Yesterday did NOT start well. I awoke clutching my pass for the International Cheese Awards, my sweaty palm embossed with the beautiful poetry that would ensure my entry to a heavenly world of cheese; indeed, some friends had been the day before, and returned wide-eyed and breathless, telling tall tales of acres of dairy goodness stretching as far as the eye could see. It's fair to say I was excited.
And yet. Sadly, that excitement did not translate into what should - it transpired afterwards - have been the correct course of action: leaping out of bed at 6 and being at the festival for 8 (that's 8am, not 8lbs of cheese, although I was hopeful). Instead, I naively left the house at 9, drove all the way to Nantwich, sat in traffic for another hour or so, then gave up and drove another hour home; I didn't even see the car-park. A kind Twitter correspondent told me he'd queued for 90 minutes, and then again for his ticket; clearly a more patient soul than me.
Of course, it all turned out for the best, for last night was the last Wednesday of the month and that can only mean one thing: Gourmet Evening at The Mark Addy. You know how this works by now - £30 a head for 6 surprise courses of whatever seasonal goodies Robert Owen Brown fancies throwing your way, me complaining all the way home about having eaten too much etc etc - but before I list this month's Greed Fest, there are a couple of things I must mention. Firstly, ROB has quite rightly been nominated as Chef of the Year in this year's Manchester Food & Drink Awards, with The Mark Addy itself up for best restaurant - the public vote is open now if you want to register your approval of this fine establishment.
And secondly, and more remarkably, last night ROB was nervous about his menu. He has said before that coming into the restaurant and announcing the menu ALWAYS makes him uncomfortable (which seems strange, considering he has survived appearing in front of millions on The One Show), but last night he actually feared - I think - booing, heckling and general all-round horror at his brave menu. Well, he needn't have worried. People go along to Gourmet Evening to try something different, things they wouldn't normally have at home, which is why THIS little lot went down a storm:
1. Beetroot Soup topped with Crumbled Goats Curd. A perfect start - red velvet soup perfectly complimented by the tarty tang of the goats curd crumbled over the top. At least, it WOULD have been the perfect start if it hadn't come with a huge plate of the most delicious bread, all of which we ate - feel free to insert your own comments here about my inability to learn from previous mistakes etc etc.
2. Brawn with Piccalilli Toast. Brawn is pig's head, cooked and pressed into a kind of terrine, and it is delicious. I honestly believe that if you're happy to eat animals, it is pretty insulting to the animal to turn your nose up at certain bits of it - it's ALL meat, after all, so I don't really see the need for squeamishness over the less glamorous cuts. This dish - one of the ones ROB was afraid of - drew a huge number of positive comments; I would like to say that I left the toast, but you probably know the sad truth.
3. Fish Stew. Nothing to offend anyone here - just a cute kilner jar filled with the most intensely flavoured fish broth and pieces of tender piscine goodness. I am hoping my use of the adjective "piscine" here will obscure the fact that I don't know what fish it was, sorry *glances round to see if has got away with it*
4. Ox Tail and Ox Tongue. The same goes for this as for the brawn - this is top to tail eating at its best, and is actually my favourite meat course to date that I've had at the Addy. A tender piece of tongue (don't worry - it doesn't look like something that once lolled from an animal's mouth by the time ROB has pimped it up), sitting proudly astride a potato and spinach tower, swimming in a meaty sauce studded with pieces of tasty ox tail, the whole lot topped with tangy mustard...I would order this again and again if it were a regular menu item *hint hint*
5. Warm Blackberry Custard. Simple perfection - blackberries in the bottom of a champagne glass topped with warm custard; in the end I gave up with the spoon and just drank the lot.
6. Regional Cheeses. At last! After the disappointment of my cheese-free day, finally my patience is rewarded with a plate of the good stuff! Well, ahem, suffice to say that the cheese is currently residing in my fridge in a foil parcel, ousted by that pushy bread that came with the soup and practically forced its way down my throat.
So, fittingly enough, a day that started with cheese deprivation ended with me wending my glamorous way home on the bus clutching - as a friend put it on Twitter - a wrap o' cheese. You can try, but you simply have to be born with this kind of class.