When The Creameries opened in Chorlton last year, it set out its stall as being not only a place to eat (and a mighty fine one at that) but also a venue for all kinds of events. And so it has proved. Tonight, those present are celebrating the publication of The Universe and Me, the debut collection by West Yorkshire poet, Toria Garbutt, with readings by Garbutt alongside a bespoke five-course meal by The Creameries‘ own Mary-Ellen McTague.

The readings come in two sessions, before and after the meal, so the whole occasion is like a poetry sandwich. Well, more accurately, a food sandwich between two slices of poetry, but that just sounds weird. McTague’s menu is inspired by the themes of Garbutt’s work, promising ‘an evening of beautiful poetry and food that speaks of home, hope and honesty’. And let’s be honest, in our time we’ve all of us cooked a meal that speaks of hope.

The food is as fabulous as you’d imagine, starting off with a Killeen goats’ cheese, truffle and garlic chive toastie followed by sliced sourdough with wild garlic oil and wild garlic butter. Yes, that’s effectively cheese on toast followed by bread and butter, but if you’re new to The Creameries, as Northern Soul‘s companion was, you’ll be knocked out by the lightness of the bread and the complex depth of flavours in the butter. There’s a complete absence of stodge here and it won’t leave you feeling as bloated as a gluttonous duck, which is what you want before you’ve even hit your starter.

Toria GarbuttThe Isle of Wight tomato and sorrel tart with grilled cucumber and mascarpone was light and fresh too, combining tangy and creamy qualities to great effect, though one party felt slightly swindled on the cucumber front. The main course, a choice of poached cod or braised fennel with mushy peas, straw potatoes and lime pickle salt, was judged a thing of wonder on both counts. The fennel made for a terrific, ingenious fish substitute which fitted perfectly, while the cod version was like the classiest, most beguiling fancy mini fish and chips you’ve ever had. The dessert, milk and honey sherbet with apple blossom pudding and almond, felt a little ordinary and doesn’t quite live up to the promise, but after that little lot, what could?

“A story about suicide is just what you want after a five-course meal, isn’t it?”, smiles Garbutt as she embarks on the postprandial poetry, and she’s right, it probably shouldn’t work, but it does. She writes about her days growing up in Knottingley, an often grim experience of post-industrial decline. But she also writes with wit and a keen, evocative eye for detail, bringing it all to life with personal insight way beyond documentary greyness. Perhaps even better is her open-heart poetry about the mark those times left on her, of caning drugs and living in poverty. Again, though, the spirit of her work is often extremely warm and funny, even gently uplifting, never losing a sense of hope. It’s delivered with the rhythmic rattle of the local poets who’ve inspired her – Mike Garry, John Cooper Clarke – and it’s no surprise that she’s been attracting attention, even supporting Cooper Clarke live on recent tour dates.

The CreameriesOn the face of it, a night of soul-searching poetry and fit cuisine might not necessarily seem like an obvious, natural pairing, but in execution it works just right, not least as a celebration of Garbutt and McTague as great, creative Northern women. It’s a fine showcase for the talents of both, so hats off to them.

By Andy Murray


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golden-stargolden-stargolden-stargolden-stargolden-star(for the words)