Now, perhaps contrary to appearances, I do at least try to lead something of a balanced life: for every occasion of unmitigated greed, there are usually at least two or three quiet, unheralded days where I drink water and eat lentils as penance for my previous indulgences. Sometimes, however, circumstances conspire against me, forcing me from the path of healthy living with a string of events that leave me nothing more than an innocent victim; in other words, nothing I am about to tell you is my fault. At all. Just in case some of it appears my fault, I am presenting last week's greed in a swift diary format, in order to rush it through and prevent any serious questions being asked; feel free to gloss over any parts where I do not come out well.
Wednesday, 24th April: Gourmet Night at The Mark Addy
So, you could argue that I deliberately booked this in, but then it's hardly my fault that one of Manchester's finest chefs chooses to serve up six mystery courses based on local, seasonal produce on the last Wednesday of every month. Those of a squeamish disposition will note, perhaps with some relief, the relative normality of this month's menu (which perhaps indicates that I am to be served up a banquet consisting entirely of squirrel testicles and pig head next time, but I'll worry about that when I get to it); here's what we had.
1. Summer Truffle Shooter. Rich, thick soup laced generously with the unmistakable earthy tang of truffle; my only complaint here is that I can't get the last bit of soup out, and get a crick in my neck trying to - all the while pretending to be casually examining something high above my head.
2. St George's Mushrooms with Wild Garlic and Madeira Cream. These turn out to be feisty, peppery little fellows, housed inside a jaunty bread cage which proves useful for mopping up the Madeira sauce. I enjoy this very much at the time, but hold Robert Owen Brown entirely responsible for the fact that everything I consume for the next three days has an air of garlic about it.
3. Dublin Bay Prawns with Hand Dived Scallops. Best course of the night - once I'd tamed this fishy Cerberus and ravaged the scallop it was so sensibly guarding.
4. Braised Mutton with Capers. "Isn't mutton sad, and grey, and tough?" asked a misguided friend. No - it looks like this, and is happy, and flavoursome, and tender.
5. Honey and Saffron Poached Pear. This is just lovely - I enjoy any kind of poached pear, and the Salford honey lends just the right amount of caramelly sweetness. And, pears are healthy - this is official fact.
6. Regional Cheeses. Just look at this size of this, for two people - I admit defeat, and have it wrapped up to take home.
Thursday, 25th April: Ginger's Comfort Emporium Book Launch
So, the following day is obviously meant to be a lentil day. I cannot be held responsible if the lovely Claire Kelsey - maker of the world's finest ice cream in the form of Ginger's Comfort Emporium's Chorlton Crack - decides to launch her new book, Melt, at the Whim Wham Cafe. The whole of Manchester seems to have turned out for this one, and deservedly so - the book is full of amazing things (including the salted caramel and peanut butter ice cream, aka Chorlton Crack), and Claire herself is a most gracious host. She has even, for example, made us a spare tyre (presumably for her famous van) entirely out of ice cream.
Saturday, 27th April: Pie & Ale, plus The Queen Brie Cheese
The weekend's healthy eating plan fares no better. Once Mr Liz got wind of a new venue called Pie & Ale in the Northern Quarter, selling - yep - pies and ale, there was no keeping him away from it. It does indeed turn out to be every boy's dream - three pies for sale every day at £5.95 each, with sides of mashed potato, gravy and mushy peas available at 85p extra, and a selection of real ales at the bar with which to wash the whole lot down. I am a little disappointed that at 12.45 on a Saturday lunchtime they are just rubbing the chicken pie option off the board, leaving us with a choice only of chilli beef or the vegetarian one (which I think involved tomatoes, and beans, and other nutritious items). I go for the unhealthy one and it is lovely - really buttery pastry and a nice, spicy, generous filling; the mashed potato side is unnecessary but very good. Mr Liz says it fails the Wigan pie test (apparently you have to be able to pick it up and eat it in your hands for it to properly qualify as a real pie) but is already asking when we can go back.
Home then, where I will rustle up some delightful lentil delicacy. Um, no. Ever lucky, I have won a cheese hamper from the excellent Arndale cheese stall The Queen Brie - and she has done me proud. I absolutely, 100% promise that my diet starts from tomorrow...well, once I've eaten all this cheese up, anyway.
- The Mark Addy is on Stanley Street in Salford.
- You can find out more about Ginger's Comfort Emporium here.
- Pie & Ale can be found at The Hive on Lever Street in the Northern Quarter.
- The Queen Brie can be found in Manchester Arndale Market.