Whilst I’ve been procrastinating about this blog, I have been taking photos of my meals out and making enough mental notes for me to do my highlights of 2010. I thought about doing my Food Awards, but it seems a bit over-the-top for what amounts to an excuse to string together some photos and a few words about some of my meal highlights from last year. So without further ado, this is my best meal of 2010, a sort of fantasy Degustation menu made up of the dishes I’d most like to eat again in a single sitting.
Scallops, roast watermelon,
wild mushroom & parsnip.
The first on my list is the scallops served with a parsnip puree, mushroom veloute and roasted watermelon from Chef’s Table at Claridges. Scallops are always a favourite of mine, it’s fair to say the unfair habit of scallops only appearing on a la carte menus is the primary reason why money saving budget options of price-fixed menus are all too often abandoned in favour of the pricier side of the card. I’ll put my neck out and lay the blame for this firmly on the missus, but I’m all too often an easy accomplice.
Part of the fun that is a Chef’s Table experience, aside from unbridled access to a working professional kitchen, is getting to cook. That is how four of us ended up crowded around a terrifyingly hot hotplate in the busy Claridges kitchen, trying to flip the delicate little morsels with nothing more than a dessert spoon. The mere thought of how badly burnt you’d get if you touched it was painful enough. The resulting dish was delicious – plump, fresh scallops, with a just a few accompaniments to help them slip down and bring out their flavour; the roast watermelon was a lovely touch adding a nice bit of freshness.
Langoustine tortellini, pumpkin,
hazelnut & vanilla.
I absolutely loved this dish from Restaurant 27; my favourite, and without a shadow of a doubt the finest dining establishment Portsmouth has to offer. Delicate tortellinis on a sweet pumpkin puree, the vanilla and roasted hazelnuts gave the dish that wow factor. Not much more to say other than I could have eaten this several times over. Its demise from the post Christmas menu put me in quite a sulk, a mood that has only be lifted by the appearance of an equally enticing crab tortellini dish on the new spring menu. A trip to see Kevin and the gang is long overdue.
Sweetbreads, bacon and peas.
This is some classic St John fare and why I love the place so much. The ever changing menu has you wanting to go back again and again to try more of their unashamedly English dishes. If I could eat there daily I would.
After indulging in their suckling pig feast for my birthday, 2010 marked a small, but I like to think, entirely healthy obsession with the restaurant. Dining at St John is what I imagine English cuisine would resemble, if like the Italians, we treated any slight deviation from tradition with horror and derision, got involved in heated arguments with some chap from down the road over the inclusion of a single ingredient in a dish and under no circumstances would any cooking ever come close to being better than your Mum’s.
The first thing that strikes you when you enter the restaurant is a wonderful warm aroma of unspeakably delicious things roasting and baking in ovens. If you’ve not been then I advise you to go soon, as you head down the white-washed warehouse entrance into the former smoke house just take a moment to enjoy the smell. I probably don’t need to tell you this – it’s just there waiting for you, a warm roast dinner hug the like of which you won’t forget.
There’s certainly no heirs and graces, a deft hand in the kitchen always lets the quality and seasonality of the ingredients do the talking. It’s the sort of cooking that leaves no where to hide and I love it. Don’t listen to the doubters hung up on all the modern accoutrements of fine dining, for sure they have their place, but so does this.
Turbot Wellington with truffle mash.
Our party for the Claridges meal had one vegetarian and one pescetarian so the chefs created a variation on the restaurant’s Beef Wellington with a lovely fillet of turbot. The pastry encrusted King of the Sea was served to the table feasting style so we could all help ourselves to all the trimmings of roasted vegetables, the trademark truffle mash and a sweet red wine jus. This was really hearty eating, and a nice contrast in style to rest of the meal. So often I see attempts at Wellington variations and more often than not, they’re abject failures, but this was amazingly well executed – the rich buttery pastry, lined with a stuffing of wild mushrooms and that ever so meaty turbot cooked to perfection and stuffed with more of those great scallops.
Muntjac deer, pine nut puree, baby
beets, oats, seeds & juniper.
In truth its a tall order to count the Turbot as the menu’s fish dish, it really is too ballsy to fill that role, but fill that role it must as it would be a shame to not give a quick mention to the muntjac deer dish I had at Gordon Ramsay’s Maze restaurant. Even though Jason Atherton has flown the nest to pastures new, we were greeted with some fine cooking and very friendly serice.
The meat and cereal combination was a new one to both me and the missus (we both had the same dish). The toasted oats and seeds really brought out a subtle grassy dimension in the deer. One of those great wow moments.
Raspberry parfait, white & milk
chocolate, pistachio and cherry.
For the first dessert of the meal I’m heading back to Claridges. Seeing the pastry chef creating six of these individual masterpieces before our very eyes was another of those magical moments that really makes a Chef’s Table experience very special. The end result was as delightful to look at as was to eat, an edible Jackson Pollack, it didn’t last long enough for anyone to put a bid in.
Apple pie and custard.
So we again switch from haute cuisine to the gloriously rustic. We revisited the St John feast menu for a friend’s birthday, this time it ended with the most amazing Apple Pie and custard. This has to rate as one of the truly great Apple pies of all time. A gigantic bowl was delivered covered in thick undulating crust of golden pastry. To look at it, it seemed like the pastry may have been so short that it was more like a crumble in it’s assembly. Underneath lurked perfectly spiced chunks of moist apple dotted here and there with juicy sultanas. A great big jug of sweet custard sealed the deal, creating a school dinner classic as you’d only imagine to find in an Enid Blyton novel.
OK, so this isn’t even remotely a course but coming from a family with a tradition of sailing the sunday roast across a small ocean of gravy, this deserved a mention. Our suckling pig feast at St John came with two big jugs of the most delicious gravy, a meaty golden liquid with a deep savoury flavour. I still can’t help but wonder if there’s a touch of marmite in their to give it that lip-smacking tang and umami kick. Fergus Henderson’s Nose to Tail eating does not reveal any gravy secrets. A few dabbles in the kitchen have certainly produced very fine gravy, but I’m still curious to know what goes in the one at St John.
A final word.
The eagle eyed amongst you may have discerned a pattern here, most of these dishes are from only a few restaurant visits. The St John obsession really sucked in a lot of my eating out, perhaps to the detriment of eating in other restaurants. This year I’m hoping to spread the wealth, such that it is, a little more and a bit further. Already tables have been booked for the Fat Duck and The Ledbury and plans are afoot to visit The Square and a return to one of my favourites Le Gavroche.
I sense some good eating in the near future.