This morning's blog was meant to be really very straightforward: a brisk discussion of last night's Gastro Club dinner at The Mark Addy, complete with shoe details (a very cute pair of orange and black suede pumps if you're interested) and a list of the barking things that Robert Owen Brown had us eating this time. And all of that will come, I promise.
But the problem with booking a meal a long time in advance is that, sometimes, things come up that make it less convenient to go; things such as appointments, illnesses and - just occasionally - riots. We had all hoped, of course, that Manchester would rise above the crazy madness in London and Birmingham, and go about its business in its normal, dignified fashion, but as our bus travelled into the city centre yesterday evening it became increasingly clear that everybody else was going the opposite way and trying to get out; minutes later the bus, tram and train services had stopped altogether.
In the time it took us to walk to The Addy, Manchester literally transformed itself into a ghost town. Those shops and bars not already looted closed up for the night with a swiftness that suggested the owners had known and feared this moment would come for some time; gangs of kids - and they were kids - in masks and hoods congregated seemingly from nowhere, sometimes up to fifty at a time, and ran purposefully up Market Street as we walked equally purposefully in the other direction, all in an eerie silence broken only by the ominous chug of the police helicopter over Piccadilly Gardens.
So what did we do? We went for dinner, obviously, prompting a wise woman to post on Facebook that it was all true - I really would crawl across broken glass to get a good meal; as would many others in Manchester, it seemed. Katie didn't get the 70 people she had originally expected at last night's first birthday party of the Gastro Club she founded from nothing, but she certainly got more than 40 hardy souls, determined to enjoy themselves no matter what, and fed and looked after in splendid style by ROB, John, Melissa and all the other amazing staff at the Addy.
For the record, this is what we had:
1. Eggs with wild watercress. Two tiny quails eggs tucked away inside a normal-sized shell, served with watercress and caviar. A classy start that suggested that our journey across war-torn Manchester had not been in vain.
2. Wild Mushrooms with Madeira. The world's poshest mushroom vol-au-vent: toadstool-shaped pastry filled with mushroomy goodness.
3. Little Fishes. These were the little sand eels we had at the last Gourmet Evening - still good.
4. Slow Braised Pruney Pork with umble pie. This was the course that separated the men from the boys: a cute, innocent-looking pie that turned out to be filled with pig heart, spleen and uterus (all in a tasty gravy, obviously), served with half a pig's head per three people. Now, pig's head on a plate really does look like pig's head on a plate (complete with teeth), and as a lot of it is fat there isn't actually a great deal of meat to be had - but it did (apparently) allow an ill-behaved Mr Liz to offer his neighbour on his other side a bit of tongue.
5. The Gastroclub Birthday cake. Not a birthday cake at all, but a huge pillar of Stilton surrounded by individual fruit cake "bricks" (to enable us to go looting afterwards, presumably), each with a guest's name on. The fact that not everyone could attend would seem to indicate that the good, brave staff of the Addy will be rewarded for their sterling efforts in the face of adversity by a diet of pig's head sandwiches and cakes with someone else's name on in the coming week.
All of this was accompanied by an increasingly strange atmosphere that was part convivial geniality, part fear; surreptitious glances at Twitter between courses suggested that all hell was breaking loose outside, with Miss Selfridge on fire, Afflecks Palace under attack, and gangs of kids doing pretty much whatever they wanted. The truth of the situation really hit home when we were asked to leave the premises halfway through the dessert amid rumours that Australasia, just across the river from us, was under attack. Luckily, the friends we were with had secured a lift to take us home, and we waited nervously on streets that were dark and empty, populated only by streams of hooded males quietly making their way past us on their way to the centre - not a bit interested in us, inexorably drawn to disturbances elsewhere.
The Mark Addy was literally the only place open last night, and the staff and patrons should be proud that the Gastro dinner went on regardless. There's been a lot of talk about the spirit of Manchester on the social networks over the last few days, and really, how could this be better exemplified than by people wrestling with a giant pig's head whilst chaos reigned outside? So thanks to the Addy and staff, and thanks to Katie Brunt for organising another triumphant Gastro Club (presumably her most trying yet - surely she deserves your vote for "Food Hero" at the Manchester Food and Drink Awards?) In the true spirit of Gastro Club, I leave you not with pictures of idiots trashing their own city for kicks, but an image of the Gastro birthday cake, dedicated to the amazing be-broomed volunteers who have been out on Manchester's streets since 9am this morning restoring a bit of pride. Here's to the next Gastro Club being a little less eventful.