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The Art of Tea, Didsbury, review

Jonathan Schofield and shocking opium consumption in Didsbury - by families

Written by . Published on June 13th 2011.


The Art of Tea, Didsbury, review

DINING out is good because it slows us down, makes us think, makes us chat.

Unless of course you’re micro-managing three lads under ten years of age who have an evil plan to turn the word ‘fidget’ into an alternative philosophy.

Forget a few casually strewn Guardians; this place has the complete works of Plato, Shakespeare’s sonnets, the literary porn of Anais Nin, plus thousands of other choices on the premises. Check-bloody-mate to the Art of Tea. Maybe other venues should follow suit. Just for me.

Fortunately those days are largely behind me; my nineteen-year-old is now testing the dining out theory himself and doesn’t need parental help; the fourteen-year-old is relentlessly texting when he comes with us and the ten-year-old we muzzle and strap to his seat. So it’s fun to watch the madness unfold for other families - like an episode of BBC’s ‘Outnumbered’ - whenever I get the opportunity.

There was a family team with kids between eight and twelve in the Art of Tea in Didsbury on a recent visit. They were freaks. They’d been fed opiates for breakfast. 

Books
The children sat still, read magazines and books and not one of them had a DS or a mobile or a Blackberry. Their parents read sections of The Times with a tranquillity that was ethereal. No doubt they too had sprinkled some opiates over their biologically pure eggs that morning.

Normally such freak harmony would rankle. I’d want to stand and ask the mum and dad who their dealer was and how could they live with themselves for making their kids addicts so young?

But Art of Tea had soothed me.

This was largely to do with literature.

And a nice dress.

The Didsbury Village Bookshop shares space with the bar-cafe. This separately run business takes the whole back part of the premises (along with a picture framer who looked like he was desperate for some attention). The books are incredibly well-chosen with a beautiful spread of the antiquarian and the dog-eared. The owner must be the best buyer for miles.

Often Didsbury gets cast in a poor light by the West Didsbury and Chorlton urban mafia as an amalgam of tight-arsed stuffy old England most days and rough arsed drunken new England on weekend nights.

Yet the Art of Tea is the best of the bar-cafes in south Manchester not only because the Merlot is inexpensive and very ‘full’ and not only because the food is good - that happens elsewhere - but because of this book-shop. This is not a fair comparison of course. But if you want to exude an air of leftfield sophistication then the Art of Tea has pulled, by accident or not, the trump card of all trump cards.

Forget a few casually strewn Guardians; this place has the complete works of Plato, Shakespeare’s sonnets, the literary porn of Anais Nin, plus thousands of other choices on the premises. Check-bloody-mate to the Art of Tea. Maybe other venues should follow suit. Just for me.

Of course, as with 93.4 per cent of these laidback wood and hummus, second-hand furniture and roasted vegetable places the downside is the service. It’s as though many of the staff have taken the same opiates as the Perfect Family.

Either you like the ‘I think I’ve forgotten something important but I’ll remember it in a moment’ dawdling style, or you rush out to the nearest chain, Cafe Rouge perhaps, and get really annoyed because they have full training programmes and actually promote their service as something of immense wonder.

110620111196
The males who served us were so casual they may have been staff but, more probably, were just customers who thought they’d get involved because we were looking so helpless. The pretty waitress, resplendent in a lovely light-blue dress looked like she was between modelling jobs. Let’s add her to the advantages the Art of Tea enjoys over other south Manchester bar-cafes. Old goats of the world unite.

Food comes in the form of big salads, bagels, sandwiches, dips and home-made cakes. There are some decent bottled beers available, trad lemonades, good coffee and wine. There are loads of speciality teas as the name of the venue would suggest, but I had the Chilean house Merlot which was like a slimmed down port in flavour but just as strong in alcoholic content. I found it beguiling. It made me feel happy for the world, perhaps that’s what the weirdly Perfect Family had shared prior to coming to the Art of Tea.

The crayfish salad (£6.20) was perfect. The sweet fibrousness of the crustacean was given extra zing by a light but persistent Thai dressing. There were lifting enhancements such as sunflower seeds and coriander, which together with the watercress, resulted in a moist, fishy, delight. Pitta bread added ballast.

Another triumph was the homemade mackerel pate for £4.60 which comes with more salad and toasted ciabatta and is an oily joy. You can feel the Omega 3 flowing through you, brain cells getting fat and fruitful.

110620111190
A dip choice (£4.60) was a dip in mood. We’d assumed the homemade dips included hummus, aubergine, tzatziki and cinnamon squash varieties, but it had meant an either/or choice. So we just got the hummus, with olives, warm pitta, and leaves. Come on Art of Tea, give people at least two out of the four.

We ate and drank on a second-hand wobbly table that tottered with something approaching verve. The people came and went. The chat flowed. Calmness descended. Suddenly something seemed out of place, there was a change in the air.

It was the Perfect Family. They’d gone. As silently and as quietly as they’d dined and drank.

“Time travellers,” I said out loud unaware I was speaking my thoughts. “Must have looped back to their home territory, Edwardian Didsbury, 1908, middle-class gentility. Seen and not heard.”

“Excuse me?” said a passing member of staff or maybe someone on their way to the bookshop. I mumbled an apology and he looked at me as though I’d sprinkled opiates on my porridge that morning. A man opposite reading Joseph Conrad, lowered his book and looked at me over his glasses.

I almost burst out laughing. Ah the sleepy, soft suburbs.

This place is great for lone readers or families, it has events, kids portions, and a sweet atmosphere.

You can follow Jonathan Schofield on Twitter here @JonathSchofield

ALL SCORED CONFIDENTIAL REVIEWS ARE IMPARTIAL AND PAID FOR BY THE MAGAZINE. £1000 to the reader who can prove otherwise, and dismissal for the staff member who wrote a review scored out of twenty on a freebie from the restaurant.

Art of Tea
47 Barlow Moor Road
Manchester M20 6TW
0161 448 9323

Rating: 14/20
Food: 6.5/10
Service: 2.5/5
Ambience: 5/5

Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20: Gordo gets carried away.

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10 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

KanayJune 14th 2011.

Exceptionally good cafe this. Tremendous fun.

1 Response: Reply To This...
Lisa FlanaganApril 25th 2013.

I completely agree
Didsbury, of late, has become overrun with large, corporate businesses and charity shops. Such a shame!

You can imagine my excitement when I recently discovered this rather eclectic little tea/coffee shop whilst off work. I have been absolutely addicted ever since, introducing friends and neighbors alike. Only a short walk from my house, this independent hideaway is a wonderful, unique, venue to sit with your book and wile away the hours. It is only a small cafe bar but is fronted by knowledgeable, friendly staff, serving ‘home-style’ fresh food daily, making use of the local produce at Evans, the local fish shop, The Cheese Hamlet and Axons’ butchers. There is something for everyone, including a large array of loose leaf teas, milkshakes and smoothies, a selection of coffees, home-made cakes, wine, spirits and speciality beers. My favourite is the Goose Island IPA! The breakfast/afternoon menu consists of a whole host of choices including toast, pancakes, yoghurt with muesli, soup, sandwiches, bagels and salads, with daily blackboard specialities. In the evening, the menu includes rather delicious thin crusted pizzas, as well as some platters to share. These you can enjoy under subdued lighting with convivial and unpretentious company. All ingredients are consistently handled and to my mind, pretty faultless. This place has become a huge success in the village and long may it continue.
See http://www.flanagansfoodtravel.com

Hero
Tanzir RashidJune 14th 2011.

Those prawns are looking good. Might have to try this restaurant.

1 Response: Reply To This...
Lisa FlanaganApril 25th 2013.

Crayfish - not prawns!

AnonymousJune 14th 2011.

Crayfish Tanz. They're crayfish.

Jane BaxterJune 15th 2011.

A great place. Totally agree about the house Merlot - the best in the area, and reasonably priced. They do a lovely chocolate Tiffin too.

AnonymousJune 15th 2011.

I completely agree with this. Having been to this café many a time (due to it's proximity more than anything) the food is fine, nothing ground breaking and the fact that you only get a choice of one dip and pita for almost a fiver is somewhat disappointing.

The service on the other-hand is something else, it's a self serve job and even that seems like too much effort for the rude staff. If you expect service with a smile you might have more luck at Costa across the road. Art of Tea management take note, it would be a shame for this lovely little venue to become a victim of its own success. Oh and am I the only one who would expect loose leaf tea at a café so aptly named The Art of Tea?!....

Lisa FlanaganApril 25th 2013.

Not a rant!!!!!

Didsbury, of late, has become overrun with large, corporate businesses and charity shops. Such a shame!

You can imagine my excitement when I recently discovered this rather eclectic little tea/coffee shop whilst off work. I have been absolutely addicted ever since, introducing friends and neighbors alike. Only a short walk from my house, this independent hideaway is a wonderful, unique, venue to sit with your book and wile away the hours. It is only a small cafe bar but is fronted by knowledgeable, friendly staff, serving ‘home-style’ fresh food daily, making use of the local produce at Evans, the local fish shop, The Cheese Hamlet and Axons’ butchers. There is something for everyone, including a large array of loose leaf teas, milkshakes and smoothies, a selection of coffees, home-made cakes, wine, spirits and speciality beers. My favourite is the Goose Island IPA! The breakfast/afternoon menu consists of a whole host of choices including toast, pancakes, yoghurt with muesli, soup, sandwiches, bagels and salads, with daily blackboard specialities. In the evening, the menu includes rather delicious thin crusted pizzas, as well as some platters to share. These you can enjoy under subdued lighting with convivial and unpretentious company. All ingredients are consistently handled and to my mind, pretty faultless. This place has become a huge success in the village and long may it continue.
See http://www.flanagansfoodtravel.com

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The staff should wear clothes made out of corn flakes.

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Dress the staff as Tony the Tiger and the honey monster, otherwise i'm just not interested. ;)

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