Gin in a Pint Shop

Gin in a Pint Shop

The end of exams calls for a celebration and what better time to try out the most recent addition to the Cambridge restaurant scene, The Pint Shop. I have often popped into this relatively new addition to the Cambridge restaurant scene for one of their amazingly diverse gin and tonics, from the more classically flavoured  Junipero 49.3% 12 Botanicals, Strong Juniper to the exciting  NB Gin 42% Grains of Paradise, Orris Root, Cassia Bark. (I am yet to find out what Grains of Paradise are…) I am also reliably informed that you can have the pint of the name there as well, although that’s  not really my style. These Gin and Tonics are made even more exciting by the sophisticated presentation of a sliver of lemon peel, plenty of ice and juniper berries, Wetherspoons take notice.

IMG_1641

So directly after spraying U4 with champagne as the final finalist, the staircase crowd plus extras headed down for lunch in plainly decorated back room of the shop, the back being the restaurant, the front the bar. One of the most appealing aspects for the students round the table was the set price lunch menu, 2 courses for £10, friendly to the student budget. We were immediately presented with hefty chunks of sourdough bread and slabs of butter gratefully received by the majority of the party who had missed breakfast due to their own exam celebrations the night before. (My only gripe was that the butter was unsalted, but it was nothing a little sea salt couldn’t fix).

IMG_1640

The girl Muso, Phantom and I all started with the intriguing sounding spiced cauliflower fritters with yoghurt sauce. I was impressed. They were light, but less pungent than an onion bajii and went well with the neutral yoghurt sauce. However the classicist next to me made me immediately jealous, a roast cauliflower, Raddichio and walnut salad (cauliflower is clearly in season) which looked amazing and I was assured tasted as good. I later found out that this is a bit of a house speciality in various forms, missed a trick. Altogether the starters were basic but showcased their produce.

IMG_1643IMG_1644

The main courses were pretty much along the same vein, basic but showcased seasonal produce. My mackerel with potato salad cannot, I’m afraid, be referred to as the best dish I ever had, but it was well seasoned and the mackerel melted in the mouth. Apparently those who had the pork were not so lucky. While the pork with roasted apple and mustard sauce was nice, the whole dish was severely let down by the rather odd large pickled fennel which was taking up most of the plate. Initially I thought that the girl Muso was exaggerating…but after tasting I can definitely say fennel is one of the few things that shouldn’t be pickled ever.

  IMG_1645IMG_1646     

Of course the real winner was Leporello, who decided to treat himself off the set menu. His steak with fried egg and bone marrow looked impressive and judging by the empty bone and plate it was pretty damn good. His and U4’s meals were accompanied by the sort of food I would normally have after 3am post clubbing but turned out to be an inspired choice. The Pint Shop is the only place I know that can elevate the humble chips with curry sauce to a sophisticated side order for lunch.

IMG_1648

All in all the Pint shop is a great place to go, but stick to the classic pub food, they do that best. Their cricket ball sized scotch eggs are next on my list, apparently they’re worth the trip to Cambridge.

Advertisements

Round the World flavours

Round the World flavours

(nb the photos are not my own, but inspiration)

I had a bad evening last night. So to cheer myself up I designed a menu.

Vodka marinated caramelized tomato and fennel, whipped basil cream, balsamic drizzle, salted cashew nut crumble, rocket leaves.

Paprika dusted Lobster, flambé chorizo, diced roast pumpkin, deep fried fish bones, sweet peas, coconut marinated whiting, coconut foam.

Untitled

Smoked Lamb fillet, cumin spiced pistachio butter, crispy sweetbreads, samphire, sweet carrot puree, minted yoghurt, beetroot ketchup, giant croutons, wild flowers. 

Untitled1

Lime and ginger sponge, foaming hot chocolate, avocado cream, iced white chocolate snow, sour pineapple, coconut flakes.

Recipes to follow

If I could make my perfect menu….2

If I could make my perfect menu….2
you may have seen this post under the title of my 21st menu – so my 21st came and and for some unknown reason I didn’t manage to find anyone who wanted to foot the bill for me to create this menu. I decided the next feasible opportunity for this menu is my wedding – so for my future husband (if you are reading this whoever you may be) we are blowing are entire budget on the food, I’ll wear jeans.

I’ve tweaked the menu a bit – and of course added some canapé ideas and dietary alternatives for my weird gluten free, nut allergy, veggie friends.

Canapés
Beetroot Macaroons, Creamy goats cheese filling (gf) (v) (n)
Crispy Salmon skin, Seaweed cone, seaweed salad, soy dressing, sesame seeds (gf) (n)
Crab, Pink Grapefruit and dill mayonnaise, blinis, caviar (n)
Ras el Hanout seared lamb, pistachio crust, mint and cilantro, harissa sauce, lemon yogurt

Oyster Ceviche

Oysters with tequila, lime, chilli, salt 
Bollinger R.D 1996 Extra Brut
OR
Palm heart and avocado ceviche with soy, ginger and lime (v)(gf)(n)

Blackamole
Twice fried Black Bean, Guacamole, baked corn tortilla strips, crispy fried coriander
Passion Fruit Margarita –
Passion fruit, lime juice, Triple Sec, 1921 Tequila Blanco
Phish Eggs
Smoked Trout, Poached quails eggs, asparagus, hollandaise foam, toasted almonds, crispy toast disc, Lemon Zest
Casa Coste Piane Prosecco Valdobbiadene
OR
Wild Garlic scrambled eggs, toasted sunflower seeds, crispy toast discs, Bloody mary coulis (v)(n)
– Gluten free toast alternative option

Ravioli
Chicken Ravioli, Spinach Foam, Honey barbecue toasted Hazelnuts, Ricotta quenelle, Chicken and sage consommé, sage crisps 
Villa Masetti Pinot Grigio 2009
OR
Wild truffle and mushroom ravioli, spinach foam, creamed white wine and tarragon sauce, tarragon crisps, butter toasted walnut pieces (v)
– Gluten free pasta alternative
– nut allergy, replace nuts with sunflower seeds

Venison
Seared Chard wrapped Venison loin, Venison Confit Shepherds pie topped with black garlic creamed potatoes, Chanterelle mushrooms, spicy chocolate sauce, Carrot and Parsnip crisps (gf) (n)
The Black Shiraz 2010 Berton Vineyards
OR
Butternut, spinach and ricotta Wellingtons, three cheese potato gratin, caramelised onions, maple pecans (v)

Scoup
Iced Melon Soup, Cayenne Pepper, Mint syrup
Campari Sorbetta, Balsamic drizzle (v) (gf) (n)
Cherry Ripe
Custard Cream Quenelle, Warm Cognac soaked Black Cherries, Warm Vanilla sponge, Cherry Blossom Sugar shards (v) (n)
Limoncello Di Capri
– Gluten free sponge alternative

Reese’s Piece
60% Bittersweet Chocolate cylinder, Peanut Butter Core, Frozen yoghurt parfait filling, Salted Peanut brittle, Raspberry Jelly crystals (v) (gf)
OR
Jaffa Cake
Milk chocolate bubbly Mousse, bubble wrap dark chocolate, marmalade, salted popcorn (n)

Holy Choly
Black Pepper and Chedder Shortbread (gf)
All Butter Cranberry studded sugar cookies 
Vin Santo Sante Bucciarelli

Coffee
Affogato truffle
Milk Chocolate Salted Caramel
Tomato and Basil Praline

This Inmate’s Last Meal

This Inmate’s Last Meal

Three years of pretentious, over-priced but very special 3 course meals and it all came down to a St Paddy’s day feast for my last formal ever at Kings. We’ve had hits, THAT venison steak, and spectacular misses, coffee in the starter…. but Kings has at least kept a consistency of too many things on the plate and geometric shapes, a level of pretentiousness far above any other in a Cambridge. However it is certainly an event every week, nowhere else is black tie virtually the norm for a weekly student dinner, nowhere else is there such a paradox within the generally perceived message of the organisation (nb communist flag in the bar), nowhere else would weekly dinners stop 8 weeks before they should. Lets not lie, I wouldn’t have it any other way, it’s more exclusive. I even splashed the boat out on wine – seriously rewarded, smooth balanced taste that was light but robust.
I wasn’t necessarily thrilled that our last ever formal was St Patrick’s day themed but I was pleasantly surprised in some areas, quite disappointed in others.

The menu read as follows
Haddock, cauliflower, squid chowder, smoked bread foam, dehydrated Irish moss and soda bread

Guinness braised beef flank stew, with caramelised shallots, thyme, champ, kale, baby turnip and blackened leeks

Irish chocolate coffee cake, vanilla and white chocolate malt, Baileys ice cream and raspberry glass

The first course had my favourite and least favourite parts. It was generally decided that the moss was possibly the most disgusting thing many of us had ever tasted, sort of like swallowing a mouth of sea water, a dehydrated mouth of sea water. We also believe that that is the reason the soda bread had an after taste of earwax (too harsh?). However the black guinness looking soup with potato foaming topping was delicious. The squid added a savoury element that lifted an other wise delicious but basic haddock and potato chowder to an morish soup that I could’ve kept eating for the whole meal (in some cases maybe I should’ve).

The second course was slightly deceivingly small on the plate – it had body, a huge body of supposedly  melt in the mouth meat, it was alright but it was quite stringy all in all although the caramelised shallots complimented it as did the buttery mash. Plus I love blackened leeks, but once again Kings decided sauce wasn’t necessary, they were wrong.

I didn’t realise how full I was going to be by this point and couldn’t finish the rich chocolate ganache they had called a cake.. It did go well with the delicious Baileys Ice cream and the raspberry glass was for once a welcome novelty, but ration of ice cream to ganache probably should’ve been the other way around….

It was a lovely night with my friends but I feel they should’ve let me redesign the dessert, oh and actually the main and why not the starter as well for good measure…

Macaroons:2 / L’Escargot

Macaroons: 2
Every year my family and I make the huge journey from Oxford to London for an annual christmas shopping trip. We try our best to pretend that we only go up to London once a year (despite the fact my sister now lives there) and plan the trip months in advance. It’s all terribly exciting…. The secret to this shopping trip to prevent the inevitable stress of actually shopping 5 days before christmas on Oxford street, is not to actually buy anything. The hour we spend in Topshop London is about the extent my father can cope with in a shop that isn’t a suit shop or Fortnum and Mason (this year he managed to buy £8 worth of Turkish Delight despite the fact he is the only one in our extended family who likes it). So we tend to potter around, look at the window displays (I go around and gawp at the Selfridges and Fortnum and Mason food halls), do a final mad dash round John Lewis when we realise we haven’t actually bought anything and end up collapsed in a heap in Waterstones coffee shop.

This year I was delivered some welcome respite in the form of a Champagne and Macaroon date with the red haired friend to celebrate her 21st. I wasn’t sure what to expect really when I eventually found my way to Eric Lanlard’s patisserie, Cake Boy. It appeared to be at the bottom of an office block surrounded by a busy roundabout and residential area, I was pretty sure it was the only shop for miles. Once we got in though, it was very modern and smart. This vibe was matched when our macaroons turned up, accompanied by a glass of lovely champagne. 
The plate was so much more than your average plate of macaroons, with a piece of modern art made of chocolate, caramel, raspberry coulis, popping candy, freeze dried raspberry and cocoa nibs underneath the macaroons themselves. It was rather nice to be able to taste the plate as well as the actual macaroons themselves. the flavours they described to us sounded incredibly interesting, including lemon and white chocolate, lime and kinnow, chocolate and caramel and raspberry. However it was a bit of a shame that, while they were all well baked and tasty, most of them were just sweet and the main flavours you could taste were the lemon, chocolate and caramel. But then again I have been spoiled by french macaroons bursting with flavour.

L’Escargot

http://www.lescargotrestaurant.co.uk/Lescargot/intro.html

l’Escargot, as my father helpfully pointed out, means snails, so the assumption would be that this was a french bistro, however L’Escargot is so much more. It manages to bridge the awkward gap between michelin starred expensiveness and dynamic innovations (and sometimes pretentiousness), and the casualness and lack of finesse you get in other places, not to mention the repetitiveness of chain restaurants. It was perfect for a celebratory meal. Most places I’ve been to of a similar price (not very cheap but nowhere near michelin prices) tend to underwhelm on the food for what you’re given, but in this case the food and service impressed.

We were not only celebrating managing to get to the end of the shopping trip and the first time we had all been together in a very long time, but my sister also received her first ever job offer, so we started off the meal with something bubbly. The staff were incredibly helpful and attentive, not only taking all our shopping bags and sopping wet coats as soon as we got in the door, but also charging my phone while we ate our meal. They had the level of attentiveness that I would expect in a michelin starred restaurant (filling up water glasses a lot, pushing chairs in/ laying napkins, refilling wine) but importantly didn’t force bottled water on us (they were perfectly happy for us to have tap) and nor did they push the most expensive food/wine choices on us.

After agreeing on a white wine to go with our various choices, we were pretty much left alone, excepting when we were offered 3 different types of bread (olive, brown, white) all warm with sea salted butter (no additional expense). The olive bread I had was particularly morish, clearly made with olive oil, and we kept being offered more (I did decline with the knowledge that christmas with its’ gut busting mounds of food was just round the corner).
When are starters arrived my first thought was, not too big not too small. Mine came with huge chunky tempura prawns, a lovely light crisp batter with a marie rose sauce, a sort of gourmet fish and chip shop fare. But this gave way to a lovely crab mayonnaise, light on the mayonnaise, heavy on the crab, with a nugget of avocado underneath, lovely.

My Father obviously went for snails, insisting you had to have snails in a place called ‘L’Escargot (he’s an English teacher, takes everything literally). I have to say snails are one of those things I can eat but only as part of a dish, the texture on its own is a bit too odd for my liking, it’s sort of up there with tripe. Having said that my Dad looked positively delighted to be presented with a plate of snails along with his own gadgets to eat them with (boys and their toys), his only criticism was it could have done with a tiny bit more garlic but otherwise very nice.
 
My sister’s Tuna also proved a big hit, although it was less lightly seared and more medium rare, but this may have been more pleasing to any clients with a fear of raw fish. My mother had the enigmatic beetroot and goats curd ravioli, about which the waiter went to great pains to tell us that it wasn’t actually ravioli (I don’t think my mum was that annoyed about the lack of pasta) but was paper thin beetroot surrounding the goats curd. It was a classic combination but well executed with a professional finish.

The mains arrived with the same pomp and ceremony as the starters, plated up beautifully. I started by thinking mine was lacking in side dishes as it was essentially a huge mound of pheasant and chorizo type sausage on a small amount of cabbage and a few smears of parsnip puree. However I soon realised this was because the pheasant was so delicious and meaty (although the highlight was the jus which I could happily have licked off the plate) that it only needed garnishing with the sides, a starchy potato dish would have been too overwhelmingly rich. It possibly wasn’t the most ladylike meal to eat in such a nice restaurant (I tried to pick as much meat off the bone as possible) but luckily the only people who could see were my family who aren’t allowed to judge me too harshly.

My family were equally complimentary. My sister’s sea bass with fennel boulangere was apparently perfectly cooked, and I can vouch for the taste of the fennel myself. She particularly enjoyed the Lie de Vin sauce apparently delicious and alcoholic.
 
My Dad liked the samphire and Salmon combination which was complimented by the sweet ratatouille. My mother went for a rather unusual scallop dish (I generally don’t see scallop on the menu except as a starter), but it seemed like it fulfilled the unusual potential of being filling enough as a main, sweetened by the raisins.

Having had such a good meal I wasn’t going to turn down the opportunity for dessert. I rather liked how they added matching dessert wine underneath if you desired. We did have to find our way back to Oxford so decided not to do that but my sister did have one glass of excellent sweet sherry. My mum and dad went for the more traditional items on the menu, Apple tart and Sticky Toffee pudding. I was a bit put off by the fact the tart was served with both calvados cream and creme fraiche but apparently the tart itself enough but made up for it as it was perfection. The sticky toffee pudding likewise got the thumbs up. While my more unusual apricot soufflé and white chocolate toffee crumble was tangy and well cooked for the souflee, but accompanied by a rather odd and disconcertingly bright green shot, which turned out to be a sort of pistachio milkshake, nice for a sip but a but overpowering to have a whole shot of.

All in all I was very impressed with L’Escargot, it managed to do what it said on the label – fine dining, affordable glamour. Greatly enjoyed by all – I would come again if just for that jus on the partridge.

Foundation Feast

Another day, another 5 course free feast, with matching wines. Oh no wait this is the only one, so I was goddamn going to enjoy it. We started with a drinks champagne with pink fizz, not Champagne unfortunately but it was nice and dry, not overly sweet as rose can often be. People always say going to Cambridge is a bit like Hogwarts and while I can attest it is nowhere near as fun, or perilous, there are moments when you walk into a gothic hall complete with giant christmas tree, portraits and old silver, it makes you wonder why the candles aren’t floating.

 

Sitting down at the table, there are two things you notice first. We were given about 12 glasses and there was a beautifully printed menu, with the all the food and wine on one side, and the order of ceremonies on the other side. We started with grace, sung by the choir from the balcony (which on this occasion I happened to be singing in…) Then the food started coming thick and fast. We were first bought Venison, pickled walnuts, beetroot and celeriac Espuma served with Vignier, primavera, P-J Villa, 2011 (a white wine). The venison was smoked and beautifully succulent, the walnuts added a crunch, but it was hard to tell they were pickled, the textures of beetroot worked nicely too, adding sweetness (a favourite of kings) but the Espuma was under-whleming. Having said this, the whole dish was rather good, and this was one time that the tiny Kings portions really worked.

 
Apparently at a feast even the bread is a step up. We were given cute little loaves, not warm but soft with a crunchy crust, and the butter deserves its own mention. It was creamy and salty and better than normal butter, you wouldn’t thing you can taste the difference, but this time you really could (see what I did there) I would happily have eaten that butter on its own.

The next course was fish; monkfish cheeks, cauliflower, parsley root, chanterelles and snails served with a Chardonnay, Hen and Chicken, Ad Hoc, Pemberton, 2011. Whilst I preferred the light red midsummer house served with it’s monkfish, this was still quite a full white so sort of worked. The monkfish was possibly my favourite dish, I was especially pleasantly surprised by the snail and how well it worked in the dish. The onion rings meant that the dish had a crispy finish, the parsley root added body and the single snail added a really interesting additional layer of texture and flavour, my only gripe would be that the monkfish wasn’t absolutely perfect but considering they were serving around 200 people it was quite impressive.


 
The next dish was a Lamb cutlet, sweetbread ravioli, braised chicory, shallot puree, baby turnips and morels served with a Chambolle Musigny, G.Barthod, 2004. I was impressed that they had done things properly and served proper meaty cutlets with very little fat, yet still maintained a juicy, rare finish for everyone. The chicory was a slightly unnecessary addition, as was the random baby turnip on the side of the plate which most on my table seemed to leave. But the ravioli had a melt in the mouth centre, the shallot puree worked really well and the jus was lovely.

 I was a little confused by the next course. Blackberry and rose sorbet, vanilla yoghurt sponge, marzipan, blackberry paper and creme fraiche, saved with Moscato d’Asti, Albino Rocca, 2012. It was called sorbet, fair enough. but I still didn’t understand why the ration of sorbet to everything else on the plate had to be so overwhelmingly large, especially given this was the sole dessert and the sorbet was overly sweet. I liked the cake, and the combination of a little sorbet, cake and creme fraiche which cut through the sweetness, they just got the proportions wrong. I’m afraid I don’t like marzipan so left that bit but the ‘paper’ was lovely and crisp, if a little thick to call paper…. The wine was delicious, a sparkling tasting almost like a sweet champagne.

Finally the whole meal ended with Petits Langres pressed and marinated in Champagne and juniper, fennel jelly, rustic bread served with port and claret ( I tried a little of both and the claret was some of the best I have ever tasted). I was dreading this course as I am not a cheese fan at all, especially soft cheese like camembert. I tried a little and it was strong. The bread was delicious, little rustic slices and so I’m afraid I may have just had that with some more of the amazing butter. In my defence I think even the keenest cheese lover would have found a whole baked cheese hard to eat after such a feast… 
This was certainly a once in a lifetime opportunity, and this was a great chance for Kings to shine at what it does best (even if it’s not necessarily what students like…) We all came back down to student life with a bump when the post dinner reception thrown for us was beers in the grand surrounding of our opening reception, leaving the Hogwarts experience firmly behind. 

Midsummer heaven (21st birthday present)

Midsummer Heaven
( 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.

Canapés
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.

Course 1
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 )

Course 2
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)

Course 3
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…

Course 4
Slow roasted monkfish, bay leaf, mushroom and onion infusion

Luigi Bosca, Pinot Noir, Argentina, 2011

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.
 
Course 5
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.

Course 6
 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.

Course 7
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.

A Dean’s Dinner

A Dean’s Dinner
            ‘The Dean is coming to dinner on Saturday’ my mother announces walking in to the kitchen on Thursday, ‘would you mind???” I know my place. I also know I would not be keen for the reputation of the cooking in this household to be totally ruined, especially because the Dean is a fellow foodie. The limitations are as follows, I have two days only, I would like to join in the fun and chat and we need little to no leftovers because we leave for Lincoln the next morning. Challenge accepted. So I do my research on the Great British Menu website and find three manageable recipes that appear to fit all my restrictions.
            I find recipes can be adapted as to how you feel, but sometimes they can be useful. When following recipes I tend not to measure things out and often if I think extra herbs or spices should be added I do. For the first course – Scallops with celeriac and truffle puree, apple caramel and apple jelly- http://www.greatbritishchefs.com/recipes/scallop-celeriac-recipe– I learned the best way to cook scallops perfectly. 30secs on a searing heat before flipping them and putting them in the oven for 1 min, every time.

            The Duck course was the biggest success, further proof that often the simplest dish can be the most effective if the flavours are right. Duck with braised lettuce, pea and bacon. If anybody is planning on going on come dine with me anytime soon I strongly advise you take a similar view to me and always slow cook, because the most irritating thing to do during a dinner party is frazzle your hair, melt your make up and set the fire alarm off while overcooking a piece of meat. http://www.greatbritishchefs.com/recipes/slow-cooked-gressingham-duck-legs-recipe
For the carb garnish I turned to Nigella, a women who taught me that butter is the answer to everything with her really quick roast potatoes, another cheat. The only thing I did different from her simple method of deep frying gnocchi was use a dash of truffle oil and add garlic to the oil for flavour, delicious.
            For the final course I wanted to do something unusual (although I’m not sure anything can top the pigs ears I once insisted upon serving up for one of my parents dinner parties, thank you so much to them for putting up with that). I chose an Avocado mousse with dark chocolate ganache but decided that that simply wasn’t enough. http://www.greatbritishchefs.com/recipes/avocado-lime-chocolate-parfait-recipeSo I accompanied the dish with a raspberry coulis, chocolate shard and pine nut brittle for added crunch, surprisingly delicious. (although it did melt a little in the heat of the kitchen). 

Everybody needs good neighbours

Everybody needs good neighbours
            It is always an exciting moment when the neighbours come to dinner. I’d been asking my parents to throw a dinner party for ages and as an added bonus the neighbour is a fellow foodie! So since the Great British Menu website had been so successful for the Dean’s dinner I decided to replicate that success. They turned up for dinner with the man who lives upstairs thrown in for good measure and I started my cooking following a couple of glasses of champagne and a little conversation.
            My opening dilemma was that of the plates. I didn’t have enough for both starter and pudding of the square variety and my mothers suggestion that I just ‘wash them up’ led to a lecture from me that I wasn’t Cinderella and was in fact doing this party for them out of the goodness of my heart. (Who am I kidding, its more fun for me than them!) After this she kindly conjured up some extra plates from somewhere and preparation could begin. I pretty much prepped everything before(the biggest secret of my dinner parties). For the starter I had decided on goats cheese, beetroot and olive tuile. http://www.greatbritishchefs.com/recipes/goats-cheese-recipe-beetroot-black-oliveI made the mousse (filling my beloved piping bags) and chopped the beetroot with ease and the balsamic glaze was easy too. The tuile I approached with difficulty. My hands may be somewhat numbed thanks to years of thinking I was too good for oven gloves but it is still a challenge to shape tuiles when they are incredibly hot but harden as soon as they cool. I think if I made tuiles again I would invest in a silicon mat, because the hardest part was making the mixture thin enough on the baking tray and a silicon mat would have helped this process as well as allowing me to shape it without leaving burns all over my fingers. After about 7 attempts I had enough misshapen tuiles to pass off in the starter and actually felt rather proud that I had been teaching myself more diverse techniques. Yes they looked like slightly odd pieces of bark but I decided that added to the charm of the plate. I designed the plate once again in what my sister calls my Modrian style. 

            The main was my Achilles heel. The main course at the last party had been a little cold because I had taken too long plating up and here with my braised pork, wild mushroom and fondant potato it was going to be hard making the greyish meat look attractive. (I hasten to add here that apparently this was delicious, think pulled pork) http://www.greatbritishchefs.com/recipes/pork-neck-recipe-wild-mushrooms-wild-garlicThe other issue I had had earlier that week was the lack of wild garlic in early September. So I messed around a little with the recipe (apologies Christoffer Hruskova). Luckily there is a very good butcher and fruit and veg stall near where I live so I managed to get the pork neck (a lovely cheap meat by the way) and a lovely mix of wild mushrooms, dried. As a pitiful compromise for the lack of wild garlic I decided to use a mix of normal garlic and spinach. That and rehydrating the mushrooms overnight made up for the lack of ingredients plus the smell of the mushrooms was amazing as they rehydrated. I also substituted the berries with goji berries (apparently a superfood) and figured truffle was too expensive so used truffle oil instead. This was almost the most successful dish of the evening.
            However the real success was the mango millefeuille. For the main course my dad had opened the really good red wine and I was one glass down as I plated this up, I think it added to the overall rugged charm of the plate. An unusual dish, this veered away from my usual devotion to modern French style cooking. My dad was even keen on the caramelized chilli (I expect the gold leaf on top helped too, people are generally like magpies).  http://www.greatbritishchefs.com/recipes/caramel-mille-feuille-recipe-mango-chilliAdmittedly the pastry sheets I made were on the more obese side than the ones in Frances Atkins’ picture, and there was slightly less gold leaf, but the neighbor sent a nice card over afterwards so I must have done something right. 
(their photo not mine)