Colette's is the fine dining restaurant of the fabulous Grove Hotel and Spa in Hertfordshire, and this is where I headed recently for a game master class with head chef Russell Bateman.
A mere 30 minutes journey from Central London by train, The Grove is surrounded by acres of woodland and beautifully tended gardens, the picture-perfect English countryside. The Grove has a fascinating history though, it was owned for generations by the Earls of Clarendon throughout the 1700s and 1800s when the artist George Stubbs and Queen Victoria were both regular visitors. In the 1920s & 30s The Grove was used as a Gardening School, Health Centre, Riding School and a Girl's Boarding School as well as a secret wartime HQ for the London, Midland & Scottish Railway in the 1940s. In a ruinous state by 1996, The Grove was rescued by Ralph Trustees Limited, who restored it as the luxury country house estate hotel and spa I visited a few weeks ago.
Having arrived about 45 minutes early for the game cookery class (the journey time is indeed 30 minutes, believe me!), I had some time to snoop around the hotel's communal rooms and take in some of that history as well as some pictures. I liked the intimate feel of the hotel with semi-private rooms interconnected through various corridors. All rooms were tastefully decorated with antiques, the most striking mirrors and furniture. Unfortunately I did not get to see any of the bedrooms or explore the hotel's grounds or the spa which I hear are phenomenal, so I will save those for another visit.
At Colette's, Russell Bateman and his sous-chef were busy laying out on trays what we would be cooking that morning, a fantastic array of game including pheasant, pigeon, partridge and venison. We also had David Hammerson from Everleigh Farm Shop joining us for the occasion who kindly talked us through some interesting facts about the game animals we were to cook.
Having just spent a year at Cordon Bleu's kitchens, I must admit I expected the morning's cookery class to be slightly gimmicky. Russell Bateman proved me wrong though as he introduced us to some interesting chefy tips and techniques like the use of cartouche (a paper lid that is used to slow down the reduction of moisture in cooking) or cooking birds' breasts in the oven starting with the skin side down so that the juices run down keeping them moist. Two invaluable tips as after all game can taste so dry if not properly cooked.
Indeed, no compromises were made for an audience of non-chefs as Russell Bateman butchered a whole haunch of dry-aged venison for the Venison Bourguignon we were about to cook. He also showed us how to confit game birds' legs, traditionally immersed in their own fat at a low temperature for a long period of time - a method used in the old days for preserving meat, particularly duck.
It was also fun to learn how to make pigeon pastilla (after confit-ing the legs) and rolling in Feuille de Bric, a product I had not come across before but that is more malleable and easier to use than filo pastry.
The cooking demo was detailed and very comprehensive with printed out recipes for all dishes. It started at 9:30am ending at about 1pm followed by a magnificent game lunch cooked by Russell Bateman himself at Colette's.
After a delicious amuse bouche of pigeon breast in cherry sauce, we kicked off with a tartare of venison served with slices of pickled pears and shavings of 100% cocoa. It was the first time I tried raw venison, it did not taste gamey but had a richer, more intense flavour than beef and went well with the bitterness of the chocolate - a very good start to the meal.
For the main course, we had a ballotine of stuffed pheasant with smoked bacon, chervil tuber and cavalo nero in a gin and rosemary jus. This was one of the most tender and succulent pieces of game I have had, and judging by the presentation, I believe it may well have been sous-vided which would also explain how it retained so much of its moisture. The gin and rosemary jus was also a highlight with hints of juniper berries, rosemary and orange peel which complemented well the light gameness of the pheasant.
For dessert we had a medley of different English apples including Cox, Braeburn, Granny Smith and Russet which were cooked and served in different ways and accompanied by a thin layer of caramel. It was a light and refreshing dessert which I thoroughly enjoyed.
To finish off, we had a selection of petit-fours and chocolate truffles served with coffee and tea.
It was a leisurely and enjoyable lunch and also a good opportunity to chat with the other attendees, a mix of people of all ages and backgrounds but who like me shared a love of good food and took their time at the table to do so. It was nearly 4pm when I made my way back to London, thrilled by my experience and hoping to return one day. I cannot recommend Russell Bateman's classes at Colette's highly enough - at £100 for the morning's class, including a 3-course lunch and wine matching for each course, I think this was a fantastic and great value experience.
The recipe below which I (cheekily) reproduced from Russell Bateman's recipe folder, is not the same dish we had for our main, but it contains the instructions on how to prepare his gin and rosemary jus, so do try it at home if you can.
Pheasant, Gin and Rosemary Sauce
(Recipe by Russell Bateman)
Ingredients (serves 10):
12 pheasant legs
4 shallots, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
375ml white wine
1/2 tbsp juniper berries
1/4 rosemary bunch
1/4 peel of an orange
1 litre beef stock
1 litre chicken stock
1 cap of gin to finish once reduced
1. Pre-heat oven to 160C.
2. In a heavy-bottom ovenproof pan, heat up some oil and colour the pheasant legs evenly all over.
3. Remove the pheasant from the pan, add your chopped shallots and carrots and colour lightly.
4. Return the pheasant to the pan with the rosemary, juniper berries and orange peel.
5. Deglaze the pan with 150ml gin (be careful as it may flame).
6. Add the white wine and reduce to a syrup.
7. Add the stocks and cook in the oven covered with a cartouche for 1 hour.
8. Remove once the legs are completely cooked.
9. Strain off the sauce through as fine sieve and reduce to desired consistency.
10. Finish with a dash of fresh gin and some chopped rosemary.
The next master classes will take place on the 18th January 2013 (British Root Vegetables) and on the 8th March 2013 (Beef, Lamb & Pork). For more information about these classes, visit the website here .