There are many things I enjoy about the monthly Gourmet Night at The Mark Addy: the excellent food, of course, and the element of surprise in not knowing what your six seasonal, local courses will include, and obviously the chance to see all the charming folk at this venerable Salford institution. Truth be told, though, probably my favourite bit of my regular Addy visits is posting the menu on Twitter and Facebook, going off and stuffing my face, and then coming back to look at the trail of comments, which normally veer wildly between jealous approval and open-mouthed horror. And without fail, the course that always prompts the most concern is squirrel.
Why this should be, I'm not entirely sure. Some complain they are vermin; others - perhaps thinking fondly back to the waistcoat-wearing, mystery-solving squirrels of their childhood story books - think they are just too cute to eat. Me? I just think they are delicious - small but with a gamey taste that makes them far more interesting than many blander meats - and so does Robert Owen Brown, for he often puts them on his menu in various inventive guises. Last night it was a squirrel pasty - but you'll have to wait until course two to meet him. Here's the full rundown of what we had:
1. Crispy South Coast Sand Eels with Saffron Mayonnaise. Don't be frightened by the slightly scary-sounding name here - these little fishy friends had just been lightly dusted and then fried in the manner of whitebait, before being served up with a ludicrously thick and sexy mayonnaise for dipping. Portion size was - as you can see - very generous for course one of six; just imagine how greedy it would have been if there had been a spare one, leading someone to eat TWO portions! I know - pretty hard to even picture such gluttony.
*moves swiftly on*
2. Grey Squirrel Pasty. Aha - here is that controversial course, and I think it might just have been my favourite of the night. Tender morsels of tasty, waistcoat-wearing vermin, slow-cooked and then served up in a thick gravy within a sturdy pastry crust - I would have eaten ten if I could.
3. Roasted Arctic Char with Lemon and Chive. Now, the fish course is often the highlight of Gourmet Night for me, but not this time. Yes, this cold-water fish, found in little pockets around the country including Lake Windermere, was perfectly cooked, but I found the flavour a touch on the muddy side and the accompanying sauce a little oily. I still ate it all, mind.
4. Lamb Cutlet with Roasted Shallot. Can't go wrong with this, surely - a fat pink chop served with an equally fat roast shallot in a gravy SO good I was forced to run my finger round the dish just to get every last bit.
5. Strawberry Tart. They do a good pudding at The Addy and this was no exception - a crisp pastry shell filled with cream and strawberries and topped with an exuberant flourish of spun sugar.
6. Farmhouse Cheese. Now, I don't have a picture of this, as I was busy telling Clare Howarth of designsixty4 all about the forthcoming Gastro Club menu at The Addy, but you will all have seen cheese before, so no matter. Suffice to say there was no soft or stinky cheese on this month's platter, and as a result I simply ate thick slabs of excellent butter on my crackers instead, clearly in the belief that I had perhaps not eaten quite enough for one night.
By the way, thanks for the title of this post must go to lovely (vegetarian) Jules from the estimable Good Gobble blog, who has been enquiring worriedly about the squirrel's welfare on Twitter all morning. "Was there a little squirrel inside the pasty?" she enquired tremulously - well yes, Jules, there was, and I ate him, waistcoat and all. I'm afraid rumours of his demise have, in this case, not been greatly exaggerated.
- The Mark Addy is on Stanley Street in Salford, Manchester, M3 5EJ.