Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham areas: any chow places?
I can give you some pointers for Liverpool ...
For fancy dining you should try either 60 Hope Street or The London Carriage Works (both on Hope Street). They are excellent - both have smartish restaurants as well as more informal bistro/cafe bar type areas.
If you want something more relaxed, try the Everyman Bistro - self service and shared tables in a pub type atmosphere, but varied food - from salads and quiche to thai dishes - and really high standards, and they are famous for their puddings (also on Hope Street).
Simply Heathcotes (right in the central business district) can be brilliant, but I have had one or two bad meals there. Paul Heathcote also has the Olive Press on Castle St, round the corner, which does very good pasta, pizza and other dishes.
Alma de Cuba is a new funky place. I have only had tapas there, some of which were disappointing and others were lovely. It's worth going just to see what they've done to the building - it's stunning - a converted church on Seel St.
Another great conversion is Colin's Bridewell off Duke St (you can eat in one of the cells if you like) with interesting and well prepared food - not cheap though.
Other central places I like include the Eureka (Greek) on Myrtle St; The Maharajah (Keralan/Southern Indian) on London Rd; the Yuet Ben (Chinese) with a short menu (in chinese terms) and the best food and view of the Arch in China Town, and The Side Door (French bistro) on Hope St.
If you're out of town, the Allerton area has lots of restaurants, some of which are pretty good - I like the Pod (Allerton Rd - tapas style, but not exclusively spanish) which can get very crowded at weekends, but serves interesting and tasty dishes and the Ark (Church Road), which has a varied modern menu.
Another Chinese restaurant worth a visit is the Chung Ku, which serves a more unusual menu than most, and has an amazing view over the Mersey.
Finally, Keiths Wine bar is an institution on Lark Lane - it has a great atmosphere, a wide variety of food and wines at a reasonable price and is usually reliable.
Hope you enjoy your visit!
I second The Market in Manchester - IMHO it's the best restaurant in town, eccentric, friendly, loveable and very chowish, but only open wed-sat. Definitely book. They also do a cracking lunch there. On the other end of the scale, there's a great little hole in the wall "rice and three" curry place called This n' That on Soap Street, just across from the Chinese Arts Centre. This place is an institution, and serves up delicious plates of food for under a fiver, very no-frills decor.
Other good places in the city centre: If you're into wine/tapas, I really like Evuna on Deansgate though its on the pricey side. Also on Deansgate is a great deli for lunch - Katsouris. Wonderful sandwiches. If you want to try Traditional British Fare Sam's Chop House is a good choice. For great Chinese, go to Red Chilli on Portland Street. For Thai, Chaophraya on Chapel Street. I'd say both Chinatown and the Curry Mile are overrated foodwise.
In Liverpool, I'd second London Carriage Works and 60 Hope Street for fine dining. And if you're going to have a car, there are some wonderful places in the surrounding Lancashire countryside that are well worth a trip, including (fancy) the Inn at Whitewell, Northcote Manor in Langho, Nutters in Rochdale (and not so fancy) The Three Fishes pub at Mitton. A visit to all could be combined with a lovely walk or drive.
I like "This & That" as well. There's also good "rice and three" at two places round the corner (neither name of which I can recall). First the very tiny place on the corner of High Street (only got 4 tables or so). And the one almost next to the Cedar Tree. Fab value for money.
re: Jeremy M
The Shere Khan has been closed for a while but now seems to have re-opened. It has "rested on its laurels" for a while and it is now much easier to find good "Indian" food in the Manchester area. Most places are away from the "curry mile", but Rusholme remains an interesting place to walk through (buit don't expect more than your run of the mill curry house..
The Market Restaurant on High Street in central Manchester (in the northern quarter) has exceptional food and is friendly and very cosy. They've been in Manchester for 25 years.
They have a small but tasty menu (one for lunch, one for dinner) that changes monthly and also caters very well for veggies, if that's an issue. The cooking is traditional English with a twist, depending on what produce is in season.
The puddings are heavenly - my favourites have been the homemade orange jelly with heavy whipped cream, the cinnamon pavlova with homemade ice cream or the local cheese board with homemade biscuits and chutney.
They have a good wine list and also carry a nice range of Belgian beers and even damson vodka.
It's not cheap - a meal for two is around £60 - £70 (that's main courses, bottle of wine, dessert and coffee) but it's worth every penny.
It's staffed by a small core team who know the place and menu inside out and are very welcoming. You might be sat at an old Singer sewing table and even your coffee service will be vintage crockery. :-)