Good old Manchester - it can always be relied on not to let you down. Take the 2002 Commonwealth Games, for example, which I seem to recall flew the flag with consummate pride by staging a closing ceremony in which Mini Coopers drove around in formation to the theme from Coronation Street, whilst lithe young men dressed in inplausible flat-caps performed gymnastics. I think there may even have been an act involving some whippets, although the mists of time mean I cannot be entirely certain about this.
Similarly, you could pretty much guarantee that the week Manchester's hottest new bar opened - a jaunty outdoor affair at Spinningfields called The Yacht Club, complete with large decking area and garden beds - the heavens would open and even Noah himself would perhaps raise a wary eyebrow at the apocalypse raging outside. Still, Mancunians are a hardy breed, not easily daunted, and Wednesday night saw a joyful crowd of people huddled cheerily under the awning drinking excellent Prosecco and generally behaving as if they were in the South of France rather than at the epicentre of a small gale. The Yacht Club has been admirably inspired by the 1950s-era French Riviera, conjuring up an impossibly glamorous world where all the ladies look a little like Audrey Hepburn and all the men wear deckshoes with insoucient aplomb. Despite the weather, and my subsequent decision not to wear the Capri pants I had planned, I was most impressed - I think I shall while away many a happy hour here between now and September, when the Good Ship Glamorous cruelly plans to set sail and disappear forever. Oh, and if you're the very nice blonde lady whose table we shared, I'm sorry I ate your nuts, and I appreciate you going to get more.
Sadly, we couldn't hang around at The Yacht Club - once the nice lady's nuts were gone it was time for a short skip across the Irwell's handy new pedestrian bridge for the monthly Gourmet Night at the mighty Mark Addy. You know how it works by now...six surprise courses of Robert Owen Brown's finest for £30, plus - if you're lucky - a kiss thrown in for free from landlord John. This is what we ate this month: all delicious, and - for the first time ever - attracting absolutely no disapproval whatsoever from the social networks, who are normally split between astonished admiration/jealousy/naked greed, and open-mouthed terror.
1. Morecambe Bay Shrimp Soup. There's a valuable lesson to be learnt here: if a little dish of soup has a pastry crust perching proudly aloft its upper environs, when you remove (and eat) said lid, the amber nectar pooling seductively beneath will be the approximate temperature of recently-spewed lava. It's a greedy girl indeed whose tongue is still burnt two full days after the event.
2. Line-Caught Anglesey Joey Mackerel with Herb Crumb. A revelation - these are the teensy weensy little fishies who, thanks to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, must now be eaten if they are scooped up along with larger, more desirable specimens: and they were delicious. Mind you, someone had painstakingly removed every single teensy weensy little bone, and then thoughtfully carpeted them with a dark green blanket woven from cheese and herbs - it's what I like to think that fake verdure in the greengrocer's might taste like if one were to chow down whilst the shopkeeper's back was turned.
3. Fillet of Wild Sea Trout. NO-ONE can crisp up fish skin like the team at the Addy, making this meaty nugget, still swimming gaily through a sea of cream sauce, the best dish of the night.
4. Rabbit (shot in the head, according to a cheerful ROB) with St George's Mushrooms and Jersey Royals. I love Jersey Royal potatoes; just as well, as these apparently cost more than anything else on tonight's menu - worth every penny, I say. And indeed, I must have looked hungry, for Chef Owen Brown sneaked us a few more when no-one was looking - suggesting that all those hours spent sucking in my cheeks in pursuit of the "hungry waif" look had finally paid off.
5. Poached Pear with Saffron and Vanilla. An impossibly generous dessert, showcasing a perfectly poached pear (one of your five-a-day, don't forget, and thereby justifying EVERYTHING ELSE served with it) amid a sticky pool of sunset sauce that had to be largely retrieved by running one's fingers daintily over the plate. Add a scoop of vanilla cream and some homemade raspberry ripple ice-cream, and this was the Addy's best pudding to date.
6. Local Cheese Selection. I can't tell you much about this course, as I haven't eaten it yet - those extra Jersey Royals had taken their toll, and the cheese had to be wrapped up in a foil party bag to be taken home for later consumption. You KNOW you've had a class night when you find yourself riding home on the night bus in the company of a man with pockets full of dairy products.
So it is with much joy that I'm off now to eat my cheese - see you all at the Addy next month when we do it ALL AGAIN on Wednesday 30th May.
- The Yacht Club is at Hardman Square, Spinningfields, Manchester M3 3HF.
- The Mark Addy is on Stanley Street, salford M3 5EJ.