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Wednesday 26 August 2009

London Supper Club – Savoy Truffle Supper Club

Over the coming year, I will be visiting as many of London’s underground restaurants as I can get into, and will be posting my reviews here. I have been intrigued by this new eating concept in the London food scene, and am curious to find out where this will lead us. So watch this space, more reviews to follow.

The Savoy Truffle Supper Club is run by the lovely couple Alison and Gavin, from their flat in Blackheath, South East London. The flat is small but beautiful with its living room overlooking an incredibly well maintained garden. It is located in a very impressive building on a private residential street.

Gavin currently works as a chef at the Acorn House in Kings Cross, while doing his fortnightly stint at the Supper Club. Alison, a freelance writer, works the front of house. There are only three tables available and consequently guests are expected to share with others.

Their website (www. savoytrufflesupperclub.com) is good and easy to navigate. I found them to be the most professional and best organised of the Supper Clubs I have dealt with so far. They replied promptly to my booking requests, and their monthly menu and respective wine suggestions are posted in their website. I found their wine suggestions paired well with their monthly menu, and they were quite well explained.

At £37 a head, below are my thoughts on Savoy Truffle Supper Club’s 5 course menu served between 8:00 and 10:30pm.

An amuse bouche of beetroot and pernod-cured salmon on a bed of shaved fennel and horseradish cream started off the evening on a very good note. The flavours were very fresh and complemented each other well.

To follow, we had our starter which consisted of chicken liver parfait, a chicken terrine wrapped in parma ham, accompanied by a scrumptious apple and fig chutney & brioche. Highlights for me were the liver pate and chutney – both were beautifully made and were bursting with flavours of star anise, cinnamon and fruit.

I had initially felt slightly disappointed with Gavin’s choice of main considering the chicken items we had as a starter. Their confit of duck with rosemary and vanilla mash and blackberry compote was however not disappointing. Some of the guests at our table felt that the vanilla mash could have had a stronger vanilla flavour, but I disagree. The confit was tender, but not overly cooked as some of its “jar” equivalents, their confit had obviously been home made, and was delicious. The presentation was also spot on, with the blackberries lying on top of the confit, it was an elegant, well made dish.

The Scottish raspberry granita was a good palate cleanser.

The STAR of the evening for me was the dessert – Chocolate brownies, with ginger chantilly and hot toffee sauce. I am not much of a dessert person; desserts have to be highly impressive for me to care for them. This one however delivered at all levels, and I finished it off in no time.

After coffee and biscuits, we had a lovely chat with both Alison and Gavin. They were excellent hosts. I was pleased to find their courtesy and professionalism carried them through to the end, as they called us a taxi, and waved us goodbye.

Verdict – Elegant setting, and impeccable service made it for a very intimate experience. The food was professionally made and beautifully presented. At £37 a head, I felt that Savoy Truffle Supper Club ticked most boxes. I felt well looked after and will certainly return.

Tuesday 25 August 2009

London Supper Club – The Secret Ingredient

Over the coming year, I will be visiting as many of London’s underground restaurants as I can get into, and will be posting my reviews here. I have been intrigued by this new eating concept in the London food scene, and am curious to find out where this will lead us. So watch this space, more reviews to follow.

Run by the musician Horton Jupiter, The Secret Ingredient is located at Horton’s flat in Newington Green. Being a Japanese food aficionado, I was very curious to try his personal take on one of my favourite cuisines.

This was the first underground restaurant I had managed to get myself booked into so I was feeling slightly apprehensive about the evening. I arrived a few minutes before my 9:30pm slot, but was asked to wait in their garden as the first sitting was running slightly late. I soon struck conversation with a delightful couple, Maria and Carl, we were then seated together soon after 10pm. Maria turned out to be a mega foodie, and incredibly knowledgeable about her native Italian cuisine and all things foodie, I liked her instantly.

Whilst waiting for our starters, we were served a small dish of finely cut onions as an amuse bouche, seasoned with umeboshi (Japanese pickled plums). This can be both very sour and sweet but married beautifully with the onions.

The night was off on a good note, and soon came our first dish, a selection of delectable vegetable morsels served on a mirrored plate. To note were a small radish served with a gorgeous lemony sauce, a bundle of carrots and green beans wrapped up in Nori (Japanese seaweed used mainly for sushi), and a delicately flavoured cabbage parcel.

We were then served a plate of a finely cut root vegetable, I guess sweet potatoes, with peppers, and sesame & wakame (Japanese seaweed) dressing. The flavour was simple and delicate.

This was followed by a platter with other hot items like gyoza (fried dumplings), deep fried tofu balls, mushrooms and broccoli.

As customary in some finer restaurants in Japan, white rice and miso soup were served at the end of the meal and prior to dessert. The miso soup was well made, and the tsukemono (Japanese pickles) was a nice addition.

For dessert, we had freshly cut fruit, mango and strawberry, with a sweet and chilli sauce, served with Japanese sake.

On that evening, Horton’s assistant was apparently his flatmate. Service was a bit on the slow side, we finished our meal at 1:30am. He was quite attentive though, and with no previous waiting experience, I felt that he managed two sittings of 12 people well. We chatted with Horton on our way out, he is a rather sweet and flamboyant character, and I liked him. We briefly discussed the possibility of adding new dishes to his menu, apparently not changed since the beginning of The Secret Ingredient. So Horton if you are reading this, I would be delighted to show you my suggested recipe of roasted aubergine, with sweet miso and cheese!
Verdict – Intimate setting, with personable service and good, simple Japanese food. Horton certainly knows some key Japanese ingredients and how to use them to create some unique dishes. At £20 per person + tip, this is not a bargain considering his running costs and the quantity of food being served. An interesting experience which I would certainly repeat in future (subject to menu).

Monday 24 August 2009

A Long Weekend at Le Manoir de Raynaudes

This year I was adamant not to get depressed over my birthday, and what better way of softening the inevitable blow than booking a 3-night stay at Le Manoir de Raynaudes.

It was a rather round-about sort of way that brought me to Le Manoir. I subscribe to the American “Gourmet” magazine, and receive their weekly newsletter. Gourmet runs a monthly Cookbook Club - each month the magazine editors will test and pick a cookbook they find to be outstanding. “A Table in the Tarn” was their July 09 pick, and I was fortunate enough to read about it in that week’s newsletter.

The review started What happens when two Englishmen decide to open a gastronomic B&B in southwest France? Endless workdays, a steep learning curve, and, now, a cookbook that will warm your soul”. I had to read more. It turned out that one of two Englishmen was no one less than Orlando Murrin, the former editor of our own Good Food & Olive magazines.

Le Manoir is a luxurious B&B in the Tarn region near the Pyrenees. It has four guest rooms, four self-catering apartments, a large swimming pool and is located in the most breath-taking setting. That particular weekend, Orlando and Peter were at a wedding in London, and so I was looked after by the gorgeous Jude and the resident chef, Laura. They were amazing hosts and helped to make my stay a very special one.

The highlight, however, was the three delightful dinners I had at Le Manoir, cooked by Laura Pope (http://laurainthetarn.blogspot.com). Experiencing her cooking has made me want to learn more about the cuisine of the Tarn. The menu throughout my stay was very seasonal, locally sourced, and cooked to perfection.

One of my favourite dishes was in fact the very first I tried – a salad of various types of tomato with goat’s cheese, with a lovely pesto-type dressing and pine nuts. The tomatoes came from the Manoir’s own vegetable garden, and were the sweetest I have tasted for a very long time.

This was followed by brined breast of cornfed chicken with a gratin of potatoes, sage and pancetta, a selection of cheeses and a Tonka bean brulee with walnut tuile for dessert. I was in food heaven!

On my second day, and thanks to an improvement in the weather, we had our dinner on the Manoir’s terrace. To start the evening, Laura cooked us a terrine of pork, duck and prunes, served with an orange conserve.

For the main, I had what I believe to be the best dish of my stay – a confit of guinea fowl accompanied by herb risotto. The risotto was creamy but also light and refreshing due to the herbs, which helped to cut beautifully through the poultry’s fat. After the cheese course, we had a very festive hazelnut, berry, chocolate and caramel meringue cake.

Another gastronomic highlight of my stay was a visit to “L’Epicurien” (http://www.restaurantlepicurien.com/), allegedly the best restaurant in Albi, the nearest town and capital of the Tarn region. I had the “Bistro Menu” which at €26 was incredibly good value for the amazing three courses I was served. L’Epicurien also serves a more sophisticated “Gastro Menu” at €49, this however was not available on my visit due to the local suppliers’ August holiday season. I would highly recommend this restaurant to anyone visiting the region.

Discovering the wines of the Tarn was also an eye opener to a not so well known French wine region. The quality of the wines was mostly excellent, particularly those from Gaillac. Using obscure local grapes in their red wines like Duras and Fer or Braucol, and Len de L’el and Mauzac for their whites, the wines were robust, heavily scented and with admirable complexity. I was hard pushed to find a bottle dearer than €10.

Another amazing discovery was Marcillac red wines from the Tarn’s neighbouring region, Aveyron. Made from at least 80% Braucol grapes, Marcillac wines were the best French wines I have had for a long time.

I have bought a book on the cooking of the South West of France, and have also recently found a delightful new wine bar called Terroirs (http://www.terroirswinebar.com) where I can get my fix of the great food and wines of that region in central London. I am a complete convert. I greatly enjoyed my experiences at Le Manoir de Raynaudes and the Tarn, and cannot wait to return to that wonderful region sometime soon.

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