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Monday saw the first day of the Galvin Festival of Food and Drink and we were lucky enough to be at Cafe a Vin to have both Chris & Jeff Galvin cooking dishes and telling stories from their Cookbook de Luxe. I am sure my friends think I am obsessed about the Galvin Brothers. I have been in the kitchen at La Chapelle where I toasted some brioche and helped plate up, oh and I prepped some leeks and artichokes. It doesn’t sound much and I am don’t blame them for not letting me do any cooking (especially as they had only recently gained their Michelin star). Cafe a Vin is one of the main three restaurants also that we suggest to friends when looking for somewhere to dine in London. Given that Chris and Jeff, like me, are Essex boys may have something to do with my obsession. It really is great to see too Essex boys building an empire of excellent restaurants. To argue against having an obsession, it is worth noting that we still yet need to dine at Bistro de Luxe, Demoiselle in London and the two Edinburgh restaurants, Brasserie de Luxe and The Pompadour and if that’s not an excuse to go to Edinburgh I don’t know what is.

Back to the Festival. It is a one week event “showcasing the finest in French Food, Drink and Hospitality”. You can read about all of the events being held  here.

We arrived at Cafe a Vin at 6.30pm thinking we were early as we are normally the first to arrive and found the Cafe was already quite busy. Everyone was clearly very keen to attend this event. Chris and Jeff were walking round the room chatting with the guests and also was our good friend, Alex (Alessandro Piombino) who we hadn’t seen for some time so it was very good to see him again. We also managed to have a brief chat with Sara Galvin and I think I made a promise to get over to Demoiselle soon so I will have to do that now. I even managed to have a quick chat with Jack Boast, Head chef of Cafe a Vin, who I am sure had the most stressful night with both brothers in the kitchen.

The atmosphere was very relaxed and friendly and we enjoyed great conversation with the table next to us, getting a sneak preview of a new book about private dining called the Nth Degree. The food as you may expect was superb. The set menu started with Tarte Flambée, a dish that you just have to eat if you go to Cafe a Vin. It was matched with a 2011 Gaillac Sec, Chateau Clément-Ternes and, as we have found out on previous occasions, also goes well with champagne.

The next course was Chilled English asparagus with truffle vinaigrette which is a dish I will have to try to replicate. The vinaigrette is sublime, the perfect partner to the asparagus which had a gentle bite to it. A great starter on any menu as it is so light. I do think that the vinaigrette could be bottled and sold or even sold by the bucket load, it’s that good. The wine to match was a 2011 Pouilly-Fuissé “Les Scéles”, Damian Christophe Thibert.

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There followed an amusing story told by Chris about a visit to the Denham Estate. As I already have a copy of the book I was already smiling when Chris began to speak. The stories alone make it a worthwhile read, you get more than just recipes. We moved on to the main course of Crisp Confit duck leg, black pudding & salad Lyonnaise which was served with a 201 Bergerac ‘Le Sens du Fruit’ Chateau Le Jonc Blanc. The dish is quite rich and the black pudding is a perfect partner to duck. I will admit to being surprised with the salad as I don’t usually like salad with hot food. It added a freshness to the dish and of course I should never doubt any combination that Chris and Jeff put together. It is one of those dishes though where you can feel quite full and just want to take another bite, then another and just as you feel fit to burst you take one more mouthful.

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Before dessert it was time for Jeff to take to the floor with an anecdote of working for Nico Ladenis and a very expensive bottle of Chateau d’Yquem 1929. To get to dessert I have a confession. I didn’t take a picture which seems to be a habit of mine. By this point I am always so engrossed in the food that I forget to pick the camera up again. I did realise after and contemplated taking a picture of the empty plate. Dessert was a lemon tart. The lemon tart is one of those dishes that looks like it should be very simple. I have never attempted to make one and we were told that Marco Pierre White would take on new chefs from their ability to make a good lemon tart. I did have this dessert last year at Cafe a Vin and it never fails to disappoint. The balance or sweetness and tartness is perfect, the consistency of it gives a slight wobble and the pastry is so crisp that I can only dream of being able to make pastry that good. There was a big surprise with the dessert wine, not in it’s choice but the fact that my wife loved it. This is someone who doesn’t like dessert wine and often gets a sherry or brandy to match dessert. The wine in question was a 2009 Chateau Delmond Sauternes.

It was a wonderful night and a great opening to the week which I hope everyone enjoys as much as we did. One of the events taking place is the Apple Tarte Tatin competition where you are invited to make a Tarte Tatin and tweet a photo, the finalists being invited to Bistro De Luxe with their prepared Tartes for tasting. My entry is in and I nervously await to find out on Thursday morning to find out if I am a finalist. I say nervously waiting, I have no doubt there were many entries that looked a lot better than mine and in true British manner I will say “It’s the taking part that counts”. Whatever happens, it got me in the kitchen enjoying myself.

Thank you to Chris, Jeff, Sara, Alex, Jack and all the staff at Cafe a Vin for a great night and many more to come.

For more information on Galvin Restaurants, please visit http://www.galvinrestaurants.com

The book, A Cookbook De Luxe is published by Absolute Press and I am sure you can still get a signed copy from one of the restaurants. It would be best to directly with the restaurants. Believe me, the book is a must in any cookbook collection (I now have two copies, see obsessed comment at the start).

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It’s funny sometimes where a simple discussion can lead. Over a year ago as my Wife and I were looking at where to hold our 40th birthday meal. We put our Twitter friends to work and a chef replied suggesting the restaurant where he is Head Chef. Whilst we liked the idea and the venue, it was a bit far to get everyone to. However, the restaurant in question stayed in my mind and I have been finding an excuse to make the trip to Sussex. The Chef that tweeted me all that time ago was Matt Gillan and the restaurant is The Pass. Finally this year, we made the trip and even booked up to stay at the South Lodge Hotel where The Pass is situated.

What a good decision this was and why did we wait so long. When we arrived at the hotel is was like a different world. Just a few minutes from the Motorway but surrounded by the beautiful British countryside. We felt relaxed even as we parked up. Entering the building takes you into instant luxury and class. The staff greet you in a professional and friendly manner and they had the pleasure of telling us we had been upgraded to a Master Suite. This was a better start than we could imagine, the suite is massive. I don’t think I have stayed in a full suite like this before. We were taken into the lounge area, shown into the bedroom and then shown the bathroom. Someone, me, got very excited to find a TV in the bathroom.

We were also greeted by Minty the Lamb who was sitting on our bed. Minty’s job is to either sit and watch TV with you or to sit outside your door telling staff not to disturb you. There’s also a DVD library which I think is an excellent touch, although our choice of film to watch during the afternoon was a bit dodgy. I say our choice, okay it was my choice. It is little touches like this that make a difference I think between a good hotel and an excellent hotel. We settled down to watch our DVD after a light lunch in the bar where I had a superb fish finger sandwich and a great local beer. All in all it was a very relaxing afternoon.

Minty The Lamb

Minty The Lamb

Early evening we had a refreshing G&T in the room as we got ready and then headed to The Pass. We were shown to our table, I of course sat so I was facing the kitchen directly and my Wife had a TV screen to watch. You actually get to see the action for the Pass Kitchen and that of Camellia, the hotels second restaurant. We decided on the six course tasting menu and the wine flight to go with it. There was a lovely couple sat on the table next to me and it almost became a table of four as we chatted which shows how relaxed the atmosphere is.

Below are the courses, minus one which I forgot to take a photo of as I got a bit over excited about the food. Thank you to the couple beside us who kept reminding me to take a photo before we started each course (but why didn’t you make sure course 5 was included?)

Roasted celeriac, cheese beigne, muscatel vinegar, served with Nyetimber classic cuvee 2008

Roasted celeriac, cheese beignet, muscatel vinegar, served with Nyetimber classic cuvee 2008

Shin of beef, horseradish, sprouts, almonds, served with Crozes Hermitage La Matinere 2010

Shin of beef, horseradish, sprouts, almonds, served with Crozes Hermitage La Matinere 2010

Pollock, hazelnut crust, clam chowder, baked salsify, served with Chardonnay Veramonte Reserva 2010

Pollock, hazelnut crust, clam chowder, baked salsify, served with Chardonnay Veramonte Reserva 2010

Breast & leg of chicken, onion textures, mushroom cream, served with Valpollicella Classico, Bolla 2011

Breast & leg of chicken, onion textures, mushroom cream, served with Valpollicella Classico, Bolla 2011

There should be a picture of a rum pannacotta with banana and marzipan here but it was so good I ate it before taking a picture.

Lemon tart, passion fruit, green tea meringue, served with Pineau de Charentes Vielle Reserve Or Cognac

Lemon tart, passion fruit, green tea meringue, served with Pineau de Charentes Vielle Reserve Or, Cognac

The food at The Pass is exquisite. Every dish was cooked to perfection and there wasn’t one ingredient out of place. My favourite course was the shin of beef, I could eat that all day long. It was interesting with dessert to have a cognac to go with it. I am not a cognac drinker but have to say this was an excellent pairing. I did volunteer to help with their next food and wine matching or their search for new wines as I am just a nice chap and would do that for them. I await the call.

We had a great chat with Matt Gillan after the meal which ranged from how to keep a clean kitchen to Great British Menu and that there are too many chain restaurants in Chelmsford. I had to praise the kitchen and front of house staff, very friendly and everything ran smoothly, we really couldn’t fault anything about the meal, well apart from that it had to end.

Now we had the frills which is the five star hotel and our amazing suite. We’ve had the food from The Pass and I bet some of you are sitting there thinking “what about the Ferraris”. Well, there just happened to be a Rally taking place in nearby Horsham and many of the participants were staying at South Lodge. We had seen a couple the day before but were not prepared for the Friday morning as we walked back to our car. We walked up the path with our bags to our little 308 and were met with a sea of red. We had a wander around and chatted to one of the owners and stood there thinking just how much money was in that car park. It was a great way to finish of a lovely overnight stay.

Want one

Want one

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For more information on South Lodge Hotel and The Pass, please visit www.southlodgehotel.co.uk

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This has been and will continue to be quite a year. 2012 means a lot to many British people, what with the Queen’s Jubilee and the Olympics coming to London. For us, 2012 has a very different meaning. We have seen the arrival of our first niece, my brother-in-law turned 40, I turn 40, my wife turns…. Erm 21 and my Mum turned 70. I may have lied about my wife’s age and you may think why I was so honest about my Mum’s age. Well that’s because this little piece is about her party.

This wasn’t a surprise party by any means and most of it was actually arranged by my mum. The choice of venue, the decorations and the menu was all down to her and her husband. Us children did have a few little surprises up our sleeves though, cue tears and laughter as we show a slide show of my mum through the decades.

On to the food though, after all this is a food blog. The venue was Bury Lodge near Stansted Airport. It is a converted 16th century barn and makes for a great party or function venue. It is almost one long room, a bar at one end, and the disco down the other. The room looked stunning but then I knew my mum would have it very tastefully decorated. As we were just finishing checking things the first surprise turned up in the form of the cake. The very talented Lucie of Wonderland Bakery made a cake for us with giant cupcake and some smaller single ones for everyone to enjoy. The theme was my mum’s icons so there were some Mary Quant designs and images of Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra and to add some of her history to it, there were a few images of London, her childhood home. The cakes went down a storm and I gather a few people had theirs for breakfast the next day.

We had a sit down meal which on events like this always worries me a little. There were about 80 guests and I am sure most of you have been to large events, weddings and such like where the food has promised much but delivered little. Usually you get overcooked mushy or almost raw veg , dry meat and a super sweet dessert that wasn’t brought out of the freezer in time. I have to say I don’t always look forward to the food at such events and I do feel for the chefs having to provide perfectly cooked food for that many people all in one go. Before I tell you how the food was, here’s the menu:

Starters

Prawn & Crayfish cocktail

Crispy chicken & bacon salad & a herb oil.

Mains

Pork belly stuffed with apple & sage in a white wine & cider sauce

Lamb cannon with a red currant jus

Desserts

Chocolate trufito

Sherry & summer fruits trifle

Cheese & biscuits

The prawn & crayfish cocktail is a fairly standard starter and I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed it. The crayfish were very tasty as were the prawns and the sauce was moorish. Not the sickly overpowering cocktail sauce you usually get. I don’t know if the chef made the sauce himself or if it was a ready made one but either way it was delicious. Those on the chicken & bacon seemed to be tucking in and enjoying their starters too so we were off to a good, well, start.

The mains are always tricky and I was eager to see how they would turn out and to say I was surprised was an understatement. The lamb was maybe just slightly overdone for how I like it but it was still pink in the middle, moist and had a great flavour. The jus was light and the veg was cooked perfectly. I could have eaten it again it was that good. I think the trick here was the choice of cut for the lamb. Everyone had their own individual cannon of lamb which I would think helped them control the cooking a lot better.  As for the pork, it looked  great and had amazing crackling on top.

As for the desserts I can’t really comment much as I had the cheese & biscuits. I do have to say that the selection was very good and it came with some fresh crisp celery, grapes & crackers. I enjoyed it immensely and could tell that the cheese was of good quality. I’m unsure what the desserts were like but I did only see clear plates going back.

The chef, owner and staff should be commended on the quality of the food and service as everyone was given their meal quickly and there didn’t seem to be any confusion over who had what. Although it was a good idea that on the back of our place settings our choice of menu had been put on the back so the waiting staff could see it and didn’t have to ask what we had.

Bury Lodge certainly restored my faith in banquet dining and I would definitely recommend them to anyone looking for a venue. This is a place that doesn’t just churn out food on a large scale, you can tell they actually think about the quality and are more concerned with providing a great service rather than just taking your money. So well done to Teresa and the team and thank you for a great night.

For more information on Bury Lodge :

WWW.burylodge.com

Phone 01279 816737 or email enquiries@burylodge.com

For your cupcake needs speak to Lucie at Wonderland Bakery:

www.wonderland-bakery.co.uk and you can even have cupcake classes too.

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If you have just searched for Ocean’s 11 and are thinking, how did I stumble across a food blog, I apologise. You see, I’m a bit of a Rat Pack fan and 11 had a pretty significant meeting this weekend. With the torrential downpour we’ve had over the last few days also, ocean seemed a pretty good analogy too. So why is 11 significant? Well it was Taste of London 2011 at Regent’s Park and I just so happened to get another signature for Project Obsession, number 11 in fact.

This was our 7th visit to Taste (we think, it’s a bit of blur now). Only the second time that we’ve experienced such rain but we still had fun wading across the mud pools from stand to stand to gorge ourselves on food and drink. I’ve written about taste before so I won’t go into great detail about it and instead just give a few special mentions and the highlights for us.

Corrigan's Crispy Black Pudding

Corrigan’s had a great menu and was our first stop, crispy black pudding and a ground steak burger with bone marrow. Both amazing flavours and great good hearty food that you expect from Richard Corrigan and his team. We had a great couple of chats the Head Chef, Chris, and look out for something happening in the future as I may have just talked my way into their kitchen. Not for a real job of course, I have definitely realised after my experiences, I am no chef. Next door to Corrigan’s was Bentleys which for me had the star dish, Scallops ceviche. Never had anything like it and I really want more, beautiful scallops with a hint of chilli and fresh sweet fruit.

Next mention goes to Launceston Place. We bumped into Tristan Welch as we were walking round and he seemed to be enjoying the weather. The suckling pig was on again this year and just as good. The chocolate mess for me was the dessert of the day as I don’t really do desserts. Valrhona chocolate mousse, a bit of spice, divine chocolate goodness. I love Tristan’s food because as serious as he is about food, there is a fun feeling about it  as you will see from the photo.

Rhodes 24 provided what my wife described as the best lemon tart ever. I wouldn’t know, she didn’t let me have any. I was on the white tomato soup. It was quite odd drinking a white soup that tasted so rich with tomato and Mr Rhodes again was a real gent and happy to chat away. We stopped by Le Gavroche to have a chat with Michel Roux Jr and this is where 11 comes into play again. The Obsession book that I had been lugging around all day was brought out and Michel was kind enough to sign his page for me. So Project Obsession get’s its first signature for a while and so I plan the next.

Our last food stop was at L’Anima where we were treated like stars. Chris at Corrigan’s had sent us down and Chef Francesco Mazzei was the perfect host. We were treated to their icon dish of wild mushroom fettucine with black summer truffle and an amaretto tiramisu. The fettucine was just pure indulgence, so much truffle, amazing mushrooms, creamy sauce, perfectly seasoned, it is one of those dishes that makes you say “where have you been all my life”. You may be thinking, so why was this not my star dish of the day? It is purely that I don’t think it’s a dish I could eat again and again like I could with Bentley’s scallops. Although I could certainly have it now and again. The tiramisu was light and just right to finish the food off for the night. Along with our glass of prosecco poured by Chef Mazzei himself, oh and Richard Bacon sat next to us, it was a great taste moment. Guess where we’re planning to eat for my birthday this year.

Popcorn Duck from Club Gascon

Now, we got quite  a lot of free food this year, when I say a lot, we actually only paid for about 4 dishes. These chefs are quite a generous lot really. So with plenty of Crowns to spare we headed to The Lovely Bubbly Company for a mini champagne tasting. We tried four champagnes with a glass of our favourite at the end. A great team there who were so friendly and even handed out some old school sweets, popping candy, cola fizz and fizzers.

A quick mention to our friend’s at Sipsmith’s. We have known them since they launched their Gin at taste some years ago and is an essential stop for the best Gin & Tonic at Taste and we have to say, the coolest plastic glasses of the festival too.

That was Taste done for us really and I have to just mention Kin Knives. No I don’t work for them, not being paid to advertise, I just love visiting their stand and as i’ve been chatting to them on Twitter I had to go and say hello and gaze at the knives (yes I want one and will get one eventually). It was quite funny as we stood there and a lady decided she would test the sharpness of the knives and run her finger along one. Not the wisest thing to do, that’s why they have tomatoes to try them out on. Well done to Papa Kin (sorry I don’t know his name but that’s how his daughter refer to him on Twitter) for his first aid skills.

The menacing clouds over Regents Park

Shock news though as we decided we will probably not go next year. Taste is great and if you’ve never been and love food, you should go. For us, after 7 years, it’s losing a little of it’s allure and if it hadn’t been for L’Anima, Launceston Place, Corrigan’s/Bentleys, Sipsmith’s and Lovely Bubbly, it would have been a fairly flat event for us. Well done guys and we hope to see you all again soon.

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Prudence

The Beatles sung “Dear Prudence, come out to play”.  There is a girl called Prudence who plays all year round and with that she helps us to play and enjoy life. If you have ever had a Sipsmith Gin or Vodka, then your life has been touched by Prudence. I guess I should explain. Prudence is the still that produces Sipsmith Gin & Vodka. I have been lucky enough to meet her. A glorious gleaming copper still, sitting proudly in a quiet street in Hammersmith. She quietly goes about her business of making two fine aromatic liquors that we love. To steal a line from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, I would go as far to say she is a phantasmagorical machine.

In the heart of Prudence

We met Prudence by going on a  tour of the Sipsmith distillery, well I say tour but it is really just one room, that’s all there is to the building. Now I knew it was small but was still surprised as to how small. So small in fact we were lucky to get there this year as the company is going from strength to strength and may be having to expand very soon to larger premises. The tour itself starts with the various guests mingling over gin and tonics (very generous gin and tonics, a seemingly never-ending supply of gin and tonics in fact). The group was largely taken up by students and anyone who just grimaced when i said that, yes, that was our initial reaction. I will tell you this, the best behaved, polite and great bunch of students I have ever met. We had quite an in-depth discussion about gin with a couple fo them, discussing the various types and brands. It was quite funny as these students were learning the business, how to distil and their knowledge was clearly technical where ours was more from experience of drinking the stuff. I felt like the wise old sage at one point as I went through the various spirits I have tried over the years, what I liked about them and passing on my advice of enjoying the drink, savouring, don’t binge. Glad I said that to them before I staggered out quite tipsy at the end.

Sam keeping us entertained

Back to the tour. Sam, one of the owners, talked us through the history of Gin and I took in every word and can’t remember a thing now, sorry Sam, I blame the Gin. We moved on to Sipsmith’s themselves and me and my wife even got a special mention as “batch one” owners and supporting them from the start when they launched at one of the Taste of London festivals. I felt very proud. While Sam continued his interesting and often humorous talk about how the gin is made, how they came to their choice or aromatics, Prudence sat quietly behind him, hard at work on the next batch.

One story I do remember is the struggle Sam and his Partner in the business, Fairfax, had in trying to get a licence to distil in London. You see, Sipsmith are the first to ask for such a licence for a long long time, Prudence is actually the first copper still in London for nearly 200 years. When trying to get their license, they found no one really knew how to do it. Well, there’s no one alive that last issued such a license in London. They ended up having to speak to the office in Scotland as apparently they have som experience in issuing licences for distilleries. I know, you’d have thunked it. Eventually, after I think 12 months, if memory serves (note, buy a notebook Simon), they were granted the licence and were able to bring a new product to the market, Sipsmith Gin (not forgetting the Vodka too).

Anyone who’s drunk this gin will probably know why I rave about it. Aromatic, smooth, drinkable neat. It’s one of those spirits that makes you feel like you’re drinking a quality product and that’s from the flavour, not from the look of it. Bottled with understated labels that use the feature of the Swan’s Neck from the still in the design. A label that is just stuck on a fairly plain bottle. No fancy shapes, embossing or fancy glass work for these guys. It is definitely a case of the product speaking for itself. So what are you doing sitting here reading this? Get out there and get yourself a bottle and while you’re there, get yourself a bottle of vodka too. Grab a pack of Fever Tree tonic as well as it works very well with both, a few limes, ice, a glass and enjoy.

I’d like to say thank you to Sam and Fairfax for a great evening, we will see you again at Taste no doubt. And to all of you, there is only one thing I can say now, “make mine a double”. For more information on the tours, gin, vodka and the company:

www.sipsmith.co.uk

Follow Sam on twitter @SipsmithSam

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If you have read previous blogs you will know I usually try to have a funny title to my posts, maybe a little play on words. This time, I couldn’t, I didn’t want to. The reason? Launceston Place is quite simply brilliant. Not sure I should start the post saying that as you will think the rest of it will be me gushing over the restaurant and the food. Well, I will, probably. I was extremely excited to be going anyway as I already knew the main man, Tristan Welch, would be in. Tristan is one of my favourite Great British Menu Chefs. I love his twists and new takes on food and showing off where the food comes from.

I’d better get back to the start of the evening though. I was taking my Wife for a pre-valentine treat to avoid the faux romance of the night itself. Yes yes, I know I said I took my Wife as a treat, yeah right of course I did, like you or she really believes this was for her. Well I did pay so I can get away with it. Not having been to Kensington for a while I was unsure where we were going so we took a casual walk up from Harvey Nicks after meeting a certain Chef called Jason Atherton (watch out for a post on Pollen Street Social in the future). We stopped off at the Victoria and Albert for a mooch around. My Wife found me in good spirits and making many hilarious jokes about some of the exhibits and artifacts (her opinion, not mine, honest).

We needed a sit down and were two hours early. You think I was eager? We stopped at a hotel bar called the Polo Bar, small, friendly, not a great choice of drink but a great Australian barman. We watched the Rugby, had a beer, had another beer and finally thought it was okay to head over to Launceston Place half an hour before our booking. We were greeted warmly and to be honest I actually enjoy a drink in the bar before a meal. We sat perusing the wine book ( I’ve stopped calling them menus or lists), took in the dark decor which I have to say takes a while for your eyes to adjust too but it does make for a very intimate setting. We ordered an English sparkling rosé to start and it was a corker. I’m not really into rosé but this was a great wine, refreshing and zingy.

We then had a look at the menu and ordered while we finished our drinks. I was slightly surprised by the menu as it only has four choices for starter and main. There is a major plus side to this though. I take ages to decide and I would have eaten everything on the menu. We would have gone for the taster menu if my wife would have attempted the steak tartare but hey ho, you can’t have everything and this was HER night. As we sat there, someone said good evening, I was busy reading and then I heard my name. I looked up and there was Tristan. This was funny because I had already asked if there was any chance Tristan could come and say hello, I just wasn’t expecting it so soon. My Wife said it is the most dumbstruck I have ever been in front of a chef. Even now I’m not sure why I could hardly speak. I probably hadn’t had enough to drink.

We are shown to our table after choosing and we discuss wine with the sommelier, choosing a white to start, red for the main. Oh sorry, I forgot, you get crisps when you have your aperitif, move over Kettle, Tyrells, and all you other pretenders, Launceston Place holds the crown for crisp making and it would take something pretty amazing to tear it off their heads. Anyway, we’re sat at the table, a loaf of the most amazing bread arrives with some pickled herrings. Pickled herrings, hmmmmmmmmm, my mind casts back to poorly catered parties with nasty poor quality roll mops. I really have never liked pickled herrings. Well guess what, I love them now. I am of the mind-set to think that even if I don’t like something, if it’s then made by a top chef, I will give it another chance. So glad I did. I meant to ask Tristan if I could have a pot to take home but forgot, so Tristan, could I please have a pot of herrings?

We are served our white wine, clean crisp, plenty of oomph to deal with the calves tongue my wife ordered and subtle enough for my scallops. The scallops arrive in the shell, roasted in coastal herbs and on a bed of shells. This is what I meant about Tristan showing you where the food comes from. Perfectly cooked, the herbs were new to me but somehow tasted so familiar. My wife’s tongue was pretty amazing too. Maybe I should rephrase that. My Wife let me have some tongue, no that’s even worse. I tried the tongue – will that do? I’ve never had tongue before so had to try it, what a flavour, tasted life a good slice of beef without tasting like beef.

We try to finish our white wine very quickly as were talking quite a lot, mainly about buying a place nearby and Launceston becoming our local haunt (just one lottery win away from moving to London). I purposely slowed down on the white knowing there would be some left for her while I delve into a dessert wine later. Our red is poured, a Rioja, oh how I love Rioja and this was an excellent one. I am clearly salivating by this point, the starters made me want more.

Our mains arrive, Herdwick Lamb with sea beets, crackling & salt baked potato for my better half and lightly curry spiced sweetbreads with chestnuts & grapes for me. Thinking back to Saturday night and that main course is making me drool, perfect sweetbreads, I love the flavour of them and only tried them for the first time last year. Never had warm grapes before and with the curry flavouring and chestnuts I was starting to float to food heaven. Angels appeared, playing harps, a schoolboy choir starting singing, that ray of light shone on the plate. I had a sneaky taste of the lamb and the slat baked potato which intrigued me. Lamb the way it should be, medium rare, tender and juicy. The potato was interesting. Too salty for my taste buds but somehow addictive as I had to try another piece.

We talk to our sommelier again. Do you know I’m a bit annoyed I didn’t get his name, a really friendly chap and very amusing, in fact all the staff were so friendly, a good team there. We choose dessert and I am somehow talked into trying the most expensive dessert wine on the menu, yes my arm was physically twisted. You do believe me don’t you? I’m glad I went for it though, matched my dessert of baked cheesecake with blood oranges perfectly. Blood oranges oh how I love you (note blood oranges is not a pet name for my Wife and I love her even more). I actually chose the dessert based on the fact it had blood oranges in it. Was not disappointed, creamy cheesecake and brandy snaps. Anyone who puts a brandy snap in front of me will be my friend, they may not want to be my friend so let this be a warning to anyone that feeds me – brandy snap = instant friendship. I knew what my wife would have for dessert, had to be the poached rhubarb with vanilla sabyon & hazelnut shortbread. Now something strange here with my Wife, I tried her tongue, I tried her lamb, I didn’t even get a look in with dessert. Her words, “It was yummy and I could eat that again”.

We enjoyed a very good cup of coffee after, my usual espresso. Then moved back into the lounge for after dinner drinks. Two glasses of 20 yr old Tawny port later (my wife going for cognac) and we were ready to pay the bill. Now we drank a bit so I won’t say how much the drinks bill was. The food is great value for money, £45 a head for three courses. When the food is of such a high quality, that is more than reasonable, in fact I’d almost say it’s a steal.

And so we pay, we start to feel sad at the thought of leaving when Tristan appears again, I’m sure he’s a fan of Mr Benn, he just appears from nowhere. We have a wander round, have a look in the private dining area and then into the kitchen. It’s quite small. I don’t know why that always surprises me really and kitchens. Everything is pristine, they are still serving a few people but are more or less cleaned down. We meet the team and thank them for what was one of my favourite dining experiences. So I leave you with just the picture below, the lighting is very low in the restaurant which is why I didn’t take any of the food. If you want to know what it looks like, get yourselves down to Launceston Place, you really won’t regret it.

Thank you guys for such a great meal.

 

For more information, please visit www.launcestonplace-restaurant.co.uk

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With my Sister and her family expected to be in Australia and my Brother and his girlfriend expecting an arrival any day, we hadn’t really planned very well for New Year and by December my Wife and I were trawling the internet for somewhere that looked good, not too pricey, no taxi problems. You’re thinking, good luck with that and you would be right in thinking we couldn’t find anything. So as we haven’t seen the New Year in with my Dad for quite some years we (I) thought a nice dinner would be in order. Now with it being a celebration, I thought why not celebrate some chefs & cooks. Four courses sounded like a good idea too so I had to keep it simple while hopefully still giving it a wow factor. Was to be a case of less is more I thought.

I trawled through my cookbooks, so many recipes, so many great cooks and chefs. What to do? Then as I was sat watching Nigel Slater’s Simple Suppers I was him make a roast beef with pumpkin Ragout dish. It looked great, I like pumpkin and I knew I could get some squash if I couldn’t get a pumpkin. The only problem is my wife is not keen on beef. So I thought a good cut of lamb would be good and picked up a saddle of lamb from the butchers. While I was there I also picked up a couple of duck breasts for the starter which I had decided on. I definitely only needed two for the three of us, unlike getting them from the supermarket, they were huge, freshly portioned from a whole duck.

I had decided on the dessert fairly quickly too. I was given a copy of the Christmas With Gordon  book and there’s a great cheesecake in there which I just had to make. I have to pause here and just say hello to Mark Sargeant, a great Chef who often passes on tips and advice via Twitter. Thank you Mark and good luck with the book and restaurant next year. So, fish course. This gets difficult as my wife eats tuna, scallops or bass. Every now and then she’ll try something else if it’s cooked by a top chef. Richard Corrigan, Stuart Gilles, Michael Caines and Nigel Hawthorn are a few who have managed to get her to eat something new. And step forward Simon, top Michelin star chef………….. erm, hold on, no I’m not am I? Anyway, off to the fish monger to get some turbot. No turbot, no skate, no bass, panic sets in. I walk away, unsure, I walk back, I see bream. Well I know I like it, oh well, it will have to be bream and hope for the best. All this after taking two days to decide between a Michel Roux Jr or Marcus Wareing recipe.

The menu was as follows (I have put in brackets the originally ingredients where I had to substitute).

Starter

Warm Duck and Red Cabbage Salad

From: A Slice of Cherry Pie – Julia Parsons

 

Fish Course

Fillet of Sea Bream (Turbot) in Red Wine with Artichoke Puree & Pickled Beetroot (baby beets)

Recipe by Marcus Wareing, from the Great British Menu Cookbook

 

Main Course

Roast Saddle of Lamb (fillet of beef) with Squash (pumpkin) Ragout

From Nigel Slater’s Simple Suppers

 

Dessert

Pear & Amaretto Cheesecake

From Christmas with Gordon – Gordon Ramsey

It’s the morning of New Year’s Eve. I wake early as one of the most simple ingredients I needed had sold out everywhere the previous day. Look people, I know it’s christmas but do you all have to cook with red cabbage? I mean, honestly, some of us have New Year feasts to prepare. I drive to town after checking the market will be open.It was, just, half the stalls closed but the veg man was there and he had red cabbage. Some may have read my plea of “My kingdom for a red cabbage” on Twitter the previous day. It didn’t quite cost me my kingdom, more like 8     and £1 for the car park which amused me for some reason.

I get home, have breakfast, then set about in the kitchen. The great thing about the menu I chose is it is fairly easy and simple. Very much a case of letting the ingredients speak for itself. I made the cheesecake base, digestives crushed up with butter & chocolate spread. While it’s setting I unpack my brand new food mixer, mainly just to use the bowl. I realised after making the filling and setting the cheesecake, I didn’t have much to do until later. So why did I get up so early. I decide to chop the veg required for the evening and leave in water, pickled the beetroot and let them cool to re-heat later and prepped the poaching liquid for the fish. Made sure I got the meat out of the fridge to it wasn’t too cold when I cooked it later.

While I was doing all this, my Wife was setting up the table which looked beautiful (and so did she). With about an hour to go before serving the first course I got the lamb on, wanting to give it plenty of resting time. I suddenly realised I hadn’t sorted out what plates I was using and serving everything on so a quick dash to the cabinet was called for and after several switch-a-roos I made up my mind. I made the ragu to go with the lamb, again to just warm up on the hob before serving. Oh by the way, I have no Idea what squash it was, oval and green so if you can tell me that will be great (no it wasn’t a melon)This is while Wife and Father enjoyed their aperitif of champagne & hibiscus flowers in comfort. Mine was on the kitchen side.

Warm Duck Breast with Red Cabbage Salad

Fillet of Sea Bream in Red Wine with Pickled Beetroot & Artichoke Puree

I was ready for the first course, the duck went in the pan. Now I know there are lots of ideas about how to cook duck, I season the skin and cook skin side down for most of it, turning over at the end when it’s resting. Now I do pride myself on my duck breast cooking skills and tonight was the best yet, medium rare, cooked enough to eat, soft, succulent, fantastic. While the duck rested I set up the plates with salad leaves mixed with grated red cabbage. Anyone know why red cabbage is purple when you start and looks red when you serve it? Anyway, I put the simple but tasty red wine vinegar and olive oil dressing over the leaves and placed the duck on top.

We had two bottles of wine to go with the meal and started with a Pouilly Fume 2009 which was a Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference wine. I love this wine, find it can handle red meat as long as it’s not a heavy dish so was perfect with the duck salad. A nice rest and I was back in the kitchen. I heated up the poaching liquid for the fish, also a re-heat of the beets and the artichoke puree. The fish takes literally seconds which is good as you don’t want it overpowered by the red wine, just flavoured. I was fairly proud of my presentation too, mind you I more or less copied the picture in the book. You must be sitting there wanting to know, did my Wife like it? Well, the man from Del Monte he say yes. It was a bit fishy for her but the beets and artichoke puree balance the dish out well. The funny thing is I only remember the first couple of mouthfuls as I was then concentrating on my Wife’s reaction. I do remember the beets were especially nice.

By this time we’d opened the second wine, a Michel Sarrazin Bourgogne Cóte Chalonnaise 2006. What a wine, smoky, deep, fruity. Would recommend it to anyone. Obviously went well with the fish course and good to carry on drinking with the lamb. Talking of which, the lamb had been resting long enough so I dash back to the kitchen and heat up the ragu. How simple is that ragu? Onions, squash, herbs, seasoning, stock, white wine. Perfect for a big meal. Effectively the main used a large pot and a roasting tin, easy. I carved the lamb, keeping fingers crossed it was going to be cooked okay, which was tricky holding the knife (boom boom). It was perfect, I don’t think I have ever cooked lamb that well actually. I used deep plates and filled with the squash, laying the lamb on top. I know why this is a supper recipe, it’s very filling, tastes amazing though. But here’s the thing, during this course, my Wife tells me, if I cooked beef like I had cooked the lamb, she would have eaten it. Thanks, now you tell me. Not that I’m complaining really as the lamb was melt in your mouth stuff. I guess I should mention too that I roasted the meat on the bone and must have had a knowing look as when I was buying it, the butcher looked at me and said “you’ll be wanting to roast this on the bone won’t you?”. We were stuffed and knew there was a huge cheesecake to eat yet so we had a rest and at 11 we retired to the lounge to watch Jools Holland’s Hootenanny (a must if you stay in on new Year’s Eve).

The cake left the fridge, carefully carried through to the lounge and an ice candle stuck in the middle, which is just an indoor firework. Very apt for the occasion. I have to say Gordon (Mark), it’s a great recipe. I love pear, I love Amaretto, I love chocolate, so all three together, fantastic. It is a fairly classic combination which never fails to work. Light, tasty, and will no doubt impress your friends. I love too that there’s crumbled amaretti biscuits in the filling. I could eat a truck full (yes the man that doesn’t do desserts, although I may be coming round). A great finish to a successful meal. I keep trying to think what I could have done better and, to be honest (and big headed), I’m not sure I could have improved it that much, maybe presentation but not on taste. I do put a lot of that down to fresh ingredients, good quality fish and meat and my new food processor and knives. You may laugh  but they just lifted me enough to up my game some. We should have had a dessert wine with this but it had gone off which was a shame, although with another bottle of champagne to come, I was secretly pleased.

The hour approached, Jools, his band and guests were entertaining us to the point I almost missed getting the champagne ready. What to drink for the end of the decade? Well you can’t do much worse than having a ten year old vintage champagne, in this case it was a Laurent-Perrier Brut Millesime 2000. I . do like vintage champagne, it seems to have much more depth of flavour. The cork pops, glasses filled in readiness. We count down with Jools, Kylie oh and @puddingface, sorry Gregg Wallace (he was one fo the guests, didn’t know he could sing). The hour arrives, we sing Auld Lang Syne, then I turn the TV down and play two more versions of it, one by Frank Sinatra and then I up the class with Chas & Dave. I toast my family, my friends and the chefs/cooks that gave me the inspiration for this meal. So to Julia Parsons, Marcus Waring, Nigel Slater and Gordon Ramsey (yes you too Mark Sargeant) I raise my glass and say cheers, thank you for the great food eaten that night and for all that will be eaten in the many years to come.

 The books:

A Slice of Cherry Pie – Julia Parsons

Christmas With Gordon – Accompanies Gordon Ramsey’s Christmas Special on Channel 4

Great British Menu Cookbook – BBC

 

Lamb dish inspired by Nigel Slater’s Simple Suppers series on the BBC where the recipe can be found.

 

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