Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Two new magazines in Manchester!

Death of the print media? What? Manchester's about to get itself two shiny new magazines, and neither one is called Time Out (no word on that launch, BTW)

RevolveWire is a new Manchester-based magazine about culture and creativity. It's quite beautiful, and is edited by the shockingly multi-talented Ruth Heritage. The theme of the first issue is looking, and it should be available soon from stockists nationally and then some. *Blatant Plug* I contributed an article in this issue about blog fiction and an interview with the amazing Sarah Hepola. (Coughs awkwardly, changes subject.)

Who's Bob? In his own words, Bob is "a new free magazine that's as honest, unpretentious and approachable as its name suggests, bob is here for you. interested in the things that make you love life, bob will be a trusty companion ready and waiting in all the best haunts around manchester. bob launches in late march."

Check out that pilot issue on their website. Looks pretty dang good to me, and even features writing from email ninja and huge Manchester Museum fan, Andrew Shanahan.

Go on, shower them both with love and affection.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Asian Invasion, Part 3: Chaophraya

There's a lot of hype about this new Thai place, Chaophraya. Based on my first visit, it's entirely justified. Of the three places I reviewed for lunch, this was definitely my favourite. It could be one of the best restaurants in the city, though time will tell.

Its location makes it convenient to most of the offices in the city centre, and it seems the word has definitely gotten out. On the Friday lunchtime I was there it was very busy - I think I managed to get the last table in the bar area, most of which were either very high, or way down at floor level. They pad thai and other noodle/rice dishes for under a fiver, and have lunchtime "tapas" selections of skewers, dumplings and various deep-fried bits at £5-£8.

But I had my heart set on Som Tom (£9), a cold salad of shredded green papayas, veggies and prawns. I ate this years ago, in a town near the Cambodian border, prepared by a toothless grandma with a mortar and pestle, and it was unforgettable. God, doesn't that sound like pretentious foodie nonsense? It's true, though. I was visiting my friend China in Surin.

Anyway, I digress. The Som Tom at Chaophraya was very good - shredded veggies and peanuts slathered in just the right amount of sweet-spicy-fishy seasoning, with those little red peppers providing a potent kick. There was a generous serving of grilled tiger prawns alongside, not the little dried shrimps they use for this dish in Thailand (apparently they're very hard to get hold of here.) The service was good, though one waiter did scowl at me when he realised I'd asked for tap water, and he'd just opened a bottle for nothing.

I don't usually spend £9 on lunch, but it'd be well worth the extra dosh for the food alone, even if the atmosphere wasn't impeccably gorgeous. The place is an oasis of burbling fountains, carved statues, and muted lighting - much thought has been put into the decor and it shows. They even have posh hand lotion in the bathroom that smells like orange blossoms.

And you just never know who you'll see in these places. I spent ten minutes staring at this guy a couple tables away from me, trying to remember where I knew him from. Eventually I realised it was Dave Spikey, Chorley's Ambassador of Culture, and felt like a prat.

Chapel Walks (Above Sam's Chop House)
Off Cross Street
M2 1HN
0161 832 8342

Asian Invasion, Part 2: Mai Bai

Sushi sushi sushi, everywhere except Manchester. Until now you could only sample this gift of the Japanese people to mankind in two locations here: The YO! Sushi treadmill in Selfridges and New Samsi on Whitworth Street, both scandalously overpriced and fairly mediocre quality-wise. Recently we got Wing's in the Arndale Foodmarket (reviewed here) and Sapporo Teppanyaki in Castlefield, which I think has the best sushi of the lot.

So here comes another sushi-slinging joint. Mai Bai fills a nice little gap if you're in the vicinity of Albert Square and don't fancy soup or sarnies, it's on Princess Street just across from the Town Hall. Of course, lots of other people have this idea, and on my first visit bang in the middle of workday lunchtime the place was absolutely heaving. Come after 2:15 if you want to eat in peace.

God knows why, but conventional wisdom seems to hold that the English are a tough sell on raw fish. Maybe this is why most sushi places here fill their menus with rolls made with cooked fish, and even weirder things like meat and cream cheese. Mai Bai is no different - cooked rolls easily outnumber raw fish rolls on their menu (chicken teriyaki roll, anyone? Jesus.) This saddens me. To put it plainly, if it ain't raw, it ain't sushi, except for that omlette stuff.

The folks at Mai Bai seem to make most of their sushi beforehand, and sell plastic containers of the stuff in a refrigerated case. I'm told you can ask for things to be made up, even combinations they don't have on the menu, but I wouldn't like to try it when it's busy. I asked for some unagi rolls the second time I was there but they didn't have any eel in. Instead, I got a so-so California roll, which weirdly seemed to have mayonaise in it. The second time I got a very spicy kimchee roll, which was good, but in both cases I'd have preferred more filling and less rice. Both times, some miso soup and hot, in-shell edamame went down a treat. If you go that route, though, you're not going to get out of there for less than £6 or £7 if you want a drink too.

I haven't tried Mai Bai's Japanese-style noodles yet, but am looking forward to it. There were quite a few people busily slurping away both times I visited.

The decor is a little clinical - lots of gleaming metal and white walls, and rows of high stools and counters that make it seem like the kind of place designed for eating in a hurry, or maybe performing elective surgery. But they do have free wi-fi for customers, so you geeks might want to linger. I'll definitely be back for more Mai Bai - it's convenient, reasonably priced, and will satisfy my sushi jones. But more raw fish, please.

Mancubist reminded me to tell you that Manchester Confidential is running an offer where you can get 2-for-1 on hot food there, if you give them your email address (and let their e-marketing elves have their way with it, of course.)

Mai Bai
37 Princess Street
City Centre
Tel:0161 238 9191

Asian Invasion, Part 1: Ning

Coming to Manchester from NYC a few years back, I really missed the huge selection of ethnic restaurants - I was especially homesick for Asian food besides the ubiquitous Indian/Pakistani/Bangladeshi and straight-ahead Chinese on offer. But lo and behold, Manchester has suddenly gotten a mini-influx of new restaurants serving up other Asian cuisines. And I've been checking them out at lunchtime. Here's a triptych of
sorta-reviews for your consideration:

Part One: Ning

Ning is located at the top of Oldham Street, well past the invisible line where the dodgy discount stores and down-and-out pubs start to outnumber the hair salons and record shops. This isn't exactly a buzzing bit of manc right now, but I'm sure the owners are hoping that the promised transformation of Ancoats into a yuppie breeding ground will bring the punters their way. Could be a smart move, if they can stick it out.

Ning is billed as a "cantine/cafe/restaurant" which seems a little precious - I mean, couldn't ya pick one? It's a small place decorated in a restrained, design-y manner with lots of bare surfaces and big plate glass windows, which some drunken scally will soon careen into and shatter.

The flavour of cooking here is pan asian, heavy on the curries, rice and noodles. While there isn't a ton of choice, the lunch mains are all under £6.50. I had the grilled tiger prawn satay (£5). The satay sauce was nutty and not too sweet; the (too few) prawns were crispy and toothsome, and the rice and raw vegetables alongside just about made this enough for a light lunch.

Across the table, my luncheon companion The Mancubist seemed quite happy with his £5 Ning Curry Lunch (they have a changing selection of curries every week; you pick beef, chicken, veggie or prawn).

Based on that experience, I'd say it's a decent place for lunch if you're in the hood. The food didn't completely knock me out, and I was hoping for more street food and more Vietnamese stuff on the menu ... most of the dishes are Malaysian, which means curry and more curry. But it's a nice addition to Oldham Street.

Ning Cantine Cafe Restaurant
92-94 Oldham St
Manchester, M4 1LJ
0161 238 9088

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

On t'wireless

If you've been wondering what's going on with all this wireless city stuff you've been hearing about, you can get the straight dope over at the Manchester Digital Development Agency's ONE-Manchester blog.

For those of you who are just tuning in, Manchester has launched an ambitious bid to create a free wireless network that would cover all of Greater Manchester (an area of some 400 square miles) and serve 2 million people. The IP- (internet Protocol) City project would be partially funded by the Government's Digital Challenge initiative. The MDDA just got their application in last week - oy, I bet that was a big stack of paper.

Big kudos to the forward-thinking folks at MDDA who came up with the idea of blogging about the process - this kind of transparency is all too rare in government.

Whither Stevenson Square?

It seems Stevenson Square, that glum, heavily-trafficked bit of urban blight above Lever Street, is getting a makeover. I just stumbled upon this post on Rob Adlard's Blog from way back in December, possibly inspired by this piece in the MEN (in which they misspelled the name of the square. Classic). He writes:

"...the only real potential candidate for a proper square in the Northern Quarter, is to be developed by Argent, the people who brought a little bit of Milton Keynes to Manchester with the No.1 Piccadilly building.

As I’ve already said previously in this blog, they did a great job of encouraging the right kind of local businesses into the building, but its a real low point in terms of appeal and appearance showing that we haven’t really learned any lessons from the 70’s or the Arndale Centre. It really concerns me that the same people are going to be allowed to develop such an important part of our historic and unique Northern Quarter."

And, according to this press relase from architects HKR, it's to be called The Hive, no doubt to be filled with productive little worker bees hopped up on cappucino from the regulation coffee bar on the ground floor.

I didn't realise that Stevie Square was an official "conservation area" - This council site sketches out the planning guidelines, and includes a lot of great historical info. It seems the square once was exactly the kind of public gathering-place that Rob and others are calling for:

For the last three-quarters of the 19th century, the Square was popular with open-air speakers and became a meeting place and starting point for processions. The most notable of these celebrated the opening of the Town Hall in 1877 and was believed to have engaged 50,000 participants.

Rob says he'll keep us posted on the plans. This looks like one to keep your eye on. And what's with that Robot, anyway... what IS that thing? I like it.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

They just keep coming...

...those new Manchester blogs, ya know. Makes me think there's something to all this media bleating about how a new blog is created every .08 seconds. Anyway, here's this week's motley crew:

Timothy W. Stanley is a doctoral candidate at the University of Manchester. He doesn't write exclusively on his academic topic, but his well-written, lengthy posts often deal with the intersection of religion/ideology and popular culture - e.g. this post on the eschatology of Betty Suarez ( star of the curiously addictive new telenovela Ugly Betty.) His latest post is a thoughtful look at the very different ideas of justice in the UK and the USA.

All My Little Words is a blog about The Magnetic Fields, written by a Nick, another Australian living in Manc. Actually, to be precise, he says it's about "grammar, The Magnetic Fields and The Magnetic Fields inspired/related ideas." If you're not familar with Stephin Merritt and his amazing band of musical genius-oddballs, check them out. They performed the one of the best concerts I've seen in Manchester at RNCM a couple of years ago.

Funky Monkey Man
is the personal blog of a Mancunian gent who writes mainly about his daily life.

is written by Paul Robinson, who's curious about the world, and wants to enlist readers in his quest to think more. He writes:
"Over the coming months, you'll be asked to contemplate, question, discuss and improve the World in various ways. This is a wonderful place, full of wonderful people, all the more remarkable for the fact we're just a few billion walking pieces of mud on a tiny speck of rock nearby a lovely warm star. The aim of this site is to help you enjoy it a little bit more by thinking." This week he's thinking about why we blog.

Random Thoughts
is "just the standard type of blog," written by a Mancunian and cyclist who lives, I believe, in Glossop. Has a nice snow picture up, too.

Scrub-scrub says of her blog: "it's: All about me...well what I think/do on a daily basis! Im 17, live in Manchester and Im studying A levels at Sale Grammar. I've applied to medical school as I really want to study medicine but I doubt Ill be sucessful! the majority of this blog will probably be me moaning!"

Another week, another film-related blog. This one's intriguingly titled Ugly RED Source of all Evil, and it's written by a Scottish projectionist who lives in Manc. And he eats pie sandwiches - also known as "slappies." I thought they only did that in Wigan.

New photo blog fotofacade is the work of Andy Marshall, who is an architectural photographer. As you'd expect, some lovely photos of buildings on there. Walter Menzies is another photoblogger based in Chesire. His latest photo of Macclesfield is entitled "Where would we be without maggots?"... I've pasted it above.

And Forgotten Classics is a literary blog whose main contributor is JdG, a writer and academic who lives in the Northern Quarter. It's linked to the Time Out (London) column of the same name, which bears the slogan "reading neglected writers so you don't have to." He has recently featured Graham Greene's minor novel The Ministry of Fear and - yes - Julie Burchill's first novel, Ambition.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

TO DO: Blog workshop, My Manchester, HK art

Lots of other folks have blogged about this, but I thought I'd remind you, too. Thursday at 6pm the lovely people from the BBC Manchester Blog are holding a workshop on blogging. It's a free (you need to register) two-hour intro for anyone who's ever wanted to blog but hasn't yet, and will also benefit experienced bloggers who have questions about stuff like RSS feeds, changing platforms or installing advertising. And anyone who's remotely interested in getting involved in the BBC Manchester Blog should come along.

Incidentally, I'm going to be on BBC Radio Manchester chatting about Manc blogs again this week - should go out around 3 or half 3 Wednesday.

I found this listings site for the city, called My Manchester. A smattering of art exhibition listings, gigs etc. but the all-in-one place film listings are probably the most useful bit. However, it doesn't stretch to Bolton and some other outlying urbs in Greater Manc.

There are a couple of Asian-flavoured art exhibitions opening Thursday. Collective Identity is a group show examining the Chinese people under Mao at the Chinese Art Centre. Arrivals and Departures: New Art Perspectives of Hong Kong is at Urbis, and features the work of Castlefield Gallery co-directors Kwong Lee and Yuen Fong Ling, among others (the above image is from Gordon Cheung).

The exhibition marks the 10-year anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong, and I'm looking forward to checking it out. The last time I was in Hong Kong was before it reverted to Chinese control. I stayed here and it scared the bejeezus out of me. That was before I had seen Chungking Express though - a marvelous movie.

Friday, January 12, 2007

An avalanche of new blogs

Wow, there's like, soooo many blogs to add. Here we go.
Bend to Squares is the quite slick-looking blog of Vic, a copywriter and Australian in exile. It's basically a resource for cute art and crafty things, as well as fashion, photos and other covetable odds and ends... like the unsettling work of Marcel Dzama, which is the subject of her latest post.

is a blog of pub poetry written by Danny Wise, aka Andy Sewina. It's not poetry about pubs, at least not mostly. "I call it Pub Poetry 'cos most of it was written after a few beers down the local watering hole." he also has a personal blog at Proper Joe's. And his partner Nicola has a blog called Raw Meat

ysr23 is subtitled "photos and that." It's the work of Thomas Mceldowney, who posts a photo a day. He's responsible for the image above - I'm sure Stretford has never looked so hauntingly beautiful.

is the personal blog of Julian Malik Seidenberg, a Manc student who's had a very interesting life. Really.

Elgey is currently traveling in Prague, where he is presumably drinking absinthe - if you scroll down a bit there are detailed instructions on how to correctly prepare "the green fairy." Never had absinthe myself, but always wanted to try it.

is a personal blog - the name comes from the old Roman name for manchester, and there's quite a bit about the city's ancient history in the first post.

There's also another political blog: Politaholic, which has lately focused on close readings of and responses to political coverage in the newspapers.

Postcards from the Manchester Student Scene; That one's self-explanatory, I think. Same goes for Reel Review.

Thanks to the folks who emailed about new bloggage - Nick, Chris, Andy and the rest.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

The week in Manchester blogs

From now on, I'll be posting a weekly roundup of what's doing in Mancunian blogs over on the BBC Manchester Blog. The first one is up now. I'll also be on BBC Radio Manchester today around three to chat about the same topic with Richard Fair, so tune in if you're able.

I'll be scouring all the blogs on my blogroll for material for this weekly thang, so please let me know if there are any marvelous new blogs that should be added. Also, drop me a line (themanchizzle at gmail dot com) if you or someone else has written anything especially good - for this feature I'll be most interested in blogging about/related to life in Manchester.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Manc lingo: "The Southern Quarter"

In this review of Odder (formerly Zumbar) on the always entertaining Manchester Clubbing we spotted what could be the genesis of a wankdified new trend: Referring to the bit of Oxford Road near Hulme as the "Southern Quarter." God, please nip this one in the bud.

Some creative businesses moved to the neighbourhood around Shudehill years ago because it was way sketchy, and the rents were cheap. The myth of the bohemian Northern Quarter was engendered by city council folk, residents and early-adopter businessowners panting for their own Greenwich Village North. In time, it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. If enough people say that bit of the city is where all the arty bars/vintage clothing places/record shops are, then that's where the businesses who wish to be identified in that way will choose to locate. Nowadays, real estate there is no bargain.

But, however it got that way, the Northern Quarter is a neighbourhood with a distinctive character. Whether the bit of the city around Odder shares that character is highly debatable... as far as I can see, Oxford Road round there is mainly middling student bars, kebab joints, and Cornerhouse. There's Arch, which ain't what it used to be. And Hulme (apart from the Redbricks) is hardly bohemian. It's where students and other folks looking for affordable rents live. A walk around it will quickly disabuse anyone of the notion that it's another arty playland for people with silly haircuts. Still, the real estate agents have already seized upon the Southern Quarter as a marketing catchphrase. Ugh.

It must be said, though, that it's spot on to refer to the grim quadrant of meat-market clubs stretching from Quay Street down to Deansgate Locks as the "Straight Village." No time is this title more fitting than on a Friday night, say around 2 am, when passsersby are likely to run afoul of drunkunian mating rituals and frantic couplings in the street.

Strangely, I found a usage of straight village on Visit Northwest, a tourism site for the region. On the page headed Peter's Fields and the Conference Center, it says:
This is a newly developed area that includes the Manchester International Convention Centre (MICC), Bridgewater Hall and G-MEX. To many the area is also the ‘Straight Village’, the antithesis of the Gay Village. At night gangs of shaven-headed lads and girls in mini-skirts roam from pub to pub.

Now, doesn't that make you want to visit? Sounds well friendly.

First post of the new year

Greetings, Mancunia. I've limped into the UK and the new year with a head cold. Hmm... why do I always come back from America sick? Anyway, a whole heap of new Manchester blogs are waiting impatiently in the wings, but before I get stuck into that, I thought you might want to read this piece by Charlie Brooker in yesterday's G2. In it he describes his realisation, whilst on the crapper, that Sky Magazine's new system of using celebrity faces to classify film genres is more than just moronic, it's dizzying madness:

"Somewhere in my head, a camel's back splintered beneath a straw."