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Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Meeting the Michelin Olly Rouse at Selfridges

Words & Photography by Florentyna Leow and Luiz Hara

Week 2 of Meet the Michelins – a Selfridges project featuring culinary stars from the Home Counties – saw Olly Rouse take the stage at The Corner Restaurant on Monday evening to whip up a dazzling 7-course menu. All of the Meet the Michelins experiences feature a tasting menu with optional wine flight, prices for each evening varying slightly. This week’s 7-course menu was priced at £75 with matching wines by Selfridges' head sommelier Dawn Davies for an additional £45 – decent value, especially considering the top-notch drinks accompanying the food.

Rouse is the head chef at The Avenue at Lainston House in Winchester. Describing himself as ‘extremely hands-on', he would emerge from the kitchen between courses to introduce each dish, chatting with the diners, all the while sending out tasty and meticulously plated dishes.

His eye for detail was evident in little flourishes such as the feather used in presenting the menu, the beautiful cast-iron teacups used for serving the house-fermented kombucha (yeast enzyme tea), and even the dry ice in the teapots of kombucha, which lent a lovely theatrical touch during service.

The onion cracker was a stellar example of his attention to detail – his take on pork crackling contained not a whiff of pork, but was instead made of dehydrated and deep-fried tapioca sheets infused with onion stock and liberally salted. Crunchy and utterly moreish, it went down a treat with the Selfridges' own Prosecco label, and was a highly promising start to the evening.

Selfridges sommelier Dawn Davies worked her magic again this evening – her choices were often bold and unusual, but generally spot on and occasionally even sublime. Her expertise particularly shone through with her choice of the Gaia Estate ‘Thalassitis’ Wild Ferment Assyrtiko for the first starter. Tasted alone, it was brash and almost too assertive for my taste, but acquired a beautiful roundness and minerality when sampled with the crab.

Our first starter and one of the highlights of the evening, the soft shell crab, was a gorgeous medley of textures and flavours. The crab was juicy and succulent within and satisfyingly crunchy without; with the mildly bitter grapefruit, tender artichoke and radish, rocket, tomato and pea salad, it came together as a dish greater than the sum of its parts. It was a tremendously enjoyable starter.

Herring, the second starter, was served alongside pickled purple carrots, roasted shallots and mooli, and blobs of apple-vanilla and parsley purée. The young German Kabinett Riesling (Oberhauser Leistenberg) chosen to accompany this starter, undercut the oily richness of the fish with much-needed freshness and acidity.

Our third and final starter featured a surf n’ turf combination of Pig & Prawn. The confit pork belly was a little dry and not fatty enough for my liking; the raw Sicilian prawns and smoky aubergine purée were, however, phenomenal. Together with the light, juicy chilled Portuguese red (Pardusco Vinho Verde Tinto), the prawn half of the equation shone.

Onwards to the two mains: Rouse’s take on roast chicken and lamb. The roast chicken was served with a medley of accompaniments including pine nut crumbs, smoked corn stuffing, a horseradish and lemon cream and red-wine pickled mooli; individually, they were novel and interesting but when tasted together, rather confusing. The Pinot Noir (Massale, Kooyong) accompanying the chicken, however, was deliciously fresh and juicy, with cherry notes – a testament to the talented Australian producers of the wine.

Similarly, the accompaniments for the lamb tasted nice individually, but puzzling altogether. The marinated tomatoes accompanying the lamb, for instance, were flavourful, but would have been much  better chilled. The gently robust Le Soula Rouge, however, was a good pair with the lamb.

Thankfully, Rouse’s menu ended on a splendid note with the puddings. ‘Lemon’ consisted of moist, dense and intensely lemony squares of cake with basil-infused white chocolate, honey jelly and lemon sorbet.

It went down a treat with a Japanese yuzu sake (Ume No Yado Yuzu Sake), an intensely citric liqueur which stood up perfectly to the vibrant lemon dessert.

‘Raw Jersey Dairy’ showcased locally made raw cream in an indulgent crème brulée, with strawberry tarragon consommé, sabayon biscuits, meringue and strawberry salad – art on a plate, and a masterpiece on the palate.

Overall, dinner was a delightful experience. While Rouse’s approach to meats was to my taste rather conservative, he is clearly a talented chef who is willing to experiment, and who can work wonders with seafood and produce from the garden. The Avenue in Winchester should be well worth the trek out of London!

Come and Meet the Michelins at Selfridges - Olly Rouse

With two more Meet the Michelins evenings – all Mondays – left on the 28 July and 18 August (although the 18 August event, with Chef Michael Wignall, is currently sold out), don’t miss this opportunity to try some of the best cooking in England at Selfridges. For more information or to book, visit their website here.

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