The Loft Country Kitchen and Restaurant – Review

The Loft B Blair Atholl is a beautiful village located on the southern foot of the Cairngorms National Park, Perthshire. Famous for its whisky and Blair Castle, the village is also home to a handful of independent craft shops and hotels. One of the newest additions is The Loft Country Kitchen and Restaurant, which is run by partners Jennifer and Stuart.

The country kitchen is located just off the village’s main road, and The Loft, as its name suggests, is housed in a building whose roof space overlooks the scenic River Garry and stunning moorland hills. It would be easy to say that the views of The Loft make this restaurant special, but that would be doing disservice to the passion and service exuded by hostess Jennifer and chef Stuart.

We were greeted immediately by Jennifer with a radiant smile and friendly welcome and seated in the window of a snug room at the back of the restaurant. From here we could admire the fading blue sky that contrasted to the dark orange and brown heathers of the moorland. The restaurant has an earthy colour scheme that carefully reflects the moorlands surrounding it, as it uses slate greys, natural woods, salmon pinks and creams throughout. The magical view was offset with fairy lights that shone on the railings of the loft’s balcony and it was easy to imagine sipping wine there on a balmy summer’s evening.

SONY DSC The Loft Country Kitchen and Restaurant seamlessly mixes the contemporary with the traditional and this is also reflected in its menu. For starters it had to be Dunkeld Smoked Salmon Cured in Lagavulin Whisky. The salmon was sumptuous with just a hint of Lagavulin whisky served on a cool and vivid bed of beetroot. The contemporary twist to the dish came in the form of an avocado puree and micro salad which cut through the earthiness of the beetroot. The dish encapsulated all the earthy colours you’d expect to encounter in the glens and having done a number of walks during my stay at Blair Atholl, I would liken the dish to the ‘Queen’s View’ overlooking Loch Tummel, because it was stunning and left a lasting impression.

For the main course I had Stuffed Pheasant Breast Roulade which was wrapped in prosciutto that encased a Wild Mushroom and Oat Stuffing. The pheasant was Perthshire sourced like the salmon, and was just as tender and flavourful. The mushroom and oat stuffing had a lovely nutty flavour and a wonderful thick, gooey texture. The pheasant was served with creamy Dauphinoise potatoes and a dark and rich, red wine jus. I ate every last little bit.

Finally, the Scottish cheese board was a revelation: Dunsyre Blue, Morangie Brie, Isle of Kintyre Smoked Cheddar and Caboc. The Dunsyre Blue was deliciously strong and creamy and I could have eaten three more servings of it. Thought to be the oldest Scottish cheese, the indulgent Caboc was like eating chilled, slightly salted double cream, whilst the Kintyre Smoked Cheddar was just as rich as smoked cheeses from the continent, and was perfectly complimented with a red grape to balance out its heavy flavour.

The Loft is a genuinely lovely place, Jennifer’s enthusiasm is infectious and she enquired multiple times about our stay, whilst Stuart’s menu uses the finest Scottish ingredients but is remarkably great value for customers. This demonstrates the thought and care taken into getting The Loft just right for their customers, which is clearly what drives the couple. You really would be hard pressed to find an establishment as fine and friendly as The Loft in Perthshire, Jennifer and Stuart have recently celebrated their first successful year serving delicious Scottish food in Blair Atholl, and it is likely to be the start of many more to come.

For more information please visit their website:

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Boeing Boeing – Oldham Coliseum Theatre Review

_JCF4282 copyBoeing Boeing touched down last week at the Oldham Coliseum Theatre for its opening night, after originally flying into the West End for a seven year run during the 1960s. The play navigates the confusing love life of Bernard (Robin Simpson), a Parisian architect, who has not one but three air hostess fiancés. Set during the early 1960s when a jet set lifestyle was still in its infancy, Bernard is able to take advantage of international scheduled flights to plan out his love life and create a dating system he describes enthusiastically as being mathematical “perfection”.

_JCF3832Luckily for Bernard his three fiancées all have names beginning with ‘G’ there’s Gloria from America (Laura Doddington), Gabrielle from Italy (Maeve Larkin) and Gretchen from Germany (Sarah Lawrie). All three also wear colour-coded clothing that makes it easy for not only Bernard, but also the audience to identify his different fiancées. The play takes off without a glitch as the coordinated comings and goings of Gloria, Gretchen and Gabrielle are as hassle-free as a place in first class. However, Bernard’s dating system soon meets turbulence when stormy weather and faster planes conspire to bring his system into free fall.

The first half of the play really begins to pick up the pace when Gloria takes off for America and Gabrielle flies in from Italy. Not long after this, Gretchen touches down in Paris from Germany and Bernard faces the uneasy prospect of entertaining both fiancées at once in his apartment – without either knowing about each others’ existence. From this moment on, the farce soars and things soon start to unravel faster than a transatlantic flight on Concorde. Bernard enlists the help of his best friend Robert (played by Ben Porter) who is visiting from the provinces, to act as a comic foil. He also needs his housekeeper Bertha (played by Gilly Tompkins) to help keep his love life airborne.

_JCF4918_1Because the action unfolds in one room, some elements of the plot are a little implausible at times. Gloria, Gretchen and Gabrielle would definitely be able to hear each other in the apartment and they would also be able to hear Robert and Bernard’s high-pitched, Carry-On-esque outbursts during the closing scenes. But this is a farce, and by its very nature should not be taken seriously. What prevents Boeing Boeing from becoming farcical is the onset choreography as the different actors coordinate their moves seamlessly between seven doors of the Parisian apartment. The energy of the choreography and comic performances by the cast are exciting and engaging throughout. The set itself is also impressive with a convincing view of the Eiffel Tower illuminated in the background to remind the audience that this is Paris in the swinging sixties.

Boeing Boeing has been adapted for Oldham Coliseum Theatre by director Robin Herford from Swiss-born Frenchman Marc Camoletti’s play written in 1960. The original was a huge hit and it appears in the Guinness Book of World Records for holding the title of the most-performed French play ever. It’s well worth watching this classic hit at the Oldham Coliseum theatre before it’s Boeing Boeing gone.

Reviewed on behalf of this rather brilliant Manchester blog: Thank you Liz!

Boeing Boeing is on at the Oldham Coliseum Theatre until 6th June for more details click this link

(All Mist in the Mirror production shots: credit Joel C Fildes)

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Mist in the Mirror – Oldham Coliseum Theatre – 500 word review

Oldham often bears the brunt of the wintry weather in Greater Manchester and there was definitely a strange chill over the town on Tuesday evening, when Oldham Coliseum Theatre hosted the world premier of Ian Kershaw’s adaptation of Susan Hill’s The Mist in the Mirror.

Avid fans of the Gothic tradition will not be disappointed with this chillingly entertaining production as Kershaw’s adaptation retains all the terrifying plot elements of Hill’s Gothic novel including: orphaned hero, terrifying villain, lots of thunder and lightning, eerie old houses, and even the Yorkshire moors.

Set at the turn of the 20th century, The Mist in the Mirror follows orphaned hero James Monmouth (played by the affable Paul Warriner), as an ‘honest’ gentleman on a quest to trace his family history. James travels from Africa, where he was sent to live at the age of 5, back to his native England. One gloomy evening he finally arrives in a Dickensian-like London that is smothered in fog and harbouring secrets down every alleyway.

_JCF6745 copy-1It is at this moment that the production really brings the dark magic of the play to life. Whilst the narrator of the tale (played by Jack Lord) starts to recount the journey, a steamboat lurches into view and words appear to write themselves around the interior rim of the set. Actors pull wings from the blackened stage, and the dark set is suddenly transformed into an inn, then it morphs into a London street, and then an antiquarian bookshop. The list of set transitions and locations is copious, and all morph within the blink of an eye.

The stunning video and light projections by imitating the dog are perfectly choreographed to every actor’s movements. Even the act of holding a lamp or candle is visually arresting in this play as the glow creates creeping shadows on the walls, illuminates a door that definitely wasn’t there a second ago, and allows the audience to glimpse the terrifying epitaph of the play’s arch-villain, Conrad Vane. Some of the set-pieces of the video projections include Monmouth’s spine-chilling amble around a library in search of Vane’s demonic writings, and a journey on a steam train to Yorkshire, complete with moving landscapes and falling snow.

_JCF8053 copyA Gothic tale couldn’t be ‘gothic’ without exaggerated pathetic fallacy and Kershaw’s production brought the first audible gasps of fright from the audience with a huge crack of lightning that rippled across the backdrop. Further gasps and jumps were created by the lingering spectre of an unknown boy with a cloth sack for a head, who haunts James Monmouth throughout the play, and it’s a spectre that isn’t a video projection. This makes his appearances all the more terrifying and it will be impossible to look at a scarecrow in the same way ever again.

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So, whilst the wintry mist still lays thick over Oldham, go and see The Mist in the Mirror before it descends on another town as part of its nation-wide tour.

Reviewed on behalf of this rather brilliant Manchester blog: Thank you Liz!

Mist in the Mirror is on at the Oldham Coliseum Theatre until Feb 21st for more details click this link

(All Mist in the Mirror production shots: credit Joel C Fildes)

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Explore Everything: Place-Hacking the City – Book Review

Explore-EverythingJust think for a minute… what’s the most exciting place you have ever explored?

The 76th storey of The Shard (whilst under construction) is probably not what you’re imagining. Ask Bradley L. Garrett, the above question, and The Shard will be high on his list, as the opening of his book Explore Everything: Place-Hacking the City (EEPHC) documents his own account of a euphoric assent up the skyscraper.

In a world full of rules, regulations and CCTV, Urbex (Urban Exploration) offers its practitioners an escape from the norm, tapping into a childhood psyche of not knowing, or being afraid of what’s out there. UE practitioners, who often operate under aliases, are able to infiltrate usually off-limit places like abandoned buildings (derps), buildings under construction (live sites), sewers, and transportation systems. Once on-site, Urbexers admire the views, take photographs, and then leave without trace.

Garrett’s early forays into the world of Urbex began as an ethnographer gathering research for his PhD in Geography at the University of Oxford, however, he quickly became intoxicated on Urbex; buzzing off the adrenalin rush that comes with avoiding the seccas (security guards) of live sites, or cracking a location that very few other people will have ever seen. The most gripping passages of EEPHC are the descriptions of Garrett Urbexing in situ, like infiltrating a derelict Soviet submarine on the River Medway, exploring the catacombs of Paris, mapping abandoned stations of the Tube, and even breaking into an abandoned Government nuclear bunker. Continue reading

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In 500 words: Was Lorne Malvo a Devil in disguise?

FargoThe etymological case for Lorne Malvo being a devil in disguise

Lorne Malvo. The name itself has malevolent undertones and echoes of long-vowelled Shakespearean villains like Iago, Tamora and Shylock. In the French language, ‘mal’ denotes bad and evil; look up the derivative ‘mal’ in an English dictionary and you’ll find 99% of the entries have negative connotations, including; malady, malaria, malnourishment and malignant – you get the idea.

Fargo is essentially a fictional detective story set in Minnesota, USA. Produced by the Coen brothers, the TV series recreates the world of their 1996 film classic Fargo. Lorne Malvo is Fargo’s archetypal villain, superbly played by Billy Bob-Thornton as a cold-blooded, calculating and charismatic psychopath…. Or should that be devil?… Or vampire?

The case for Lorne Malvo as a devil in disguise (includes spoilers)

Like many Cohen brothers’ characters, Malvo revels in toying with Chance and likes a good riddle (think Javier Bardem’s, Anton Chigurh in No Country For Old Men). Like any devil worth its salt, Malvo taunts little kids with stories about murders that happened in their homes, and has an incredibly charismatic personality, despite murdering a LOT of people. He also made cassette tapes of his victims for presumably sadistic purposes and oozed so much charisma that ordinary-Joe, Lester Nygaard, wanted to be just like him.

Throughout Fargo there is also the hint that Deputy Molly Solverson’s Dad (Lou) may have met him in 1979, when Molly was only 4 years old. Lou was so scared of ‘HE that is never named by Lou’ that Lou had to sit fearfully on his porch overnight with a shotgun. He also refers to a work ‘incident’ when the bodies were, “piled two floors high.” That’s a lot of bodies, and in the environs of Fargo, only Malvo would be capable of such an ‘incident’.

Malvo also seems to shapeshift (see entry below on the Vampire theory).

The case for Lorne Malvo as a vampire (includes spoilers) Continue reading

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12 Years A Slave – Film Review (or why I think it should win the Oscar for Best Film 2014 in 500 words)


In 2009 I watched The Road at the AMC in Manchester on a cold and grey Autumnal day. The film has never been far from my thoughts, mainly because I have a morbid fascination with post-apocalyptic/dystopian literature. It’s a fascination which probably stems from reading Frankenstein in Year 8 at high school, followed by Lord of the Flies in Year 9.

Anyway, not since watching The Road have I been so affected by a film until I went to watch 12 Years A Slave at Ashton Cineworld on a cold and icy Winter’s evening. Prior to watching the actual film I tried to inspire some English students to go and watch it on release by shoehorning YouTube clips of the trailer into discussions on ‘Crooks’ from Of Mice and Men. Not one student has said they’ve been to watch it.

Steve McQueen’s film is based on the remarkable and emotive biographical account which begins in the year 1841, when Solomon Northup, a black African-American freeman of the state of New York, is forcibly taken into slavery and transported to the cotton fields and sugar plantations of Louisiana.

I think the film should win the award for Best Picture 2014 because:

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12 Years a Slave – Book Review

12 Years a Slave is a remarkable and emotive biographical account that begins in the year 1841, when Solomon Northup, a black African-American freeman of the state of New York, is forcibly taken into slavery and transported to the cotton fields and sugar plantations of Louisiana.

The slave narrative follows Solomon’s incarceration fettered to chains in a Washington DC slave pen and subjected to brutal floggings in the cotton fields of the South. Prior to his bondage, Solomon (aged 21) had acquired, “humble habitation” which provided him with the means of “happiness and comfort.” He married his wife Anne and worked on an old Alden farm until 1834, where he raised his young family of two daughters and a boy. Though the work was hard, Solomon prospered and became a self-sufficient and well-respected member of his community. Anne was also renowned as being a tantalising cook.

In March 1834, Solomon and his family moved to Saratoga Springs where he laboured on the Troy and Saratoga railway. It was here that Solomon, himself the son of an emancipated slave, had his first encounters with subjugated slaves from the South who were accompanying their masters.

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Unseen Forces: A Tribute to Seamus Heaney


Saturday 14th September, Martin Harris Centre, Manchester University

A night that should have included a recital by a great Irish poet sadly became a posthumous celebration of the greatest Irish poet to have ever lived, Seamus Heaney.

Upon opening the evening’s recital, Irish poet, Vona Groarke, said: “we have been left in the lea of Heaney,” heavy sentiments which were also echoed by renowned poets, Don Paterson and Paul Muldoon.

Irish poet, Paul Muldoon, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 2007, was due to appear at the event alongside Heaney, but instead took to the lectern with the Scottish Forward Prize-winning poet, Don Paterson. The event was part of the 3rd British and Irish Contemporary Poetry Conference, held by The Centre for New Writing at The University of Manchester, in association with the Manchester Literature Festival, 2013.

In 2010, Heaney headlined the Manchester Literature Festival and spoke warmly of his links with the city as it was here that he had some of his earliest works published in a literary magazine set up by Harry Chambers. He also heaped praises on the university’s Centre for New Writing which he said has cultured some of the best Irish poets of recent years.

Paterson began the evening’s recitals acknowledging that, “we cannot disguise the sadness of the situation […] we’re on our own now.” Despite the melancholia surrounding the event, the night was a celebration and reassessment of Seamus Heaney’s work, the sadness and loss of which was reflected in both poets’ choice of poems. Each poet chose poems that tapped into Heaney’s psyche and borrowed from Opened Ground: Poems 1966-1996. They traced Heaney’s upbringing on his parents’ farm at Mossbawn (‘Death of a Naturalist’, ‘Follower’, ‘The Harvest Bow’), Ireland and The Troubles (‘Two Lorries’, ‘A Lough Neagh Sequence’) and ending fittingly with poems associated with peace, such as ‘St Kevin and the Blackbird’ and ‘The Wishing Tree’.

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Buy of the Week – Lily Greenwood Printed Canvas Bag

Lily Greenwood’s studio in Manchester’s Craft & Design centre is a true gem of a shop and is always a pleasure to visit. Lily’s work always brightens  up the greyest of days, and this weekend was no exception. Since interviewing Lily for The Poplar Tree back in September, she has continued to keep busy working on new commissions and preparing for exhibitions.

Lily currently has a busy summer ahead which includes her work appearing at the Barcelona Showcase next month in the spectacular Casa Batllo, one of Gaudi’s stunning architectural masterpieces.  The exhibition celebrates the best in contemporary fine  art and will feature work by artists from across the world.

The Poplar Tree couldn’t resist buying one of Lily’s Printed Canvas Bags – priced at £10 these canvas bags make a lovely present for someone special, and there’s plenty of gorgeous designs to choose from. The bags feature her Japanese kimono inspired paintings, her iconic butterfly prints and art nouveau designs. The Poplar Tree opted for the blue canvas bag shown above. Not only do these bags look as pretty as her pictures, because they’ve made from canvas they’re really sturdy too!

Photograph taken from Lily Greenwood’s Facebook Page


studio 25, manchester craft & design centre, 17 oak street, northern quarter , manchester, m4 sjd

contact:  twitter@lilygreenwood

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Home Sweet Home, Manchester – Food Review

Home Sweet Home describes itself as a “gourmet bake house and coffee bar” and it has quickly carved out a niche for itself in an area of Manchester that’s saturated with homemade food outlets and trendy bars. In fact, it’s become so popular they’ve recently had to extend.

What makes Home Sweet Home stand out from the other eateries in the Northern Quarter is its generous portion sizes, great value and delicious menu. Most of the dishes here have an American or Mexican twist to them – there’s pulled pork rolls, the San Diego toastie, chilli dogs, macaroni cheese, clam chowder and a Santa Fe salad. It’s easy to imagine Adam Richman from Man vs Food tucking into a few of these dishes and certainly feeling at home.  Continue reading

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