I attended my first session of Gastroclub earlier this month. This particular session was at the Market Restaurant, and promised not one, not two, but five desserts with a historical bent. A wee bit excessive, you say? Not a bit of it, we thought as we headed off to the city centre on a Tuesday evening, intrigued and excited by promises of exotic heritage desserts. It’s not often you get to mix history and food on a school night…
My companion and I were greeted at the door by Katie Brunt, the effervescent organiser and host of Gastroclub which she’d started after discovering there was a dinner-sized gap in the market for like-minded foodlovers in Manchester. Katie explained numbers were down because of the United vs. Chelsea match that night. I’ve come late to Gastroclub (perhaps due in part to not actually living in Manchester these days) so we couldn’t tell whether the 30-odd folk in the upstairs restaurant were representative of a normal turnout or not. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves and there was an obvious crowd of regulars.
Before the pudding onslaught we had a simple light main course of Beef Stroganoff (very nice) and boiled potatoes. Despite this being good fare neither we nor anyone else seemed to overfill their plates: everyone was focused on the task ahead of the five desserts, and had no idea what to expect and how much room to leave.
Dessert 2: Osbourne Pudding
Quite a contrast with dish two. This was warm and much heavier than the orange custard. It was lightly spiced, a bit like a bread & butter pudding with dried fruit. I love bread and butter pudding and have no qualms about eating it, although it felt odd to be doing so in the confines of a restaurant rather than at home in the depths of winter. Our table suffered from a momentary deficit of custard to offset the natural dryness of this pudding, hence lots of beer-drinking and muttering about inappropriate appropriation. Calm, and masticular moisture was rapidly re-established with the appearance of a replacement gravy boat of custard. Verdict: warm and hazy childhood memories stirred up, but perhaps not a foodie feast dish for a spring evening. 3/5
Dessert 4: Hannah Glasse’s Carrot Tart
This was definitely the course I was most intrigued by when the invite email went out. Carrot cake is wonderful. Carrots are orange and sweet and these features alone should make for a fantastically interesting dish. Even more so when it’s taken from Hannah Glasse‘s 18th century classic ‘ The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy’. Perhaps I should’ve more keenly observed the word ‘plain’ in that book’s title.
When I tasted the tardy tart there was a definite ring of truth to the above comments: the pastry was on the savoury side and felt a bit… well, lardy and the filling was inoffensive but slightly odd. Like a very mildly granular dessert quiche, which isn’t an appealing concept, I grant you. I’ll put this down to the gustatory tastes and trends from the eighteenth century translating poorly for us more modern folks. At least I finished mine, enjoying the small and rapidly melting dollop of vanilla ice cream on the side. However this was not something I’d willingly try again, when I know how much more enjoyable carrot cake can be. Shame. 2/5
The winner, as judged by the Gastronauts at the end of the evening, was the “Bees Knees” cheesecake. Although wasn’t my favourite, it was by far the most popular, perhaps because it was the most contemporary of the desserts on offer… or at least the one most people would grab off the sweet trolley.