Burns Night

27 Jan

New year, new start and all that, and for this one, I’ve decided to make a bit of a thing of seasonal events.  Having focused last year on new restaurant openings and foodie soirées in the name of this blog, I spent way too little time celebrating with friends and family for my liking, so this year, I’m getting my priorities straight. My flat mate and I have some spectacular ideas for Pancake Day, I’m hatching big Easter dinner plans with friends back home and as always, there’ll be a big family do for Bonfire Night.

First up though is the bard’s birthday, and as a Burns Night virgin, have long been intrigued by how this thoroughly Scottish shindig plays out, though mostly in the long-held traditions of piping, poetry and sipping whisky to celebrate the life and works of Robert Burns. Ever a lover of the written word and increasingly a fan of offal, the idea of an evening spent sipping fine malts, scoffing traditional Scots food and enjoying lyrical musings in that very northern vernacular was an easy sell. And who to take? Why, the man in my life who is as sentimental an old fool as me, of course.

Not a drop of Scottish blood between the two of us, my Dad and I rocked up to The Mark Addy with high expectations and a keen hunger. Having been to many an event at my all time favourite Manchester restaurant, from a Narnia themed night (with the now sadly defunct Gastroclub) to dinners hosted by Fergus Henderson, Robert Owen Brown and his team know how to put on a good show. Having held their Burn Night supper for as long as I can remember, things got off to a splendid start when we were greeted by a glass of 12 year old Chivas Regal, bagpipes and boys in kilts.

Burns Night Whisky

Burns Night Whisky

Sadly missing the Selkirk Grace, (later discovered to be a beautiful thanksgiving to the food), we were swiftly served a dish of cullen skink. A smooth, creamed soup of potatoes, onions and finely flecked hunks of haddock, it was ridiculously tasty and thoroughly heart warming, well met by the 18 year old Chivas Regal provided (and prematurely sipped) to toast the haggis. Piped in by a stocky lad and carried on a stags head adorned platter, so much pomp and ceremony for a bag of sheep’s pluck at first seemed a little ridiculous, but then came the address.*

The Haggis

The Haggis

Emotively and captivatingly read by Alexander Harrison, the address To the Haggis was bewitching and not at all the bizarre spectacle I imagined it would be. The reverence for such a patriotically associated dish, speaking in thick dialect of its importance to Scots of yesteryear’s daily life was a beautiful thing to behold, and made me feel that little bit fiercer about celebrating my own northern roots – blunt phrasing and hearty dishes all. Having happily toasted the haggis, we were borne down upon with dishes of fluffy white tatties, sweet neeps and of course, the earthy, peppery and intensely moreish haggis.

Haggis!

Haggis!

Tatties

Tatties

Proclaiming it to be the best haggis he had the good fortune to eat, my Dad attacked it with gusto, and for a first timer, couldn’t have been happier had it been a juicy rump steak. However, I can also honestly say I’ve never been defeated so early into a meal, and with neither of us shy of a fork, both found ourselves struggling to finish the dish. A crying shame, especially as we still had cranachan to go. A raspberry, cream and whisky-soaked oat dish, it was truly lovely but a step too far, and also finding ourselves slightly pished, also had to pass on our final glasses of Scotch to the friendly couple at the next table.

Cranachan

Cranachan

We had a glorious evening, and no matter how offal (sorry) you think haggis might taste, or strange a night of poetry and piping may be, give a Burns Supper a try. I promise you won’t regret it. Take someone who isn’t afraid of a good feed, and moreover, who appreciates whisky. For two philistines who drank wine most of the night, the beauty of this much lauded sipping spirit was somewhat lost on us. What we gained though was a greater appreciation for the culture and customs around the food we eat, though most importantly, a lovely evening in one another’s company. Happy Hogmanay indeed!

* That said, I have been known to stand on ceremony for dishes containing suet before.

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