I imagine that February 29th is a pretty scary day for unmarried menfolk who happen to be in a relationship. Either they are madly, deeply, desperately in love, and spend the day moping winsomely, hoping upon hope for a proposal from their beloved; or they would much rather acquire a new lawn mower than a mother-in-law, and spend the day hiding at the office, or perhaps adding a new coat of varnish to the fence in a bid to be out the house as much as possible. One thing I'm fairly sure of is that most women would NOT book two places at The Mark Addy monthly Gourmet Evening in order to pop the question, no doubt knowing of chef Robert Owen Brown's penchant for serving up entire pig heads - hardly conducive to a romantic evening (unless you are a lady pig, with an eye for a quiet partner). In the end, this month's menu was fairly restrained - the brains that had apparently been ordered mercifully had not turned up, so instead we ate this little lot.
1. Morecambe Bay Shrimp and Sea Urchin Soup. One of the great delights of The Mark Addy Gourmet Evening is to take a picture of whatever bonkers combination has tickled ROB's fancy this month, put it on Facebook, and then return an hour or so later to peruse the excited/ indignant/ horrified thread that will have run wild whilst you were away. This particular course, served inside an empty sea urchin, prompted much discussion, with metaphors ranging from hedgehog to, um, hairy bollock. It was actually delicious - an intensely fishy broth that tasted of 1980s seaside holidays, although a lack of small spoons meant we had to drink it through a straw in the manner of a Vic Reeves' Big Night Out sketch: "round about this time of night, I like to slip a straw into a sea urchin"...inDEED.
2. Rose Veal Pate. Veal is a much misunderstood meat - anything that involves perceived cruelty to cute, baby animals is likely to be controversial - but rose veal is a natural by-product of the dairy industry and is produced to the highest welfare standards; and as I've said before, you either eat animals and the associated dairy products, or you don't. I do, and so does ROB; thus this gorgeous pate was rich with cream and butter in a tribute to the animal that made it, and served with crispy melba toast in a tribute to, erm, bread products.
3. Ferreted Rabbit with Wild Mushrooms. As their name suggests, these Flopsies had been garnered by popping little furry ferrets down the rabbit holes and then catching the fleeing bunnies in a net; what the description does NOT tell you is that this dish was actually the world's poshest vol-au-vent - a well of flaky pastry filled to the brim with a creamy rabbit-and-mushroom mixture that we would have been eating at parties in the 1970s, had we known such a thrilling possibility was within our grasp *demands re-enactment of ALL childhood birthday parties, only with better food*
4. Gurnard Tail with Thyme, Wild Garlic and Salford Ham. Now, the main course at the Addy Gourmet Evening is ALWAYS meat, so this one represented something of a departure (well, that or ROB had brain fricasse planned for us - unlucky, eh *wipes brow in relief*). To be fair, gurnard is quite a meaty fish anyway, and was wrapped up snugly in Salford's own version of Parma ham for this classy dish; even classier when you consider that all the staff had been out collecting the wild garlic in bin bags just hours earlier. NB I will NOT repeat what a crude-minded friend said this picture reminded her of *disapproving face*
5. Timperley Early Rhubarb Fool. Unusually for me, the dessert course was my favourite course of the night, perhaps because I was already in retro mode: I grew up on gooseberry fool, so this sweet-yet-tart combination of prettily pink rhubarb swirled with thick cream and served with brittle ginger biscuits, dark with treacle, was just perfect. When this stunning course was served, ROB stopped off at our table to ask what we thought of it, no doubt expecting some pithy and insightful comment on the nature of fresh seasonal ingredients and the importance of supporting local producers. I said that the biscuits looked like Mickey Mouse ears. He left and went to another table.
6. Local Cheese. The usual straw that broke the camel's back: two types of cheese - one blue, one not and therefore ignored - crackers and butter. This is the course that always makes my jeans too tight; you'd really think I'd have learned not to eat it by now.
So, whilst ROB's lovely business partner Margaret may have been bemoaning the lack of proposals by the end of the night, the food was as good as ever, and - as usual - excellent value at £30 for six courses. Next month, for one month only, Gourmet Evening is on the last Thursday in March - and I can't go. Anyone who wishes to go along, eat hairy bollocks and write a guest post is MORE than welcome....
- The Mark Addy is on Stanley Street in Salford, Manchester, M3 5EJ; tel: 0161 832 4080; email: firstname.lastname@example.org