Manchester in a series of visits

Hotels, restaurants, venues, more....a selection of Manchester trips

Travel the World Without Leaving the Airport

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by fizzytom on November 5, 2012

I've said it before and I'll say it again, I am not a fan of chains, be that restaurants, pubs or shops. Try to shop or eat at any airport in the UK, however, and you'll find it's impossible to avoid chains. Actually I wouldn't normally eat a full meal at an airport on the grounds of cost and lack of choice, but circumstances recently led us to dine at Manchester Airport's Giraffe restaurant.

Perhaps because it is one of the more expensive places to eat within the airport, Giraffe was busy but not packed like many of the other cafes and bars were. It was a Saturday lunchtime in September and the airport was heaving so it was nice to be able to put our bags down and get a seat somewhere relatively peaceful. As we approached the 'entrance' (for the food court is fairly open and doesn't have a conventional doorway) a member of staff came to meet us, a smiley, friendly young lady who seemed enthusiastic and happy to help. We were being directed to one of the free standing tables towards the centre of the restaurant when I spotted that one of the cosier booths had been vacated and I asked whether we could take that. This was fine although I had expected the table to be swiftly cleared and wiped and re-set before our order was taken and in reality only the dirty items were removed from the table, hence we later had to request serviettes and we sat with a slightly grubby table.

As befitting an international airport the menu offers an eclectic culinary tour of the globe. I was surprised not only at the variety of dishes, but also the range of ingredients used, and the inventive fusions of flavours and ingredients. We both picked out a number of dishes we really fancied but, in truth, there were very few things on the menu that didn't appeal. As well as standard 'mains' there are sharing platters as well as small tapas style dishes which would make a great snack with drinks, or could be grouped together to give you a chance to try a few different things. The sharing platters range from middle eastern style mezze with tabbouleh, and flatbreads and dips such as hummus and baba ganoush (£8.95), to a 'Bruschetta Bites' sharing board in which little pieces of toasted bread are topped with goodies such as artichoke, pesto and olives (£5.95).

Soup of the day comes with toasted garlic foccacia and, judging by the portion size we saw, seems to be good value at just £4.95. The soup of the day is always a vegetarian option and Giraffe is very conscientious in clearly marking meat free choices, and those dishes that use nuts among the ingredients or which are gluten free. There are four all day breakfast options ranging from a traditional cooked English (£9.25, but it does contain double sausage and double bacon so you might want to share this one unless you have a mammoth capacity for cooked breakfast) to a personal favourite dish of mine Huevos Rancheros (a Mexican dish which translates as 'Cowboys' Eggs, £8.25 - a full meal in itself served with salsa, chorizo, black beans and more). There are sandwiches ranging from £7.85 for the toasted goats cheese foccacia to a whopping £10.45 for the rump steak which is served in a crusty baguette with caramelised onions and a chipotle mayonnaise.

I opted for the sushi rice salad with smoked salmon priced at £10.95, while Himself - after much deliberation - picked the 'Falafel Deluxe Burger' which was priced at £9.95. We didn't have to wait too long for the food to come and the drinks arrived very promptly - a 'Giddy Giraffe' smoothie (£3.50) for me, and a pint of Red Stripe (£4.00) for Himself. The drinks selection included several other glabal lagers in addition to the Red Stripe, but was light on the ales/bitter side with only a London Pride to satisfy those drinkers.

While we waited for our meals to come we had a quick look at the 'decor'; situated in what is a pretty open location there aren't really any walls to hang things on so the only concessions to decor comprise a few mock signposts with the arms pointing to various destinations around the world. Furniture wise it's simple with American style booths providing the most comfortable option. High chairs are available for younger children and there's a kids menu with options such as 'pasta pomodoro', sausage, mash and beans, or grilled salmon fillet with vegetable and mash or fries. Mains for kids come in at about a fiver so while it's not cheap to bring a family (and you may well prefer to save your money to spend once you get to your holiday destination) there are at least a good range of healthy options.

My smoothie was very tangy and refreshing; it was made from papaya, fresh mint, banana, orange and lime juice. I'd have struggled to pick out the papaya, a fruit I love to eat in a fruit salad, but I really liked the use of fresh mint in this drink which gave a more grown up flavour to what could have been just a fruity blend.

When my sushi salad arrived I could have dived into it before it was placed on the table. It really did look terrifically appetising: fresh and colourful with vibrant colours and healthy ingredients. The bowl was lined with sushi nori (the drak green sheets of seaweed that are used to make sushi rolls) and the salad was made up of things like baby leaf spinach, avocado, grated mooli (a peppery white radish used a lot in Japanese cooking, but also frequently in Indian dishes), and mango. I was unsure about the mango when I read the description but it goes well with the spinach and it also balances the very hot dressing which is made using wasabi (a very hot root used in Japanese cooking, usually as a relish for sushi). The dressing was rather hot but if you are a frequent consumer of sushi you're probably familiar with it; it's a different kind of heat from chili heat and something of an acquired taste so if you've not tried wasabi before, you might not want to pay £10.25 for your first try. There was plenty of lovely smoked salmon in the salad, I'd really not expected there to be quite so much and it appeared to be pretty good quality with no odd bones and no brown bits. The sushi rice was just cooked and along with the toasted sesame seeds that were scattered over the salad, it added another interesting texture to the dish. I loved this dish and thought it was a brilliant mixture of textures, colours and flavours.

Giraffe serves what they call 'stacked' burgers, which means that as well as the burger there are lots of other fillings crammed in between the two pieces of bun. In this case there was succulent and sweet grilled red pepper, grated beetroot, halloumi and rocket. It wasn't the easiest thing in the world to eat but the combination of ingredients was great with an explosion of flavours in every bite. The falafel themselves were perfectly spiced and crammed with vibrant spices and fresh herbs. They had been cooked to crispness before the burger was assembled and remained crisp in spite of the other ingredients in the bun. The harissa was served separately in a small ceramic bowl, a good idea as not everyone enjoys this very fiery condiment. Himself added some to his burger and dipped some of his fries in the rest. The harissa was indeed hot and spicy but you could still make out the individual spices in the blend as well as a subtle smokiness which went well with the burger nature of the dish. The fries were nicely cooked and there was just the right amount to go with the burger: all in this was a good meal for the price.

Staff made enough checkbacks to show they were keen to provide a good customer focussed experience without hanging around when not wanted. Desserts were suggested (but declined as the main courses were very satisfying) and additional drinks suggested. The staff are clearly trained to upsell but we didn't feel like it was a hard sell at all.

It's rare that we would eat a full meal like this at the airport; if we buy anything it's usually a Boots' meal deal to eat on the 'plane'. However, I would certainly eat at this or any other branch of Giraffe in the future based on this very positive experience. It's not cheap by any means but the choices are original and exciting and the food quality is excellent.

Giraffe Manchester Airport
Terminal 1 Airside
Manchester, England, M23 8AR
0161 435 4070

This Greek Won't Break the Bank

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by fizzytom on October 3, 2012

If you want a good curry in Manchester Rusholme’s ‘Curry Mile’ is the place to go and we would most certainly have gone there had we not been so hungry and desperate to eat when we arrived in the city after a three hour journey from Newcastle. We were heading instead for an Indian restaurant at Albert Square by the town hall but I was so famished I couldn’t resist Rozafa, a Greek restaurant we found on the way.

The restaurant looked quite busy but in a lively and welcoming kind of way, and a duo could be seen (and heard) playing traditional Greek tunes. When we went in I did find the music a bit too loud and almost decided we should go elsewhere but the food smelled delicious and once I knew I was getting Greek food, I couldn’t drag myself away. Fortunately there were only two more songs in that set and by the time the musicians returned we were comfortable and enjoying our meals.

The décor is very simple and kind of implies Greek rather than going all out to recreate a harbourside taverna. The walls are pristine white with just a few paintings hanging on them, while blue lighting, evokes the colours of the Greek flag. The tables are closer together than I like though this did prove advantageous for coveting other peoples’ meals while we waited for ours. The lighting was rather dim and we both struggled to make out the menu, having to lean out of our chairs to find enough light.

We were tempted to order a meze to share but, recalling an occasion when we had done that at a terrific restaurant in Stirling, after which meal we almost needed to be rolled out of the place, we reined ourselves in and settled for main courses – a lamb kebab dish for Himself and a chicken souvlaki for me. Thinking about it we probably should have gone for something more specifically Greek like stifado (a delicious beef stew with little pearl onions) or spanakopita (a spinach pastry) which we both love, rather than dishes that are quite similar to what would be on the menu when we arrived in Croatia. The menu at Rozafa is comprehensive without being jumbled and confusing with all the well known Greek specialities covering meat, fish and vegetarian dishes.
Although the menu looks really long it is quite specific in that when dishes are available as a starter or as a main course they are in both sections. Even the meze can be ordered in mini form to be ordered as a starter. The fish dishes incuded halibut for a very reasonable £13.00, as well as numerous shellfish options. Carnivores with big appetites might well be tempted by the Diafora Scaras, the Greek version of a mixed grill with three kinds of kebabs along with lamb chops and Loukaniko sausages, priced at £15.50.

Rozafa portions are fairly generous. My kota souvlaki (£9.50) comprised two big skewers of chicken breast chunks with peppers and onions while Himself had the kimas souvlaki, (£8.50) two generous skewers of spicy minced lamb. There was a choice of rice, chips, salad or potatoes to accompany the kebab plates. I hadn’t been able to see this noted on the menu as it was written in small print and I assumed the waiter would offer me the choice anyway. I picked rice while Himself asked for chips. I had imagined that the dish would come with salad and had I known that it was an option that had to be picked, I’d most certainly have ordered salad for my plate and we could have shared the chips. As it was I felt my plate was missing some vegetables, either raw or cooked, and I’d happily have sacrificed some rice for the relief of some salad.

Still, the meat on both plates was delicious. The lamb was juicy and tender, the minced meat combined with herbs and spices giving it a vaguely Middle Eastern flavour. The chicken was succulent and nicely charred with golden stripes from the grill. Somehow in the dishing up the chips had ended up and my plate while the rice was across the table but we'd have shared anyway so this wasn't a problem. The chips were big and chunky, with a texture more like oven baked wedges than deep fried chips but they really were very tasty and not at all greasy. The rice was similar to a Spanish rice, nicely flavoured with tomato and herbs and cooked in stock, just stopping short of a risotto. The plates were garnished though not with a great deal of imagination, that said they did look colourful and appealing.
Wanting to be up early the next day I settled for a soft drink so Himself had a couple of bottles of Mythos, a Greek beer. Keo, a Cypriot beer, was also available along wth a full and varied wine list which included some Greek and Cypriot wines, including retsina (which personally I love but I know many people can't stand it). I can't quote the exact prices for drinks but I recall that soft drnks were fairly pricy, while beers cost more or less what you'd pay in a city centre pub. A little bowl crammed with spicy marinated olives came with the drinks: the people at the next table didn't touch theirs and I was tempted to ask them to pas the olives over to where they would be appreciated.

Given that I couldn't see any groups larger than four people on his particular evening I did think that the music was a tad excessive and intrusive even if we did find it less so after a while. The waiters did their best trying to get middle aged women to join hem in a bit of half hearted dancing but there's not much room between tables and it looked to me as if most people were trying their best to avoid eye contact lest they should be targetted next (I know I was). This is probably a good venue for Christmas parties and other occasions when large groups might be dining but I prefer something a little more subdued for an informal off the cuff meal. The food was pretty good but there were niggles with the lighting and the volume which put me in a bit of a grump initially.

We paid approximately £26 for two mains and drinks and felt that this was good value given the city centre location, and the quality and amount of food. Manchester's restaurant scene is so varied that I would want to try somewhere else on my next trip, but that's not to say I don't recommend Rozafa to others. I do, but go in a big group and let yourself go.


63 Princess Street
M2 4EQ

There is also a branch in Stockport.

Note - toilets are downstairs; contact the restaurant in advance if this is a problem
Rozafa Restaurant and Tavera
57-63 Princess Street
Manchester, England, M2 4EQ

Going Up in the World at Mercure Manchester

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by fizzytom on September 25, 2012

Manchester’s Mercure Hotel may not be one of the city’s most exciting accommodation options but it can certainly boast a great location if you need to be close to transport connections. We were travelling after work from Newcastle to Manchester, with a flight early the following afternoon from Manchester Airport. We wouldn’t arrive in Manchester until around 8.30pm so we didn’t want to stay too far from Piccadilly and there were a few things I wanted to buy the next morning before flying so a location close to the main shopping area was essential.

I wouldn’t describe myself as a particular fan of the Accor Group but I frequently find myself booking accommodation in Etap, Ibis or Mercure hotels (just three of the chains that fall under the Accor umbrella) when there are promotions on, and a usually excellent rate of cash-back through, plus points accrued through the Accor loyalty scheme, tends to persuade me that they’re a good deal. I could have paid less on this particular occasion by staying in one of two central Ibis hotels but I find that the cheaper chain tends to attract noisy party crowds at weekends so we splashed out a whole £10 more to stay in the three star Mercure on Portland Street just behind Piccadilly Gardens. If you know Manchester and the location seems familiar, that may be because this was a Jarvis hotel until just a couple of years ago.

Very little has changed with only the rooms really getting a revamp as well as the public areas getting bedecked in the corporate colour scheme. The names of the restaurant and function rooms remain unchanged. There is pedestrian access from the street but the reception is two floors up and has to be accessed by lift. Visitors arriving by car can park up and enter the reception area directly from the car park. I recently learned that when the buildings behind Piccadilly Gardens were designed it was envisaged that in the future everything would go on above the ground and that a series of elevated walkways would like the different buildings. This was never realised but the buildings are still mostly arranged so that the reception areas are not on street level.

This is why the ground floor entrance of the Mercure looks rather sparse, almost empty but for a concierge desk which is almost never in use. Probably due to our later arrival, we didn’t have to wait to check in which was a welcome relief as when we’d stayed in the Jarvis Hotel here we’d waited for what seemed like forever to check in. When I say that check in was swift I mean only that the actual process of acquiring a swipe card for the room was fast. The young lady who served us was very smiley and pleasant and enquired as to whether we would like breakfast (our promotional room rate had not included it) but did not mention any of the hotel’s other facilities such as the restaurant; I was surprised by this as I am sure that many visitors arriving later in the evening would happily take the option of eating in the hotel for the sake of convenience.

Our room was on the ninth floor and directly opposite the lifts, much to my dismay. However, although I had expected to hear the ping of the lift all through the night, this was not the case, though on two occasions in the early hours some inconsiderate neighbours on the same corridor did make a lot of noise coming in.

The room was reasonably spacious, more so than when we’d previously stayed. There was plenty of room on either side of the bed and enough space to put bags out of the way. The room had a comfortable king-size bed and the television on the wall directly in front of the bed provided a luxury I feel too guilty to enjoy at home.

We dumped the bags and went out for dinner and I felt so stuffed when we returned that I’d happily have jumped straight into bed, however, the discovery of feather pillows stopped me in my tracks and I had to wait until one was brought to the room. I had anticipated not being able to get one at the late hour; usually if I ask any time after about five o’clock I am told that there are no housekeeping staff to help but on this occasion a polite young man arrived with synthetic pillows no more than five minutes later.

The bathroom was slightly shabby compared with the sleeping area. The grouting was starting to look black in places and a couple of tiles were cracked. The side of the bath was very high and it was a bit of a struggle for my little legs to climb in to shower. On the other hand the bathroom was spacious, unlike the Ibis rooms a grade down. The hard to regulate shower offered an opportunity for some minor swearing though I tried not to let it spoil the first day proper of my holiday.

Another swearing incident occurred when, a little earlier than I'd have wanted, ours and all the other televisions in the rooms of the hotel, broke into a dawn chorus to alert guests to an illegally parked car that needed to be moved. Surely it's possible to i) omit those guests who have said they didn't park a car in the hotel carpark or ii) take the registration number when guests do come by car and contact the room directly instead of waking everyone.

We didn’t breakfast at the hotel and weren’t even tempted when, at check in, the receptionist told it was on special offer priced at £7.50 each. If you prefer not to take breakfast at the hotel there are plenty of options in the area; we headed over to the Wetherspoons pub on the other side of the square. If your start to the day consists only of tea or coffee and you’re not fussy what it’s like, you could always just knock up a cuppa from the in room hospitality tray.

We paid around £54 for our standard double. This grade of room comes with chargeable high speed internet and movies on demand. These features are complimentary when booking a superior room. The hotel has payable private parking. There are two restaurants and two bars though we used none of these facilities on this occasion.

I wasn't expected to be blown away by this hotel and I certainly wasn't but it was perfectly fine for our needs and when we made a request, it was sorted quickly and efficiently. It's not somewhere for a special occasion but for a weekend city break when you expect to be out most of the time, it's absolutely fine.
Mercure Manchester Piccadilly Hotel
Portland Street
Manchester, England, M1 4PH
0844 815 9024

Manchester's Taj Mahal

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by fizzytom on February 26, 2012

Standing outside the John Rylands Library on Manchester's Deansgate on a blustery Saturday afternoon, I noticed how many people walked by without giving the magnificent red stone building a look. Perhaps some of them live in Manchester and have passed by a hundred times or more? I couldn't imagine passing by this amazing building and not finding something new everytime.

Today the library belongs to the University of Manchester and it has done since 1972; it was commissioned by Enriquetta Rylands as a memorial to her late husband and it opened to the public in 1900. Mrs Rylands acquired some collections especially for the library but the collection now includes some important items that were originally owned by the university library. Among the items in the library are medieval illuminated manuscripts and a Gutenberg bible.There are also letters and other documents relating to important Manchester figures such as the author Mrs.Gaskell, and th echemist, meteorologist and physicist John Dalton (discoverer of colour blindness among other things).

It is the building itself that interests me. Not only is it visually very striking, it is fascinating in so many respects - why it looks the way it does, how it was built - the materials used and the methods employed, and how it embodies the values of the time.

The library is open to the public and while it is possible to join a guided tour, you can, if you wish, just go in unaccompanied for a look around. A new extension houses a cafe and gift shop and a lift makes the uppers floors accessible to all. Since there is no admission charge and it is not necessary to be a member of the library to wander around, I would thoroughly recommend a look inside.

John Rylands was a very successful Manchester industrialist; the great cities of northern England were built on the successes of men like him. When Rylands died in 1888 he left a personal fortune of £2.75 million, a phenomenal sum in those days.

Rylands was originally from St. Helens. After he learned the craft of weaving he started to build his own looms and from there found a modest company manufacturing them; at the same time he worked in his father's drapery store in St. Helens. His brothers were also part of the firm but it was Rylands who demonstrated skill as a salesman and at his suggestion the family business moved into wholesale. In time the drapery business was merged with the loom business and before long Rylands & Sons was employing more than 15,000 people in 17 mills and factories. The company was the greatest of all the Manchester cotton companies.

His contribution to Manchester cannot be underestimated; he was not particularly interested in holding public office as many of his peers did, but he was an extremely generous benefactor. Among his charitable acts he established homes for orphans, a home for retired clergymen, a public baths, a library and even the impressive town hall in Stretford.

From the outside you probably wouldn't guess that this building houses a library and if they removed all the books you might not even realise from the style of interior. Built in the Victorian Gothic style it does look more like a grand church than a library but there were particular reasons for this choice of design.

The great Victorian entrepreneurs were sometimes educated men from wealthy backgrounds but many were self-made men who wished to demonstrate their worth against those of nobler birth. Many sought to 'improve' themselves and to show themselves a cultured and intellectual. Education was treated with reverence and an ecclesiastical style seems wholly appropriate for building that celebrates learning. Furthermore, the much of the original collection to be housed in the library was religious in content so the style reflected the contents of the library. The Victorians were big on having using architectural motifs to reflect the purpose of the building - if you want to see a prime example of this, look at Alfred Waterhouse's Natural History Museum in London, which has wonderful birds and foliage carved into the stone arches throughout the building.

Mrs. Rylands commissioned architect Basil Champneys to design the building. Champneys strongly believed that architecture is 'an art not a science' and instead of joining the Royal Institute of British Architects like his peers, he was a member of the Art Workers Guild. Mrs. Rylands had seen the library that Champneys had designed for Mansfield College at Oxford and asked him to design something similar. (Champneys designed a number of buildings for both Oxford and Cambridge colleges as well as the museum at Winchester College and the Butler Museum at Harrow School). It is said that Mrs. Rylands and Champney had a somewhat strained relationship which culminated in her over-ruling the architect and choosing some of the ornamental elements herself.

One very obvious way in which the building stands out in Manchester is in the choice of stone for the exterior; the facade is constructed from a deep brownish red stone from Penrith which is called Barbary. I always think that if I touch the stone the colour will stain my hand. The choice of stone was quite unusual for the time and I cannot think of any other building in the centre of Manchester that looks remotely similar in terms of material. Although it's a fairly soft stone it has more or less stood the test of time, including resisting the heavy pollution in the city at least in the first few decades of its existence.

The heavy pollution that made Manchester a very smoky and dirty place in the late ninenteenth and early twentieth centuries caused some concern among critics of the project who believed that the precious books would be ruined if they were kept in a building in such a busy area. A number of features were worked into the design to combat this such as placing the main reading room on the third floor of building above the road level. Champneys also built a series of air vents into the walls of the ground floor which were lined with hessian to catch the soot and used water sprays to tackle the sulphur deposits.

This was one of the first buildings in the city to use electric lighting but electricity was also used to power a new ventilation system soon after the library opened. Initially the electricity was generated on site because Manchester was not, at the time, a large consumer of electricity.

If you see only one part of the John Rylands Library make it the reading room. The vaulted arches and ceiling are magnificent and the stained glass window by CE Kempe reinforce the feeling of a religious building (the windows, however, depict a mixture of religious and secular figures). A series of statues of literary figures and great thinkers decorate the pillars betwee the arches and reinforce the theme of learning. Statues of John and Enriqueta Rylands stand at opposite ends of the room.

I've visited the library three times now and always discover something new. My delight at seeing the warm sandstone interior and the elegant arches is never diminished. I love taking people who've never been inside the library to hear that gasp of surprise at what lies behind the red exterior.

The contents of the library have never interested me as much as the building itself. The collection was formed around the Althorp Library of Lord Spencer which was acquired in 1982. There is a collection of fragments of papyrus from North Africa, including one called the 'St. John Fragment' which is believed to be the oldest new Testament document in existence.

In addition there are many works of art around the building and the library stages frequent exhibitions based around some of the collections that make up the library. From February until July in 2012 there's an exhibition entitled 'St Bartholomew's Day 1662: The triumph of bigotry and the birth of toleration' which uses many of the library's collection of documents pertaining to John Wesley.

Audio guides can be rented from the library shop and there are occasional tours run by the library staff. Details of how to contact the library to arange this can be found here:​sgate/events/tours/

It's such a shame that more people don't know what a gem this place is. It's design and the details inside it tell us so much about the history of the city and the Victorian age in general. The reading room is a masterpiece and even a flying visit of fifteen minutes will transport you to a world far away from the hustle and bustle of todays city centre. I can't recommend a visit enough.

Open 10.00 am until 5.00pm Tuesday to Saturday and from 12 noon until 5.00pm on Sundays and Mondays.

The building is partly wheelchair accessible

John Rylands Library
150 Deansgate
Manchester, England, M3 3EH
+44 161 834 5343

Good cod, what was I thinking!

Member Rating 2 out of 5 by fizzytom on February 25, 2012

Livebait is primarily a fish and seafood restaurant and is part of the "Groupe Chez Gerard". Usually I would avoid chains but a quick look at the menus on the Livebait website persuaded me to go for it. We made a reservation by telephone and arrived a couple of minutes after our 6.00 pm booking.

It was teeming with rain that evening and we arrived looking like drowned rats - so much for spending thirty minutes with the hair drier and straighteners! Since we were going straight on to the gig we were in jeans but were still fairly smart. The host appeared not to think so because he took one look at us and sat us at the opposite end of the restaurant, marching us past other diners before he sat us in an area where no other tables were taken. Furthermore, the other tables appeared to be laid for large groups. The way he looked us up and down before consulting his seating plan really made me feel quite small.

We could have gone for the early evening special - two courses for £14.50, three for £18.50 - but we could not find two things we wanted from the choices available. In the end we picked from the a la carte menu which changes weekly (not entirely, some dishes rotate); I chose the Louisiana crabcakes with Cajun potato salad and remoulade, followed by the fish and seafood tagine with couscous. My partner opted for the fried whitebait with lemon crème fraiche to start, followed by the red Thai fish curry with jasmine rice. From the extensive but pricey winelist we chose a bottle of pinot grigio; the wine list features about 75% white wines.

Ordering done, we were able to sit back and cast an eye over the surroundings. The website describes the style as "traditional fish and chip shop meets modern restaurant"; the white brick tiles are very like a traditional fish and chip shop, or even an East End pie and mash emporium. The wooden floors and furniture are no nonsense and sturdy but really not at all comfortable. A bar in the centre of the restaurant cuts of the various sections from each other and is lit with a green neon "Livebait" sign.

Our starters arrived promptly and provoked discussion immediately; my partner's pile of whitebait looked beautifully cisp, just the right golden shade, however the portion was rather mean. It came with a refreshingly crisp lemon creme fracihe which worked well with the seasoned fish.

My dish consisted of three crabcakes, a dish of the "Cajun potato salad" (hold onto that Cajun tag), and a small dish of the remoulade. Each crabcake was about the size of a two penny coin and about a centimetre thick - teeny basically. One side of each was a pale, insipid colour which really didn't look right and turning them over revealed each to be almost entirely black underneath. While they had once been hot, they were barely warm when they reached the table. The "Cajun" potato salad was merely a potato salad - try as hard as I could, I could not put my finger or tastebuds on anything remotely Cajun.

When the plates were cleared away, no enquiry was made regarding the starters. I find that quite significant - to me it says that the staff know the food is not up to standard and that they try to ensure you do not have the opportunity to complain handed to you.

The main courses arrived too quickly. My tagine arrived in a tagine (that cone shaped earthenware vessel used in north African cooking) but I am not convinced it was cooked in it as it arrived too quickly at our table. When the cover was lifted I expected the aroma of warm spices but it didn't come. The flavour wasn't right either, overwhelmingly tomatoes but none of those spices - no ginger, cumin, turmeric, star anise - nothing. There was a fair amount of fish and seafood but the dish had been heavily bulked out with chunks of courgette and artichoke hearts. I couldn't eat very much, it was just too much like a huge pile of tinned tomatoes.

The Thai curry came looking like a bowl of pale pink soup but investigation revealed a piece of salmon fillet and two pieces of white fish. The curry seemed bland at first but patience delivered a moderate kick. However, it was another rich dish, perhaps a little heavy on the coconut milk.

Again the plates were cleared without enquiry but I think the waitree may have heard us remarking on the standard of the food. The dessert menu was offered and I decided on the baked lemon cheesecake with gingerbread ice cream and limoncello chantilly. I asked the waitress to check whether it contained nuts and she returned to tell me it had ground nuts in the cheesecake base. I requested the creme brulee but this had nuts in the banana bread that accompanied it. Two other desserts also contained nuts that were not mentioned on the menu. In the end I gave up.

We asked for the bill and saw that it had a ten per cent service charge added to it as part of the total. We decided not to pay it as part of the bill but to leave our tip as we left. With half a glass of wine each we decided to put the bill to one side for a moment and finish the wine. The host noticed this and came over, asking if there had been a problem with the food. I told him my thoughts on the tagine and my disappointment that nut dishes were not highlighted on the menu. He said that they could not do anything about the nuts because head office designed and distributed the menus but that he would pass on my comments. He took the bill away and returned with a new one, explaining that he hd removed the service charge. When we pointed out that the charge was discretionary and that he had not done us any favour at all, his demeanour changed. We said that only the staff would lose out if he cancelled the service charge and that we weren't going to pay that amount anyway. His argument was twofold; apparently we should have said BEFOREHAND if we didn't want the service charge to appear on the menu and therefore we should pay it. The second point was that he said the staff were paid higher than in restaurants where the service charge was not included as a matter of course so they wouldn't suffer. Can you make any sense of that?

Any sensible restaurant sets its prices according to the costs of the ingredients, the staff needed to prepare and serve the food and other overheads, as well as profit. I regularly tip and think that I am rather generous when doing so. Here I felt compelled not to leave anything because of the assumption that the service deserved it; it did not. It was mediocre to say the least; no interest in whether we had enjoyed the food, too hurried and the day's specials were gabbled so quickly I barely heard them.

Once more the bill went back; this time the service charge and the pirce of my main course were removed. We decided it might be best to pay up and leave. The bill had dropped from just over £60.00 to around £41.00 and I must stress that at no point had I expected a discount on the food.

Livebait is over-priced for what is is; mains start at a shade under ten Pounds and increase at a steady rate. My tagine should have cost £12.95, one of the cheaper mains. At these prices I would expect the food to be faultless. I can eat at well-regarded non-chain restauarants for similar prices and come away feeling that I've had something really special.

I won't list all the prices here - the menu changes regularly and examples can be seen on the website. It is enough to say that three course from the a la carte menu with a mid-priced bottle of wine and coffees could set you back close to £100.00; for a chain I think that's outrageous. If you must go, go for the set menu - more reasonable and still a decent selection - usually a couple of fish dishes, a veggie option and a chicken dish.
I have learned my lesson; no more chain restaurants at these prices. Livebait just didn't deliver and it's customer service couldn't make up for the poor quality of the food.

Livebait Manchester
22 Lloyd Street, Albert Square
Manchester, England, M2 5WA
+44 1618174110

Playing Hard to Get (To)

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by fizzytom on October 9, 2010

Although I regularly stay in hotels, it is very rare that I have the need to stay in an airport hotel. However, in September 2010 we needed to take an early morning flight out of Manchester airport and the only feasible plan was to stay in a nearby hotel the night before our flight; fortunately there are numerous hotels in the area and the choice runs the gamut of the price spectrum.

We were happy enough to stay in a budget chain, leaving more money to spend on a meal in Manchester’s Curry Mile on the eve of our holiday, and managed to get a double room at the Manchester Airport Premier Inn, situated on Runger Lane, for just £36. We booked on line through a cash-back website, which gave us a couple of quid back, in addition to what we thought was a fair price.

Before setting out for Manchester, we did try to find a map that would help us reach the hotel on foot from the train station at the airport but the scale of the map and the detail included made this impractical. At the airport we tried to spot the hotel logo but couldn’t see it and noticed instead a stop for a bus that runs between all the hotels and the terminals until around midnight. The notice stated that the price per journey was £4.00 per person. As we wanted to check in then come back to the terminal bus station, go out to Manchester, come back to the hotel and then take the bus to the terminal for the flight the next morning, this would have been an additional £32 for the two of us, almost the cost of the room.

Back inside the station we enquired at the room booking agency about a pedestrian route to the hotel; the assistant there told us we had to take a bus or taxi. We said that we didn’t want to do this and could he please point us in the right direction; he told us that he didn’t know where the hotel was (really helpful coming from someone whose job it is to make hotel bookings) and clearly didn’t want to help. In the end we took a taxi, agreeing the price beforehand, and paying £6 for the two of us rather than the £8 the airport bus would cost.

The driver checked which Premier Inn we wanted. There are two classed as Manchester Airport: one is Runger Lane, the other is nearer the freight terminal. The route taken when driving involves coming out of the airport complex and driving on the motorway; this is the long way, however, and the route which you can take on foot is easy, safe, and only about one mile.

The hotel comprises two buildings that share a site with the Travelodge hotel. I have no idea why there are two buildings and how it is decided which one you stay in but the room we were allocated was in the building we were dropped at. As you would expect from a budget chain and a new build hotel, the building is hardly inspiring but it was at least less offensive to the eye than the Travelodge building which looked rather oppressive.

The interior was, however, cosy and welcoming, although very much in that Premier Inn, soulless chain type of way. A long reception desk was in front of the doors and over to the right there was a lounge, bar and restaurant area that merged into one open area; this gave an impression of space but if I was having a meal, I would want to have it in a dining room, rather than sitting in part of a larger area, especially as I imagine it can get noisy in the bar area sometimes.

There were two receptionists checking in guests and the young lady who dealt with our reservation was lovely; Vesela was from Bulgaria and was excited to learn that we were flying to her country’s capital the next morning, and that we had already visited it on another occasion. She helpfully drew a map showing us how to get to the terminal on foot and explained everything we might need to know about the hotel and its services. We were given two key cards without having to ask; since the lighting in the bedrooms can only be operated if they key is in the slot, it makes sense to give two cards in case one guest has to go out of the room and the other stays behind.

Our room was on the fifth floor and right at the end of our corridor which was good as it meant that nobody had to pass our room to get to their own. Although there wasn’t a separating door to reduce noise, the room was large and the sleeping area was sufficiently far away from the door to minimise noise; having said this, we found that the carpeting in the corridors was extremely soft and thick, and the doors tended to close firmly but quietly. Having once spent a disturbed night at an airport hotel at Gatwick, we always worry that the same will happen again as people tend to come and go at all hours in airport hotels.

The room was decorated in the standard Premier Inn way with white walls, white linen, a purple carpet and a smart purple suedette runner on the bottom of the bed. What was unusual about this room was that the en suite contained only the shower and the toilet, while the wash basin, a very shallow oblong design, was in an alcove in the room itself. The towels were rather small but clean and fresh, while the bedding was beautifully crisp, just as I like it. Everything in the room was in good repair and there no flaws, however minor.

There was a well lit space to work on the desk-cum-dressing table and all rooms are wi-fi enabled; if you don’t bring your own computer, there are two public terminals in the reception area that can be used. A flat screen television was perhaps a little small for the size of the room and, for once, we actually watched a little television in a hotel room; there are plenty of channels and also radio stations to choose from as well as pay per view films.

There was a kettle and a tray containing an appropriate number of teabags and coffee sachets for a one night stay; a biscuit or two would have been nice but wasn’t too much of an issue. As we had to be up so early we didn’t take breakfast at the hotel so we were glad to be able to have the hot drinks. As well as a variety of breakfast options, the hotel bar offers bar meals and snacks, while the restaurant serves a full range of meals throughout the day; there’s also a vending machine for soft drinks and snack items.

We both had a really good night’s sleep and tried to waken ourselves from our slumbers with a refreshing shower; the water was hot throughout and the standard of the shower was excellent. There was a little noise in the corridor around 11.30 pm but nothing after that in spite of the hotel seeming to be pretty full. Before going to bed we had asked the receptionist to arrange a taxi to the terminal for the following morning, and a minicab arrived on time as requested. The cost was much less than using an airport taxi, or using the bus and we were dropped right at the terminal we needed.

As we weren’t driving, I can’t comment on the car parking aspect of this hotel but it is close to the long stay car parks if you require that service while the hotel also offers park and fly deals. If, like us, you want to walk to the airport at any time, it takes approximately twenty minutes (fifteen if you walk quite briskly). There are car parking spaces directly in front of the hote but there is a charge for parking.

It’s possible to stay much nearer the terminal buildings at Manchester but we felt that his one is not in an unreasonable location if you intend to stay at the hotel all night once you’ve arrived, or if you are in a car. As the cost of the airport bus is high, I would recommend taking a taxi if there are at least two of you; better still get the hotel to arrange a minicab which will be even cheaper.

Overall this is a clean, comfortable and well maintained hotel with friendly and helpful staff; it may not be the height of luxury, but if you can book in advance, you can find excellent rates that represent good value.

Note - we stayed on a Room only basis - breakfast and other meals are paid for separately

Premier Inn Manchester Airport
Runger Lane, Wilmslow Road
Manchester, England
0871 527 8726

Midweek - an overview

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by fizzytom on December 12, 2006

Manchester is full of amazing modern and older buildings, in particular, those relating to the city's industrial heritage. Get out and really look at the buildings around you. Manchester is a shoppers paradise and the huddle of shops in the centre means you don't have to do too much walking. Thanks to having two successful football teams and raising its profile through music in the 1980s, Manchester has really developed into a city with plenty of options for people with money. Check out bars and restaurants with real style and sophistication. The Whitworth Art Gallery has Britain's largest collection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings - spend a few hours here in the presence of some greats. ${QuickSuggestions} ${BestWay} The city centre should be navigated on foot but do try the trams - brand new and a delight to use. For further afield the buses are great, the network is wide and buses regular. Cyclists will love cycling alongside the canals - a great way to see the industrial past.

Jarvis Piccadilly

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by fizzytom on December 13, 2006

I had always imagined that the standard of Jarvis hotels was quite high. Now I've stayed in one, I feel a little differently. We got a discount rate through an on-line booking company and paid £50 for a double room. The hotel website has this room at a discounted rate of £95 down from £129. Either of those prices would be a terrible rip-off. Reception is on the second floor and looks quite plush but you start to notice little things after a while. Reception is dark with poor lighting so the map of the city centre kindly displayed on the wall is almost impossible to see. When we arrived there was a fifteen minute queue to check-in even though there were three receptionists.

Our room was on the twelfth floor so we took the lift. There were three lifts but it was not unusual to wait six or seven minutes for the lift to come. The rooms are small but OK for a short stay. Hanging space is minimal and there isn't really anywhere to stow bags. There are tea and coffee making facilities but no socket to plug in the kettle near the cups, etc. Only one on the other side of the room. There was a colour TV but the picture was poor - signs in the lifts said they were trying to fix the poor reception quality. The bathroom was fine except that the vanity unit was very deep and you couldn't get close to the mirror to apply make up unless you leaned on the washbasin which had a lip on it that held water that had splashed from the taps. Basically, you got your clothes soaked.

Beds are comfortable, linen clean, and fresh. We got a good night's sleep with minimal noise from other guests. Breakfast is served in the third floor restaurant. We had to queue for ten minutes for a table. Then none came to ask us about tea and coffee or toast. We helped ourselves to the buffet - cooked English breakfast (plenty for vegetarians too), cereals, fresh fruit, and pastries are all available. Dirty plates took forever to be cleared away and service was slow and unfriendly. After breakfast I went back to reception to see if we could leave our bags after check out until our coach time; the queue was so long we just dragged the bags around the shops all morning instead. £50 is about right for this hotel. It's three stars and basically OK but doesn't warrant the higher rack rates.

Located five minutes from both Piccadilly Train Station and the National Bus Station as well as close to the shops and theatres the location is fantastic. Our room looked onto Piccadilly Gardens which currently has an ice rink and Christmas trees lit up - very pretty! Shop around for prices but don't book direct and you'll pay the right rate for this acceptable but unspectacular hotel.

Ramada Manchester Piccadilly Hotel
Portland Street
Manchester, $zip
0844 815 9024

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