Vicky Smith wouldn’t mind Mary-Ellen’s subversive feast as her Last Supper
This is a tough review, not least because it’s about a dinner party and I’m not allowed to disclose what we had to eat… The MIF team want to preserve an air of mystery for this event, which runs alongside the equally apocalyptic Party Skills at the End of the World and sees esteemed chef Mary-Ellen McTague cook up a ‘surprising menu’ exploring themes of survival, extinction, scarcity and opulence.
Taking place at the derelict Centenary Building, once part of the University of Salford, this dinner party does indeed feel like the ‘end of the world.’ Having traipsed round the back of Chapel Street and across a dusty car park, I arrived at my destination - a grey glass, concrete and steel structure that stood against an equally grey sky - and was told to refrain against posting any photos on social media once inside. After all, who cares about Twitter come the end of days?
Venturing indoors, we were led to a dark candlelit room, in which stood a long table laid out like the Last Supper. It was quite a spectacular sight; a sumptuous vision of starched white and crimson tablecloths, twinkling glassware and voluptuous fruit spilling from gilded stands. Objects evoking survival hung from the ceiling - feathers, twigs crafted into archer’s bows and bunches of dried herbs - while a table laden with a compass, first aid kit and matches stood in the corner. Across the room, walking socks and a towel hung from a makeshift ‘washing line.’
Elsewhere, a stuffed bird surveyed the room from its perch atop a filing cabinet, filled with plants in unlikely receptacles and jars of pickled foodstuffs. And one wall displayed instructions for boiling rabbit and preparing snail porridge.
The event is designed to be intimate - hence, our twenty-strong group took their seats and tucked into the decadent appetisers awaiting us (hint: there was seafood). The table length meant passing along food could be a faff but it did inspire conversation: chat flowed, glasses clinked and a general sense of community pervaded. Which, of course, would be handy if it really was the apocalypse.
Things started to change for the next course. Accoutrements were whipped off the table, along with tablecloths, and I was told to down my wine quickly - much to everyone’s amusement. Clearly, Armageddon was nigh, no time for slacking now. The presentation of the following dishes caused more hilarity. Torches replaced candles, bendy cutlery was thrown down unceremoniously and we were left to fend for ourselves; previously-polite waiting staff simply pointing out ‘wine’ and ‘water’ with an abrupt bark. Etiquette was dispensed, the music picked up pace and kitchen roll substituted plates.
The world was ending, and so alas was our dinner.
My verdict? Clever transitions, strong theme and ingeniously-presented food (which was also ‘delicious’ as promised.) Lucy Tomlinson may have found Mary-Ellen’s Gallery Café still lacking but this latest venture, at least, was a stonking success.