Posted by: Richard Frost | July 4, 2015

Chorlton Open Gardens

Programme for Chorlton Open Gardens 2015

Chorlton Open Gardens

Last weekend I went along to Chorlton Open Gardens for the first time.

What is Chorlton Open Gardens?

One day a year, Chorlton’s residents allow the great unwashed to poke round their gardens to raise money for a good cause.

People give £5 in aid of Freedom from Torture to buy a programme from places across Chorlton (including Creative Recycling on Beech Road, Chorlton Bookshop on Wilbraham Road, Blossom Flowers on Manchester Road, and Chorlton Plant Nursery on Vicars Road) and this programme features a map and write-ups of each garden.

Green with envy

For Chorlton Open Gardens 2015, 13 new sites were added to the list bringing the total number to more than 30 including some amazing ones. Far more than you can get around in a day then (especially given many try to slow you down by putting on drinks, homemade cakes and live music).

It’s well-attended too – many of the gardens we saw received more than 200 visitors across the day.

Chorlton garden photos

We decided to focus on exploring the gardens of south-west Chorlton around Chorltonville and Chorlton Green. Here are the eight we saw at Chorlton Open Gardens 2015:

The Willows garden in Chorlton

The Willows in Chorltonville


Brookburn Road in Chorlton Open Gardens

Brookburn Road in Chorltonville


Chorlton Open Gardens - Claude Road

Claude Road in Chorltonville


Chorltonville's Ivygreen Road in south-west Manchester

Ivygreen Road in Chorltonville (1st garden)


Crossland Road garden

Crossland Road off Chorlton Green


Chorlton Open Gardens venue St Clements Road

St Clements Road off Chorlton Green


Green roof in Manchester suburb of Chorlton

Ivygreen Road in Chorltonville – green roof (2nd garden)


Cactus varieties at Chorlton Open Gardens

Kingshill Road off Chorlton Green – cactus collection

Posted by: Richard Frost | May 10, 2015

Chorlton Festival Calendar 2015

Each year, I put together a list of dates for the most popular festivals in the Chorlton area of Manchester alongside a short summary of what you can expect there.

This is my 2015 Chorlton Festival Calendar.

Chorlton Arts Festival 2015

15-24 May 2015

Chorlton Arts Festival - Chorlton's biggest festival

Chorlton Arts Festival

Chorlton Arts Festival is by far Chorlton’s biggest festival, offering everything from music and dance to theatre and comedy.

This year’s festival boasts more than 100 events in over 30 Chorlton venues across ten days – 80 per cent of which are free. Far too much to mention everything here then, but 2015 highlights include a series of site-specific theatre performances in unusual places (such as a tram) called Theatre Exterior, novelist Olivia Piekarski’s live Q&A with The Fall’s former bass player Steve Hanley, and an audio-visual performance by folktronic singer-songwriter Minute Taker and visual artist Ana Stefaniak.

There’s also a return for the Chorlton Weekender, a mini music festival within the festival proper. This year it features O’Hooley & Tidow on Friday, 22 May (tickets £12 or £10 concessions), The Travelling Band (tickets £10 or £8 concessions) and Young Knives (tickets £10 or £8 concessions). You can also see the whole lot by buying a Chorlton Weekender Wristband (£25).

Manchester Vegan Fair 2015

Saturday, 16 May 2015 (11am – 5pm)

Vegan Organic Network runs Manchester Vegan Fair

Vegan Organic Network

Chorlton is full of vegetarians and vegans so it’s no surprise to find that the Manchester Vegan Fair is returning to the suburb for a second year running.

Organised by Chorlton-based charity Vegan Organic Network, the 2015 Manchester Vegan Fair has 70 stalls, live music and poetry, short films, talks and complementary therapies. There are also lots of quirky goings-on including a performance by bicycle dance troupe The Spokes, a circus-skills workshop, solar rickshaw rides, vegan speed dating and even a ‘roving stilt pirate’ (whatever that is).

Tickets for the fair, which takes place at Chorlton Irish Club on High Lane, are £2 or free for kids.

Chorlton Beer & Cider Festival 2015

2-4 July 2015

Chorlton Beer and Cider Festival

Chorlton Beer Festival

Otherwise known as the 2015 Chorlton Beer Festival or simply Chorlton Beer Fest, the Chorlton Beer & Cider Festival is back for its 11th year.

Run by Trafford & Hulme CAMRA and St Clement’s Church in association with Outstanding Beers, this time around there’ll be 90 real ales split over two bars – the first focusing on the ever-growing number of Greater Manchester breweries and the second offering beers from further afield.

We’re also promised an outdoor cider bar with more than 50 ciders and perries, the return of the New World Beers bar selling bottled beers from across the globe, and a few street-food stalls. Thursday (6pm-1030pm) will be a quieter preview event with limited advance tickets, while Friday (6pm-1030pm) and Saturday (1pm-930pm) are bigger affairs with live music.

Thursday tickets are £10 including £5 of beer tokens, while Friday and Saturday tickets are £10 including £4 of beer tokens.

Beech Road Family Fun Day 2015

Sunday, 5 July 2015 (Midday-5pm)

The Family Fun Day has succeeded the Beech Road Festival

Chorlton’s Family Fun Day

The successor to the Beech Road Festival, the Beech Road Family Fun Day is all about family entertainment.

There’ll be a host of stalls in Beech Road Park, along Beech Road and into Chorlton Green as well as fairground attractions, performances, music, dancing demos, hula-hoop workshops, circus skills and other child-friendly activities.

The businesses along Beech Road each make a contribution towards the running costs of this free festival, and any profits are given to the Friends of Beech Road Park to improve the facilities for everyone.

Manchester Food & Drink Festival 2015: Chorlton Fringe

10-21 September 2015

Logo for Manchester Food and Drink Festival

Manchester Food & Drink Festival

Manchester Food & Drink Festival continues to get bigger and bigger so here’s hoping for more events under the Chorlton Fringe banner this year.

Previous fringes have included free and paid-for events such as cooking workshops, tastings, forages and meet-the-producer days at a variety of venues.

Admittedly there’s no word yet on what’s planned for the Chorlton Fringe of the 2015 Manchester Food & Drink Festival but hopefully tie-ins will start to be announced soon.

Chorlton Bonfire Night 2015

November 2015

Logo of the Bootleg Brewing Company in the Horse & Jockey

Bootleg

The biggest bonfire night in Chorlton takes place on Chorlton Green.

Organised by the Horse & Jockey pub, the free Chorlton Bonfire Night 2015 traditionally features two fireworks displays (one for kids at around 7pm and one for adults at around 9pm) although both are fun regardless of age to be honest.

Bootleg Brewing Company, the microbrewery run from inside the Horse & Jockey, usually gets in on the act too by selling its seasonal treacle stout Treason & Plot.

Chorlton Book Festival 2015

20-28 November 2015

Chorlton Book Festival in south Manchester

Chorlton Book Festival

Chorlton Book Festival 2015 will take place once again at the end of November.

It’s still a fair way off, mind, so details are thin on the ground. Typically, though, you can expect a range of mostly free events including poetry slams, literature talks, author readings, writing workshops and (my personal favourite) a literary pub quiz.

Chorlton Christmas Lights 2015

December 2015

Chorlton Christmas Lights on the green and in the precinct

Chorlton Christmas Lights

There are usually two separate Chorlton Christmas Lights events.

The Beech Road Christmas Lights Switch-On on Chorlton Green is run by the Beech Road Traders’ Association and is not to be confused with the nearby Central Chorlton Christmas Lights Switch-On in the precinct run by Chorlton Traders.

Both are free events designed to get you into the festive spirit and typically feature stuff like carol singing, mince pies, mulled wine and guest appearances by one Father Christmas.

Chorlton New Year’s Eve Party 2015

Thursday, 31 December 2015

Flyer for the Chorlton New Year's Eve Party

New Year’s Eve in Chorlton

Loads of places put on paid-for events for New Year’s Eve but in terms of free fireworks displays the most popular one takes place on Chorlton Green.

Organised by the Horse & Jockey pub, the Chorlton New Year’s Eve Party draws people from all over the area to see in the new year.

Chorlton Big Green Happening 2015

Deferred for 2015

Chorlton Big Green Happening replaces Chorlton's Big Green Festival

Chorlton Big Green Happening

Chorlton’s Big Green Festival made a comeback last April under a new name, Chorlton Big Green Happening but the organisers seem to be having a year off in 2015.

The inaugural Chorlton Big Green Happening in 2014 included stalls specialising in food and drink, recycling, art, clothing and politics as well as performances and ethical fashion shows. The main festival took place during the day in and around St Clement’s Church on High Lane and was free to attend, while an accompanying gig inside the church later on cost £7 on the door.

Here’s hoping it returns again in 2016.

Horse & Jockey festivals

Throughout 2015

Exterior of the Horse & Jockey pub in Chorlton

The Horse & Jockey

The Horse & Jockey pub runs so many events nowadays that it probably deserves a special mention in the 2015 Chorlton Festival Calendar.

These include:

The Horse & Jockey Summer Solstice 2015 (12pm-6pm Sunday, 21 June 2015)
Joktoberfest Beer Festival 2015 (September 2015 presumably)
The Horse & Jockey Winter Solstice 2015 (December 2015), and maybe even
Chorlton Green Food & Drink Festival 2015: Sup-Up & Eat (date unknown)

Keep an eye on their website or sign up to their newsletter for more details as and when they’re confirmed.

Important note: If there’s anything that needs changing or updating in the Chorlton Festival Calendar 2015, or you’ve heard of another festival that’s happening soon, message me in the comments section (below) and I’ll get it sorted. Thanks!

Posted by: Richard Frost | January 25, 2015

The Cellar Key in Chorlton

Front of The Cellar Key

The Cellar Key

When a new place opens in Chorlton, it really has to differentiate itself to survive.

After all, we’ve already got a ridiculous number of bars to choose from and (seemingly) most of the world’s cuisine covered in our restaurants. It’s a gamble trying to start from scratch in such a crowded market, and plenty of venues have come and gone in recent years without ever making a lasting impression.

I mention this because The Cellar Key, which opened just before Christmas in the spot formerly occupied by curry house Azad Manzil, is doing a lot of things differently.

There’s nowhere else quite like it. And that makes it worth taking a closer look.

The wine

The Cellar Key is the brainchild of Chorlton resident Andy Leathley. It’s fair to say that wine is his thing (his Twitter handle is @AndyTheWineGuy) and The Cellar Key has by far and away the biggest and best wine list in Chorlton, offering 80-odd bottles with prices starting from around £15. It also offers about a dozen wines by the glass, which is good news for those of us who don’t want to wake up with a stinking hangover in the morning.

But it’s not just Chorlton’s only wine bar. It’s also the only place with its own wine vending machine, or wine dispenser to give it its proper name. There are a couple of these in Manchester city centre (Bakerie on Lever Street has one and Salut Wines on Cooper Street has another), but none in Chorlton (or well-heeled Didsbury for that matter):

The Cellar Key's wine dispenser

Wine vending machine


Basically, you buy a pre-paid card from behind the bar, load it up with credit and then you’re free to serve yourself a 50ml taster, a 125ml small glass or a 175ml large glass of any of the bottles in the machine that day. This means you can splash out on a sample of a wine that you’d never be able to afford to buy a bottle of:

The Cellar Key's pre-paid wine card

Wine card


This wine-first approach runs right through the establishment. It’s not often that I mention the toilet when reviewing somewhere, but The Cellar Key’s decision to decorate the bathroom with cuttings from a wine guide is a stroke of genius:

Toilet

Bathroom


As well as all that, The Cellar Key is running wine tastings every 1st and 3rd Wednesday of the month (starting Wednesday, 4 February 2015). You can ask behind the bar for details and reservations but essentially for £35, you get six wines and six light bites.

The food

This leads me nicely onto the other half of the offering.

The thing that most surprised me about visiting The Cellar Key is that while it might look and sound like a wine bar, it’s actually got a very ambitious food offering too. There are bar snacks, flatbreads, sharing platters (the Camembert Platter is pictured below) and ten small plates:

Baked Camembert at The Cellar Key

Camembert Platter


Now this is where it starts to get a bit confusing. The small plates are a slightly odd portion size – not quite a main but too big to be tapas, and some (notably the Moroccan Spiced Lamb Shank at £9.75) are clearly larger than others (such as Sardines on Toast at £4.75).

The staff recommend ordering three dishes between two, which seems a bit on the small side to me and isn’t the easiest to work out when you’re in a group. If you choose the expensive small plates, it can all add up pretty quickly too. Me and the missus had two small plates, a sharing platter and a flatbread between us, which turned out to be a fairly light dinner. And I went back in a group a few days later and had one small plate, which made for a very light lunch.

From the customer’s point of view, it might be simpler to standardise the portion sizes a bit. They could maybe drop them all down to a traditional UK tapas size (say three per person) or bump it up to a full course (one per person).

The atmosphere

I’m told the idea behind the The Cellar Key is to replicate the continental tapas-style culture and atmosphere.

It was originally intended to be a casual affair with people popping in for a glass of wine and maybe ordering a bit of food from the bar if they get peckish. However, this isn’t commonplace in the UK where people prefer to book tables at restaurants and order their entire evening meal in one go. The result is that you end up with a slightly odd situation in which customers aren’t quite sure whether to order everything upfront or graze throughout the evening.

This mix of formal dining and tapas-style wine bar is reflected in The Cellar Key’s layout too. Upstairs is a restaurant that’s primarily for reservations while downstairs (the beautifully refurbished cellar) is more like a wine bar open to casual walk-ins:

Down in the cellar

Downstairs


Apparently, word’s got around so fast that they’re already starting to book out the restaurant completely at weekends so it’ll be interesting to see if they retain the casual approach downstairs or switch to a more formal restaurant set-up there as well. Personally, I hope they stick to their guns because there aren’t many places that offer a genuine tapas-style atmosphere in Chorlton (only Bar San Juan and De Nada spring to mind) and none that cater specifically to wine lovers.

The scorecard

For the record, the Five Spiced Duck (£9) was delicious and the duck breast was cooked just right – it’s hard to find places that serve duck breast properly (8/10):

Duck breast with five-spice marinade

Five Spiced Duck


The Taster Platter (£11.50) was pretty good with really tasty crab spring rolls and a lovely texture to the smoked haddock arancini (although neither of us could taste the smoked haddock) and the pork and ginger dumplings seemed a bit overdone (7/10):

The Cellar Key's taster platter

Taster Platter


As for the Sweet Red Onion and Gruyere Flatbread (£3.75), this was strangely bitter and unpleasant the first time round but I tried it again a few days later and it was delicious so perhaps this was just a one-off (4/10):

Sweet red onion and gruyere flatbread

Flatbread


Meanwhile, the Jerk Chicken Ballotine (£6.25) was very creamy and had a nice sweetness to it, although perhaps a bit more kick wouldn’t have gone amiss (7/10):

Jerk chicken small plate

Jerk Chicken Ballotine


The wines were all good but the real standouts to me were the refreshing Te Kairanga Riesling (£5.70 for 175ml) (9/10) and the rich, fruity Juan Gil Pedrera Monastrell (£3.80 for 175ml) (9/10) pictured below:

Monastrell red wine from Juan Gil Pedrera

Monastrell

Toasting The Cellar Key

In summary then, the Cellar Key’s wine offering is unparalleled and the food offering is almost as ambitious (albeit with a few reservations about things like portion size), while its relaxed tapas-style atmosphere is a real breath of fresh air for Chorlton.

And as I said at the start, it pays to be different!

Food rating: 7/10
Drink rating: 10/10
Service rating: 9/10
Atmosphere rating: 8/10
Overall rating: 9/10

Posted by: Richard Frost | October 5, 2014

10 Manchester places with an amazing past

Dave Haslam wrote Manchester, England

Manchester, England

I’ve just finished reading a book about Manchester’s history and it’s really got me thinking.

Manchester, England: The Story of the Pop Cult City by Dave Haslam tells the story of the city from the middle of the 19th century to the end of the 20th century. The thing that most jumped out at me was how the places and buildings that we’re familiar with today have gone through so many different uses down the years. Some have changed for the better, others blatantly haven’t.

I moved to Manchester back in 2005 so I’ve seen the city develop a fair bit over the last decade. What surprised me, though, was how little I knew about its rich history.

So, inspired by Dave Haslam’s book (and a bit of my own research), here’s my list of ten Manchester places with an amazing past.

The Gaumont Cinema (Manchester Road, Chorlton)

Then – The Gibb brothers grew up in a small house on Keppel Road in Chorlton.

For a while, Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb were pupils at Oswald Road Primary School. They also formed a skiffle group, the Rattlesnakes, with a couple of friends.

In the mid-1950s, they were planning to lip sync to a record at the Gaumont Cinema just around the corner. However, in their rush to get to the cinema, their record broke and the brothers were forced to sing live. The audience response was so positive that they decided to stick with the singing. They would later emigrate to Australia and form the Bee Gees.

Now – After extensive remodelling at the front and inside, the Gaumont Cinema has now become the Co-operative Funeralcare.

Chorlton's Gaumont Cinema became the Co-operative Funeralcare

Gaumont Cinema

Hulme Crescents (Stretford Road, Hulme)

Then – In 1972, construction began on the largest public housing scheme in Europe – Hulme Crescents.

A chunk of Stretford Road between Princess Road and Chorlton Road was wiped off the map. In its place, four huge multi-storey blocks capable of housing more than 13,000 residents were built. Each block was crescent-shaped and the architects – convinced they were creating some of the most spectacular buildings ever seen in England – named them after the leading architects behind Georgian Bath and London.

Robert Adam Crescent, Charles Barry Crescent, John Nash Crescent and William Kent Crescent have gone down in history as Manchester’s biggest architectural disasters, although they did become unlikely hubs for artistic, musical and community activities in later years. They were demolished in 1992.

Now – The missing section of Stretford Road was rebuilt and the site is now home to a more traditional mix of housing, shops and green space, including Hulme Park.

BBC Dickenson Road Studios (Dickenson Road, Rusholme)

Then – In January 1964, the first episode of Top of the Pops was recorded.

The original venue for the iconic music show was BBC Dickenson Road Studios, a disused Wesleyan church in Rusholme. In 1954, the BBC bought the building – which had previously been home to independent film studio Mancunian Films – to be its first studio outside London. The early episodes of Top of the Pops were filmed at BBC Dickenson Road Studios because all of the BBC’s other studios were busy. However, the show quickly outgrew Rusholme and relocated to London in 1967.

Now – The studio was closed by the BBC in 1973 and demolished in 1975 so all that now remains of this pioneering venue is a small plaque.

The Hacienda (Whitworth Street West, Manchester city centre)

Then – The Hacienda was the club at the centre of the ‘Madchester’ scene in the late 1980s and early 1990s but it was not always so cool.

Before Factory Records and New Order took over, the building was actually a yacht showroom. Interestingly, although the Hacienda shot to fame as a club in a warehouse in the era of warehouse raves, it was actually intended to be a gig venue. Several bands at the time rehearsed on neighbouring Little Peter Street and the team behind the Hacienda reasoned that these musicians would be more likely to play at a venue close by.

Now – The Hacienda was demolished and rebuilt as trendy flats.

Corn Exchange (Exchange Square, the Millennium Quarter)

Then – The Corn Exchange has come full circle.

Rich merchants and farmers used the Corn & Produce Exchange to trade when it first opened in 1837. But by the time of the Manchester Bomb in 1996, the building was occupied by second-hand stalls and alternative shops, making it much more popular with students and bargain hunters.

Now – After an unsuccessful rebrand as the Triangle shopping centre, the building has thankfully reverted to being called the Corn Exchange once again. It is now being reinvented as a fine dining destination and boutique hotel for the great and the good to be opened in spring 2015.

Corn Exchange in Manchester's Millennium Quarter

Corn Exchange

Cornerhouse (Oxford Road, Manchester city centre)

Then – Manchester has always loved its films.

In 1910, the Kinemacolor Palace opened on the corner of Oxford Road and Whitworth Street West. It was built to meet a surge in demand for motion pictures. By 1913, Manchester had 111 licensed cinemas serving a population of just 714,000 – meaning Manchester had more cinemas per person than anywhere else in Britain.

Now – The Kinemacolor Palace is now the Cornerhouse, the city’s most celebrated arthouse cinema and arts centre (although it’ll be moving to a purpose-built site on First Street in spring 2015).

42nd Street (Bootle Street, Manchester city centre)

Then – Bootle Street has long been an important site for nightlife.

In 1973, George Best and celebrity hairdresser Malcolm Wagner launched a nightclub on Bootle Street by the name of Slack Alice. Best was often to be seen standing outside from 1030pm onwards, picking women (invariably blondes) to jump the queue and join him inside.

Now – The building that once housed Slack Alice is now home to student nightclub 42nd Street.

Afflecks (Church Street, the Northern Quarter)

Then – Afflecks has been synonymous with shopping for 150 years.

The building was developed as a department store for Affleck & Brown, a huge retail company during the 1860s and 1870s. It was particularly known for providing high-quality cloth for dressmakers.

Now – Afflecks, formerly Afflecks Palace, is a hive of alternative counterculture with dozens of independent shops sprawling over several floors

Manchester Arndale (Market Street, Manchester city centre)

Then – The space between Market Street and Shudehill once looked very different.

In the 1960s, the area was home to a maze of back streets and alleyways, gig venues and hip boutiques. They were demolished to make way for the Arndale, which opened in 1975. The shopping centre’s grey, concrete exterior was criticised from the outset and the building was mockingly referred to as the ‘hyper loo’.

Now – Manchester Arndale was heavily damaged by the Manchester Bomb in 1996. The subsequent refurbishment and expansion has focused on introducing brighter colours, higher ceilings and more natural light.

Manchester Arndale on Market Street

The Arndale

Free Trade Hall (Peter Street, Manchester city centre)

Then – The Free Trade Hall was built by the Anti Corn Law League in 1856 as a base for tax campaigning. In the 20th century, however, it became the unlikely setting for some of rock’s most important gigs.

In 1966, Bob Dylan was heckled by an audience member who cried ‘Judas’ when he started playing an electric guitar. This performance was immortalised by the bootleg LP ‘Bob Dylan Live at the Royal Albert Hall’ (which helpfully got the name of the venue wrong).

And in the summer of 1976, the Sex Pistols played two legendary gigs at the Lesser Free Trade Hall (a small hall above the Free Trade Hall proper). The gigs were attended by the likes of Pete Shelley and Howard Devoto (the Buzzcocks), Mark E Smith (The Fall), Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook (Joy Division and New Order), Tony Wilson (Factory Records) and Morrissey (the Smiths).

Now – Today, the Free Trade Hall is the swish Radisson Blu Edwardian Hotel.

Posted by: Richard Frost | August 16, 2014

From hack to flack – joining a PR agency

Manchester PR agency logo

PR Agency One

It comes as something of a surprise to report that I’ve got a new job.

If truth be told, I wasn’t really on the lookout for another role. I was quite settled at Insider Media, having been writing business stories for their daily newsletters for the last 18 months. But then a job offer came out of the blue, and it was just too good to refuse. Let me explain.

So what’s the job?

I’ve just started working as a B2B Account Manager at PR Agency One. Now the eagle-eyed among you will have spotted the keywords ‘PR Agency’ in that company name. Yep, that’s right, I’ve joined a PR agency.

I’ve never actually worked at a PR agency before despite having done PR for a few Manchester companies, charities, festivals and sporting events over the last five years. So far, it feels like a similar environment to the one I experienced working at an SEO agency, albeit with more talk of publications and less of algorithms.

Having said that, one of the things that PR Agency One specialises in is SEO PR, and tools like Google Analytics and Majestic SEO are becoming more and more common in PR these days. So maybe the similarities are inevitable as the two industries begin to merge.

Walk this way

Anyway, one of the nice things about my work is the commute. It’s not often you can say that in your life, but my new office is based slap bang in the centre of Chorlton so it’s only a short walk from where I live.

All of which means I’ll get to spend more time exploring my adopted home, which is just as well because it feels like a new café or bar is opening every few weeks. I might even pull my finger out and get back to writing about things to do in Chorlton – miracles do happen.

For now, though, I’m looking forward to getting stuck into PR and hopefully learning a few new things along the way. I was a bit sad to have left Insider Media, just as I was when I left theEword before that, but this is a new challenge and a new career and you don’t get many chances to try something new in your life.

So what happens next? Your guess is as good as mine…

Posted by: Richard Frost | April 26, 2014

Chorlton Festival Calendar 2014

Every year I put together a list of dates for the biggest festivals in Chorlton (south-west Manchester) along with a bit of info on what to expect this time around.

Here’s my Chorlton Festival Calendar for 2014.

Chorlton Big Green Happening 2014

Saturday, 26 April 2014 (1pm to 5pm)

Chorlton Big Green Happening replaces Chorlton's Big Green Festival

Chorlton Big Green Happening

Chorlton Big Green Happening (CBGH) is the successor to Chorlton’s Big Green Festival (CBGF), which was last held in 2012.

It’s being organised by a couple of the original CBGF team (alongside a few new faces) and takes the concept of celebrating sustainable living even further with the introduction of a Green King and Queen competition and a green business angels tent.

That aside, there’ll be plenty of features familiar to CBGF regulars. So CBGH will have stalls dedicated to food and drink, cycling, clothing, politics, art and recycling. There’ll also be performances and ethical fashion shows. And the main festival, which is free to attend, takes place once again in and around St Clement’s Church on High Lane.

The CBGH team is also putting on a Warm Digit gig in the evening inside St Clement’s Church (£7 on the door).

Chorlton Arts Festival 2014

16-26 May 2014

Chorlton Arts Festival - Chorlton's biggest festival

Chorlton Arts Festival

Chorlton Arts Festival is back for its 14th year in 2014.

There’ll be more than 130 events, of which 80 per cent are free, spread across 40 venues and 10 days. This year’s highlights include Vini Reilly, former frontman of the Durutti Column, being interviewed by Manchester music icon Dave Haslam and playing a live set, and a visual arts commission featuring bespoke work from seven artists displayed around Chorlton.

Chorlton’s biggest festival also incorporates the third Chorlton Weekender. Running between 22 and 25 May 2014, this mini music festival features gigs from Liam Frost, Paper Aeroplanes, John Smith, The Family Rain and Lisbee Stainton. Individual tickets are £10 (£8 concessions) or you can buy Weekender Wristbands, giving access to every show, for £28.

Manchester Vegan Fair 2014

Saturday, 17 May 2014 (11am-5pm)

Vegan Organic Network runs Manchester Vegan Fair

Vegan Organic Network

Chorlton’s long been known as a vegan haven (we’ve even got our own vegan supermarket, don’t you know) and soon it’ll host the Manchester Vegan Fair.

Organised by the Vegan Organic Network, a Chorlton-based charity, the Manchester Vegan Fair will be held at the Chorlton Irish Club on High Lane. Visitors will be able to browse 60 stalls and enjoy vegan foods, live music, live poetry, films, talks, workshops, vegan speed dating (!) and wind-solar rickshaw rides (!!).

Entry to the Manchester Vegan Fair 2014 costs £1 (kids free).

The Manchester Vegan Fair After Party is being planned for the same venue from 7pm to 1am, featuring a vegan meal, vegan beers and live music which may or may not be vegan. Tickets are £12 on the door or £10 in advance.

Chorlton Green Food & Drink Festival 2014: Sup-Up & Eat

Saturday, 24 May 2014 (12pm-12am)

Sup-Up & Eat is a food and drink festival on Chorlton Green

Sup-Up & Eat

Chorlton Green Food & Drink Festival 2014: Sup-Up & Eat is another first for 2014.

This free festival is the brainchild of the Horse & Jockey pub. Festivalgoers will be able to meet local food and drink producers and listen to live music. There’ll also be demonstrations/hands-on activities throughout the day, including whisky-pairing, chilli-eating and chocolate-making.

As a precursor to the festival, the Horse & Jockey pub is hosting an opera premiere on the evening of Friday, 23 May 2014. A Taste of Opera features a Prosecco reception and a three-course Italian meal, all accompanied by Italian opera performed by Salford-based opera company Pint-sized Opera. Tickets for A Taste of Opera are £25.

Chorlton Beer Festival 2014

3-5 July 2014

Chorlton Beer and Cider Festival

Chorlton Beer Festival

The 10th Chorlton Beer and Cider Festival, or Chorlton Beer Fest to you and me, is promising more than 80 real ales, a selection of ciders and perries, and foreign beers.

There’ll also be food stalls to soak up the alcohol and live music to keep everyone entertained. In previous years, it’s only been a two-day event but this time round it’ll sprawl over three days to truly test your stamina.

Traditionally, the Chorlton Beer Festival is jointly organised by CAMRA (Trafford and Hulme branch) and St Clement’s Church, and takes place in and around St Clement’s Church on High Lane. Tickets are usually £5 including your pint glass (pictured).

Chorlton Green & Beech Road Family Fun Day 2014

Sunday, 6 July 2014 (12pm-5pm)

The Family Fun Day has succeeded the Beech Road Festival

Chorlton’s Family Fun Day

There’ll be no Beech Road Festival 2014. In its place we’ll have the free Chorlton Green & Beech Road Family Fun Day once again.

The crucial word here is ‘family’. In an effort to avoid the trouble that marred the 2011 Beech Road Festival, there’ll be no alcohol sold outdoors on Beech Road and no live bands.

Instead the Beech Road Traders’ Association, which organised the Beech Road Festival and now organises the Chorlton Green & Beech Road Family Fun Day, is promising more family-friendly stuff with Unity Arts Manchester offering activities such as music, art and circus skills. There’ll also be dancing demonstrations, fairground rides, hula hoops, a choir, and stalls peppered along Beech Road.

Manchester Food & Drink Festival 2014: Chorlton Fringe

18-29 September 2014

Logo for Manchester Food and Drink Festival

Manchester Food & Drink Festival

Manchester Food & Drink Festival is the city’s annual celebration of, you guessed it, food and drink.

In recent years, venues and organisations throughout Chorlton have run tie-in events such as tastings, cooking workshops, forages and meet the producer nights under the Chorlton Fringe banner.

Expect more of the same in 2014.

Chorlton Bonfire Night 2014

5 November 2014
There’s always a Chorlton Bonfire Night celebration happening somewhere on 5 November.

For example, the Horse and Jockey pub can usually be relied upon to organise an impressive free bonfire and fireworks display on Chorlton Green.

Chorlton Book Festival 2014

November 2014

Chorlton Book Festival in south Manchester

Chorlton Book Festival

A Chorlton Book Festival 2014 is being planned but that’s about all I know at the moment.

The festival usually takes place across multiple Chorlton venues over ten days or so in November. Typical events include author readings, talks about literature, writing workshops, literary pub quizzes and poetry slams.

Chorlton Christmas Lights 2014

November/December 2014

Chorlton Christmas Lights on the green and in the precinct

Chorlton Christmas Lights

We’re normally treated to two separate Chorlton Christmas Lights over the festive period.

Beech Road Traders’ Association runs the Beech Road Christmas Lights Switch-On on Chorlton Green (pictured), which usually features carol-singing and mince pies aplenty. And Chorlton Traders runs the Central Chorlton Christmas Lights Switch-On in the precinct, which typically involves yet more carol-singing followed by food and drink in Chorlton Library.

Manchester Coffee Festival 2014

Sometime in 2014

Chorlton Coffee Festival has become Manchester Coffee Festival

Chorlton Coffee Festival

The inaugural Chorlton Coffee Festival took place over the last three days of June 2013.

Cafes and bars across Chorlton joined in to stage special events such as drinks workshops, poetry readings, live music and comedy gigs, and much of it was free. Chorlton Central Church also became an exhibition space, dubbed the Chorlton Coffee Festival HUB, for the day.

Now the Chorlton-based volunteers who organised it have rebranded the event as the Manchester Coffee Festival. Last I heard, they were looking for an event space to rent each year, starting in 2014. Here’s hoping that space is in Chorlton.

Important note: If you see anything that needs changing or updating in the 2014 Chorlton Festival Calendar, or know of any other Chorlton festivals that you’d like to see included, drop me a message in the comments below and I’ll do the rest. Cheers!

Posted by: Richard Frost | January 28, 2014

Supper clubs in Chorlton

Desserts at a south Manchester supper club

Supper clubs

Until a couple of years ago, supper clubs were a rarity in Manchester. Now they’re everywhere.

So much so, in fact, that many are popping up in the suburbs, including some right on my doorstep in Chorlton. So I thought I’d take a closer look at the area’s supper clubs.

Hang on, what’s a supper club?

A supper club (also known as a dinner club, or a fine dining club if you’re posh) can take many forms:

  1. House-turned-restaurant – where a budding chef offers to cook dinner in their own home for a group of guests, often including people they’ve never met before
  2. Foodie group – where a gang of like-minded food lovers get together to visit different restaurants/pubs/cafes/bars and taste what they have to offer
  3. Foodie event – where a restaurant/pub/café/bar puts on a special set menu for foodies, which is usually much more ambitious than the standard menu

Now as far as I’m aware, Chorlton doesn’t have any house-turned-restaurants or foodie groups but it does have more than its fair share of foodie events.

How much does a supper club cost?

Prices vary but a ‘house-turned-restaurant’ or ‘foodie event’ supper club in south Manchester usually costs about £20-£30 per head for three-, four- or even five-courses, and some also include drinks. Not cheap, then, but I’ve yet to leave feeling short-changed. ‘Foodie group’ supper clubs are usually free or a nominal amount to join – then you pay for what you order.

List of Chorlton supper clubs

Here are the Chorlton supper clubs I know about…

  1. Tea Hive – Tea Hive, on Manchester Road, seems to be the most prolific organiser of supper clubs in Chorlton. Last Friday, for example, the cafe ran a January Comfort Food Supper Club (which is where I took the photos for this blog). In the past few months, it’s also done an All American Thanksgiving Supper Club (which was great), a Scandinavian Supper Club and a Pan Asian Supper Club. They’ve also got a Valentine’s Supper Club coming up next month.
  2. North Star Deli – I think I’m right in saying that North Star Deli, on Wilbraham Road, was something of a trailblazer. It organised the first supper club that I know of in Chorlton, back in July 2011, and it’ll host another on 27 February 2014. This supper club’s being organised by a pair of chefs called Season’s Eatings, who run supper clubs throughout Manchester, and it’s their first venture into Chorlton so fingers crossed more will follow.
  3. The Post Box Café – The Post Box Café, on Wilbraham Road, hosts loads of events, including supper clubs. I went to one last summer in which diners were given a three-course meal – followed by a question-and-answer session with the farmer who produced the pork! (the farm was Porcus in West Yorkshire, in case you’re wondering). The Post Box Café is also hosting a surf-and-turf dinner club on 21 February 2014 and an intriguing-sounding Chorlton history dinner on 28 March 2014.
  4. The Hungry Gecko – The Hungry Gecko is a business run by Jackie Kearney, who was a finalist in BBC One’s MasterChef in 2011. It started out as a supper club in September 2011. The Hungry Gecko still does occasional supper clubs, with the website saying they serve five-course Asian-inspired menus for private parties and occasional posted dates. If you can’t wait, the Hungry Gecko’s also set up a street-food stall, which can be found at the back of the Beech Inn on Beech Road.
  5. ElectrikElectrik, on Wilbraham Road, used to organise lots of supper clubs. Those supper clubs even had their own catchy name, Guestrant, but I’ve not heard of any new ones lately. Then again, the bar’s owners (Justin Crawford and Luke Cowdrey, better known as DJ duo The Unabombers) have just opened their first restaurant, Volta, on Burton Road in West Didsbury so I imagine they’ve got enough on their plate right now.

Please sir, can I have some more?

These are the Chorlton supper clubs I know about, but I’m sure there are others. Feel free to drop me a line if I’ve missed one. And now the secret’s out, hopefully we’ll see a lot more popping up in the coming months.

Update: Hayley Flynn (creator of Manchester-based art, architecture and history blog Skyliner) tells me that the Spoon Inn, on Barlow Moor Road, also runs pop-up restaurant nights in the style of supper clubs. I tweeted the Spoon Inn who confirmed, saying: “We have hosted pop-up restaurants in the past and have spoken to supper club runners about the possibility of hosting an evening.” So now you know. (29 January 2014)

Note: All the photos on this post were taken at Tea Hive’s January Comfort Food Supper Club.

Photo of toad-in-the-hole

Individual toad-in-the-hole dishes


Pie with chicken, leek and chestnut mushroom filling

Chicken, leek and mushroom filo pastry pie


Apple and pecan crumble

Salted caramel apple and pecan crumble


Mousse cake served with coulis

Triple chocolate mousse cake with mixed berry coulis


Glass of sloe gin

Homemade sloe gin

Posted by: Richard Frost | December 10, 2013

Best view in Manchester – Manchester Town Hall clock tower

Albert Memorial in Albert Square

Where can you find the best view in Manchester?

There are several contenders. Some say the Cloud 23 bar in Beetham Tower, others prefer city-centre skyscrapers such as City Tower or Manchester One (it’ll always be Portland Tower to me). I’ve even heard people rave about the view from Shudehill Interchange car park (yes really).

Manchester Town Hall

For me, though, the city’s best viewpoint is at the top of Manchester Town Hall. This huge Gothic building, completed in 1877, cost the city £1m – a real statement of intent back when Manchester was riding high on the Industrial Revolution. In shape, it’s basically a giant triangle built around the cavernous rectangular Great Hall (venue of the latest Manchester Wine Festival):

Triangular Manchester Town Hall

The best place to appreciate Manchester Town Hall and its Great Hall is from above – and specifically its 85-metre clock tower. You can only climb the clock tower for a few weeks around Christmas and, with Christmas just around the corner, I decided to take a look.

Manchester Town Hall clock tower tour

The Manchester Town Hall clock tower tour, run by Manchester Guided Tours, lasts for just over an hour and tells you plenty about the history of the building. You might even get a chance to poke round the Great Hall if you’re lucky:

Manchester's Great Hall

On your way up the 173 steps, you’ll see the antiquated clock mechanism that’s powered the clock since it started ticking in 1879:

19th century clock mechanism

You’ll also see inside the clock face:

Inside the Manchester Town Hall clock

And at the top you’ll get to stand next to the giant bell, named Great Abel after the Lord Mayor who opened Manchester Town Hall, as it strikes the hour:

Great Abel bell

View from the clock tower

But the best bit is simply admiring the 360-degree view from the top of the tower. On a clear day you can see from Kinder Scout in the Peak District to Fiddlers Ferry Power Station near Widnes. You can see all the city’s major landmarks. And if you time it right you can look directly down onto the luminous Santa and into the Manchester Christmas Markets hub at Albert Square.

For me, this is the best view in Manchester:

View from clock tower into Manchester Christmas Markets

Clock tower tours run three times daily on alternate days until 2 January 2014. Tickets, priced at £9 per person plus booking fee, can be reserved on the Manchester Town Hall Clock Tower Guided Tour EventBrite page.

Posted by: Richard Frost | October 23, 2013

Metrolink outlines plan for Cornbrook point failures

Manchester tram on the move

Manchester’s tram network is in a right old mess.

At the start of last week, the Metrolink director apologised for the disruption following technical faults at Cornbrook station. Since then, Manchester’s tram service has steadily deteriorated.

Rush hour?

Things came to a head at 715am yesterday (Monday, 21 October 2013) when a points failure at Cornbrook (again) left commuters stacked up in stationary trams for more than an hour at rush hour. This ruins everyone’s day because Cornbrook is Metrolink’s most important stop, used by trams to and from East Didsbury (including trams to and from Chorlton), Altrincham, MediaCityUK, Eccles, Bury and Rochdale.

I can’t normally be bothered to make a formal complaint (otherwise I would’ve complained about the lack of double-trams to East Didsbury a long, long time ago…rather than right this second). But yesterday morning I cracked and did just that.

Metrolink sign for Chorlton

Complaint to Metrolink

As I was stuck on the tram, I wrote a message to Metrolink customer services with three main gripes:

  1. The points have failed several times in the past fortnight at this precise point and at this exact time.
  2. Almost no information about the reasons/likely duration of the stoppage was provided to users. The driver only explained when a passenger confronted him. And even then, the information given was contradictory.
  3. The Metrolink website says there is a bus replacement service available yet this was never relayed to users.

Manchester Metrolink station at Chorlton-cum-Hardy

Metrolink response setting out Cornbrook plan

Today, Metrolink customer services replied to me. The response is actually pretty interesting and includes details of Metrolink’s proposed short-term and long-term fixes, which I’ve not seen anywhere else. Feel free to refer to it next time the points fail at Cornbrook:

Mr Frost,

The point’s issues experienced at Cornbrook this week and previous have each related to separate point sets and each fault has come with its own set of technical circumstance; there is not a consistent or persistent fault but we fully appreciate that they have collectively had a compound effect on passengers’ journeys.

The signal and points issue that has been, affect all services operating through Cornbrook. It has been a matter of utmost urgency to resolve the issues there is some urgency as it affects so many services south of the network. There is a plan which involves night time work over the next few weeks to try and get to the bottom of the issues and resolve them. You will then hopefully see an improvement to the service.

Transport for Greater Manchester have set out a dedicated team today which will be situated at Cornbrook points from 6am each morning and they will stay all day until the end of service, so if there is an issue at any point, someone will be able to rectify the problem quickly and hopefully this will not delay any more of your journeys.

Until the root cause of the issue is addressed this measure will be put in place to reduce the number of incidents running through this particular junction.

Whatever the cause of the disruption to the service may be, the management of these situations is paramount so we can offer the best advice, information and if necessary replacement to the tram service. I am sorry that your recent experiences when travelling on the Metrolink system have not be satisfactory.

From your feedback it appears on this occasion we have failed in our commitment to customer care on. For this there is no excuse and we can only once again sincerely apologise and assure you that in response, we’ve undertaken an immediate review and updated our procedures to ensure that we are not affected by a similar event.

I sincerely hope that your recent experience will not prevent you from travelling on the Metrolink system in the future.

Yours sincerely

Lauren Jackson

Customer Experience Team

Posted by: Richard Frost | September 14, 2013

The Great Holland’s Bake Off

Chicken pie with gravyPosh pies are all the rage in Manchester these days.

In June 2013, Pieminster opened its first Manchester pie shop on Church Street in the Northern Quarter. In August, the Bakerie followed suit with the official opening of its Pie & Ale restaurant at the Hive on Lever Street, also in the Northern Quarter.

And that’s before we even mention the people who clog up Twitter every Tuesday with declarations of love for Paul Hollywood and his pies on the Great British Bake Off (you know who you are).

Holland’s Pie and Ale Tasting Event

Even mainstream pie companies are getting in on the act.

Holland’s – which is sold pretty much everywhere from supermarkets and stadiums to cafes and chippies – organised its first Pie and Ale Tasting Event in Manchester last year. On Thursday night it came back for seconds, taking over the rather swish Albert Square Chop House to show off its forthcoming pie collection, as well as a few established heavyweights like these:

Holland's pies in their packaging

Guiding us through the menu was chef Tom Bridge, who’s made a living cooking and writing about pies. Nice work if you can get it:

Celebrity pie chef Tom Bridge

This time round, there were six pies on the menu. Pictures speak a thousand words so here’s a photo of five of the pies (in true Prisoner fashion, Number Six has disappeared):

Five of the six Holland's pies

The taste test

What with this being a Pie and Ale Tasting Event, happily all of the food was paired with specially selected drinks. Each ale was meant to bring out the flavours of the accompanying pie, although to be honest the choices felt a bit random to me.

Anyway, here are my scores out of ten:

  • New Holland’s Hunter’s Chicken Pie 9/10
    (accompanied by Morland’s Old Speckled Hen)
  • New Holland’s Chicken and Gravy Pie 8/10
    (accompanied by Beartown’s Kodiak Gold)
  • New Holland’s Steak and Stilton Pie 8/10
    (accompanied by Bragdy Conwy’s Clogwyn Gold)
  • New Holland’s Peppered Steak Pie 8/10
    (accompanied by Holt’s Dark Mild)
  • Holland’s Potato and Meat Pie 4/10
    (accompanied by Tetley’s Cask)
  • Holland’s Cheese and Onion Pie 4/10
    (accompanied by Albert Square’s Best Bitter)

To me then, the best pie was the new Holland’s hunter’s chicken pie, which is so new it doesn’t even come out till next year (what an honour). It’s got a super-rich filling of chicken, bacon, pepper, mushrooms and spicy barbeque sauce and they’ve even added cheese to the pastry, so it’s not going to win any awards for healthy eating but it is one hell of a pie and well worth the £1.85 price tag.

Let’s take a closer look at that cholesterol-busting pie in all its messy goodness:

Chicken, bacon and barbeque sauce pie

As for the beers, my favourite was Beartown’s Kodiak Gold, which was smooth, easy-to-drink and slightly citrusy:

Pale ale from Beartown Brewing Company

Manchester’s pie charts

So where does Holland’s stand in Manchester’s pie charts?

Well I was impressed by the quality of the four new pies on show, although I must admit I really didn’t enjoy the current pair – the potato and meat pie, and the cheese and onion pie, were way too mushy and bland for my taste.

Yet taken as a whole, they were much better than the pies I tried at the launch of the posh Pie & Ale restaurant, which really surprised me. They still weren’t quite as good as Pieminister (although I’ve not been to the Pieminister shop, the Pieminister pies at Pi in Chorlton are delicious). I’ve also heard good things from fellow Chorltonite Gill Moore about Great North Pie Co, which I’m told you can buy at Out of the Blue fishmongers in Chorlton, although I’ve yet to put those to the test.

For now, though, I’d say Holland’s is more than pulling its weight when it comes to giving pies a bit of good PR in Manchester. They may not be posh enough for Paul Hollywood, but these humble pies hit the spot for me.

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