Splish, Splash, I Was Taking a Bath

September 16th, 2014

Through a series of fortunate events, I discovered at exactly the right time that last weekend was the annual heritage open days where lovely old buildings are open to the general public. On Sunday morning I found out that Manchester’s Victoria Baths were open for free, a building I had been wanting to explore since I moved here. What luck! So that afternoon I stepped out into the remarkably warm Manchester weather (no rain and some sunshine! AMAZING.) and headed south.

First opened in 1906, the Victoria Baths were where you would come either to be seen or to have your weekly wash. It was divided into three rooms, each with its own pool – Women, Second Grade Men and First Grade Men. The quality of the rooms, size of the pool and cleanliness of the water depended on which of these categories you fit into, with women coming in last.

As a lowly female, this sign brings me a bit of joy.

As a lowly female, this sign brings me a bit of joy.

The building is now used for arts and community events and is currently the location for a Romeo and Juliet production. I was told on multiple occasions by various members of staff that I could have my wedding here. That’s nice.

The First Class Men's pool has been transformed into Juliet's death scene.

The First Class Men’s pool has been transformed into Juliet’s death scene.

The baths received funding through a television show to undertake its upgrades and still requires an additional £26million to complete all of the work. They hope to have the baths and the turkish sauna rooms back up and running – it would be fantastic to see the building returned to its original glory.

Changing rooms.

Changing rooms.

Fancy tiles.

Fancy tiles.

Old Woman Whinge

September 16th, 2014

I warn you in advance that this blog post is likely to sound like an old woman whingeing about “The Youth of Today.” Feel free to move on and maintain a positive outlook on life and not be bogged down by my complaints. HOWEVER, I write this having been woken up at 5am to the sound of some sort of pre-dawn chorus. It sounded similar to cats being strangled but I believe it was a group of drunken students singing along to an unrecognisable song completely out of tune. I suspect their performance took place on one of the balconies of the surrounding apartment blocks, their voices bouncing off the concrete buildings, entering my bedroom window and attacking my sleeping ears. Just brilliant.

Now, I admit that I did reach my “There are a bunch of drunken students singing outside” call without any proof of a. who was singing or b. their sobriety. However, recent events in Manchester forced me to jump to this conclusion and really there was no other possible explanation for the unforeseen concert.  September has arrived and Manchester has been taken over by students. THEY ARE EVERYWHERE. The centre of the city is swarming with young, barely-dressed teenagers buying pillows, saucepans and bottles of vodka. Now, my after work pop in to Aldi to buy vegetables for my dinner has become a elbow fight with 17 year olds carrying shopping baskets. Luckily, not many of them know what vegetables are so there’s still plenty left for me, but if I ever went mad and decided I wanted to buy frozen pizza, I would be in trouble.

Yesterday it took me an hour and fifteen minutes to catch a bus from Manchester city centre to West Didsbury. It is a five mile journey and one that I once ran in less time. Why did the bus take so long, I hear you ask? Because I happened to be taking the £1 Magic bus ride that goes past two universities and almost every location for student housing in south Manchester. I get it, students need to catch buses, too. But do they need to push the button at every stop and slow the bus down so frequently? Can’t they get off at the same stop (preferably mine) and walk a little bit?

The bus travel time isn’t helped by the fact that two or so weeks ago, a HOLE OF DEATH opened up on the main road into town (the road my bus drives down) and therefore traffic has been diverted onto smaller roads that can’t handle the extra traffic. This HOLE OF DEATH is really just a small gap in the already dodgy bitumen and not the massive sink hole the local authorities are making it out to be. Perhaps I should be grateful that they are looking after my safety, but really I’d just like to be able to spend less time on a rickety bus full of young people who say “Ummm… like totally.” a lot.

Ok. Rant over. I LOVE STUDENTS.

He’s Back!

September 9th, 2014

About six months ago, I learnt the sad, sad news that one of my favourite local chefs, Robert Owen Brown, was closing the doors of his seriously great restaurant, The Mark Addy. I will admit to weeping a little – this was devastating stuff! His delicious pheasant had made me a very happy girl and I wasn’t going to be able to eat his food ever again. THE HORROR.

So I write to you with great news, kids. My constant interest in Mancunian food news meant that I learnt he had moved to the location of one of my most disappointing restaurant experiences in Manchester and had taken over the kitchen. Two great pieces of information in one big ball of goodness. So when my Australian cousins, Sophie and Kate, came to visit me this weekend for delayed birthday fun, we went for dinner at the re-branded Rosylee to visit Mr Brown.

Clearly not many people have heard that Rob is back in action as the restaurant was basically empty. This did mean we could easily get a table on a busy Saturday night in the Northern Quarter. My previous visits to what was the Rosylee Tearooms had been very disappointing. Not great food being sold at excessive prices isn’t my thing and I had always left feeling very disappointed about what could have been a great restaurant. But I was determined not to let this ruin my experience this time and went there with high hopes and good intentions.

After umming and ahhing over the menu, each of us changing our minds multiple times about what we wanted to eat, we finally ordered – Kate and I both choosing the wild rabbit while Soph went for spatchcock marinated in dandelion and burdock. And it was all so GOOD! My rabbit was flavoursome and tender, served with a little layered potato stack and a couple of vege.

Bunny rabbit

Bunny rabbit

Sophie’s spatchcock was really tasty with its sweet marinade but smokey barbecue overtones. We were three very happy ladies eating good food with a nice bottle o’ red.

Spatchcock. Aka mini-chicken.

Spatchcock. Aka mini-chicken.

Of course, there was then dessert. Kate’s options were limited by her gluten free requirements so she went down the cheeseboard route. Four large chunks of cheese with an excessively large number of packet biscuits (none of which she could eat.) The cheese was great but the inclusion of celery on the plate was a bit odd. Celery after dinner? Really?

Cheese. But mostly crackers.

Cheese. But mostly crackers.

Sophie had the rhubarb and custard fool which was HUGE and required a vote amongst the table as to whether or not she was supposed to eat the twirly decoration on top. We decided it was raffia and therefore not designed for human consumption. I hope we weren’t wrong and the chefs in the kitchen weren’t all hitting their heads in disgust at our lack of food knowledge. Anyway, it was mostly cream and about the size of Sophie’s head so she gave up half way through. Brave soldier.

Foolish rhubarb

Foolish rhubarb

I went for my staple choice on any dessert menu – the chocolate based item. This time it was a dark chocolate tart served with a hot custard and caramel shards. Not bad for a chocolate tart although the filling was very soft and almost liquid and I prefer a firm centre. It was rich, dark and not too sweet, which is always a tick from me. The custard was served in a shot glass on the side and was really just confusing and weird. Custard is always nice but it doesn’t really go with a chocolate tart. A dollop of ice cream would make more sense – may I suggest salted butter caramel? I exchanged my caramel shards for Sophie’s ginger snap as I have never really understood the point of melted and re-solidified sugar. Overall it was tasty but not mind-blowing.

Mmm… chocolate tart...

Mmm… chocolate tart…

Overall this was a very tasty meal and it was exciting to once again eat some hearty and wholesome food served with style. The service at the Rosylee wasn’t great but it just felt like no one had put any effort into training the wait staff. It wasn’t that they were bad – they just didn’t really add anything to the experience. And I still hate the fake flowers on the ceiling. But other than that, the Rosylee is on the improve and I will be going back for more rabbit. And perhaps the Lancashire hot pot.

The 29th Year That Was

September 6th, 2014

My birthday has been and gone and I realised I haven’t had time to ‘think and reflect’ on the year that was. And we all know I love a good reflection! So let’s do it – in some sort of random point form!

  • This time last year I was in Croatia with my best friend, Gill. Good times were had, great food was eaten. I am now Personally-Elected-Faux-Aunty-Jess to her beautiful daughter, Stephanie. Apparently babies can happen in a year.
  • I worked at the Co-Operative as an IT Analyst, helping people with their IT issues. Then I was laid off due to slight economic issues at the Co-Op.
  • I had a rather gross case of conjunctivitis. That was less of a highlight.
  • I went to Wales a few times.
  • I went to Scotland and saw the Edinburgh Festival and Loch Ness.
  • Christmas happened. Ate lots. That’s about it.
  • Spent New Year’s dancing in my brother’s lounge room and playing Celebrity Heads.
  • Climbed a big(ish) hill in the Lake District.
  • Went to London once or twice.
  • Explored lots of really cool places within a 2 hour drive of Manchester.
  • Saw gravy wrestling, worm charming and chicken racing.
  • Moved apartment and started sharing a house for the first time in my life. My housemate is AWESOME.
  • Am currently dating a man who once sold burritos. He hasn’t made me a burrito yet so the verdict is still out.
  • Started writing for Yelp and have since received lots of AMAZING FREE FOOD AND DRINK. Best writing decision ever.
  • Started working full-time in The Classroom and now Zaum is a fully-fledged and somewhat profitable copywriting business (contact me for all of your wordy needs.)
  • Went to a conference in York. I felt very professional about that.
  • Attended a couple of weddings.
  • Met lots of cool people and made lots of great new friends.
  • Grew cos lettuce.
  • Didn’t poison myself, fall off any high places or break any bones. That’s a successful year, right there!
  • Oh yeh, I ran a marathon and a half marathon.
  • Went to Paris. That was fun.
  • Learnt that networking is good for you.
  • Ate a seriously large amount of food and managed to not get fat.
  • Had multiple picnics next to things on top of hills.
  • Generally survived another year without doing anything that wrong.

It has been a year of less travel than my previous years, mostly due to travel requiring money and me not having much of that. But as a result, I have managed to settle more into life in Manchester and have built myself a very cosy nest with friends, family, work, food and fun. And as the time on my visa slowly ticks away, I become less and less inclined to pack up my stuff and move yet again. So if anyone wishes to donate £200,000 to the “Keep Jess in England” fund and/or marry me, that would be GREAT! Until then, stay tuned for more exciting adventures in the World of Jess.

Super Mega Fun Birthday Crazy Times!

September 3rd, 2014

I am now officially closer to being old. Luckily my inner 12-year old lives on and she was particularly disappointed this morning that my birthday has been and gone. Why does time speed up on birthdays? The injustice.

Yesterday was my 29th birthday and my lovely boss, Myself, gave me the day off work to pursue the pleasures of being the Birthday Girl. I am particularly good at being a Birthday Girl and greatly annoy everyone around me by constantly reminding them of my elitism. Luckily it is only for 24 hours (if you don’t include the count down period and the week-long extended celebrations I like to undertake.).

Sir Pubert Gladstone was my elected chaperone and slave for the day and what a day it was! I slept in! Amazing. Breakfast and present opening involved delicious homemade muesli from Dad, stewed damsons from my friend Hannah, and opening a little white box containing one of the best looking black resin and pyrite rings that I have ever seen in my life. Pubert had clearly picked up on my previous blog-inserted hints and had sourced a ring from one of my favourite local jewellery designers, Jade Mellor. It is a truly beautiful object and it is sitting proudly on my hand as I type this. Fabulous work, Jade, and thank you, Pubert.

Designed and made by Jade Mellor

Designed and made by Jade Mellor

After completing a few errands, Sir Pubert took me for a weirdly timed meal (at 11.30 it was neither morning tea nor lunch) at Teacup where I had my first piece of cake for the day. Slightly dry but still quite tasty, this pear and almond cake sat nicely in my birthday belly.

Pear and almond cake from Teacup

Pear and almond cake from Teacup

Then there was Skype and present opening time with the family back home. I am becoming very experienced at not having my family at my birthdays, however no matter how frequently it happens or how old I get, it is still hard to not get a hug from my Mum, Dad and bro on the Most Important Day of the Year.

My family in electronic form.

My family in electronic form.

So to cheer me up, Sir Pubert and I decided to expand our minds by visiting the Museum of Science and Industry for the Hadron Collider exhibition. I had won two tickets to see the exhibit so was looking forward to learning about particles and Higgs Bosons and what exactly happens in that giant doughnut. To be honest, it was a little disappointing. We entered not really understanding much about what goes on in the collider and we left with just as much confusion. At no point do they really explain what the Higgs Boson is, despite it being a fairly significant finding within the whole collider-building-thing. I learnt a lot about how the collider works but I did spend most of the visit with an “I don’t understand…” frown on my face. Any additional wrinkles on my forehead are due to this confusion and not old age. So if anyone would like to explain Higgs Boson particles to me, please do.

Whoa, technology.

Whoa, technology.

With our tired brains we headed to the twenty-third floor of Manchester’s tallest (and essentially only) skyscraper to the Hilton hotel’s Cloud 23 bar. This swanky, overpriced and poorly decorated bar offers some great views over Manchester and the surrounding countryside and I had been wanting to come since moving to Manchester. The scattered cloud yet relatively clear sky produced some excellent views and Sir Pubert and I slowly drank our expensive (yet tasty) cocktails while staring out the window. It was Monday night and the bar was practically empty, so my Cloud 23 experience was better than what I had been told by some friends who had been before. Definitely a great place to watch the sun set on my birthday.

Goodbye, sun.

Goodbye, sun.

But the day didn’t finish there; MORE FOOD was needed so Pubert and I went to one of the reasons I moved to Manchester – Australasia. I love this restaurant. The decor is stylish but not trashy, the staff are friendly and know what they’re doing, and the food is just damn good. We shared salmon and black rice sushi, yellowfin tuna, goats cheese with beetroot, and seared teriyaki beef. Oh and the boy wanted chips.

Seriously tasty yellow fin tuna with sushi rice and just enough chilli

Seriously tasty yellow fin tuna with sushi rice and just enough chilli

Salmon wrapped in black rice

Salmon wrapped in black rice

Beef.

Beef.

Cheese of goat.

Cheese of goat.

But even the chips were the best deep-fried pieces of potato that I had ever had. It was well crafted, beautiful and delicious food and it made me very happy. What made me ecstatic was the chocolate soufflé with chocolate sauce and raspberry sorbet that I had for dessert. It was sadly a little undercooked and therefore a bit eggy, but it was rich, gooey and choc-tastic. The raspberry sorbet added the perfect amount of tang, while the tiny pile of vanilla salt added absolutely nothing.

Hello chocolate soufflé

Hello chocolate soufflé

It was a seriously good day and I really was sad when it all came to an end. Now I have to wait another 364 days until I can do it all again. I wonder where in the world I will be next year and who will be coming to my 30th birthday party…

So I am Going to Walk on Fire

September 2nd, 2014

So cutting straight to the chase – I have decided to walk over hot coals. I saw an advertisement for the Massive Manchester Firewalk where if you raise £50 for the charity, Retrak, you are taught how to walk over coals and then you get to do it. As my legs are currently a bit sore and running another marathon just seems far too achievable, I decided that fire walking is my next challenge. So on 5 October I am going to walk over burning coals – but I need your help first. Please donate a pound (or more if you REALLY want to see me murder my tootsies) via my JustGiving page. If I reach the £50 target then I am allowed to walk! Obviously the charity aspect is great, but seeing me burst into tears of pure fear while standing in front of sizzling coals is surely good reason to donate.

DONATE NOW.

Surprise Birthday Wrap

August 29th, 2014

My birthday Two-Or-So-Weeks have begun in the form of delicious food. My friend and fellow Classroomer, Alam, surprised me with a halloumi and falafel wrap and a piece of carrot cake from the Veggie Kitchen at the Manchester Markets. Alam is always teasing me with his delicious cheesy wraps and so, to celebrate my birth, he went and bought me one. It may not be his Audi R8, but in my world a cheesy, chickpea filled wrap with a slab of cake is WAY better. Thanks, Alam!

Mmmm… birthday wrap...

Mmmm… birthday wrap…

Mmm… birthday carrot cake...

Mmm… birthday carrot cake…

 

Count Down #29

August 28th, 2014

I appear to have forgotten to mention that the most important day of the year is fast approaching. There are only four sleeps until my birthday! WOO! As per usual, my inner child is feeling excited; about as excited as my outer adult was about this free beer at the latest Yelp event.

Photo credit: Lucas Smith and his Yelp camera

Photo credit: Lucas Smith and his Yelp camera

Weird British Event #3 – Gravy Wrestling

August 28th, 2014

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when I read an advertisement for the bank holiday activities at the Rose ‘n’ Bowl pub in Bacup. What are you supposed to expect when you read the words “Gravy” and “Wrestling” next to each other? No… Surely not…? It must be a typo.

But no, my friends. That was no typographical error. The World Gravy Wrestling Championships were happening and that same curious bug that begged me to go to worm charming and chicken racing was back again, telling me I needed to go and experience this wonder. I attempted to convince Sir Pubert Gladstone that driving 40 minutes north of Manchester to the fairly average town of Bacup to go to a slightly dodgy pub to watch people rolling around in hot meat juices was a GREAT way to spend his Bank Holiday Monday. He agreed and we were off!

Technology at the Rose 'n' Bowl

Welcome to the Rose ‘n’ Bowl

So Bacup’s name is far more interesting than the place itself. There are some streets, some houses, a few pubs and that’s about it. It does have a great view of the hills of the Irwell Valley which made for a great backdrop to the jawdroppingly remarkable stage and gravy pool set up for the Gravy Wrestling Championships. I was shocked by the effort and planning permission that must have gone on behind the scenes to set up the performance area. I believe the Rose ‘n’ Bowl normally has a lawn bowls green behind the pub. The entire space had been covered in plastic with a raised pool area set up in the middle. In the pool was a steaming lake of brown liquid – the infamous gravy. The commentator informed us that the gravy had been sitting out for one and a half hours and was therefore cooling down and forming a nice gelatinous top. Delicious.

A professional set up

A professional set up

Monday was an unexpectedly cool day and so all of the spectators were keen to see the action get underway. After some customary technical difficulties with the sound system and a lovely performance from the local under-15s dance school, we were underway. Out came the competitors – they were READY TO RUMBLE!

The competitors line up

The competitors line up

Driving to Bacup we had discussed the possibility of competing in the competition and I had seriously contemplated giving it a go. However, like worm charming and chicken racing, I soon realised that this was serious business and you couldn’t just enter on a whim. All of the wrestlers had planned and gone to great efforts with their costumes – no one was just wearing their old sports clothes. Super man, Oscar the Grouch, a headmaster and Tarzan were there and they had all practiced their entrances.

Last year's champion won best costume as Oscar the Grouch

Last year’s champion won best costume as Oscar the Grouch

It was WWF with less baby oil and more gravy. As the first bout was called, the two wrestlers came out calling to the audience, strutting their stuff and mocking their competition. The white-shirted referee blew the whistle and it began. Gravy explosion.

Gravy is slippery stuff when it is coating plastic and human flesh. The first two male wrestlers slipped around all over the place, throwing each other into the air (as best they could) and body slamming with vigour. It was incredible! Strength, agility but mostly luck combined for a highly entertaining wrestling competition. The wafts of hot meaty liquid really added to the overall experience.

GRRAAAAVVVYYYY!!!

GRRAAAAVVVYYYY!!!

The cold weather and a desire to eat something other than a chip butty meant we didn’t hang around to watch the entire competition and a lack of information of the Rose ‘n’ Bowl Facebook page means I have no idea who won. But it was a fantastic way to spend a cold public holiday. Unlike worm charming, I don’t think I will come back to compete in the Gravy Wrestling Championships next year. I would need years of preparation and some serious protein shakes.

 

Kurt, Steven and Yelp are Close to my Heart

August 22nd, 2014

Last night brought another delicious Yelp Elite Event into my life – this time we were welcomed by Bar 21 in the Northern Quarter to sample their wares and check out their disco-tastic dance floors. In recognition of Bar21‘s ‘Movie ‘n’ Music’ theme, the evening was to be focussed on all things famous. It was suggested that we dress up as something film-related. Considering my very poor effort at the previous Elite event where we were asked to dress in ‘Summer attire’ and I wore sunglasses, I decided to actually think about my outfit for this event. With the use of my office’s printing facilities, a pair of scissors and a box of safety pins, I transformed an average red dress into HOMAGE TO B-GRADE MALE ACTION MOVIE STARS THAT I LOVE.

So many handsome men have attached themselves to me.

So many handsome men have attached themselves to me.

Steven, Kurt, Chuck, Jean-Claude, Arnie and co were well received by my fellow Yelpers and there were some mighty fine film and music related tees worn on the night as well.

I had never been to Bar21 before and, to be honest, I had purposefully avoided it. From the outside it had always appeared a bit concrete and uncomfortable, so I was pleasantly surprised when I ventured inside and discovered a bright and cheery bar full of memorabilia. Anywhere with a giant photograph from Back From the Future on the wall is a winner in my world.

We were allowed to choose a drink from their extensive Happy Hour list and Hannah and I were particularly happy to see that Doom Bar ale was an option. An excellent start to the evening.

The super friendly staff made us feel very welcome and took us on a tour of their downstairs dance floor. I think I will need to return for some serious hot-stepping one evening. It has been a long time since my last dance session… too long.

Next was a cocktail master class where we were shown how to make two drinks and then allowed to sample the tasty concoctions. Unfortunately (although probably luckily for our brain cells) there were 30 Yelpers and 15 glasses of each drink so there were a few sharpened elbows pushing their way through to get their drink of choice. Humans + free alcohol = messy. Hannah and I decided sharing is caring and went halfsies. The cocktails were good although neither would be something I’d normally choose. One had a cream layer and the other tasted like liquid Haribo. SWEEEEEEEET.

Mixology madness

Mixology madness

After the cocktails we were all in need of some food and we were overwhelmed by the smorgasbord of dishes put out for us to gorge on. It was a meatlovers’ delight with chorizo, salami, ribs, burgers and more kinds of chicken wings than I’ve seen in a long time. And it was tasty! I wouldn’t normally have chosen to come to Bar21 for food but I was really impressed with what I ate. The beef burgers were served with proscuitto and blue cheese – so good. Sadly, they were also drenched in some sort of brown sauce that was far too strong and completely overpowered all of the flavours. After I had attempted to remove most of the sauce the burger was definitely a winner on my plate.

Food! Photo credit: Hannah's phone.

Food! Photo credit: Hannah’s phone.

Dessert came out as we were still stuffing our faces – lime curd or chocolate mousse tartlets were our choices. Surprisingly I went for the lime as the chocolate didn’t look dark enough for my liking. And the lime was good – nice and sharp and served in a deliciously buttery pastry. Yum.

If we hadn’t consumed enough, out came a birthday cake to celebrate Yelp Manchester’s 10th birthday. Marzipan covered red velvet cake anyone? Yes please. As we forced the cake into our mouths (ok, there was no force involved. It was delicious.) Bar21‘s Thursday night quiz began and in our teams of 4, 5 or 6, we competed to the death to win great prizes and ultimate glory. My team failed miserably and finished in third-last place. We were largely let down by the Australian on our team who didn’t know how many stars were on her own country’s flag. Yep. For shame.

As the evening came to a close and I headed home to bed like the Grandma I have become, I felt that great sense of pure satisfaction after you have had a great night out. Good food, good drinks, good friends, good times. Looking forward to Yelping it up once again in September.

P.S. My stupid phone died during the cocktail master class so I have a serious lack of photographs of food. Very disappointing.