Since trams came oh-so-quickly to South Manchester (ahead of schedule?! Who'd have thunk it!), there's simply no excuse for not exploring the 'burbs a bit more if you're a city centre dweller like myself. There are even several stops to choose from depending upon which segment of Didsbury you're headed to, and it was the Burton Road alighting point at which we hopped off to enjoy the sophisticated delights of a comfy, intimate and cosy little gem. It takes a lot to stand out on a stretch of road that's already packed with critically acclaimed independent businesses, but whatever 'a lot' is, The Violet Hour has it in spades.
Bare brick walls are far from a cliché for me; they'll never get old until I achieve my dream of having it in my own kitchen. Moodily lit and with rustic wood surfaces and a bar showcasing some extremely fine spirit choices under spotlight, it felt a lot like some of the expensive bars I've visited across the pond in San Francisco. Only here, the prices won't make your bank balance skip a beat. Because of its modest size and top drawer drinks cabinet it feels exclusive, but it shan't cost you an arm and a leg. The Violet Hour is more than just a bar-cum-eatery though – it hosts regular masterclasses onto which you can book for birthdays, hen/stag parties and the like, and with live music on Thursdays it provides entertainment while you dine and imbibe.
Clientele and Atmosphere
My companion pointed out that if such a venue was in the Northern Quarter, it would have been packed to the rafters with hipsters on a Thursday night. But out in family-oriented, young urban professional-populated West Didsbury, it boasted comfortably healthy numbers without being crowded. There's so much to choose from in terms of bars and restaurants on Burton Road (particularly if you're an avid supporter of indies like we at DesignMyNight), so what's so special about The Violet Hour? Try absolutely everything, for a start. From the heartwarming friendliness of the staff who spoke to us to the attention to detail in terms of both the food and drink menu, a visit there feels like a treat and a half. Yet it simultaneously offers the relaxing vibe of a bar you'd flop into after a tough day at work. It has every avenue covered. And permission to wax lyrical about the music selection? Not only did 'Old Red Eyes' by The Beautiful South make an appearance, but some absolute Cure classics were peppered amongst The Police, The Pixies and The Cardigans. Sorted.
Food & Drink
The Violet Hour's cocktail menu reads like a dream. For connoisseurs, the drinks have a unique stamp upon them that offer a flavour of the bar's creativity and innovation when it comes to mixology but for the uninitiated, it's not too overwhelming. Even if you were confused, staff would be on hand to talk you through potential favourites and besides, you can order off-menu classics like mojitos and sours as you please. My companion and I engaged in our usual cocktail gender-role reversal; he had the ultra girly 'Penelope Pitstop'; a baby pink and creamy vodka concoction that doubled as aperitif and dessert (which Penelope herself or indeed Barbie would have been proud of), while I opted for the 'Don Draper Julep' – manly Woodford Reserve bourbon, and fresh mint as with a rhubarb liqueur twist... as smooth, dapper and unpredictable as the man himself. Imagine my delight when not only did my drink come in a metal flagon with ice gathering on the outside but had a stick of rhubarb for a stirrer. Genius. I also went rogue with a deliciously sour and salty Mezcal Margarita, and it'd have been rude not to sample the most popular drink on the menu, a Backstreet Batida (a blend of cahaça, Wray & Nephew and Ting served in a tin). It's quirky but it's far from pretentious.
The venue has only been dabbling in food for a short while, but in that short while they've achieved what well-established restaurants can only dream of. We started with ribs that chef Phil Cook confirmed were over 24 hours in the making, and boy did it show. They just happened to be the best ribs my companion had ever had, and I'll certainly back up that statement. Meltingly juicy and flavoursome, he could have happily eaten ten more. They came with a cider mayonnaise side which I wanted to take home in a jar, but instead made do by dipping the panko crab cakes into (not that they didn't come with their own delectable accompaniment, a divine dressing). Also, can we just get a moment for panko breadcrumbs? I don't know if they've graced crab cakes before, but it made those zingy bite-size morsels even tastier.
For mains we had to make a heartbreaking choice between a whole list of tantalising burgers, but eventually settled on the Big Daddy Violet and the Deli Burger. The meat from which the patties were made was of palpable quality; tender and smooth with nothing remotely chewy, and pink in the middle (as they should be). The Deli proudly displayed a layer of flavoursome pastrami with a personal favourite of mine, Manchego cheese, on soft ciabatta. The whole combination was an absolute winner. Superlatives fail me for the Daddy... The city centre's 'dirty burger' contingent (Almost Famous, Byron and Solita, we're looking at you) would do well to take a leaf out Violet's book. The bacon was crisp and tasty in its own right, the brioche bun was fresh, the sauces worked brilliantly together; the pulled pork alone would have made a fantastic dish and it was all topped with a deep fried gherkin. Can't say fairer than that. Both burgers come with shoestring fries as standard that are wrapped in adorable faux-newspaper, and my only regret was that I was too full to go for pudding because there were some darn good-looking ones.
You can get pretty jaded living in a city as lively as Manchester, where every venue's trying to tell you it's the best at something. Well, it's been a while since I've been as genuinely overwhelmed by quality, choice, deliciousness and enjoyment in the way I was at The Violet Hour. Both my companion and I agreed that it's some of the best food we've had not just in Manchester, but ever. The acoustic music that accompanied the later part of our meal was relaxing and pleasant and with some of the friendliest staff you could hope to meet, it'd make for the perfect evening. Not only is it doing something different, it's doing it well. Hotfoot it there as soon as you can! Book your table now using the form above.