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Small Beer: Micro Bar, Unit FC16, Arndale Food Market, Manchester City Centre

June 14, 2011 6 comments

At 11.17am on Saturday 15 June 1996, a 3,300lb bomb in a Ford Cargo lorry exploded on Corporation Street in Manchester, injuring 212 people.  The bombing was part of a renewed Provisional IRA campaign to cause massive economic damage on the mainland, which had been kicked off four months previously with the truck bomb at Canary Wharf in London that ended the 1994 ceasefire.  This spasm of violence (likely prompted by a stalemate in peace negotiations and a power struggle within the PIRA) was fortunately short-lived, and the Good Friday Agreement was signed less than two years later.

The vicinity of the bomb site at the Corporation Street side of the Arndale Centre has, in the last 15 years, been regenerated into the posh end of Manchester shopping. In fact I was in Manchester a few weeks ago looking in Harvey Nichols and Selfridges (both post-1996 additions) for a wedding suit.  More of a one-off expense for me; but this is just the place to spend your money as a well-paid footballer, or more likely a footballer’s wife or girlfriend (of whom there would seem to be a very much larger number than footballers).

Having picked suits with my brother, and with him having spotted a Manchester City keeper buying designer clothes (I’d never heard of him), we decided to get a drink.  On this wet day (it seems to rain an awful lot in Manchester), I didn’t want to go to the Northern Quarter or up the Rochdale Road, and The Good Beer Guide app on my iPhone had mainly identified a number of uninspiring-sounding Wetherspoons pubs in the area.  However it also mentioned the following interesting possibility.

Micro Bar is in the Arndale Food Market, at the other end of the shopping centre from the regenerated bling of Manchester Exchange.  It’s currently owned by Boggart Brewery  of Newton Heath (birthplace of at least one empire) and is, as the name suggests, a tiny bar and beer shop surrounded by the other food outlets, including both prepared food and a excellent-looking fishmongers and butchers.  This small stall/bar has apparently been going for some time under the control of Paradise Brewery (no, me neither) although Oh Good Ale and Tandleman’s reports suggest that it has improved massively under Boggart.  

The selection on the  five or so hand-pumps was varied and we tried Dark Star Saison (very pleasant and an interesting style to try on cask) and Pictish Brewer’s Gold.  The bottled selection was also good; obviously not as comprehensive as much larger shops such as Beer Ritz in Leeds or The Bottle in York, it did have a solid variety of American craft beers (Brooklyn, Flying Dog, Goose Island, Sierra Nevada, Anchor) and Belgians, as well a very interesting range from smaller English breweries.  These included some I’d never seen in bottles before, including Kirby Lonsdale.  Usefully these also had little brown paper luggage tags with descriptions.

Anthony Bourdain, in his most recent book Medium Raw, suggests that well-made street food is the way of the future in the West.  Arndale Food Market doesn’t quite have the feel of Borough Market in London or the rather wonderful Mercado San Miguel in Madrid, and despite the football cash Manchester, like most of the North, probably still leans more towards Greggs’ pasties than freshly-made tapas.

However, it’s still a good start, and Micro Bar makes me wish Kirkgate Markets in Leeds had somewhere similar, to drink a good beer whilst either considering your shopping list for that night’s dinner party, or simply munching on a steak bake.

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Dales Way Pubs: The Sportsman’s Inn, Cowgill, Cumbria

Before embarking on The Dales Way (foreshortened and in reverse) I had done a fair amount of research into the pubs along the route. I was quite disappointed to read some mixed to negative reviews of two pubs, either directly on or close to the walk, that I had considered either visiting or staying at: The Station Inn at Ribblehead and The George Inn at Hubberholme.

I tend to take negative online reviews with a pinch of salt (there is an art to reading and interpreting Trip Advisor comments), but what was most worrying was that many of the comments regarding The George Inn in particular were about incidents of poor customer service. Because pubs or inns on a walk like this should be a welcoming place to relax and recuperate after a hard day walking, we avoided both rather than taking the risk. Which brings us on to The Sportsman’s Inn.

Our second day was one of the longest and most arduous of the five days walking, starting at Millthrop and heading up and over the hill before walking along the Dee for the length of Dentdale, climbing steeply on the road to Dent Head then across moorland to Gearstones, crossing from Cumbria into North Yorkshire on the way. Dentdale was a lovely place to walk but unfortunately we didn’t have time to dally in Dent or enjoy beers from the local brewery.

Instead we walked on to Cowgill and had planned to stop off at The Sportsman’s, both for a soft drink to boost our energy levels and to call Kate’s father to tell him when we expected to have finished the walk for him to pick us up, before we tackled the steep walk up the road out of the valley.

We were pleased to find the Sportsman’s open and that it seemed to be a nice pub, with a couple of Dent beers on and a Spring 2009 CAMRA Westmorland Pub Of The Season certificate on show. I did think there might have been little tension in the air in the quiet pub when we walked in, but decided to ignore it.

After we had already bought three drinks, two packets of crisps and a packet of nuts, Kate went to call her father on the pub payphone, there being no mobile reception in the valley. After she had finished the call, she was told off by an indignant member of staff for using the payphone, which was apparently “for residents only”. Kate said she hadn’t seen anything to indicate that and was directed to a sign behind a door.

So a remote pub in a valley with no mobile reception refuses to allow paying customers to pay to use a payphone unless they’ve booked a room for the night. I might well be judging too quickly, but if this incident is in any way representative, that begrudging attitude to new customers has no place in a public house with a CAMRA gong (and, I now note, a gushing review in the current Good Beer Guide about it welcoming “both locals and visitors who are often enjoying the great surrounding walking country”). Whatever the case, I won’t be putting them to the inconvenience of taking my money again.

Pub Walks: Leeds-Liverpool Canal, Leeds to Saltaire

March 2, 2011 3 comments

Feeling quite unfit and not a little stressed, it was good to take a couple of days off last week and go for some long walks. One of the benefits of living in Yorkshire being able to walk long distances relatively easily along canals, where there tends to be interesting scenery, history, wildlife and, of course, pubs!  It’s all very well climbing Ben bloody Nevis, but is there a pub up there for a self-congratulatory pint?  If so, it’s not in the Good Beer Guide.

On Tuesday morning I set off on a grey morning from my house in Moortown intending to walk the 14 or so miles to Saltaire.  I walked through Meanwood and Headingley to join the Leeds-Liverpool canal near Kirkstall Abbey, a few miles from its start.  A couple of miles further on I met the first pub, The Abbey Inn at Newlay.  Unfortunately the Abbey wasn’t open yet so I went on.  I do like the Abbey: it’s a good honest pub with anaglypta on the wall, good local beers and enormous portions of food.

A little while further along the canal I came to Rodley, where I decided to stop for my first drink.  Rodley has two GBG pubs opposite each other: The Rodley Barge and The Owl.  I decided upon the Barge due to its proximity to the canal, and had a nice half of something pale and sessionable called Ale Gate by the Oldershaw Brewery in Grantham along with a packet of Brannigans.

Having stopped only for about ten minutes or so, I pressed on along the canal for the remaining eight miles to Saltaire.  I passed the Saltaire Brewery, which would seem to me to be strictly based in Shipley rather than Saltaire itself, before leaving the canalside at Salts Mill.

I thought I’d give The Boathouse a try, close as it is to the canal.  I immediately felt a bit out of place in the shiny wine bar surroundings in my boots and mud-flecked jeans.  However there was a reasonable beer selection (albeit more quantity than variation, really: Black Sheep; Golden Sheep; Tether Blonde; Saltaire Blonde; Old Peculier) so I ordered a half of Saltaire Blonde.  It had a slightly lemony soapy smell and an alright mouthfeel but not enough taste.

I walked up Victoria Road, past Victoria Hall (venue for last weekend’s Bradford Beer Festival) and around the corner to Fanny’s Ale House.  Attempting to give the impression of being much older than it actually is (the pub only opened in 1997, although the building is of course older), Fanny’s is nonetheless a nice-looking, welcoming pub with open fires and similar.

It had a fairly wide selection of beers on, including a couple of Timothy Taylors beers and Rooster’s Yankee.  However, adopting what is increasingly a ticker’s attitude to new beers, I ordered a Salamander Dr Awkward.  This was supposed to be pale and hoppy.  There was a general lack of aroma that carried through to a disappointingly weak watery taste.

Bored by pale session beers with no oomph, I then went for the terribly-named Fernandes Double Decker Pecker at 6.5%.  This smelled bitter, citrussy, hoppy and light.  It tasted unapologetically bitter in a dull, slightly gritty and caustic way, with little or no sweetness or other tastes to balance it out.  I thought it was interesting but I didn’t like it that much, on the first attempt anyway.

Regardless of the two beers I tried (as noted, there were good beers on which I knew I liked), Fanny’s is a great pub with a good selection and well worth a visit if you’re in Saltaire.  It was even worth walking 14 miles for.

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