On the whole, Manchester is a pretty sleek, sexy, sophisticated sort of city. It has all the pre-requisites to qualify as a grande dame of the very highest order: a smoky, turbulent past; art and culture beyond reproach; a fleet of interesting places to eat and drink; clever, witty inhabitants with an eye for a short hem and an excellent shoe - everything that a thriving, cosmopolitan sort of place should have. And yet there's no getting away from the fact that many of Manchester's excellently shod urban foxes will spend a large portion of tomorrow - Good Friday - freezing by the side of the River Irwell cheering on a number of small plastic ducks as they drift haplessly towards the finish line; and yes - I will be one of them, for Friday 29th March sees the return of the annual Manchester Duck Race. You can read more about it here, and it's not too late to buy yourself a duck or two; just be aware though, that my duck has had a sniff of the fact that the top prize is Kurt Geiger vouchers and has therefore promised me that it will be first across the line.
Anyway, one way of keeping warm whilst watching our tiny plastic friends do battle is to shelter inside the ever-welcoming Mark Addy, whose window seats offer an excellent view of the whole shebang. Talking of the Addy - and of ducks - we were there last night for March's Gourmet Night, the monthly six-course extravaganza that sees chef Robert Owen Brown unleash a succession of unusual animal parts upon excited diners for the bargain price of £30. Take a look at this lot and tell me it isn't a wonder to behold (well, as much as one can behold ANYTHING in the Addy's rather intimate lighting):
1. Duck Egg with Broad Beans, Sea Salt, Parmesan Crisp and Bearnaise Sauce. We used to get duck eggs very occasionally as a treat when I was a kid, and I find they have lost little of their allure - far larger and richer than the poultry (sorry) offering a hen can produce, this course was a joy from start to finish.
2. Wild Garlic, Manchester Mascarpone and Beetroot Salad. Soft, white cheese and fat, earthy beetroot is a winning combination at any time; when that cheese is a richly dense, homemade affair and you add handfuls of rampant greenery that would have any vampire running for the hills however peckish they might be, it becomes positively sublime.
3. Crab and Shellfish Pie. Joint best course of the night for me: tiny crabs and other sea-based brethren swimming merrily in a rich broth - thoughtfully topped with puff pastry (seen here both top on and top off, a little like a convertible) to stop them escaping anywhere other than into my mouth. I'm a little ashamed to say that there was a spare one of these, and it was me who ate it *waits for cries of surprise*
4. Savoury Duck. Don't worry, little plastic friends - this was not a real duck at all, but a gloriously big fat meaty faggot topped with a fetching toupee of sweet onions. I have two observations here: firstly, I like how the darkness of this photo makes the faggot look a little threatening as it swaggers meatily into shot; and secondly, the beautiful Lucy Hope, chanteuse extraordinaire, shimmied in from a singing job at this point, resplendent in sequinned evening gown and full make up, and proceeded to trough three of these fine fellows in all her exotic finery *nods approvingly*.
5. Roast Rabbit Loin. Simple but good, this one - tender bunny served alongside the spoils of his own vegetable thieving.
6. Eccles Cake with Lancashire Cheese. If you've never had cheese with some kind of baked good, I suggest you try it immediately - this dainty little Eccles cake soon found itself astride a great wedge of cheese and looking a whole lot less prettily dignified. It did not mind, however, for it knew that its sweet, jammy fruitiness could only be improved by such a holy union.
So, one of the best yet? I would say so - and I'm very much looking forward to being back at The Addy tomorrow to cheer my very own little duck, savoury or otherwise, over the finishline.