiraz.

Cold, red and sparkling, your senses don’t know what to do. Thankfully (for my diginity) my brain did and, reactivating, told me that after upwards of 30 tastings, it was time to collect my purchases and leave this fantastic scene.

With 5 bottles, two fizz stoppers, a candle and a wealth of fizzical education, I cannot wait to attend next year’s – if only to redeem myself with the Fizz Guru.

The Fizz Festival Cheshire

Celebrity · cheshire · Dining · Events · Food and Drink · lifestyle · Preview/Review · Restaurants · Uncategorized

Trafford delivers fine dining as Si Toft and students inspire at Aspire 

I took home economics classes at high school as I’m sure everybody else did. They were basic. 

The first lesson we were all told to bring something in to cook during a double period (1 hour 10 minutes if I recall correctly).

I took in a packet of frozen fish fingers. You may mock but I was by no means the only one who took in similar gastronomic delights. Findus Crispy Pancakes rocked up to the classroom as did a Pot Noodle. 

I grilled my fish fingers with great flair and genius, and then ate said fish fingers. Let’s just say I made Captain Birdseye proud.  My ‘cooking’ and eating cannot have taken too long so goodness knows what I did for the rest of the lesson (aside from bask in my own culinary smugness). In fact the Pot Noodle chef must have really been twiddling their thumbs waiting for Geography.

I’ll never know the point to this – there wasn’t even a ‘moral of the story’ where the teacher said ‘ha, you’re all so ridiculous and basic and by the end of term you’ll be flambe-ing with the best of them, this daft lesson a distant memory’.

No, we all just went to Geography and the next week made a flan. 

No such randomness at Trafford College in Timperley. Last night I joined friends at the restaurant/classroom Aspire, to enjoy a wonderful 5 course menu as put together by guest chef Si Toft and students. 


Si, is a Timperley native but is currently treating the residents of, and visitors to, Abersoch, with his charming restaurant The Dining Room


The menu was impressive both in description and indeed taste:

I’m no Jay Rayner and but I’m certainly a person who eats food and loves food. And I loved this food. 

The potted shrimp and mussels were the perfect intro to the five courses. I attacked the dish with such gusto that most of it had been eaten before I remembered to take photographic evidence (as it should be – although if it’s not on Instagram was it even cooked, served and eaten?).


The Sea cured Mackerel was lovely, and the tang of the pickled vegetables cut through the succulent fish beautifully.

Next to the table, was the Cullen skink. Hands up, I had no idea what this was going to be. My best guess was fish, which was kind of true, but it was a thick Scottish soup with, I believe, potatoes, smoked haddock and onions. Again presentation was thoughtful and stylish. 


My favourite part of the dish was the seaweed crisp. Now here I know what  I’m talking about. Here I become less Gregg Wallace and more Charles Campion. Crisps are my bag. And these were mighty fine and certainly knocked the (still AMAZING) prawn cocktail Seabrook into a cocked hat.

After a delightful run of seafood dishes, meat made a magnificent entrance to the table with the bold and beautiful Roast lamb belly. A winter warmer indeed, the combination of lamb, bacon (I do love a lardon) and cockles delivered the right side of rich, beautiful flavours.


The best puddings are those that make you forget you were too full to eat anymore.

Enter the pannacotta, sorbet, meringue and star of the show, honey shortbread.

If the last dish was winter in a bowl, this was summer on a plate in both aesthetics and flavours.


In short, Si Toft and the wonderful students produced a menu which was imaginative, beautiful and delicious. My words may not come with culinary expertise and technical terms, but as a punter who loves food, I don’t think you can say fairer than that.

All the deets.