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Friday, 2 November 2012

Halloween Gourmet Evening at The Mark Addy: Local Girl Finally Gets Some Brains

Now, I'm quite happy to admit that in a number of ways, I am not in the least bit adventurous. I like to be in bed early on a school night, for example, and I am highly suspicious of change; I am yet to be convinced that black and navy can be worn together, or that an open-toed sandal can be accessorised with tights. And yet I've always fancied myself as quite an adventurous eater, altogether brave in my food choices despite being - naturally - most discerning about what I pop into my gannet-like mouth.

In fact, I've always said that there's only one thing I wouldn't really want to try, and that's brains. Born in the 70s into an enthusiastically meaty family, I've eaten most things - when you've watched your father press his own tongue (so to speak) every Christmas, there's not much left in this world that can scare you. Except brains. And I think we all knew it was only a matter of time until Robert Owen Brown decided to serve them up as part of the monthly six course Gourmet Evening at The Mark Addy; on Wednesday, that time was finally nigh. Here's what we had, including - a new entry at number three - the course that almost dereailed my adventurously greedy spirit...

1. Roast Pear William with Shropshire Blue Cheese. When he introduces this, ROB terms it a salad, despite it only having one or two miniscule hints of greenery in evidence upon its arrival. Mr Liz deems this his idea of a salad, and whilst I would have liked a little more vegetation, we both enjoy the contrast of the soft, fragrant fruit against the salty strutting of the cheese and the sweetness of the honey and saffron dressing. I have to pretend that I am not running my finger round the bowl to get at the last of this dressing when someone comes to clear the table, lest I look greedy, and am brought extra brains later.

2. Pumpkin Soup Shooter. Thoroughly appropriate for Halloween, this smooth, rich soup, topped with a frisky foam, is mellow and warming, combining the soft spice of the pumpkin with the roundness of what is clearly a considerable quantity of cream. All across the pub, diners knock back their shooter and exchange anxious glances at the thought of what is to come, perhaps wishing the soup had a hefty glug of brandy in it as well.

3. Crispy Veal Calf Brain with Diablo Sauce. This course arrives whilst I am indulging in some heady sausage talk with James of Bobby's Bangers; I return to my table to find Mr Liz looking warily at the dish that has appeared there, with a sort of "they're he-eeere" expression on his face as he peers - with some trepidation - into the shadowy depths of the bowl. And do you know what? They're OK - two flat, white discs of meat (one each), coated in batter, deep fried, and served with a spicy dipping sauce. Would I have liked them if they hadn't essentially tasted of batter and spicy dipping sauce? Maybe not, but I can now say I've tried them, and if I get pestered by trick or treaters in future years I can always offer this up to them as a tasty alternative to all that bland Haribo, and then watch them run away, screaming, down the street.

4. Roast Local Pheasant. A sensibly straightforward course after all that excitement - moist, gamey bird served with tiny roast onions, spinach and fondant potato. I enjoy this very much, particularly as, after the last course, I too now consider myself to be something of a game old bird.

5. Chestnut and Fig Tart. I love Autumn/Winter food, and this encapsulates everything that is right and good about the season - a crisp pastry shell filled with a rich, nutty mixture that is not too sweet, just flavoured with the natural sugars of the figs and the warmth of the chestnuts. It is perfect, and I think those who have eaten the brains should have extra portions at the expense of those who have not.

6. Local Cheese. As ever, two cheeses, grapes, celery and crackers; as ever, excellent. The only variable with this one is the location of their consumption; tonight, I eat them on the premises rather than in the car on the way home.

As I weigh all of this up the next day, there are two things that come to mind. First of all, only ROB would have the chutzpah to serve up brains to the 30 Swedish tourists who have booked in for Gourmet Evening for a taste of real English cuisine (to be fair, many of them do give them a good go, although others look rather as if they would like to return home with immediate effect). And secondly? The brains were fine, but given a choice, I'll take balls over brains ANY day.

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