Archive for December, 2013

So Long, 2013

Tuesday, December 31st, 2013

This is going to be a short entry as I have a train to catch. I am off to Sheffield to celebrate the arrive of 2014 with my brother and his girlfriend. I am crashing their celebrations as the New Year snuck up on me and other plans didn’t come into fruition – lucky them!

Normally at this time I would write a long reflection on the year that has passed and then plans for the year ahead. Sometimes this is a good idea, other times not so much and I end up questioning my logic for choosing an unfocused life country hopping and ignoring career paths. Today would most likely result in the latter so I am going to simply focus on five positive points for 2013. Ready?

  1. I moved country. That’s a biggie.
  2. I ran a marathon. Again, not bad.
  3. I met new people, made new friends and started a brand new life as a northerner.
  4. I got a job (wow.)
  5. I had fun while doing all of the above.

Who knows what will happen in 2014? No one except magical future seeing people and I’m not even sure they know the details. All I know is that it is another year filled with opportunity for great adventure, new friends, and moments of pure craziness.

Happy New Year, my friends.

Keeping it Local at the Mark Addy

Tuesday, December 17th, 2013

While volunteering at the Manchester International Festival, I was lucky enough to sample the brilliant food made by Robert Owen Brown, head chef of the Mark Addy. Since then I have been wanting to eat at this local pub and eat more of his delicious, delicious food. On Saturday night, my cousin, Sophie, and her boyfriend, Ed, were visiting for the weekend and we scored a table at the Mark Addy. I was excited.

The Mark Addy is located in Salford on the edge of the River Irwell. We had a table next to the window with a view out over the river. On a summer’s evening this would be fantastic – sadly the winter darkness made it difficult to see through the reflective glass. The pub is cozy with a bar area and a large dining space and all of the staff were very friendly and welcoming.

I continued my new found desire for eating small birds by choosing the pheasant stew. It was fantastic – a large serving of dark game meat with roasted potatoes and spinach. It was rich, tasty and I wished it would never finish.

Pheasant stew

Pheasant stew

Sadly it did but that just meant it was time for dessert. The three of us shared a Cambridge Cream and the Eccles cakes – the cream was similar to a crème brûlée but less sweet. It had a crunchy caramel top and was served with an espresso shot and ice cream. Very good. The eccles cakes were three (handy) rounds of pastry filled with sultanas and served with clotted cream. The pastry was flaky and warm and the sultanas buttery and sweet. Enough for a perfect sweet finish to our dinner.

Cambridge Cream

Cambridge Cream

Eccles cakes

Eccles cakes

I am very excited to have found another food delight in Manchester and will be bringing everyone I know to eat here. Rob Brown has recently released a cook book and supports local producers. Got to love that.

MEAT.

Tuesday, December 17th, 2013

Last month my service desk team was named TEAM OF THE MONTH for our outstanding time to answer, availability and general awesomeness. As a prize, we were given £10 each for a team dinner so we could bond and stuff. On Friday night most of us headed our for a few drinks at Brew Dog before going to Almost Famous, Manchester’s most beloved burger joint. The plan was to overload our arteries with meat, cheese, chips and burger sauce.

Just after I moved to Manchester, the original Almost Famous burned down in the Northern Quarter and a new branch has opened up at the other end of town. This place is big – an expansive open space with a bar area plus tables and couches for people to sit, eat, drink and be merry. We grabbed a table and after deciphering the slightly confusing menu we ordered at the bar and awaited our food fates. Even I, the semi-vegetarian, was excited about eating some beef. It had been a while since I had had a burger and I had heard good things about Almost Famous. That said, Britain’s love for meat was reinforced as every burger came with at least two patties and most had additional forms of meat – bacon and pulled pork were popular favourites. There were no vegetarian options at all and even some of the chips came with meat additions.

Mmm… burger...

Mmm… burger…

I went for the Famous Burger – as traditional as you can get with two beef patties, cheese, salad, tomato, gherkin and sauce in a bun. The patties were thin so were the equivalent of one patty that you would get in an Australian gourmet burger. It was good – nice flavours and I didn’t feel like I had consumed a bottle of oil by the end of it. However I really want Jus Burger to set up an outlet here and show the Brits what a real gourmet burger is. All burgers in this country are served with slightly sweetened brioche buns – I much prefer Jus’s home made sour dough bread. Plus the toppings aren’t really very creative, it simply seems like they try and shove as many kinds of meat as physically possible in between two slices of bread. Definitely no interesting cheeses, avocado or unusual flavours. Just MEAT and MEAT with MEAT.

It did fill my burger craving and I don’t need to have another one for a while. The chips were good – a mix of normal potato and sweet potato, I went through and ate all of the sweet potato before handing the rest of over to my male companions who inhaled the left overs.

A Visit to Manchester Museum

Wednesday, December 11th, 2013

After almost a year of living in this city, I finally took myself to Manchester Museum. I had been there for the launch of their upgraded permanent exhibition space but there had been too many people drinking free wine to see many of the exhibits. Yesterday I treated myself with a trip to the museum to make me feel better about my eye situation as I figured the stuffed animals and ancient clay jars wouldn’t laugh at my puffy face.

The Manchester Museum is an anthropological gallery showcasing the wonders of animal and human development throughout history. There are displays of amazing taxidermies animals and birds and sections dedicated to items found in ancient sites both in England and across the world. There was a case of rocks, knife ends and hippopotamus teeth found in Crewsell Crags near where Ben used to live when he was learning to be a baker.

The museum was well put together although lacked a strong narrative – I often felt like the displays weren’t interconnected and I struggled to find a desire to ‘read more’. There were some very beautiful and artistic displays which were nice to look at but I can’t say I learnt much.

Good looking displays

Good looking displays

My favourite section was the live frogs, lizards and snakes – I always like seeing multicoloured frogs hopping around on tree branches. There was a very cool chameleon as well – he’d have more issues than me if he got conjunctivitis.

I call him Leon.

I call him Leon.

If I Ignore It…

Monday, December 9th, 2013

I don’t do sick. I will generally refuse to accept that something is wrong with me, ignore it and just continue with my usual routine in the hope that whatever is trying to bring me down will get the message and go away. Last Tuesday, after six hours of talking on the phone at work, it felt as if a very discontent cat was stuck inside my throat trying to claw its way out. I took some cold tablets and went to bed early, declaring it would be gone the following morning.

It didn’t go away and instead that cat insisted on turning into some sort of ‘cold’ thing that should have been and gone by now. Instead, yesterday (Sunday) morning I woke up with some slightly sticky eyes, a slightly unpleasant experience that has now progressed into GIANT RED PUFFBALLS EXPLODING WITH GREEN GOO. I am not looking my most attractive. In fact, I look hideous. So hideous that I am not going in to work today (something I never ever do) to avoid making all of my hot-desking colleagues look as gorgeous as me. The sharing of keyboards and blue-tooth headsets makes for easy disease spreading.

But really, who gets conjunctivitis as an adult? I have always considered it to be something kids get like chicken pox and nits. I remember getting conjunctivitis as a child and waking up unable to open my eyes. In those days I could call out to my mum who would save me from the eye-goo and let me watch videos instead of going to school. But now I am a grown woman and my mum is on the other side of the world. This morning when I woke up to discover that my eyelashes had sealed themselves together I had no one to call out to. It was just me and Google, working out whether or not I would survive or if I should amputate my eye balls. Plus, I have had to resort to writing a blog entry telling of my woes,  calling out to the internet for sympathy. The worst part is that conjunctivitis isn’t even serious and, according to Wikipedia, will just clear up on its own. No drugs or intensive physiotherapy required. In fact, all I have to do is stay away from other people so that they don’t catch my disease and they don’t have to deal with looking at my ugly face. If roles were reversed and I was reading these pathetic whines I would tell myself to man up! Snap out of it! And I will eventually, but until I cease looking like a distressed mole I might just make myself feel better with dark chocolate digestive biscuits.

63 Degrees of Deliciousness

Saturday, December 7th, 2013

I, Jessica Davies, am a very lucky girl. For many reasons really, but on Saturday night my good fortune was highlighted, underlined, set off in fireworks, and served on a plate by a singing penguin in a suit. I was taken out for dinner at one of Manchester’s top restaurants, 63 Degrees, for delicious French food and wine. I felt like I had been transported back to Paris as I read the menu and saw all of my favourite words – foie gras, vin blanc, et chocolat. Trop bon.

Matt had tried to go to 63 Degrees when he had been in Manchester a few weeks ago, however he hadn’t been able to get a table. So some forward planning and gentle prodding from a nagging Virgo meant we scored a table at the ridiculously early time of 5.45pm. Thankfully it is dark in Manchester by 4 o’clock so stomaches start grumbling much earlier. Plus we were running late so by the time we were seated it was an acceptable dining hour.

The restaurant is run by the Moreau family with Eric, a very handsome and very French-looking chef, out the back working his magic in the kitchen. We were served by a young waiter who was… well… a frenchman. Confident and ready to tell his clientele who was in charge, he kept our wine glasses filled and he briefly allowed me the pleasure of speaking French to him. Briefly.

I talked Matt into sharing the foie gras entrée – two rounds of rich foie gras served with a crunchy brioche and fruity fig compote. It took me straight back to Christmas last year eating excessive amounts of foie gras and drinking cheap wine with friends in Paris – only this was the fancy-afied version and definitely not cheap. It was just delicious. I want more.

Continuing along this theme of my morally challenging meat-eating tendencies, over previous weeks I had been thinking about the delicious small birds (quails, pigeons, spatchcock) that I ate in France so when I saw pigeon on the menu I couldn’t go past it. The dainty roasted bird was served with cabbage and mushrooms with a creamy, buttery sauce. I would have liked the skin to be a bit crisper but the flavours were moreish and warming. Matt’s lamb was the winner though – juicy and tender, it melted in your mouth and was perfectly accompanied by a sweet potato mash.

Pigeon rôti avec petit chou

Pigeon rôti avec petit chou

Of course I was waiting anxiously for the dessert and was extremely concerned by the fact that there were TWO chocolate items on the menu. How was I supposed to choose? But then angels sang and glitter fell from the ceiling as Matt suggested we share the fondant chocolat et caramel and the poire chocolat. It was like winning the lottery twice.

The chocolate and caramel fondant was served with a chestnut cream and ice cream. The fondant oozed as it should and was deliciously dark but quite sweet due to the caramel. I would have preferred a plain chocolate fondant but I wasn’t about to send it back.

Fondant chocolat et caramel avec glace marron

Fondant chocolat et caramel avec glace marron

Then there was the chocolate sphere – served as a hard-cased chocolate ball, our smooth waiter friend poured a hot chocolate sauce over the top, melting the ball and revealing rounds of poached pear inside. What remained was essentially rich, dark chocolate soup with pieces of pear. HOLY MOLY.

Sphère chocolat avec poire

Sphère chocolat avec poire

I starred at it for awhile, unable to accept that I was allowed to eat it. And eat it I did – I think I may have defended the chocolate and pear delight with my spoon and not allowed Matt to have a very fair share… I ended the evening at 63 Degrees a very happy girl on an extreme chocolate high (my preferred state of being.)

I am very pleased to have found another restaurant in Manchester that delivers gastronomic experiences that take me to my happy place. I still have a long list of restaurants that I want to try and my experience at 63 Degrees has kicked my foodie taste-buds back into action. Thanks, Matt.

Sarah Blasko in Manchester

Friday, December 6th, 2013

It appears that I am quite the Sarah Blasko fan. A few years ago, I saw her perform at the Quarry Amphitheatre in City Beach and was eaten alive by small, black worms that emerged from the ground as the sun went down. The second time was at the Astor Theatre in Mt Lawley – no worms there, just uncomfortable seating that didn’t allow for much dancing. This time I saw her on the other side of the world – a dedicated supporter of Miss Blasko. On Friday night she performed at the Deaf Institute (Matt, who was accompanying me, pointed out the contradictory choice in name for a music venue.) The tickets for the show were around half of what I had paid for her previous concerts in Perth. Matt and I were running slightly late and I was concerned we wouldn’t be able to get a decent spot. I shouldn’t have worried. The small venue was almost empty – I would guess the audience was no bigger than 50 people. You could see that Sarah wasn’t pleased with this fact and despite the audience members trying their best to show their support, she didn’t seem enthused to be performing to an almost empty room.

From my perspective it was fantastic – I had one of my favourite musicians almost to myself. Her voice was as brilliant as always and she was supported by two musicians who played a largely acoustic set. It lacked the jazz and sparkle of her other concerts but the calmer show suited the venue. And the red cockatoo-like-birds on the wallpaper in the room fit with the Australian vibe.

Sarah at the Deaf Institute

Sarah at the Deaf Institute

Sarah signed merchandise after the show and I now have her signature on a tea-towel as well as a photograph of the two of us together. I became ridiculously tongue-tied when it was my turn to say hello to her – oh, Sarah. You so cool.