Posted by: Richard Frost | August 10, 2017

Tony Wilson – 10 years on

Broadcaster Tony Wilson hosting After Dark in 1988

Tony Wilson

Today’s the 10th anniversary of Tony Wilson’s death.

The Factory Records founder, Hacienda nightclub manager, In The City music conference organiser, broadcaster and professional Steve Coogan impersonator (ok, so I may have made that last one up) passed away on 10 August 2007 but his legacy lives on.

Tony Wilson, perhaps more than anyone else in modern times, helped to kickstart the vibrant arts scene that Manchester now takes for granted.

Tony Wilson’s headstone

I was walking through Chorlton’s Southern Cemetery a few days ago when I spotted a rather stylish-looking headstone.

On closer inspection, it turned out to be none other than Tony Wilson’s famous black granite headstone designed for his grave by Factory Records stalwarts Peter Saville and Ben Kelly. Describing him as a ‘broadcaster’ and ‘cultural catalyst’, it also features a brief quote from ‘The Manchester Man’ by Mrs G Linnaeus Banks (aka Isabella Banks):

Headstone for Tony Wilson's grave at Southern Cemetery in Chorlton

Tony Wilson’s headstone

The Manchester Man

I only saw Tony Wilson in person once, not long before he passed away.

It was a public debate, something along the lines of ‘Would the rest of the UK be better off without London?’, and in truth I only went because he was speaking. I don’t remember much about it now, although I do recall his answer when asked to name his favourite part of London:

“Euston Station, on a train back to Manchester”

Anthony H Wilson 1950 – 2007

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Posted by: Richard Frost | June 16, 2017

Amma’s Canteen restaurant review in Chorlton

Amma's Canteen cafe-bar and street kitchen on Chorlton's Barlow Moor Road

Amma’s Canteen

You could be forgiven for thinking that south Manchester doesn’t really need another Indian restaurant.

But Amma’s Canteen, which only opened its doors six weeks ago (29 April 2017), does things very differently to Asian Fusion, Sher Akbar, the Great Kathmandu, the Original Third Eye and the rest. Forget your preconceptions about gut-busting kormas, baltis and vindaloos because you won’t find any of those here – instead it’s all about small plates and south Indian street food served as and when it’s ready.

A street-cart named desire

And make no mistake that Amma’s Canteen is all about the food. The street-cart menu is far more adventurous than your average Indian restaurant covering everything from lentil donuts to crispy okra and tamarind wings to madras masala mussels, alongside larger dishes such as dosas, fish curries and slow-cooked spring lamb, and a smattering of desserts like ras malai and poached plantain.

We shared four street-food dishes and a dosa between five of us (unannounced and paid for in full), which was more than enough and came to a very reasonable £25.

Amma's Canteen serves Stuffed Kozhukattai filled dim-sum

Stuffed Kozhukattai

Delicious dosas

The slow-roasted Beef Sukka (£6.25) packed a rich meaty flavour, and the Spiced Sundal (£2.95) slow-cooked chickpeas had a pleasant bite to them while the chilli and lime did a good job of getting the tastebuds tingling.

Perhaps the falafel-like Madras street snacks, Masala Vadai (£4.25), were a bit dry and dense for my taste although the accompanying red cabbage coleslaw provided an enjoyably creamy companion. And the Stuffed Kozhukattai dim sums filled with garden vegetables (£5.75) were superb, combining the delicate flavours of dim sum with a hot and fiery sauce.

Masala Dosa crispy savoury pancake

Masala Dosa

But the star of the show was undoubtedly the Masala Dosa (£5.95). This was every bit as good as the dosas served in award-winning restaurants like Indian Tiffin Room, with a crispy savoury pancake hiding a satisfying crushed potato filling and a choice of spicy or cooling sides to keep things interesting. It really is worth visiting Amma’s Canteen just for their dosas.

Oh and while we’re on the subject of food, kudos to the kitchen for providing so many vegetarian, vegan-friendly and gluten-free options and clearly labelling them all on the menu. This will go down a storm in Chorlton!

Lassi orders at the bar

What else?

Well there’s room for improvement on the drinks front I’d say. They don’t serve alcohol and while you’re welcome to bring your own, I was a bit underwhelmed by the choice of soft drinks offered in-house. I plumped for a mango juice which was fine but nothing special.

And the atmosphere as a whole was good with the near-full restaurant generating a nice background buzz. However, we were sat directly underneath an air-conditioning unit which was blasting out cold air throughout the evening – not really conducive to a relaxing environment.

A trio of dishes served at Amma's Canteen

Beef Sukka, Spiced Sundal and Masala Vadai

Then again, the service was very good with members of staff more than happy to offer recommendations (even to the extent of advising us to order fewer dishes when we got carried away!) and coming back after each dish had arrived to check that everything was ok.

Amma’s Canteen is an independent restaurant that’s hit the ground running and I for one hope that it builds on a very promising start – I’ll certainly be back for those dosas.

Food rating: 9/10
Drink rating: 6/10
Service rating: 9/10
Atmosphere rating: 7/10
Overall rating: 8/10

Amma’s Canteen is located at 285 Barlow Moor Road in Chorlton. It’s next to the original Coriander restaurant opposite Southern Cemetery, less than 5 minutes’ walk from Barlow Moor Road tram stop.

Menu of Indian restaurant Amma's Canteen in south Manchester

Amma’s Canteen menu

Posted by: Richard Frost | June 9, 2017

Labour’s Jeff Smith wins Manchester Withington

Labour's Jeff Smith and the Liberal Democrats' John Leech await the poll results in Manchester Withington

Manchester Withington’s declaration

In the early hours of this morning, it was revealed that Labour’s Jeff Smith had beaten the Lib Dem’s John Leech in the race to become MP of Manchester Withington – the constituency that covers Chorlton, Didsbury, Withington, Old Moat and Burnage in south Manchester.

Not only that, Smith massively increased his majority in a seat that he first took from Leech in 2015.

Smith’s total of 38,424 votes was a long way ahead of Leech’s 8,549 votes, giving Labour a hefty majority of 29,875 on an impressive turnout of 71.9 per cent. That’s around double the majority of 14,873 that he secured on a turnout of 67.5 per cent in 2015.

I caught up with him during the count at Manchester Central.

Jeff Smith hails “rejection of negativity”

Jeff Smith's Manchester Withington victory speech with John Leech and Sarah Heald in the background

Jeff Smith’s victory speech

Smith said: “The majority’s about doubled so we’re obviously very pleased. It’s a vindication of the campaign that we ran both locally and nationally.

“This has been a remarkable rejection of negativity in politics from the Lib Dems in Withington and the Tories nationally.

“We offered a vision for the country that offered hope and the Tories didn’t offer anything.

“I’m hoping to carry on as a Labour whip – I’d be happy to do that again if I’m asked. Jeremy Corbyn’s fought a really good campaign and what’s important now is that the Labour Party comes together.”

John Leech promises Lib Dem fightback

The Liberal Democrats' John Leech concedes defeat in the Manchester Withington constituency

John Leech addresses supporters

Smith’s re-election came at the expense of Leech who had hoped to take back the seat that he previously held from 2005 to 2015. Leech, who is also a councillor for Didsbury West on Manchester City Council, remains the official opposition to the Labour-held council.

He said: “The election campaign feels more like seven years than seven weeks.

“It’s been another difficult night for the Lib Dems in this general election. But we will be back.”

Posted by: Richard Frost | May 20, 2017

Chorlton Festival Calendar 2017

For the last few years, I’ve put together a list of dates of festivals happening in the Chorlton area of Manchester.

This year’s a bit trickier than normal because many of the usual suspects aren’t taking place, or they’re scaling back, or they’re just keeping their cards a bit closer to their chest. But where I have been able to find details, I’ve included them below.

Here is the Chorlton Festival Calendar 2017.

Chorlton Big Green Happening 2017

Deferred for 2017

A celebration of sustainable living at St Clement's Church

Chorlton Big Green Happening

The Chorlton Big Green Happening, the successor to Chorlton’s Big Green Festival, isn’t taking place this year.

This celebration of sustainable living was also known as the Chorlton & Whalley Range Big Green Happening when it last took place in April 2016 in recognition of the fact that activities were split between St Clement’s Church on High Lane in Chorlton and the Carlton Club on Carlton Road in neighbouring Whalley Range.

Here’s hoping the festival returns in 2018.

Chorlton Arts Festival 2017

19-29 May 2017

Logo for the annual Chorlton Arts Festival

Chorlton Arts Festival

Chorlton Arts Festival is ringing the changes in 2017.

The team behind the festival want to “create a more sustainable event and to work on new ideas to support artists, the local community and our creative programme” with a view to developing a bigger, better and more locally engaged arts festival.

As a result, it’s running a scaled-down version of the Chorlton Arts Festival in 2017 while the Chorlton Weekender, the mini music festival within the festival proper, and possibly some other fundraising events won’t now take place until later in the year.

Having said all that, there are still quite a few events planned in 2017 including a screening of classic vampire film Nosferatu with live organ accompaniment at St Clement’s Church, comedian Juliette Burton’s Edinburgh preview at the Lloyds pub on Wilbraham Road, and the tenth and final appearance of the Smallest Sculpture Park in the World on Corkland Road.

Some events are free while others are paid-for.

VON Manchester Vegan Fair 2017

Saturday, 27 May 2017 (11am-5pm)

What to expect at Chorlton's upcoming vegan fair

VON Manchester Vegan Fair 2017

The annual VON Manchester Vegan Fair, or just the Manchester Vegan Fair for short, is moving to a new home in 2017.

Formerly at the Chorlton Irish Club on High Lane, the 2017 edition is switching to a bigger and more central venue – Oswald Road Primary School. A host of family-friendly attractions are promised on the day including an outdoor stage, live music, stalls, film shows, a beer tent and of course vegan cuisine.

Tickets are £3 while under-16s go free.

Chorlton Open Gardens 2017

Deferred for 2017

A show garden on Claude Road in Chorltonville

Chorlton Open Gardens

The popular Chorlton Open Gardens event sees gardeners across Chorlton throw open their doors for one day only and all for a good cause.

Members of the public typically pay £5 in aid of Freedom from Torture to buy a programme that includes maps and write-ups of each of the 30+ gardens taking part, which you can then explore at your leisure.

The organisers are having a break this year but have promised that the event will return in the summer of 2018. For those who can’t wait that long, they’ve suggested checking out Burnage Open Gardens 2017 on Sunday, 4 June or Old Trafford Open Gardens 2017 on Sunday, 2 July.

Beech Road Festival 2017

Deferred for 2017?

The Family Fun Day has succeeded the Beech Road Festival

Chorlton’s Family Fun Day

Beech Road has played host to a variety of festivals in recent years.

First there was the Beech Road Festival which gave way to the more family-oriented Beech Road Family Fun Day and then in 2016 Living Local, a celebration of independents and shopping locally. Whatever it’s called, the event is traditionally held on the first weekend in July and free to attend.

However, I’ve yet to come across anything to suggest that a 2017 edition is currently being planned unfortunately.

Chorlton Beer & Cider Festival 2017

6-8 July 2017

Chorlton Beer and Cider Festival

Chorlton Beer Festival

The 13th Chorlton Beer & Cider Festival, more commonly known as Chorlton Beer Festival or just Chorlton Beer Fest, takes place once again at St Clement’s Church and is already shaping up to be a big one.

Organised jointly by Trafford & Hulme CAMRA and St Clement’s Church, the 2017 festival promises to offer more than 200 beers and ciders. There will be around 100 draught beers served from cask and key-keg along with bottled beers from around the world and more than 50 ciders and perries.

The event runs from 6pm – 1030pm on Thursday, 6 July, 6pm – 1030pm on Friday, 7 July, and 1pm – 930pm on Saturday, 8 July.

Entry each day costs £10 which includes a souvenir festival glass, a festival programme with tasting notes for the beers, and a £4 beer and cider token. And if you really want to test your stamina, a new addition for 2017 is the introduction of a season ticket giving entry to all three days for £20.

Chorlton Bonfire Night 2017

Early November 2017

The new logo of the Bootleg Brewing Co in Manchester

Bootleg Brewing Co

The biggest Guy Fawkes Night party in Chorlton traditionally takes place on Chorlton Green.

Admittedly there isn’t an actual bonfire, or a Guy Fawkes effigy come to think of it, but there are some spectacular fireworks.

A free event organised by the Horse & Jockey pub, Chorlton Bonfire Night typically involves two fireworks displays, one at 630pm for kids and one at 9pm for adults.

You can usually expect to find a couple of outdoor stalls doing a roaring trade in beer, hot drinks, barbecued meats, festive favourites and so on – or you can duck inside Horse & Jockey to try the beers from the pub’s onsite brewery Bootleg Brewing Co.

Chorlton Book Festival 2017

17-25 November 2017

Chorlton Book Festival in south Manchester

Chorlton Book Festival

The 13th edition of Chorlton Book Festival will take place at the end of November.

Details of what’s being planned for the 2017 Chorlton Book Festival haven’t yet been released, but based on previous years we can expect a range of events in Chorlton Library on Manchester Road as well as various other venues across Manchester’s most literary suburb. Events typically include poetry slams, author readings, literature talks, writing workshops and a literary pub quiz.

Some events are free while others are paid-for.

Chorlton Christmas Lights 2017

Winter 2017?

Christmas tree on Chorlton Green

Chorlton Christmas Lights

No word yet on whether there’ll be a Chorlton Christmas Lights event in 2017.

In recent years, we’ve had the Beech Road Christmas Lights Switch-On which features a lantern parade by local schoolchildren led by Father Christmas. The procession winds its way from Beech Road Park at around 545pm over to Beech Road, passing rows of children, parents and friends on the way, to Chorlton Green for the Christmas lights switch-on proper at approximately 615pm.

A free event, there’s usually a church choir, carol singing, mince pies and mulled wine to keep people entertained.

Chorlton New Year’s Eve Party 2017

Sunday, 31 December 2017

Exterior of the Horse & Jockey pub in Chorlton

The Horse & Jockey

Chorlton has a huge variety of bars and restaurants, and you can be sure that plenty will be organising special events and offers in an attempt to draw in paying punters on New Year’s Eve.

If it’s a free event you’re after, though, one of the most popular places to go is Chorlton Green.

Organised by the Horse & Jockey pub, the Chorlton New Year’s Eve Party typically features an impressive fireworks display. In previous years there’s also been a New Year’s Eve menu and bubbly on offer inside for those happy to spend a few quid to see in the new year in style.

Posted by: Richard Frost | February 25, 2017

Hispi owner Gary Usher – in profile

Chef Gary Usher at work in the kitchen

Gary Usher

As I make my way over to Didsbury to see the owner of the highly regarded new bistro Hispi, I can’t help but wonder which Gary Usher I’m going to meet.

Would it be the impulsive chef who makes a virtue of never planning anything, the guy who indulges in sweary tirades, boisterous banter and public spats via the @StickyWalnut Twitter account? Or the hard-working chef-patron (a title that he shies away from incidentally) who’s building up a mini-empire of bistros across the North West?

First came Chester’s Sticky Walnut in 2011, then Heswall’s Burnt Truffle in 2015 after a £100,000 Kickstarter campaign. And now we have Hispi on School Lane in Didsbury Village, a £350,000 bistro part-funded by another Kickstarter campaign that raised almost £60,000.

Hispi bistro restaurant open for business

Inside Hispi

Serious about food

In the event, I’m struck by how serious Usher is about what he’s doing. Sure there’s a liberal smattering of swear words, but this is clearly a man who takes genuine interest in the food produced by his kitchens, the team that makes it happen, and the customers that keep returning to eat it.

No dish is allowed on one of his menus until Usher approves it first.

It’s an approach that seems to be working. Sticky Walnut was given a rave review by Marina O’Loughlin in The Guardian, as was Burnt Truffle by Jay Rayner in The Observer and Lisa Markwell in The Independent on Sunday, and Hispi recently secured a five-star write-up from Simon Binns in CityLife.

Sticky Walnut also won Menu of the Year at the 2013 Catey Awards and AA Restaurant of the Year for England in 2014, and Hispi picked up two AA rosettes just weeks after its opening on 7 October 2016.

Gary Usher, chef-patron of Burnt Truffle in Heswall

Gary Usher in the kitchen

“Business is good,” he told me, “Sticky, Burnt and Hispi all make money. In particular, Hispi has got off to a fucking amazing start.

“We’re only a couple of months old but Hispi’s opening couldn’t have gone better. It’s been so well received.

“Getting two rosettes straight away in the kitchen after what fucking eight weeks, they’ve nailed it here, they’ve fucking nailed it here in my opinion. And then also, regardless of my opinion, financially they’re doing well. The place is making money, it was making money straight away.

“And Sticky’s a little machine, it just looks after itself. Burnt makes money as well, it’s still on the up.”

I spy an excellent bistro

I was already a fan of Sticky Walnut having paid a visit to Chester on the strength of friends’ recommendations alone, but I finally made it along to Hispi a couple of weeks ago (unannounced and paid for in full). I was bowled over by the quality of the place.

The homemade bread (£3) is worthy of any bakery it really is, and the hugely popular Braised Featherblade (£18.50) is hands down one of the tastiest dishes I’ve had in Manchester – melt in the mouth just doesn’t do justice to this perfectly cooked hunk of meat:

Hispi Braised Featherblade with Curly Kale, Celeriac Puree, Truffle and Parmesan Chips

Braised Featherblade at Hispi

If I was looking for faults, the desserts didn’t quite live up to the same high standards. Both the Barley Malt Beignets (£6) and Poached Yorkshire Rhubarb with Whipped Fromage Blanc (£6.50) felt unbalanced to me, oversized and slightly out of keeping with the finesse of the rest of the menu.

Hispi Barley Malt Beignets with Malt Ice Cream and Whiskey Sultanas

Barley Malt Beignets at Hispi

But that’s a minor quibble, it’s still one of the best restaurants in the steadily improving foodie destination that is south Manchester (alongside Greens, Chorlton Green Brasserie, Gray’s Larder, Bar San Juan and Thai Spice since you ask).

Wasn’t Hispi supposed to be in Chorlton?

The main problem with Hispi for many – the elephant in the room – is its location. It was never supposed to be in Didsbury.

Usher’s original plan was to open Hispi at a site near Oddest on Wilbraham Road in Chorlton. He launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise £50,000 towards the opening costs, and ended up receiving pledges of £58,650 from no fewer than 718 backers on Kickstarter.

But then disaster struck – he was unable to secure the Chorlton premises that he’d crowdfunded for due to problems around the ownership of the site. He looked at more than 20 other sites around Chorlton and put in several offers but couldn’t get anything over the line – until somebody suggested he check out the former Jem & I site in Didsbury Village.

“What happened with us, we did a project for an area, a specific area and a specific site,” he said. “It fell through after we achieved our goal, after we’d successfully crowdfunded our £50,000 target the site fell through. There was nothing I could do, it was completely out of my hands.

“When we told the crowdfunders that we had to move it, a lot of them were justifiably really unhappy that we couldn’t then open in that area. It was only a few miles away but still it wasn’t what we’d told them.”

Hispi bistro mirror showing the names of Kickstarter supporters

Mirror featuring Hispi’s crowdfunding backers

The age-old Chorlton/Didsbury rivalry

At this point, I really feel for Usher. For a time he was public enemy number one on the Chorlton Facebook group – a Chester chef unwittingly wading into the age-old Chorlton/Didsbury rivalry – and it’s clear that the criticism he received back then still stings.

He apologised to those who pledged money to launch Hispi in Chorlton. More than that, in fact, he offered to reimburse any backers who didn’t want to support Hispi opening in Didsbury – around £700 of pledges were duly returned.

“Some people were really unhappy that it wasn’t in the original area that we’d crowdfunded,” he explained. “So I said anybody that’s really pissed off, we’ll give the money back. It was probably quite a dangerous thing to do because if £20,000 of pledges had to go back, we’d have been fucked.

“It made me feel really down because I thought I’d let everyone down. The thing about crowdfunding is that it’s such a positive thing and it’s supposed to be positive.

“It’s a group of people that you don’t even fucking know who are coming together to make something happen. For that to be overshadowed by people wanting their money back, it just made me feel quite down about it.”

Champagne bar anyone?

But time moves on, Hispi’s now up and running, and Usher’s already looking ahead to the next challenge.

At this point his body language transforms and he’s full of enthusiasm again. It’s obvious that he has big dreams for Elite Bistros of the World (the parent company for Sticky Walnut, Burnt Truffle and Hispi whose self-important name was meant “as a pisstake”). Turning dreams into reality is clearly a big part of what motivates him.

Hispi Bistro on School Lane in Didsbury Village, south Manchester

Hispi Bistro’s front entrance

One idea in the works involves transforming Hispi’s flat roof fronting School Lane into a terraced area, creating a champagne bar of sorts.

“At some point there’s going to be a terrace, we’re possibly going to do it this year,” he revealed. “We’d have it mainly for lunchtimes and summer dining. It’d be lovely if someone could have a couple of glasses of champagne before their dinner.

“Hispi’s making money. We’re only a couple of months in but we’ll have a look at the terrace idea and, if it works, we’ll do it this summer.”

Ushering in a new restaurant

There’s also the small matter of a fourth restaurant on the horizon, provisionally called Wreckfish, which is earmarked for a former watchmakers’ building just off Bold Street in Liverpool city centre.

If it comes off, the site would be by far Usher’s biggest restaurant to date. Sticky Walnut has 45 covers, Burnt Truffle has 60 covers with another 30 on an outdoor terrace and Hispi has 80 covers, but Wreckfish has capacity for a whopping 200 covers.

Gary Usher's Liverpool restaurant is provisionally called Wreckfish

CGI of Gary Usher’s Liverpool restaurant

Making this happen requires still more money so he’s going back to crowdfunding again. The 35-year-old’s just getting started with his latest campaign to raise an eye-watering £200,000 for the Liverpool restaurant (the crowdfunding page is due to go live soon).

It’s still early days, of course, and he’s not the sort of chef to wax lyrical about any high-minded concept for Liverpool other than to confirm that it’ll stick with the same ethos as Sticky, Burnt and Hispi.

In his words, “neighbourhood bistros, unfussy food, all prepared by us, in a relaxed environment”. Sounds like a plan to me.

Chef Gary Usher is the owner of the Hispi bistro in Didsbury Village

Hispi’s owner Gary Usher

Posted by: Richard Frost | February 11, 2017

Brewski bar review in Chorlton

Beer coaster at Brewski bar

Brewski beer coaster

At what point does a bar-restaurant really become a restaurant-bar?

It’s a question that immediately springs to mind at Chorlton’s newest bar-restaurant Brewski when I make a beeline for some empty seats with my pint only to be told that this area’s reserved for restaurant customers only. Which is strange considering it’s around twice the size of the bar area.

Despite the name, Brewski’s a bar where the restaurant very much takes centre stage.

What’s your beer?

But as I’m just here for drinks, keen to try what this swish new North American craft beer bar has to offer, let’s stick to that for now.

Brewski's restaurant area

The restaurant area

We don’t get off to a great start, admittedly, when I have to wait a good five minutes for the barman to finish off a big round of cocktails for one of the restaurant parties (cocktails and gin flights are a big part of the drinks selection here…). Just bad timing I guess.

Things momentarily pick up when I ask if they’ve got any good stout and am enthusiastically recommended Millionaire by the Wild Beer Co, a sweet chocolate and salted caramel milk stout, only to discover that they’ve run out.

Craft beers available at Brewski

Craft beers

Unfortunately there are no other stouts going (the closest they’ve got is a bottle of porter in the fridge). There’s also no cask beer at Brewski. So I’m left to choose between their many different North American pale ales and India Pale Ales on draught.

They’re all pleasant enough (I alternate between Sleeman Breweries and Stevens Point Brewery), but it’d be nice to have a wider range to choose from especially given they’ve chosen to launch in the middle of a cold snap in February that’s crying out for a big wintry stout.

Still they get plus points for giving tasters without prompting and for offering beer paddles to let you try a selection of beers in more manageable quantities.

Hunting for tables

I’m pleased to see that the bar area at Brewski has a good atmosphere. It’s been fitted out to a high standard with a sort of North American hunting lodge-type vibe (not unlike Canadian bar Elk on Beech Road).

The seating maybe feels a bit close together if you don’t know everyone on your table of four, but overall they’ve done well with the space available. It’s inviting without being overly fussy and they’ve not got carried away with the decorations, which is a trap that so many themed bars fall into.

The bar area at Brewski in Chorlton

The bar area

Chips ‘n’ gravy Canadian-style

The position of the bar area between the kitchen and the restaurant area also does a neat job of showing off the food offering, and I immediately regret having eaten beforehand after seeing some stunning pizzas come past. Personally I think £20 for a 20-inch pizza is too much, but I’d happily stretch to £4 for a slice – I just wish more places offered pizza by the slice.

The other big food options are all-American brunches and something called poutine, Canada’s national dish apparently, which is basically just chips, gravy and cheese curds with various add-ons. Not my thing at all I’m afraid but hey each to their own.

The Brewski bar-restaurant's food menu

The food menu

Brewski for two please

So that’s Brewski then. It only opened a week ago on a prime Wilbraham Road site opposite Morrisons (replacing the Jam Inn formerly The Shak formerly The Gallery formerly Abode…you get the picture) and it’s been packed every day since so they must be doing something right.

I’m sure I’ll give it another go soon enough – although it’ll probably be to try the food rather than just for beers. Anyone for pizza?

Drink rating: 6/10
Service rating: 6/10
Atmosphere rating: 7/10
Overall rating: 6/10

Brewski replaces the Jam Inn

Brewski on Wilbraham Road

Posted by: Richard Frost | March 28, 2016

Chorlton Festival Calendar 2016

Every year, I compile a list of dates for the biggest festivals in the Chorlton area of Manchester along with a brief overview of what you can expect to find there.

Here’s the 2016 Chorlton Festival Calendar.

Chorlton Big Green Happening 2016

Saturday, 23 April 2016 (1pm – 1030pm)

Chorlton & Whalley Range Big Green Happening 2016

Chorlton Big Green Happening 2016

The Chorlton Big Green Happening, the successor to Chorlton’s Big Green Festival, is back after taking a year off in 2015.

This year’s celebration of sustainable living is being promoted in some quarters as the Chorlton & Whalley Range Big Green Happening 2016 to recognise the fact that activities are split between St Clement’s Church on High Lane in Chorlton and the Carlton Club on Carlton Road in neighbouring Whalley Range.

Admittedly most of the action takes place in and around St Clement’s Church with live music, food and drink, stalls and so on in the daytime, followed by a varied entertainment programme inside the church including live music, dance classes and the Stitched-up Big Green Fashion Show from 6pm – 1030pm (early bird tickets £5).

Those with more stamina than me can then make their way over to the after-party at the Carlton Club.

Bootleg Beer Festival 2016

Sunday, 1 May 2016 (Midday – late)

Bootleg Beer Festival 2016 at the Horse & Jockey pub on Chorlton Green

Bootleg Beer Festival

A new addition to the Chorlton Festival Calendar, the Bootleg Beer Festival is being held by the Horse & Jockey pub and its in-house microbrewery Bootleg Brewing Co on Chorlton Green.

The Bootleg Beer Festival 2016 is promising a day packed with entertainment. There’ll be an outside bar serving ales brewed onsite between midday and 9pm, a chance to make your own cider or apple juice with the Moss Cider Project from midday till 4pm, brewery tours, food, giant games on the green, live music throughout the day in the pub and on the terrace, and a DJ set in the evening.

Bootleg Brewing Co is also brewing a special beer for the big day. Interestingly, the exact type of beer (fruity, lager, hoppy or dark) is being decided in true democratic fashion by a public vote on social media.

Chorlton Arts Festival 2016

20 – 29 May 2016

The Chorlton Arts Festival takes place in May 2016

Chorlton Arts Festival 2016

Now in its 15th year, the annual Chorlton Arts Festival is firmly established as Chorlton’s biggest festival.

The 2016 instalment is working with more than 30 venues across Chorlton. Expect everything from live music and comedy to visual arts and performance with a mix of paid-for and free events.

There’s also a welcome return for the Chorlton Weekender, the mini music festival within the festival proper. This year’s headline acts are Ren Harvieu and Romeo Stodart (The Magic Numbers) at St Ninian’s Church on Egerton Road South on Friday, 27 May (tickets £15 or £13 concessions), Owiny Sigoma Band at St Clement’s Church on Saturday, 28 May (tickets £10 or £8 concessions), and PINS at St Clement’s Church on Sunday, 29 May (tickets £10 or £8 concessions).

A Chorlton Weekender Wristband costs £25 and gives you access to all three gigs.

Manchester Vegan Fair 2016

Saturday, 28 May 2016 (11am – 5pm)

Vegan Organic Network's Manchester Vegan Fair

Manchester Vegan Fair 2016

The annual Manchester Vegan Fair is being held for the third time at the Chorlton Irish Club on High Lane.

Organised by Chorlton-based charity Vegan Organic Network, more than 3,000 people attended in 2015. The 2016 edition aims to go one better with more than 70 stalls, live music and poetry, vegan speed dating, wind-solar rickshaw rides, films, talks, workshops, and of course lots of vegan food and ale.

Tickets are £3 but kids go free.

Chorlton Open Gardens 2016

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Programme for Chorlton Open Gardens 2015

Chorlton Open Gardens

Chorlton Open Gardens is an annual daytime event in which gardeners across Chorlton throw open their doors for a good cause.

More than 30 sites took part in the 2015 Chorlton Open Gardens, with most attracting over 300 visitors.

Members of the public pay £5 in aid of Freedom from Torture to buy a programme from places across Chorlton (Creative Recycling on Beech Road, Chorlton Bookshop on Wilbraham Road, Blossom Flowers on Manchester Road, and Chorlton Plant Nursery on Vicars Road), which includes maps and write-ups of each garden.

Then it’s simply a case of checking out as many as possible, or taking it easy and relaxing at the ones that put on homemade cakes, drinks and live music.

The 2015 event raised more than £8,000.

Update: Chorlton Open Gardens organiser Merryn Cooke tells me that the event currently has 31 sites lined up including six new gardens, a communal alley, the roof of Unicorn Grocery and a communal allotment.

Programmes will be on sale at Chorlton Bookshop, Blossom Flowers, Creative Recycling and Chorlton Plant Nursery from the end of May. They’ll also be available at Creative Recycling, Chorlton Plant Nursery and Unicorn Grocery on the day.

Festivalgoers are encouraged to buy programmes in advance to help them plan their day. (04 April 2016)

Beech Road Family Fun Day 2016

Deferred for 2016

The Family Fun Day has succeeded the Beech Road Festival

Chorlton’s Family Fun Day

The free Beech Road Family Fun Day, the family-oriented successor to the Beech Road Festival, won’t be taking place on the first Sunday in July this year.

In its place, it’s envisaged that there’ll be a celebration of independents and shopping locally on both the Saturday and the Sunday. Details are still being worked out.

Chorlton Beer & Cider Festival 2016

7 – 9 July 2016

Chorlton Beer and Cider Festival

Chorlton Beer Festival

Chorlton Beer & Cider Festival, also known as Chorlton Beer Festival or just Chorlton Beer Fest, is being held once again in and around St Clement’s Church.

This annual institution is organised by Trafford & Hulme CAMRA and St Clement’s Church. It features dozens of real ales from local and national breweries, as well as an impressive selection of world beers, ciders and perries. There’s also street food and live music.

The event runs from 6pm – 1030pm on Thursday, 7 July (which is usually a quieter preview night), 6pm – 1030pm on Friday, 8 July, and 1pm – 930pm on Saturday, 9 July.

Organisers say prices will be the same as 2015 so by my reckoning that means Thursday tickets will be £10 including £5 of beer tokens, while Friday and Saturday tickets will be £10 including £4 of beer tokens.

Chorlton Love Beer Festival 2016

Summer 2016 (presumably)

The organiser of the Chorlton Summer Beer Festival

Love Beer Festivals

Love Beer Festivals, founded by five beer-loving friends, usually stages one beer festival a year in Chorlton.

The Chorlton Summer Beer Festival 2014 took place at South West Manchester Cricket Club in June and the Chorlton Summer Beer Festival 2015 was held at Chorlton Irish Club in August but there’s no word yet on what if anything is planned for 2016.

The most recent instalment featured more than 30 cask and keg beers, 15 Belgian beers, 15 American beers, cider, street food, live music and family activities such as a bouncy castle and face-painting. Advance tickets were £5 and the event ran from 5pm – 1am on Friday, 12pm – 6pm on Saturday (family session), and 6pm – 1am on Saturday.

Chorlton Bonfire Night 2016

Saturday, 5 November 2016 (presumably)

The new logo of the Bootleg Brewing Co in Manchester

Bootleg Brewing Co

The largest bonfire night in Chorlton takes place on Chorlton Green although some local residents might argue that size isn’t everything.

Chorlton Bonfire Night 2016 is a free event organised by the Horse & Jockey pub. It traditionally comprises two fireworks displays, one at 630pm for kids and one at 9pm for adults, and the 2015 instalment also featured an outdoor bar and two outdoor BBQs in collaboration with Sailor Jerry rum.

The Horse & Jockey and its in-house microbrewery Bootleg Brewing Co usually sell a fair few beers too!

Chorlton Book Festival 2016

18 – 26 November 2016

Chorlton Book Festival in south Manchester

Chorlton Book Festival

An annual celebration of all things literary, Chorlton Book Festival is scheduled to return at the end of November.

Details are scarce about what we can expect at the 2016 Chorlton Book Festival, but there’s usually a range of free and paid-for events in Chorlton Library on Manchester Road and venues across the suburb including poetry slams, literature talks, author readings, writing workshops and a literary pub quiz.

Chorlton Christmas Lights 2016

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Christmas tree on Chorlton Green

Chorlton Christmas Lights

It’s still early days but it looks like there’ll be one Chorlton Christmas Lights event this year.

The free Beech Road Christmas Lights Switch-On traditionally involves a lantern parade by local schoolchildren, which is led by Father Christmas.

The procession makes its way from Beech Road Park at around 545pm and heads down Beech Road, passing lots of children, parents and friends along the way, to Chorlton Green for the big Christmas lights switch-on at 615pm.

There’s also usually a church choir, carol singing, mince pies and copious amounts of mulled wine.

Chorlton New Year’s Eve Party 2016

Saturday, 31 December 2016

Flyer for the Chorlton New Year's Eve Party

New Year’s Eve in Chorlton

Chorlton has so many bars and restaurants that you’re spoilt for choice over where to see in new year if money’s no object, but in terms of free events one of the most popular places to go is Chorlton Green.

Organised by the Horse & Jockey pub, the Chorlton New Year’s Eve Party features a spectacular fireworks display. You can also reserve a table inside if you fancy splashing out on the New Year’s Eve menu and bubbly.

Horse & Jockey festivals

Throughout 2016

Exterior of the Horse & Jockey pub in Chorlton

The Horse & Jockey

The Horse & Jockey pub holds an ever-changing calendar of events throughout the year. These typically include:

The Horse & Jockey Summer Solstice 2016 (June 2016)

The Horse & Jockey Winter Solstice 2016 (December 2016)

Check out their website and social media, or sign up to their email newsletter, for more details as and when they’re confirmed.

Important note: If you see anything that needs updating in the Chorlton Festival Calendar 2016, or you’ve heard of another festival that’s on the way, drop me a message in the comments section (below) and I’ll get it sorted. Thanks!

Posted by: Richard Frost | February 13, 2016

Whole lotta Lead – The Lead Station hits 20

The Lead Station recipe book

The Lead Station Cookbook

Bars and restaurants come and go in Chorlton with alarming speed but The Lead Station seems to have been around forever.

In fact, it’s just celebrated its 20th birthday. To mark the occasion, the Beech Road venue and its owner-operator Nick de Sousa hosted a small party to say thank you to suppliers, staff, regulars and friends on Wednesday and I was lucky enough to be invited.

Police encounters

Now The Lead Station may be 20 years old (21 technically – it opened in 1995) but the building itself is much older, built by the Lancashire Constabulary as a local police station way back in 1885.

What I like about the place is that it hasn’t abandoned its roots. Witness the 1885 datestone with the Lancashire Constabulary inscription above the entrance, the old police cells converted into a kitchen, and even the name (the ‘Station’ refers to its police station origins, while the ‘Lead’ relates to the material used within the bar apparently).

The Lead Station bar-restaurant on Beech Road in Chorlton

The Lead Station

Scramble on

I’ve been to The Lead Station countless times over the years, usually for lunch because their Eggs Benedict is the best I’ve had bar none:

Eggs Benedict with poached egg, bacon, muffin and Hollandaise sauce

Eggs Benedict – an old favourite


But really it’s not just a lunch place – the restaurant has a seasonal menu of “simple, classic and honest” food served till late and there’s also a well-stocked bar, which makes its own cocktails. What’s more, The Lead Station has just published a recipe book (RRP £20) showing how to recreate dozens of its most popular dishes and cocktails, as well as containing interesting facts about the place and random things like an old interview with Chorlton resident Damon Gough (aka Badly Drawn Boy) about how much he loves The Lead Station.

There are also profiles of their suppliers (JB Richardson’s Bakers, Barbakan, Hill’s Bakers, Amato Products, Jack Wood & Sons, The Easy Fish Co and Cheshire Wholesale Fruit & Veg in case you’re wondering).

Trades and Tariffs

As an aside, if you like The Lead Station, you might want to try sister restaurant Tariff & Dale in the city centre.

Instead of a police station, this time Nick converted a former cotton spinners warehouse into a trendy Northern Quarter venue on the corner of Tariff Street and Dale Street. It’s been getting lots of good PR recently and was nominated for Newcomer of the Year at the Manchester Food & Drink Awards 2015 and included by The Times in their 25 Coolest Restaurants in Britain list.

Tariff & Dale in Manchester's Northern Quarter

Tariff & Dale

All about the bass

During the party, The Lead Station invited guests to sample some of their food and drink.

My favourite dish on the night was the Seabass and Scallops – difficult ingredients to get right but both were cooked to perfection and they were nicely offset by a minted edamame and pea puree (it would seem their definition of “simple” food is very different to mine).

So good in fact that it’s in danger of tempting me away from the trusty Eggs Benedict.

Mixed salad

The Lead Station Salad


Seabass and Scallops with minted edamame and pea puree

Seabass and Scallops


Chocolate Truffle Cake with strawberries and cream

Chocolate Truffle Cake

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

Thursday, 5 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

Christmas 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, run by the Beech Road Traders’ Association, sees a lantern parade start at Beech Road Park at 545pm on Thursday, 26 November 2015 and make its way over to Chorlton Green for the big switch-on at 615pm. Not to be confused with the nearby Central Chorlton Christmas Lights Switch-On, run by Chorlton Traders, in the precinct.

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!

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