After a half year break, during which the organiser went travelling to far off places where rice and noodles are the main carbohydrate, the award winning monthly social dining event known as Gastroclub is back.
Like many ideas, this began after a heated debate in a pub. Katie Brunt and her mates were discussing why there were no social dining events in Manchester and what the most unusual thing they’d ever seen on the menu in a local restaurant was. Katie combined these ideas and GastroClub was born. She threw out a few tentative tweets to gage interest and before long a group of social media savvy Mancunian fine food lovers were hungry for more.
The first event was held in August 2010 at The Mark Addy. Always one to rise to an unusual culinary challenge, Chef Robert Owen Brown quickly grasped the concept of providing an ambitious one-off menu for hearty gourmet appetites. Since then, Gastroclub events have introduced Manchester’s more adventurous diners to the wider range of food available in restaurants across town. Over the months, they’ve gorged their way through silver ear fungus and jellyfish, Ethiopian flat breads, grey squirrel pie, frog’s legs, monkfish liver and pan fried ostrich satay.
The most recent event was held back at The Mark Addy, the place that many long-standing members agree is the spiritual home of GastroClub. 80 guests were booked in to sample some more unusual dishes from Robert Owen Brown’s imagination. On arrival we were given a glass of Aperol Spritz - a classic cocktail from the Veneto region of Italy made with a bitter orange liqueur, prosecco and club soda. Sipping this on a balmy June evening on the Addy terrace overlooking the Irwell, whilst squinting, one could almost imagine they were in (a dingy back alley of) Venice.
After a game of ‘guess the Twitter person’ (would you believe it, the gobbiest ones are the most shy in real life) Chef came out to give us all a bit of an honest overview of the menu (his comments are in brackets). For £36, diners were offered a multi-course feast of delights.
To start, there was wild salmon carpaccio style, (“there’s bound to be one of you who complains that it’s raw - it’s bloody meant to be”) perfectly fresh, thinly sliced salmon with lemon oil and chives.
Next was hollandaise glazed truffled pheasant egg (“if I’d have realised I was going to have to perfectly poach 80 bloody pheasant eggs, I might have put summat else on the menu”) This dish caused an audible dent in general hubbub as a roomful of diners collectively marvelled at the gastronomic harmony made by these simple ingredients.
‘Shank of sea robin with Yorkshire chorizo and heritage tomato’ was the course that everyone was most mystified about. Sea robin turned out to be a more elegant name for gurnard - which have large pectoral fins that open and close like a bird’s wings in flight when they swim. The flesh of this soft white fish was presented rolled and wrapped in a thin spring roll pastry on a stew of intensely flavoured chorizo and tomato.
The main event was a ‘rare breed roast within a roast’ - 12-hour straw pit roasted goat kid, piglet, rose veal calf and salt marsh lamb. ROB loves wrapping things within other things so much that present giving on Christmas day must take a whole week at his house. He explained the logistical difficulties in packing together animal carcasses of such a similar size and in the end he had to swap them around a bit like a meaty puzzle to fit. The finished multi-beast was paraded through the restaurant to rapturous applause on a purpose built litter like a well fed and bronzed Roman emperor. It was then brought to a table where bloggers crowded round like eager paparazzi for an opportunity to get a photograph. It got more snaps than a trapped septuagenarian soap star after a sex scandal.
There was so much meat some people even got doggie/piggy/goaty bags to take away. Although all of the meat was delicious and meltingly tender, you had to really concentrate to work out which of the beasts was on your fork at any time. Accompaniments were kept sensibly simple in the form of gravy, boiled and buttered new potatoes and perfectly turned carrots and courgettes. There was also a communal side salad for each table of seasonal greens grown nearby at Glebelands City Growers in Sale.
So many people were stuffed to the gills and suffering badly from the meat sweats at this point, that even a ‘waffer theen mint’ would have finished them off, but was still time for dessert.The kitchen team had come up with an assiette of puddings called ‘Pop memories: A selection of five desserts all with fizzy pop at the roots’. Most young whippersnapper bloggers stared blankly at ROB as he waxed lyrically about the ‘pop man’ coming round to deliver brightly coloured Corona from the back of his van in the 70’s. We got Vimto jelly, Dr Pepper cheesecake with StarDust, Rubicon ice lolly, cream soda mousse and a coke float.
GastroClub events are held at a different venue each month. Click here to join the mailing list or follow them on Twitter for info on the next event.