Even as a maths teacher I struggled to get my students to understand the idea of 'powers' - the concept that out of 30 different things you can come up with 1000. It's a little bit abstract and can be difficult to grasp.
But the people at Manchester's newest boozer have grasped it and run with it - offering 1000 different combinations of bangers and mash on their menu. You’ll find 10 different sausages, 10 different kinds of mash and 10 different gravies – so I just had to go and investigate.
Before I start I should point out that in no way have I or will I ever manage to try EVERY SINGLE combination of sausage and mash on offer at Mash Tun. I don't think anyone will ever be able to tackle that much meat and potatoes - no matter how podgy or greedy they are.
As you walk into Mash Tun your first impressions are probably going to revolve around its size - it's a mightily impressive space - with a huge bar along one side, an open keg room, a large live music stage and enough space to swing a pretty large cat - around the size of a jaguar I'd say.
Sitting down you'll also notice that the menu is similarly large, with the main focus on the sausage and mash but also a selection of sandwiches, salads, small plates and bigger plates, as well as INKA grilled steaks and chicken.
There's a lot to take in at first and if you're unprepared - you might be here for a long time deciding what to have.
While you're deciding it might be a good idea to order yourself a beer from the bar - it is one of Mash Tun's specialities after all. Named after a particular bit of equipment in the beer brewing process (which I seriously cannot be bothered going into right now), Mash Tun proudly boast 26 taps offering a wide range of craft ales, lagers, IPAs, ciders and anything else you can think of that's trendy and wet at the moment.
I sat down with a lovely pint of Angry Orchard cider, which although a little steep at £6 a pint - was the perfect way to start my lunch hour. Looking at the other drinks and it seems that there's a rather large difference between prices - the Fun Tap lager for example is £4.50 a pint which isn't too bad nowadays (I know!) whereas a ShinDigger West Coast Pale comes in at a whopping £5.95.
So we were suitably set up with something wet to drink - time to tackle the menu. As mentioned, we were there to check out Mash Tun's sausage and mash offering and considering the sheer size of what's on offer - we thought it best to leave the other things on the menu for another time.
This was bangers and mash time and we were ready to party...
The concept is simple. Choose a sausage, choose your mash and then choose your gravy. There are 10 of each, with a range of meat, veggie and vegan options available.
There's Lamb & Green Harissa sausages, there's Pork & Marmalade sausages, there's 3 Cheese mash, there's Roast Garlic & Salsa Verde mash, there's Beef & Red Wine gravy, there's Short Rib & Stout gravy - basically - there's A LOT to choose from! A lot a lot.
Now personally I don't have any problems with being given choice and I'm excellent at making decisions - but if you're with anyone who isn't as such inclined, you'll be in for an interesting ride. The main issue is that I feel there is perhaps TOO MUCH choice on offer - and it's hard to gauge just exactly what combination of the 3 elements will work well together.
With so many options I felt that I could potentially end up ruining the whole thing if, for example, I chose a gravy that didn't go particularly well with my mash, or a sausage that was too sweet alongside a sweet gravy. It's a bit of a minefield but we trundled on regardless.
There were 3 of us down on the day and we came up with the following choices:
Smoked Beef Brisket sausage with Crushed Sweet Potato & Walnut mash and a Beef & Red Wine gravy.
Venison, Fig & Red Wine sausage with Colcannon and a Red Currant, Port & Sage gravy.
Pork Chipolata with a 3 Cheese mash and a Cider, White Onion and Apple gravy.
Having tried almost all of mine and huge portions of the other two dishes I must admit that I was rather impressed with most of what was on offer. The portions were huge, the dishes looked appealing and most importantly there was a high level of quality in the ingredients.
Each sausage was good in its own way, with the Venison offering being a clear stand-out. It was clear in the first bite that this was an exceptional sausage, full of that rich game flavour with a subtle sweetness from the figs.
Similarly, the Pork Chipolata was exactly what you'd expect from such a sausage - a rather safe option but one that's not going to throw you off with obscure flavours and surprises.
My Smoked Beef Brisket sausage was a hard one to pin down. It was smoky and full of that rich beef flavour you'd expect, however it was a little too rich for my liking, especially when paired with the Beef & Red Wine gravy that I chose. On reflection I feel a subtler gravy would have worked better, perhaps the Creamy Peppercorn or even the White Sauce and Fresh Herbs.
On the mash side, again I feel that I made a poor choice in the Sweet Potato & Walnut, not because it was bad - it was in fact rather excellent - but because it was too sweet combined with the rich sauce and even richer sausage. I could feel the gout creeping in almost straight away.
To be fair to Mash Tun each element of the dish was excellent, but due to my poor choices - the end dish didn't really work.
Similarly, Kate's Venison sausage was exceptional and worked really well with the Colcannon, however the Port & Sage gravy again was a bit too rich when paired with the sausage, drowning out most of the Colcannon that otherwise would have neutralised the flavours somewhat.
Alex's choice of Chipolata was safe but also a good move, leaving the mash and the gravy to do most of the talking.
A clear stand-out was the 3 cheese mash which was fantastic - perfectly stringy and cheesy it worked exceptionally well with the pork sausage. The gravy also worked rather well with the cheese and the pork, providing a sharp sweetness that added an extra dimension to the dish.
Overall we were suitably pleased and impressed with Mash Tun, but felt a little let down by our own choices. The individual elements of each dish were excellent - high quality ingredients that are cooked and presented with a passion and flair that's impressive.
But there's no escaping the fact that when combined, some of the elements unfortunately don't work - or at the very least don't work as well as others.
I think this boils down to the level of CHOICE on offer. We were stumbling around in the dark as to what to choose for our three elements - neither one of us really knowing what will work well together.
Sure, an expansive knowledge of food from our Food Editor Kate came in handy, but we still fell afoul of choosing the 'wrong' bits to go together.
This is where I think Mash Tun could certainly improve on the menu. By offering fewer choices, people will be less inclined to make 'mistakes' when choosing, and will allow them to actually ensure that all of the 3 separate elements on offer go better together.
I think the worry would be that if you're spending £12.50 on Sausage & Mash you don't want the worry that you may be choosing 3 elements that just don't work well together. After all – do they REALLY need 1000 different combinations when nobody in the world will ever be able to try them all?
I would certainly recommend a visit though, the individual elements are all excellent, just make sure that you think long and hard about what you're putting together.
Mash Tun, 55 King St, Manchester M2 4LQ
0161 696 9700