Archive for the ‘Wine’ Category

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


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


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I recently went on holiday with my Wife to Sicily. A gorgeous wonderful Island that we fell in love with four years ago when we celebrated our first wedding anniversary. This year saw our third visit there and during the four years since that first trip, my obsession with cooking has grown and grown so it comes as no surprise that when the opportunity came up to have a cooking lesson in a Sicilian restaurant, we (I) jumped at the chance. Actually, my wife didn’t resist too much knowing that I would probably have become one of those petulant children you always see with other families whilst on holiday.

The Porta Messina, one of the gateways to Taormina

And so the morning after a sunset trip to Etna, we woke on another hot Sicilian morning. When I say hot, it was absolutely scorching and you do think to yourself, why am I deciding to go cooking on a day like this. We took the short walk from our hotel up the hill towards the archway that leads into the main town area of Taormina. Just up to the right before you enter the Gateway is the unassuming entrance to Licchio’s. We see a delivery taken by  a man who turns out to be Angelo, Head Chef. We approach the restaurant and are introduced to Angelo. A warm friendly welcome and even more welcome is to find that the cookery lesson will take place in their garden area. No heat of the kitchen. Outdoor stoves are set up and we take a seat in the sun as we wait for the other participants, yes you guessed it, eager as ever we were first.

There are eight of us in total, two Americans, one Hungarian and five British. First we take a walk to the local market to look at the produce Sicily and produces. It’s a small market with a surprisingly large range of products. The fish counter contains eel, swordfish, mussels, clams, squid, octopus, anchovies, cod and other fish that I cannot remember the name of now, obviously not fish you get readily in the UK. The meat counter looks much like most butcher counters here except for that there is a bigger range of veal than you see in the average butcher. Half of the market is taken up with fruit and veg, the highlights being wild fennel, I can smell it still, and the silk aubergine (egg-plant) which Angelo assures us is something that only seems to grow in Sicily. It looks similar to the normal purple aubergine, the colours are more vivid and the skin is like silk, hence the name.

We head back to the restaurant and the scene is set, two benches set up with outdoor stoves, I suddenly think Rick Stein and Keith Floyd (only we’re not allowed wine, not until we’ve finished using the knives). We start by making Maccheroni, by hand, from scratch. The chefs, Massimo (on our bench) and Andrea pour some flour in front of each student, no measurements, just a pile of semolina flour and then white flour, we mix together with a pinch of salt, make a well and put an egg in the middle. Now the mucky part, making the dough. We then are given a round needle, yes we really are making this by hand, the dough is made into thin sausages and cut into small pieces. Each piece is wrapped round a needle and rolled, gently release to form the Maccheroni. Believe me, this took a while.


Next onto Caponata. A typical Sicilian dish, influenced by the Arabic history of the island, is what they call a sweet and sour. The basic ingredients are courgette (zucchini), aubergine (egg-plant) and peppers. These are all fried off separately until golden brown. Two key lessons here, one don’t move the veg too much as you fry it so not to release too much water, the second is by frying everything separately then combining at the end it brings out the flavour of each ingredient. Then into a pan we fry a little chopped onion and chopped celery until golden, the already fried veg are reintroduced and with a few capers, chopped olive, raisins, pine nuts, sugar and white wine vinegar. Actually a third lesson here (anyone thinking Monty Python and the Spanish Inquisition or is it just me?), apparently the best tasting is at room temperature so the flavours really come through and so the Caponata is left to rest.

Next up Anchovies Beccafico, basically stuffed Anchovies and these are fresh, not the tinned variety. We are presented with a plate of whole anchovies, again images of Rick Stein are in my mind following his latest series showing the ladies that fillet these fish for a living. We do a fairly good job of this, snapping the head off which takes most of the guts with it, then running a thumb down the belly to split the fish and simply pulling out the back bone. The stuffing is made from breadcrumbs, pine nuts, raisins, parsley and seasoning, simple yet tasty.

Another fish dish next, Fish Giotta. Basically for this dish you can use most white fish, we used a local fish to Sicily. First we made the sauce, a tomato sauce with capers and olives, that’s it, simple. Then onto the fish which we took turns to fillet, this proved quite amusing but a great lesson which I will definitely take on board when next doing a fish dish (as long as I can find a decent fish monger).

Working under the watchful eye of Massimo

We saw courgette flowers in the market and a few commented that they’d seen Jamie Oliver’s programme wear he stuffed them with ricotta and coated in tempura batter. So guess what came up next. We made the batter, a little beer in the batter and somehow I was given the job of whisking the batter with what has to be the biggest whisk I have ever seen. After making my arm ache somewhat, the batter was done. adding a pinch of salt to the ricotta, we piped this into the flowers. This is something you can play around with, adding herbs to the ricotta or, as Angelo suggest, blended anchovies.

Look at the concentration

And that’s it, all over, well apart from the tasting. So let me tell you this, Angelo is not telling any lies about the Caponata, we can taste every single ingredient, the veg is still crunchy and after trying this dish several times during our stay, it was by far the best I had tasted. The Maccheroni was a little erm, how shall I say this, it was inconsistent as between us we had made pasta of varying thicknesses so it hadn’t all cooked evenly. It still tasted good but we definitely need more practice. The fish dishes, both excellent which is saying something for a man who doesn’t like anchovies.

The finished courgette flowers

Of course we had wine to go with the dinner, the first being a white which was 100% Inzolia grape, the only one we tasted in Sicily and as a medium dry white it’s pretty good stuff, perfect for the Caponata. The second wine was a Orlando Nero D’Avola 2009. The Nero D’Avola is probably the most common red wine in Sicily and varies on quality. Usually it’s quite acidic but easy drinking. This one was smoky, smooth and full of fruit. A great wine to go with the tomato sauce on the fish.

It really was an excellent day, a brilliant finish to our holiday in great company. Unfortunately having only discovered Licchio’s on the last day, we were unable to dine there but next time we’re in Taormina we will be making a booking. I have to give a heartfelt thank you to Angelo and the team for making us so welcome and teaching us so much. I also have to thank Maxine, our rep from Thomson, who offered the excursion. If you’re going to Taormina via Thomson, get in touch with Maxine or if not, just pop along to Licchio’s for a lesson or a bite to eat.

The team from left to right: Andrea, Head Chef Angelo and Massimo.

Licchio’s website www.licchios.it

Excursion purchased via Maxine at The Ariston Hotel, Taormina via Thomson.

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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).


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



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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Anyone that has been following me on Twitter or read my last post will know I have recently become a fan of Cafe A Vin which is connected to Galvin La Chapelle. On our last visit the restaurant manager, Alessandro Piombino, or Alex as he is known, gave us a little tour of La Chapelle. The setting is fantastic, the high ceiling and original features of the building marry well with the modern classic dining furniture. You feel a moment of occasion as you enter La Chapelle, it really is quite a breathtaking venue. I feel it must put a lot of pressure on the chefs to ensure the food lives up to the expectation.

Alex greeted us and showed us to our table. A great table, seated so we could view most of the restaurant. A table we later found out is Sara Galvin’s favourite. My wife enjoyed a Kir Royal while I had a glass of champagne as we perused the menu. It took some time to figure out what I was going to have as I could really have eaten everything on there. Finally we decided:


Escabèche of yellow fin tuna, aubergine caviar and coriander

Ballotine of Landaise foie gras, peaches & Pain d’ épice


Assiette of French veal, carrot & cumin purée, sauce diable


Soufflé of apricot with Valrhona chocolate

Apple tart Tatin, crème fraîche

The foie gras was my choice and the inclusion of peaches in the dish intrigued me. I was not disappointed with my choice. A silky smooth foie gras which was lifted by the sweetness of the peaches. My wife enjoyed her starter too, the Tuna did look fantastic, and two empty plates were taken back to the kitchen. As you can tell, we both went for the same main course after the veal dish being explained to us. This was us being adventurous. The assiette of veal consisted of braised cheek, belly, brain and sweetbreads. Four parts of veal I have never had, in fact I think I’ve only ever had loin and rump. My wife struggled with the brain which I felt was a strange feeling in my mouth but tasted so good I had to eat it all. I actually struggled with the cheek which I found quite rich and sweet with this being my wife’s favourite part of the dish. For me the winner was the sweetbreads. Never had them at all before and something I will be looking out for again.

There was a nice break between the main course and dessert while we finished off our wine (ready for me to have a dessert wine).  My dessert came with a glass of 2007 Pacherenc du Vic-Bihl Brumaire, Alain Brumont. A great wine, very sweet which it needed to be with the tart. Oh, that pastry on the tart, just amazing, the apples juicy and caramalised so well. I hadn’t even noticed my wife wolfing down her Soufflé so I assume it was very good. SHe even started tucking into mine. We ended with the usual petits fours, coffee and drinks, a brandy and a port. The petits fours came in a small silver dish, two chocolates and two cherries sitting on a bed of crushed cocoa beans. That smell, I can still smell it now as I was allowed to take it with me, not the actual dish of course. I thought this a great touch though as the cherries carried some of the flavour of the cocoa with them and I think possibly the best, juiciest cherries I have ever had.

I suddenly realised it was about 10 pm and that meant there was table turn around. Considering we sat at 7, I liked this as it meant we could really relax. There was never any rush. It does annoy me that so many restaurants turn their tables round and when you’re paying for what is not a cheap meal, I think it is a cheek to make you leave the table. So well done to Galvin La Chapelle for letting people take their time and enjoy the surroundings and of course the food. I never like putting the price of a meal on here and will just say it isn’t cheap but then it is worth every penny. The staff are just so friendly, welcoming and thank you to them for organising the signing of my Obsession cookbook.  I will be seeing some of the Galvin staff again next week at Cafe A Vin (yes again).

Booked via www.toptable.com

Galvin La Chapelle details can be found on www.galvinrestaurants.com

Special mention to:

Sara Galvin, the perfect host.

Julia & Ruby for the tweets @Julia_GalvinRes and @Ruby_Galvin Res

And to Alessandro Piombino, enjoy your holiday.

Our sommelier who suggested a very nice crisp white wine from the Rhone region. Sorry I did not make a note of the wine, I remember it was a St Peray though. We agree with her though that a white Chateauneuf du Pape would go so well on  the wine list.






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The seventh year of Taste sees our fifth visit. A couple of years ago I became quite disillusioned by Taste as it seemed d to have become a bit stale and lacking some of the usual flair you expect. Last year improved with the introduction of the Icon dish which was great to see continued this year. Although they seem to be getting even more pricey, it is a true show of what these chefs can do.

Tristan Welsch of Launceston Place

So 5th visit, I thought I must try something new but couldn’t help mix in some old favourites. First call of the day had to be Bentley’s as I was lucky enough to cook with Richard Corrigan the week before. I asked for Brendon, who Richard said to, and he was more than happy to show me out the back and see what goes on behind the scenes. Seeing some of the real heroes of the day. It was even smaller out the back than I thought and then the sight of crate upon crate of Oysters for just one day was amazing. When we emerged back to the front, there was a plate of the ever fresh Maldon oysters for me and a couple of corks to get a free glass of English sparkling wine at the Nyetimber stand.

The next stop had to be Launceston Place and Tristan Welsch was there carving up the suckling pig and posed nicely for some pictures. I actually went for the Goose Egg & Chips which was my first goose egg. It was pretty phenomenal, an amazing flavour from the eggs. Who needs ketchup when you have goose egg. The Old Spot suckling pig, so well cooked too, with lot’s of black truffle on top was another taste sensation which my wife wolfed down without me getting even a taster so I only have her word that it was good.

I stopped by Gaucho for a quick piece of steak as we made our way to Nyetimber to sample the wine. Sorry Gaucho, it was very sinewy and I expected better have eaten at one of your restaurants. On the plus side, it was flavoured really well and the humitas chimchurri was stunning. So to Nyetimber for the free wine,  a crisp sparkling English wine which was most enjoyable as we continued our walk round in the sun where i spied Fullers. My wife was happy, she finished my wine while I had a beer. Fuller’s I do salute you guys, always a great beer wherever I try it.

Mennula's Carpaccio of Yellow Fin Tuna

In an attempt to stay true to my word and try food from restaurants I have never experienced before, Mennula, Trinity and sake No Hana were on the agenda. First from Mennula, where we had  a great chat about the food and their sales pitch to us which really turned out to be the food. We both chose a dish there with my wife trying the maccheroni and me going for the Carpaccio of line caught yellow fin tuna. Both dishes were great and the tuna was just so well marinated with great sweet and sour onions. And so on to Sake No Hana where I was already yearning for the pan fried quail. I do love quail and this was no disappointment, tender, succulent and a bit of a kick. Another place now added to the list of where to go. Shortly followed by Trinity which is where we both tried a dish and for me this was their Icon dish of Pig’s Trotters with what has to be the most amazing crackling ever. I mean, it was just amazing, crispy, well seasoned, a bit of meat still underneath. Even now my mouth waters like Homer Simpson just thinking about it. For me, it was the dish of the day.

Trinity's Pigs Trotter Icon DishThis only leaves one dish, Rhodes 24 Icon dish, Jaffa Cake Pudding. This was for my wife more than me but we both had a try. I’m not really a pudding person but this was just like, well a Jaffa cake but multiplied by several thousand. An intense orange with dark  chocolate, light sponge. We had a chat with Gary Rhodes while we were there who then signed a clean dish for Michala and he had a few words about Top Table. In fact we could hardly stop him when he got started. Gary said the service provided is great and always friendly but on most importantly it’s the access given to the public to find and discover these amazing restaurants. We couldn’t agree more.

We stopped by  Le Gavroche too to speak with Michel Roux Jr (legend and such a gent), where I had a cheeky little chicken terrine with pickled mushrooms. I’ve tried making these mushrooms in the past and believe me, Michel Roux Jr is good for a reason. If you get the book, go make them, great with a meal, barbecue, ploughman’s.  We then thought it was time for more wine so a trip to McGuigan’s was in order for a few tasters to turn into a glass as the only rain of the session fell. Well when it’s raining and you can’t move, wine is a good companion.

Sake No Hana's Pan Fied Quail

Overall best menu for us was Launceston Place so we counted our crowns, realising we didn’t quite have enoughfor the strawberries and champagne from there but hey, they let us have two anyway. This is the thing with Taste, it pays to ask, be cheeky, just talk and take an interest, you never know what you may get. And so with another wander round and perusal of the many suppliers we headed home laden with full bags and full stomachs.  And as I write this I raise my glass to Taste and TopTable and hear my stomach rumble in readiness for the next one.

This is the full verson of my post as written for Toptable which can be seen on their blog at http://bit.ly/9Ppq48 or go to www.blog.toptable.com

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This is like the continued adventures of Simon in the professional kitchen. If you have read my blog before, you may know I went to a cookery lesson in Essex earlier in the year. At the time I had also booked a Masterclass at Corrigan’s of Mayfair. Some of you may have noticed I have two major Chef heroes, Michel Roux Jr and Richard Corrigan so deciding on this masterclass was a no brainer. I thought reasonably priced too considering you get to meet the great man himself. I twittered/tweeted for many weeks and certainly in the days running up to it and will apologise now to my friends on Twitter, I am sorry if it got annoying, I was just a little bit (a lot) excited.

The day was for me with my wife choosing to take advantage of us being in London to go shopping. We stayed at the Cumberland at Marble Arch the night before to avoid any train difficulties on the Saturday morning. I was excited (sorry have I said that?) even on the Friday night, starting to feel nervous which I kept telling myself was silly. Afterall I was paying for this, it wasn’t like I was actually cooking as part of the staff. I think it dawned on me though how much I admire Mr C and love his style of cooking.  So to relax we stayed in the hotel and ate at Rhodes W1 Brasserie which was delightful, one of the best pork chops, actually the only Pork T-bone, I have ever had. A little drinking was done, okay a lottle. A bottle of champagne between us to celebrate the birth earlier that morning of our new Nephew, Connor, and a bottle of wine with the meal. (yes we had had a drink during the day also).

So I wake, very early, stomach in knots as the day has arrived. I’m like a schoolboy, I can’t sleep, it’s 5 a.m. please let me sleep. Needless to say I am ready very early for my short walk down Park Lane to Upper Grosvenor Street. The day starts at 10am and I left the hotel at 9. Yes like it would take an hour. I get there about quarter past, hover around and then take a walk round the block. Nice area, I may buy a house in Mayfair (when that lottery wine comes in). Eventually I decide 20 minutes isn’t too early and guess what, I was first to arrive. What I didn’t expect though is as I walked through the door, was to see Richard leant on the bar having a coffee. “Hello” he smiles with a knowing look, I’m sure he realised I was very excited and I think my face may have given away the fact I was slightly in awe. We had a brief chat, I sat at the bar with some very nice coffee and Richard disappeared to get ready.

Cornish Crab Cocktail & Melba Toast

The other 14 guests arrived and we chatted, drank more coffee (like I needed the caffeine) and some lovely biscuits. The anticipation was killing me, itching to get in the kitchen. I was thinking, is this what it’s like when someone gets a back stage pass to see their favourite band. Richard calls everyone’s attention and introduces us to Chris McGowan, Head Chef and Partner. The two Irishmen talk about the menu we will be cooking and even hearing them just talk through it you can hear the passion in their voices about the food. The usual health and safety notices go through, “knives are sharp, don’t cut your fingers”. Good advice. And with that we are led to the kitchen.

We all stand there, very quiet and I wonder if everyone is as nervous about me. We’re split into three groups of five and spend time on each course. Our group started on the starters. I expertly peeled an avocado, well the basics have to be done and I sometimes forget that it’s not all cheffy, things need peeling. The one thing I can’t get over though is that the kitchen is actually quite small but the sizes of pots, ovens etc are huge. There is also a major lack of gadgets in the Corrigan’s kitchen. This is definitely somewhere  the ingredients do the talking. No cooking something in a bag for fours hours and Richard was keen to point out. Back to the starter, we are sweating down fennel, deglazing the pan with Pernod ready to add to the avocado for a very light mayonnaise to go with some crab. Ah yes crab, where is it? Richard asked that too to be told it hadn’t turned up. In fact the crab was so late, Richard popped out to Bentley’s to get some from there. The benefit of having your own fish restaurant nearby.

I had a go at making some Melba toast. Now I had no idea how to make it but now I do and how I managed to cut that bread I will never know. My hands were shaking as I attempted the first one. Still shaking on the second but then I got the knack so my family may find it on the menu for our next big meal.

Reggie Johnson's Duck, Endive & Orange

Time to move on, we go to mains next, duck laid out in front of us, several ducks actually to be roasted. Also some duck that’s been slowly braised which we have to flake and of course try, and try again, well we must make sure it’s okay. I had a huge tray of duck in front of me and could quite happily have taken it to a dark corner and devoured the lot. Why a dark corner I’m not sure, suddenly that sounds a bit creepy. We are talking meat with Chris while we do this and getting tips like always cooking on the bone to keep the heat and flavour, then remove the bone just before serving. To prove the point, Chris gets a duck breast quickly cooks it and let’s us try. Nothing like a freshly cooked piece of duck breast, just with salt & pepper. Simple food tasting so good. Then the quick crispy chicken skin he made which was like a roast dinner flavoured crisp when he was finished.

Okay onto the pastry section. Our last section which in a way is sad as we know when we’re finished there it’s all over in the kitchen. This was a bit more fun and larking about as we, well I was a bit rubbish. We helped make part of the souffle as the other two groups had done their part. We also had a go at making bread rolls for their dinner service. I don’t think they will be serving them and at some point my rolls will be nothing more than breadcrumbs in another dish. There were two guys round the corner making the same rolls. In the time we took to do 3 each, so only 15 rolls, the guys had produced 8 trays (about 30 on a tray). It is just one of those moments when you applaud someone even though it’s just a bread roll. I should mention here though that all the bread at Corrigan’s is made on site. Oh and if you haven’t had it, you must try their soda bread whether it be at Corrigan’s or Bentleys. Actually you can get it at Hix too, they realise they couldn’t do better.

All through the day we have been cooking with the chefs from each section with Richard keeping an eye on proceedings and offering advice and answering questions. It wasn’t what I was expecting but then, do i really know what I expected? No I guess I didn’t. That is the cooking over really, we have helped prep, getting things ready not to leave the experts to finish off. We exit the kitchen proudly in our Corrigan’s aprons where most of us have partners or friends joining us for lunch. Champagne is already flowing and it continues to do so as the restaurant is closed. After a lot of champagne we are shown to the private dining area where the wine starts flowing just as freely. We sit to enjoy the food that we may or may not have prepared. I am sure that Melba toast was mine though.

Corrigan's very well stocked bar

The food is just phenomenal and to see that some of it was actually quite simple, it does make you want to go and try, experiment and my passion for cooking increased hugely. Ever since that day, just over two weeks ago I have hardly stopped thinking food. I’ve already made a version of the mayonnaise and I am waiting for the right time try the duck. This wasn’t as much a lesson, it was an inspiration. If just some of the knowledge that Richard, Chris and the team passed on has sunk in, I know my own cooking will have improved greatly. As we leave we are handed a goodie bag with cook book, soda bread and petit fours. Of course we get to keep the apron too.  Thanks guys, a great morning, great lunch and yes we will be visiting again.



The Menu

Cornish Crab Cocktail

& Melba Toast

Wine – 2008 Cheverny, Domaine de Veilloux (Biodynamic) – Loire


Reggie Johnson’s Duck,

Endive & Orange

Wine – 2006 Toro, Vetus – Toro


Rhubarb Souffle

& Ginger Ice Cream

Wine 2006 Gaillac “Grain de Folie Douce”,

Domaine Causse Marines (Biodynamic) – South West France


Masterclass costs £250 per person with lunch guest for additional £90.

For more details visit www.corrigansmayfair.com

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