( photos all at the bottom of the page due to technical-I-broke-my-computer difficulties)
So the moment I had been waiting for for about 3months finally arrived last Saturday. Unlike most things which you get yourself hyped up for but then end up finding bitterly anti-climatic and occasionally lying in bed in a drunken mess wondering exactly why you decided to do what you did last night, lunch at midsummer house lived up to the hype. As a foodie you would probably expect my lasting memory of the day to be solely the food, but while the food was phenomenal ( more on that later) the best thing about midsummer house was how well we were treated by the front of house staff, flawlessly neither stuck up and pretentious or overly chummy, but friendly, informative and made you feel right at home. In fact the whole feel of midsummer house was that of a home, the layout if the restaurant reminding me strongly of some of my friends houses growing up, it really wasn’t very big and while the decor was classy and stylish , the way that the bathroom and lounge were upstairs and the kitchen at the back with the front room with a bay window where we were eating, it would perfectly suit a standard 2.5 children middle class family in size.
As you approach the house it looks rather quirky, a random what should be semi detached house on the edge of a field with the back drop of a river and university boat clubs, but I think this just adds to the charm of the place, plus in the summer i’m sure the views are stunning.
Having waited outside and photographed every angle for about 20mins for the family to finally rock up I was eagerly anticipating the inside. I was not disappointed , not only were we immediately welcomed into our table with a lovely view of the common but we were immediately relieved of our coats, given very handy bag hooks on our luxurious chairs and offered a glass of champagne. The staff didn’t hurry us but let us take copious photos to celebrate the occasion (I’m not sure we needed the same photo on every iPhone of the family but….) and the sommelier even cheekily slipped into a few putting us all at ease. Canapés were swiftly brought over as we were left to peruse our menu with the waiter happy to put up with my bad French pronunciation of the wines on the menu (turns out he was French…) and to answer my questions of how exactly they made each canapé and why he thought the lime jelly worked with Creme fraiche so well.
Bloody Mary foam with celery pieces and celery sorbet
Two thin slices of potato deep grief to create a puffed up pouch, filled with creme fraiche and topped with chives and lime jelly
A pinwheel of bacon and cheese (in afraid I can’t remember this one so well, but U8 assured me it tasted a little like a cheese twist)
The best thing about this dish was the fact the parents agreed to buy me both a syringe and siphon to make foam after tasting these dishes and declaring them amazing. The texture of the foam was silky and light with a real spicy kick with was cut through by the almost sweet and vibrant celery sorbet which even the great celery hater himself enjoyed! The potato disc was my favourite though, mostly because the crunchy outside gave way to the most surprising almost liquid sour cream hit with the chives and lime as a subtle background flavour – my sister out it well, a sort of posh Pringle, cleverly evoking childhood tastes.
Pumpkin velouté, a la greque mushrooms, Parmesan gnocchi
Kurt angerer, gurner veltliner, Austria 2012
We ordered the market menu , mid-price with flight of wines but you could very easily have a reasonable lunch here 3 courses for the same price as a fairly average meal at Browns if not cheaper!
This course was another triumph for the siphon (mum – if we buy you one will you make this for Christmas dinner?) The only slight disappointment was the lack of crunch, perhaps a Parmesan crisp would have added to the texture as the mushroom pieces and gnocchi, while not filling and bursting with flavour were a little monotonous and blending into one where a salty snap might have lifted the dish. With this we were given a lovely wine, not overly sweet but definitely sweeter than the very dry wine we got next, it balanced the soup nicely. ( I apologise if this is wrong but I’m still learning about wine, but I do know it was a big improvement on sainsburys basics or college Chardonnay )
Confit salmon, crayfish, garden apple, sauce vouvray
I will love any well cooked piece of salmon you put in front if me and am a firm believer of curing, slow baking and pan frying but confit is definitely my favourite. For those of you that don’t know, confit is where the meat or fish is slow cooked in medium hot oil for a longer time than you would cook it most ways for a really rich, melting in the mouth taste (although admittedly it’s not the healthiest way…). With this salmon was little individually shelled pieces of langoustine (how you get the inside out so delicately I have no idea) as well as pools of sharp apple purée and a gorgeous salty ,what must have been, sauce vouvray which I shamelessly admit to licking off the plate it was so good! To finish the dish were texturally interesting crispy salmon skin (definitely one up on yo sushi) and salmon pieces wrapped in the thinnest piece of apple I’ve ever seen, a sort of apple spring roll. With this we were offered some lovely homemade bread, not particularly special but just what you need, if it had been too complex it would have detracted from the menu, plus my mum was really impressed with the butter in the shape of bee hives….. No one can say they were stingy with the bread either, when you finished they would immediately offer you a second, warm slice. ( I had to stop after the second fearing I wouldn’t have space for the remaining courses)
Beetroot cooked on open coals sheep curd and horseradish
Chateau Rives-Blanques, Chardonnay-Chenin, France 2012
Midsummer house isn’t famed for its theatricality, it’s more about great tasting seasonal produce (think more Manoir than fat duck ) but it still managed to keep it tongue on cheek with this next course, almost as soon as our wine (the slightly drier white I talked about earlier) had been poured, a what looked like a portable barbecue complete with a large green done was wheeled in. Aptly named the big green egg we were swiftly informed by the chef ( a real kitchen chef and all – what a relief) how the Beetroot she was expertly carving had been cooked for 2days (I think ) over open coals for a smoky flavour to off set the sweetness of the Beetroot. Funnily enough, while impressive, it wasn’t the yellow Beetroot, candied Beetroot, barbecues beetroot, lush Beetroot purée or the fact that my dad was actually eating all this Beetroot having almost declared himself allergic to it at the start of the meal, it was the soft coats curd. It was like a more flavoursome ricotta and offset the acidity and sweetness of Beetroot – I might have eaten my sisters sheep curd too…
I had been enlightened earlier of how amazing this dish was before I came by U8 who declared this her favourite dish and it did not disappoint. I think the dishes got better through the lunch. This fish was introduced by way of an apparent coffee service ( I hope your not going to do this with our
cafetiere was the die hard coffee addict my mother’a comment). The waiter explained that he was using the cafetieres to create a mushroom broth infusion to pour over the monkfish. It came with crunchy onion slivers, so thin you could hardly compare them to the hulking batter laden rings you get from the kebab van (although that is my post-club guilty treat on occasion). Every time I have monkfish I’m surprised by how wonderfully meaty it is for a fish, like eating a pork fillet, lighter than a steak but not half hearted and thin like a plaice. This was accompanied by the most lovely red wine, rather like the monkfish it wasn’t as full bodied as the next red, more delicate but was red nonetheless and carried more weight than the white.
Slow roasted loin of venison, braised neck, Brussels sprouts, pancetta and quince
Lammershoek, South Africa, 2010
After returning from the incredibly decadent bathrooms ( fancy hand towels) and having my seat pushed in behind me as I sat down, and my napkin laid over my lap, I felt incredibly pampered (although admittedly the first time the waiter tried to push in my chair I got a little confused ending in an awkward tussle but we sorted it in the end). The next course felt like Christmas, except what you would have for Christmas dinner if you didn’t feel the need to push your stomach to the limits on Christmas Day . I am a big fan of two things on this dish, the recent re-occurance of venison on dishes, and Brussels sprouts. I know most people are not fans of this seasonal vegetable but I assure you when each leaf is individually peeled for you and served with melt in the mouth venison, a thick red wine jus and a shaving of chocolate it can make even the most anti-sprout protestor enjoy it (exhibit A – my father who appears to be really fussy from this post, he’s not that bad). Having said that the highlight of this dish were the pools of sweet and sharp quince purée and the most succulent braised neck, sharp and salty and soft mmmmmm in fact the only disappointment was that the dark chocolate was masked by these flavours, perhaps a little more would have rendered it not entirely superfluous to the dish, but baring in mind this was the first day of serving this dish for them it was otherwise exquisite. Even the red meat phobe to my left (my sister had a bad experience with a steak in France) really enjoyed this dish.
Lemon posset, blueberries, lemon Espuma
The keen eyed among you will start to notice a theme, Daniel Clifford seems to be making good use of his siphon. Not that I’m complaining – not only does it gives dishes the most interesting dimension, but I’m also now going to be able to recreate dishes thanks to the persuasiveness of midsummer house foams (note to kings college GOOD use of foams in dishes ). This was almost my favourite dish excepting the second pudding (is it that obvious I have a sweet tooth). Having newly discovered lemon meringue pie (I know 30 years too late) the sweet lemon curd like base was off set by a sharp layer of crushed frozen blueberries and blueberry coulis (who would have thought that the blueberries rather than the lemon was the sour part). Finally the whole dish is finished with a silky lemon foam and tiny pieces of blueberry meringue. Nothing was overly sweet and this proved the perfect palate cleanser before a return to Christmassy flavours for dessert.
Roasted chestnuts, caramel, chestnut frangipane
Tenute Marchese Antinori, Vin Santo Del Chianti Classico, 2008
I don’t know why but it has never occurred to me to mix chocolate and chestnut. Chestnut and sprouts, chestnut and cheese even chestnut and caramel but never with chocolate. Oh how wrong I was. This was the best dish. A crumbly salty base, topped with a silky cold chocolate mousse (so much more than an ice cream) with soft chestnuts, frangipane and drizzled with caramel, scattered with hazelnuts. The lost amazing mixture if flavours and textures, each strong enough to hold their own against the other. You’re probably wondering how on earth we managed to fit all this in but trust me when the food is this good – it’s worth it. Wash this down nicely with vin santo (if you have never tried cantuccini biscotti dipped in vin santo stop reading and go try it now) and it was the perfect dessert
Not that we were finished at this point, there was still soft doughnuts with lemon dipping sauce, so good we ate them before I could get a picture. Then ended the meal with complimentary champagne which the sommelier helpfully put in front of us despite the fact my mum and sister had left saying – aah well just two glasses each for you then.
Even that wasn’t the end of it. We were then taken on a tour if the kitchens by our lovely waiter who first took us to the wine cellar and prep kitchen. I kid you not, I held a Dom Perignon 1985. The more I see of life the more I realise I’m going to have to marry for money ! Then round to the main kitchen where I meet the head chef Dan. After that glass of champagne I brazenly recall my experience at Le Manoir, he says we if you don’t ask you don’t get and offers me a work experience slot at midsummer ( turns out he worked at Le Manoir too – watch this space) Finally we end with the pastry kitchen (obviously my faveourite place) where I get to try the new fig and chocolate dessert as well. And on that sugar and career high, I had to come all the way back down to earth, with an opera.