When I first left home all I ate was Crispy Pancakes and Bird’s Eye Potato Waffles. We were rarely allowed this kind of food growing up and were mostly subjected to well balanced meals made from scratch that weren’t on adverts and didn’t have theme tunes. But I soon learnt how good I’d had it and what a great cook Pat Crabb was, and I never miss an invite to Sunday dinner.
So, having the opportunity to review one of Manchester’s best chef’s new menus, I thought it best to take my Mum. This was the launch of Mary-Ellen McTague‘s festive taster menu at 4244 in the Northern Quarter. Originally a pop-up restaurant, 4244 Edge Street is now a restaurant in its own right (although only open until December 23), and the temporary dwelling for Prestwich’s beloved Aumbry. Now then, Pat Crabb is a real foodie but she is also what you would refer to as ‘a rum bugger’. She asks me to read out the menu to her over the phone and mis-hears:
“Why would it say fresh turds? Why would I be saying fresh turds Mum?”
There is a sarcastic suggestion that I write her a script as to what she can and can’t say. I don’t have time.
We have the best night me and my Mum. The menu is steeped in nostalgia, even down to the crockery. Delicate tea cups containing a butternut squash velouté and game sausage on a 70s side plate take you on a family journey from Grandma’s cabinet to teas-on-knees at your Aunty’s house. I felt a bit rebellious sitting opposite my Mum and smothering the nutty butter offering (on a silver platter) on my bread and then dipping that bread in the obligatory dish of beef dripping. It’s like I’m soaking up what’s left on the roasting dish and she can’t tell me off. I redeem myself later by eating all my cabbage (heh heh sucker, it was delicious).
Mary-Ellen is really thinking about us. It’s not cheap but you have to understand the work and thought involved in this menu, as well as the selected wines that compliment the food; so much so that by the time I was half-way through the Croatian Cossetto Moziak (which was the third wine we had been served) I had dispensed with etiquette and was tucking into the three-bird roast like a hungry wolf in a blond wig. I would say if you are going to have the food, you must have the wine taster menu too. You have to get the balance right. Hic.
My favourite bit was a pre-taster-taster. This dish is what I would refer to as ‘the chippy’s greatest hits’: a little bowl with scrapings on top and, underneath, something which was, to me at least, the mash from the last chip mixed with the last bit of mushy peas and gravy, and the vinegar that has collected at the bottom of the tray. I told Mary-Ellen how much I loved this. What I didn’t tell her was that coming home from swimming at Middleton baths as a kid I would go to Tommy’s Chippy and get chips and scrapings with my bus fare and walk it home, then leave half of my tea. Don’t tell my Mum.
By Cathy Crabb