Category Archives: City Centre

Shopping-tastic at Great Northern Contemporary Craft Fair

As I mentioned, October is always festival month in Manchester, with loads of different events going on. My favourite is Great Northern Contemporary Craft Fair because it’s full of beautifully-stunning handcrafted work for you to buy.

I think it’s because I would love to be creative and crafty, but I just don’t have the skills or the patience. So I really appreciate the craftsmanship and handwork when someone else IS crafty and arty. And I get to buy pretty things, which I also love. Jewellery, ceramics, glass, textiles and homeware from designer-makers across the UK are all piled into one venue from October 20-23.

GNNCF has just won the Best Small Event at the Manchester Tourism Awards, which is very well deserved seeing as the whole event is put on by the just organisers, Ann-Marie Franey and Angela Mann, with a team of volunteers.

Now in its fourth year,  this event is taking place at Quay House at Spinningfields, instead of the marquee of the last two years.

Some of you know that I did the PR for this event for the first three years, but had to step down this year as I had my little boy in March. So this year, I’m attending purely as a fan and seeing as it’s right near my birthday I’m looking forward to spending some birthday pennies.

One of the hardest things to get across the the press and consumers is that craft doesn’t necessarily mean knitted tea cosies made by someone in their spare time (although there’s nothing wrong with making tea cosies in your spare time!). This contemporary craft is the work of professional artists and designer-makers, who dedicate their lives to perfecting their craft.

This event is perfectly placed for Christmas, and it’s lovely to buy people individual gifts made by craftspeople from all over the UK, instead of some tat from Primark.

Many of the makers return year after year as Manchester is such as good market, and there’s a lovely atmosphere. Last year the organisers also added a Graduates section to showcase the best work from all the degree shows. This is a great way of supporting new makers and is returning this year.

There’s a massive variety of work on show at this event, but I’ve just pulled out some of my favourites:

Hannah Nunn

Hannah Nunn
Hannah run Radiance Lighting in Hebden Bridge and also creates these stunning papercut lights with botanical designs. She also does gorgeous fairy lights and children’s lamps with names on them, which I have my eye on!

Lucy Elsie Harvey

Lucy Elsie Harvey

Lucy Elsie Harvey is another regular at GNCCF and her unusual and striking jewellery and pieces always make an impression on me.

Jane Dzisiewski

Jane Dsisiewski

Janes creates these beautiful resin bangles and stones for necklace pendants, with intricate and subtle designs. All of these are the result of lots of labour with the sanding machine!

Jane Blease

Jane Blease
Another lighting maker here. Jane is based in Manchester Craft and Design Centre and makes these impressive wooden lights, with cut-outs and embroidery.

Sarah Thirlwell

Sarah Thirwell

Last year, one of my favourite purchases was one of these small wooden vessels by established maker Sarah Thirwell. All of her work has a beautiful simplicity, and much of it is made using recycled materials.

Check for all the details. See you there.
Directions to Great Northern Contemporary Craft Fair.


A trip down under: Australasia, Spinningfields

It was Mr Manchester Is Ace’s birthday, we had a babysitter and it was a Saturday. We wanted to go out, have a few drinks, spend stupid amounts of money on food and forget all about sterilising bottles and changing nappies for a few hours. The world might not have been our oyster but Manchester certainly was.

Seeing as Australasia is the latest must-go restaurant in town we decided to check it out. Situated underneath the new Armani store, just off Deansgate, Australasia occupies what used to be the MEN basement, I believe.

Clearly a lot of attention has been given into making a basement seem, well, un-basement like. White floors, walls and furniture make it seem like you are sitting in a conservatory, with light just bouncing here, there and everywhere.

Our Australian wine waiter instantly impressed us by giving us a iPad to browse through the impressive wine menu. I was happy with a glass of the cheapest fizz (Thomas Mitchell Brut, Semillon, Trebbiano from Australia, £5.50) and across the table a Brazilian Pinot Grigio Riesling (£24.50 a bottle) was a good choice.

Australasia manchester main courses

The menu takes in sushi, small Asian plates, big soups and main meals. However, it didn’t quite seem to gel together as much as it could do, perhaps because the influences are taken from such a huge continent.

For example, we ordered the Pork belly with pineapple curry (£14.50), but there was no rice on the menu. Chips or sweet potato mash were the only carbs on offer, which doesn’t seem very Asian – perhaps this is the Australian part of the cuisine?

However, that was the only slight criticism I can think of and every course had an amazing level of detail and flavour. The pineapple curry was beautifully made, with fruity highlights and small crunchy chunks of pork belly artfully arranged down the side.

My Ocean trout fillet (£18.50) came with a foam (which I scraped off) and was surrounded by a pretty arrangement of pancetta, mushrooms, caramelised onion and Maderian shallots. The rich, deep flavours of the mushroom and onion juices really highlighted the delicate fish beautifully.

Australasia Manchester sushi sashimiWe had started with a fantastically put together sushi and sashimi platter (£19.50). Generous portions of sashimi – including tuna and salmon – was served simply with California rolls and other sushi. There’s something about sashimi which makes you eat it slowly and respectfully, absorbing all the flavours.

Although the first two courses were amazing, it was the creative desserts (all £7) that really stood out. Tiny tasty sensations were plated together to form a sensational experience. Even on a terrible photo taken with my camera phone, how amazing do they look?

My pineapple-themed dessert involved passionfruit marshmallow which was a world away from marshmallow sweets and had the texture of what you think a cloud would feel like. Alongside this were pineapple parcels filled with a tangy sherbety pineapple puree, while a cool fresh pineapple sorbet pulled the trio together.

Australasia Manchester dessertSimilarly amazing was a Chocolate pave, with a tiny but perfectly made blobs of sour cherry thick jelly, Griottine cherries and a very delicate miso ice cream. Both desserts were surprisingly light and crafted so delicately and so impressive looking I kept showing the photos to people.

The attention to detail across the whole restaurant – food, wine, decor, waiting staff – was truly exemplary and Australasia has already made a great impression on Manchester, and this new kid on the block seems to have been welcomed with opened arms.

The bill came to around £90, which actually isn’t that bad when you see how much food we ate and were drinking glasses of wine instead of picking a bottle.

Apologies for the terrible quality of the photos. I hadn’t intended to write about this so had to take them with my mobile phone.

Directions to Australasia






Zouk’s Slumdog Millionaire charity extravaganza

ZOUK_30.07.09 030

There was lots of food, lots of drink and lots of cool belly dancers. Yes this was raising money for charity the fun way. None of this making people wear orange tabards, giving them clipboards and making them chase you down the street for your bank details.

No sir, there are more genteel ways of engaging people with a charity by plying your customers with food and drink – and this is what the lovely people at Zouk did to donate more than £1000 to Plan UK, which goes to help disadvantaged children in India. And after a bottle of vino Mr and Mrs Manchester Is Ace got giddy with the raffle and spent all our money on tickets, but didn’t win anything, except the warm feeling in our hearts. The organisation’s aim is to enable vulnerable children in some of the world’s poorest countries to live in a safe and secure environment.

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Cornerhouse: loving the pizzas


Cornerhouse -
where to start eh? I luckily used to work right near this centre of
arty-cultural goodness so its delights were ready available. But last week
I met an old work colleague for some Cornerhouse pizza action, and I
realised how much I missed it.

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Bread and Butter (or how piadinas changed my life)

Bread&butter northern quarter
Two weeks ago I didn’t even know what a piadina was. Now I’d eat them for breakfast, lunch and tea if I could (yes really). After months of wanting to go and check out Bread and Butter in the Northern Quarter I finally got there. One lunchtime visit was thwarted because it was just too busy, but now I have finally cracked it. Get there before 12.30pm and you can lounge on the sofas while they make your lunch, and you get the pick of the cakes.

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Secret Garden in Northern Quarter’s Nexus

Nexus art cafe gardening

Nexus cafe is creating a secret garden in the small courtyard at the back of its basement cafe – and it needs your help. I’m actually sitting in Nexus as I type looking out the back at the ladders and trellises, and can’t wait to see it finished. Over the past few weeks it’s been designed by volunteers and will have decking, gravel and lots of planters for flowers. By the looks of it it will be a real sun trap and if we ever see any sun this year, will be very pleasant.

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An Outlet

As far as names go, it’s as far removed from its predecessor as it could be. An Outlet is stark and utilitarian, whereas Love Saves The Day was flimsy and romantic.

Love Saves The Day, owned by ex-Simply Red drummer Chris Joyce and his wife Beckie, had a chequered past with the original branches in the Northern Quarter and Deansgate going bust after a problem in 2005. The second coming with branches on Thomas Street, Deansgate and Piccadilly Basin all sadly went into administration in October 2008.

An Outlet food

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Take a trip to Oklahoma in the Northern Quarter

Oklahoma Northern Quarter Manchester

by Carolyn Hughes

Oklahoma is a quirky little place that makes the Northern Quarter exactly what it is. Hiding behind big wooden doors on High Street, this is a colourful treasure trove of kitsch gifts, notebooks, light shades, greetings cards, retro sweets, as well as a cafe.

The cafe intermingles with the shop section with tables overflowing, and there is even a DVD section on the far wall. An art gallery promises to be downstairs but I’ve never been down because you have to ask someone to unlock it for you, which is a bit of a turn off.

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More pies at Nexus, Northern Quarter

Yes more pies. In a nod of respect to British Pie Week
which has just concluded, I’ve written another pie-based blog post.
And after that I will stop eating pies because I can’t afford all this
food blogging AND a larger pair of jeans.

Whatever anyone says about British cuisine, you really can’t beat a
large creamy chicken pie or tender steak pie with thick gravy  on a
wintery day. It’s comfort food at its best, and if made from scratch it
isn’t as unhealthy as a store-bought second rate effort.

Nexus on Dale Street in Manchester’s Northern Quarter serves Pieminister’s
offering, as does Cup round the corner, which is not a bad thing but if
more places in the Northern Quarter hop aboard this pie train there
won’t be much variation. There is a really good article from the Telegraph
from January 2008, charting the success of this small company from
touting their wares at Glastonbury to supplying pubs and cafes all over
the UK. Like any forward-thinking food company, they use only quality
ingredients such as free-range meat and no hydrogenated fats.

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Pie and a pint at The Bay Horse

Bay horse northern quarter

Manchester’s finest Twitterati met up to test out the Bay Horses’s pie and a pint deal this week. Except I didn’t have a pint, and there
was a discussion about whether the pie actually constituted a pie. But let’s start from the beginning.

Taste of Manchester is a new website run by Manchester Food and Drink Festival, which is absolutely full of news and reviews about eating, and you guessed it, drinking, in the rainy city.

They’ve also pulled together some of the best offers out there, and will even email them to you if you sign up to the mailing list. I spotted an offer for a pie and a pint at The Bay Horse in the Northern Quarter for £5.50, which seems like a tempting lunch time offer. You can buy the pie on its own for £3.95 if you don’t fancy a pint, and for £4.95 you can get a pie, peas and gravy.

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