I am The Lord of Hellfire and I Bring You….

The Hellfire Club is a place where things regularly go bump in the night!

The Hellfire Club occupies the apparently haunted 19th century building which stands four stories tall on the corner of Queen Street in Harpurhey. It’s an elaborately themed party venue and restaurant which appeals to people looking for a ghoulishly good time.

The venue regularly hosts ghost hunting parties complete with a paranormal séance and gothic themed music nights as well as being open as a themed restaurant most nights of the week. The menu is available here and features some wonderfully twisted treats including Satan’s Crown Jewels (Meatballs and Chorizo) and Monster Mash (mashed potato). The Hellfire Club offers a unique dinning experience and invites guests to dress-to-stress for the occasion, it’s a wonderful concept for private parties and the venue has even hosted themed weddings in the past.

The Hellfire Club is open throughout the year and promotes itself with the use of a branded hearse touring around Manchester, but it is Halloween when the place really starts to buzz. The annual All-Hallows-Eve banquet is the highlight of the calendar along with the Monsters Ball. Sadly, this could be the final year that these remarkable events take place at the Hellfire as current owner, Dave Butler has not to renew the Hellfire Clubs LTD lease of the building in order to pursue other ventures. With no guarantees that new lease holders will want to operate the club in its current guise, the 5th Birthday bash could be the start of a long-farewell for the Hellfire Club. It would be a sorry sight to witness the end of one of Manchester’s quirkiest party venues, and a real loss for people seeking an alternative type of party where they can have the time of their (after) lives.

Hopefully new tenants for the building will be found who will want to build on the image and brand of Hellfire and with an enthusiasm that matches that of the current management. To find out more about the Hellfire Club, check out their website…….if you dare!

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(Parking) Space – The Final Frontier

The recent Nobel Prize winning Physicist Andre Geim has been speaking about his pioneering work with the super material Graphene with colleagues at Manchester University. The Educational institution has a long history of being at the forefront of British innovation, which began with John Dalton over 200 years ago and was continued Ernest Rutherford, Alan Turing and others .

Manchester’s educational institutions are a proud part of the city’s past and present, benefitting the economy of the region, not to mention the mid-week night-life.
Last summer, Manchester University and its Metropolitan neighbour embarked on an impressive upgrade of surrounding areas at a time when the city council was frantically re-jigging the formulas on its own metaphorical blackboard to address a budget shortfall. The renovation work included considerable investment in the road layout, cycle-ways and pedestrian routes around the main University buildings, hall of residence and city campuses. The improvement works don’t just benefit staff and students but can be felt by the whole city, and the Educational establishments of Manchester must be applauded in this instance for realising that their sphere of influence extends beyond staff and students.

Staff, students, city commuters and tourist will all benefit from the improvements to the transport infrastructure and improved aesthetics of the pedestrian routes that have come about as a result of the Universities investment.
Which is just as well, as in response to a question about his return to work on Monday morning, Geim’s quipped that what he really wanted was ‘a parking space closer to his work.’ I’m not sure if Geims’ would consider that a greater reward than the Nobel Prize he received but with a waiting list of up to 12 months for Manchester University staff and Postgraduate students to get a parking space, it’s possible that for some, a Nobel Prize might come along quicker than a spot in the multi-storey.

The positive press associated with a Nobel Prize winner is great for the University and the city, and a result of Geims’ recognition, Manchester University has more Nobel Prize Winners in its employment than any other British University. If it wants it to stay that way, perhaps the University should consider another round of investment and increase the available parking in its vicinity and simultaneously help to relieve another headache of the city council.

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MFDF11 Awards: Winners

Back in August I gave a preview to the Manchester Food and Drink Awards 2011. The winners were announced this month with a couple of notable headlines:

It’s the fourth time in the last five years that Ramsons and Aumbry have been honoured with awards.
For the third year running a Retailer based in Chorlton has picked up the best Food and Drink accolade.
The chocolate café is also a repeat winner after being recognised as the best family friendly venue in 2010, it now wins the prize for best coffee shop.

I guess some things never change.

Here’s the full list of winners:

• Restaurant of the Year –
Ramsons, Market Place, Ramsbottom

• Chef of the Year –
Laurence Tottingham and Mary-Ellen McTague for Aumbry, Prestwich

• Pub of the Year –
The Parlour, Beech Road, Chorlton

• Bar of the Year –
Electrik, Wilbraham Road, Chorlton

• Newcomer of the Year –
Cicchetti, King Street West, Manchester

• Best Coffee Shop –
The Chocolate Cafe, Bolton Street, Ramsbottom

• Best Food and Drink Retail Outlet –
WH Frosts Butchers, Chorlton Place, Chorlton

• Best Wine List –
Harvey Nichols Second Floor Restaurant, New Cathedral Street, Manchester

• Best Family Friendly Venue –
Croma restaurants

• Manchester Food Hero Award –
Katie Brunt and Gastroclub

• Truly Good Food Award –
Shlurp, Brazenouse House, Manchester

• The Howard and Ruth Award for Outstanding Achievement –
Dimitri Griliopoulos

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Gig Review: Ben Howard

Surfing’s new pin-up boy tore into Manchester last night, but Ben Howard is less well known for his carving turns on the wave than his crafted tunes on the stage.

From the moment the haunting opening line of Depth Over Distance pierced the room, a call to attention for the hairs on the neck, the whole audience knew that it was about to witness something special. And so it proved. Ben, supported by India Bourne and Chris Bond navigated their way through a set filled with beauty and emotion. There are no fancy effects or visual light shows here, this is pure passion stripped to the bone and delivered with a deep sincerity.

In the confines of the Ruby Lounge you could almost taste the oestrogen in the air, there’s no doubt that Ben’s Devonshire surfer style adds to his appeal and it didn’t take long for the declarations of love and marriage proposals to rein in from his adoring fans, not all of which were female. Ben was almost bashful in his grateful acknowledgment and playful responses, it’s a situation that he’s no doubt becoming very accustomed to, but by enlarge he was content to let the music do all the talking.

He led the audience in a mass sing-a-long to a collection of his most well known songs, Old Pine, Keep Your Head Up, and The Wolves. The contrast in audience reaction between the up-tempo hits to when Ben returned on stage solo to perform Bones was starkly harrowing. As Ben sat alone on stage with his guitar you could have heard a pin drop to the ground in the audience such was the attentive silence afforded to him.

As Ben Howards profile continues to rise like a storm swell, he may have to become more accustomed to a different kind of green-room than the one he’s used to amongst the waves.

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The Manchester Egg

In 1876 Alexander Graham Bell patented the invention of the telephone. The design was perfect, with its basic components of microphone and listening device able to transmit and receive sound existing largely unchanged for 130 years. But then in 2007, with the introduction of the I-phone, Apple revolutionised the telephone.

100 years before Bell’s telephone was a similarly life defining invention, that of the Scotch Egg. The design was perfect, by combining a hard-boiled egg with sausage meat and coating it in breadcrumbs before deep-frying a versatile snack was born that could be enjoyed hot or cold and at any time of the day. For most people, this would have represented a zenith in culinary experimentation, but much like Steve Jobs, Ben Holden was not satisfied.

His vision was to take the perfection of a Scotch Egg and somehow make it better.
Whilst enjoying a few Pints in the Oldham Street pub, The Castle, Ben began experimenting with a combination of ingredients available from behind the bar. After a period of tinkering he returned with a new improved version of the Scotch Egg ….. The Manchester Egg.

The Manchester Egg has improved upon its predecessor by encasing a pickled egg in a Lancashire black pudding mix before adding the breadcrumbs and deep-frying.
The Manchester Egg has already gained a cult status in the city of its name over the last 12 months and is available at three locations: The Castle Hotel, Electrik and The Parlour. It was a big hit at the recent Manchester Food and Drink Festival and expansion plans are a-foot.

If you are yet to experience the wonders of the Manchester egg, then I suggest using your I-phone to direct yourself to one of the outlets where it is available?

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Going Underground

As though it were a desperate drunk, dawdling near the taxi rank at 3am; British summer decided to leave it late. But just like the black-cab Casanova, it finally came. For a few fleeting days in October, the sun shone and flesh was flashed but then, with a final analogy to our late-night Lothario, it was all over far too quickly.

Normal Manchester service has now been resumed, the skies greyed, rain fell and wind blew. The smokers who once basked in glorious sunshine are now huddling in doorways. The beer gardens and terraces that were adorned with flowering plants and crowds of people have now been abandoned and strewn with puddles.

As Paul Weller said, we’re going underground……..
And here are some of Manchester’s best subterranean bars for escaping from the bleak winter weather:

Corbieres Wine Cavern: This bar feels like it was carved straight from the rock below St Annes square. It’s a small area that makes the bar feel cosy during the week but cramped on weekends. The crowds are drawn by the superb Jukebox crammed with indie-rock from throughout the ages.
Hula: The sun might be hidden on street level, but down the steps on Stevenson Square, the sun always shines at this 1950’s themed cocktail bar. It opened in 2009 but still feels like a relative newcomer. Word has finally spread about the showcase flaming volcanic cocktails, which draws a large and excitable mid-week crowd. The bar-staff are also amongst the most friendly and professional in the city.
Black Dog Ballroom: You’d expect a bar located below Afflecks Palace to be a little out of the ordinary, and perhaps surprisingly Black Dog Ballroom doesn’t fit the stereotype. It’s mainstream New York Speakeasy chic all the way and it’s proved a huge success.
The Gas Lamp: Whisper it quietly, because what makes this bar great is its relative obscurity. A stone’s throw from Deansgate, but attracting none of the crowd, the old Victorian building bristles with charm and history.
The Temple of Convenience: The former public toilet situated on Oxford Street is another well hidden gem, foregoing a fanfare entry for a subtle sign that’s easy to miss. Escape the cold above and cram yourself into the tiny bar for a warm atmosphere.

Add your favourite subterranean drinking holes below.

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NOMA de Plume

When I first heard that NOMA was coming to Manchester, I began salivating at the thought of the double Michelin stared Nordic restaurant that has been voted best in the world for the last two years, setting up a UK base in our city. So when I heard that the acronym was actually about yet another city centre development I was a little underwhelmed.

NOMA is a city centre regeneration project being fronted by the Co-operative group who hope the new initiative will “herald a new era in the Group’s 150 year relationship with the city”. The first phase of development is the completion of the new £100million Co-op HQ, which is scheduled for completion in September 2012. Further developments will take place during the following 10 to 15 years with the aim of opening up the 20-acre site close to Victoria Station and include a 1million sq ft residential development, 300,000sq ft of retail units, 1.5million sq ft of commercial office space and the unveiling of a four star hotel called Indigo, complete with a Pierre-White restaurant.

In total the project is budgeted to cost £800million and when complete will have completely reshaped the Manchester sky-line. Plans of the development predictably include lots of glass (presumably so that passers-by can see how hard those co-op employees are working) and open spaces for relaxing. Typically, with this being a Co-operative led project, there are lots of enterprising and sustainable initiatives such as green roofs and renewable energy systems.

A whole swath of marketing and publicity cliché has already been released to demonstrate what a fantastic project this would be for the city. “The fabric of a better society”, “something for everyone”, “shared vision…and progressive ambition” and most tiresome of all “North Manchester Gateway” (as if passing through this area of the city will mark the passing from the northern badlands into the civilised cosmopolitan centre).
The city is still in the midst of reshaping itself to accommodate the most recent development of this kind, the 4.6million sq ft Spinningfields site, which after a slow start is now emerging as a popular commercial and leisure area, largely thanks to a juggernaut of a promotion campaign and attracting high profile retail outlets with reduced cost leases.

I hope the new development won’t act as a further lurch towards the gentrification of the city centre, it needs to balance out modern plans and designs with acknowledging and highlighting the historic role of that part of the city in shaping what Manchester is today. In 1870, Richard Arkwright undertook a project of similar scale on the site and constructed his first cotton mill, presumably the employees didn’t need a wall of glass to evidence the extent of their labour.

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