Yes a bit obvious isn’t it? This is about tasting menus. I am not entirely known for a deep sense of subtlety.
Tasting menus seem to bring out the best and worst in people. When it is the best it is invariably the best in Chefs; they get to display their whole range of ideas and skills and present an array of moments of taste, texture, smell and possibly may visually delight and surprise.
The worst is what you can get from those members of the general public who think a meal should be a mountain of largely indifferent food, but as long as it is a vast supply. Then that amounts to a proper feed. To hell with any creative expression or subtle deft touches of skill, layering layer upon layer of gastronomic joy. No, just pile it high and make it as cheap as you can.
You can probably tell from this and what has gone before and what I chunter on about on twitter, I have a low tolerance threshold for small and narrow-minded, petty, soul-sucking complaining and point-scoring griping. It’s the kind of thing that is the staple diet of Trip Advisor wingers. It would seem according to one Guardian Food Critic I am a “thoughtful blogger”. Being a food critic (it seems) is a whole other ball game that involves often needing to spit a decent amount of lofty disdain and bile. It is not about trying to see a bigger picture. Or perhaps I just utterly delude myself and live in a lovely fluffy state of denial.
I like tasting menus and will probably eat a few more before I am done. This blog is about four of them. Two are at locations familiar to me. Places that I like for various reasons and one that is very new to me but comes with the soundest of recommendations from a friend of mine, Ken Holland the Veg Maestro.
To my mind tasting menus offer chefs a moment to showcase an array of cooking skills and to create a gastronomic slide show.
So without further ado I will offer few words (but a fair few pictures) of places I have visited for tastings, for those of you who are of a similar minsdet to myself. If one is not this it the time to leave the page and go find something else more to your own liking.
I will start the tour with Jesmond Dene House for no other reason that these are the first pictures I could find. JDH is an historic building in Newcastle upon Tyne, and has an informative blog on its website for those who want to know some facts about its early ownership by Andrew Noble.
It was an interesting night in the company of Peter Candler and his wife Jeana. We had been trying to get a night out organised for a while and try a few interesting wines that we had found. Peter is very good at finding decently good and interesting wines, me less so. I found a lovely little Pian Della Vigne, Brunello Di Montalcino mind you and it decanted well.
The new menu cover was unveiled to us but of little consequence, as Chef had free rein to execute their tasting menu and have it popped in front of us. Sadly at the moment I cannot find some notes I scribbled down in my notebook, so until I can find the damned thing this is what you get.
Truffled egg with oyster, a gorgeous mouth-watering little thing, beautiful little hint of truffle that does not overpower the size of the dish
light fresh salad, sweet carrots and beetroots and leaves.
Dorset snail with sauce served from the shell. A total knock out, and a stand out dish the richness of the dish superb.
Scallop under nasturtium leaf and with flower. I liked this because I like the perky bite one gets from nasturtium, a little like a cross between horseradish and pepper.
Carrot orange and soft warm goat’s cheese, sweet zingy and tangy but not overpowered by goat.
Hallibut with pickled seaweed, toasted spelt, and cod roe; nice bit of acidity with the superbly cooked fish.
Dragon’s egg cucumber soup with Latimer’s crab, delicious and light; the natural ingredients bring an honesty and integrity to the dish.
Perfectly pink lamb bursting with lamb flavour an excellent Jus and edamame. Had to be finished in the hand to get every last bit of flesh off that bone… too good to waste.
A newly concocted freshly picked apple “crumble” and ice cream.
clever raspberry number of floaty light marshmallow finger
Chocolate 4 or 5 ways
beautiful crisp bread with a selection of fine cheeses.
Finally a chance to sit and ruminate on our thoughts of the superb night’s fayre, over coffee and exquisite petit fours
My estimation of the night was that the kitchen had provided a meal of very good quality and standard. Everything was beautiful cooked and much skill had been executed in all its making.
Jesmond Dene House is one of those places I like to dine because there is a real desire for the diner to have a good meal, the setting is not overly grand, it is unstuffy yet has a grace and easy elegance. It is a sufficiently old building to lend a hand to an atmospheric night out.
Ok next we head South to the lee of Sutton Bank. It is a small drovers pub converted to dining and rooms. Both elements are of a superb standard and ones with a far greater sense of such things have declared the meals to be worthy of their Michelin Star.
The Black Swan is to be found slightly off the beaten track at Oldstead approximately 10 miles away from Thirsk. Set on the incline of the lane that runs through the village, the restaurant occupies the upper deck of the old pub, the bar is still operational down stairs offering a remarkable array of wines by the glass by virtue of their Coravin Wine Preserving System. A good selection of proper beer can be found in there too.
At the rear are rooms converted from old stone-built, farm labourers accommodation quarters. The fittings and comfort levels are wonderful. Our bathroom was as excellent as the bedroom/lounge part.
So what of the food? I had been made aware of the restaurant and the Banks family, who are all involved with it, by my friend Ken. As it would happen he had been helping them develop their restaurant garden on the land available to them, that lies to the rear of the Black Swan enterprise just across from the car park. If you ask politely someone will probably arrange to show you what they are up to.
Ultimately the aim, on the vegetable front, is to grow as much is as possible and walk it from their own field and into the kitchen and then onto a plate. The project has matured well, and with the help of Ken Holland and much hard work from the team (this involves much labouring from Tommy Banks the Head Chef too) getting out there and getting muddy, they are close to their ambition.
Pre-dining snacks were interesting; the nasturtium being stuffed with a savoury a mushroom creation was new to me and it reulted in a crisp, juicy mouthful .
Linseeds home-grown, formed into a thin, wholeseed, delicate crisp. This was adorned with cubes of delicious smoked eel. A beautiful balance of flavours and texture.
Sweet, zingy beetroot mousse, beetroot pastry tart. What a wee explosion of beetroot splendour from a delicate-crisp, the tang of of so light goat cheese in the mix and a melt-in-your-mouth morsel.
Bread freshly made with beer fed sourdough and a whipped goat’s cheese and folded with brown butter, gorgeous, deeply moreishly malty. A backdrop of sourness and caramalised crust with the soft goat tang. Texturally I was reminded, somehow, of a memory of eating a tiny pikelet.
Wild garlic dip served with a quail taco, pickled white cabbage and a delicate dark-grown pea shoot garnish and pickled white cabbage; a beautiful combination.
Langoustine and squid was supplemented as a second taster for SWMBO not being one to eat deer. It was as one would have hoped as freshly tasting as if it had just swum to the plate and sweet, soft, and meaty. Crunch from fresh radish along with chew from squid tentacles, a savoury broth rounding it all off.
The deer, beer & woodland gear was an interesting plating for me. The woodland gear was made up of much that had been foraged locally and included Jack By The Hedge, and wild garlic, and flowers. The Venison tartare was however robust enough for it and beautifully soft.
Hen of the wood mushroom asparagus and soft poached quail eggs on wild mushroom and garlic puree with lovage oil . All elements harmoniously complementary. The egg was soft and runny and the lovage oil was like some mysterious 5th element adding a length and depth to the flavours.
Scallop, oyster leaf, and pickled spruce buds. Having never eaten pickled spruce, I noted the flavour similar to that of a caper but with a eucalyptus like zing in addition.
Turbot, beautifully soft and seared, came with a waft of fresh bean and pickle from the shallot bean sprouts; all served with “tartare” sauce and crunchy roasted hazelnuts.
Lamb, nasturtium, Kol Rabi and turnip. The lamb beautifully cooked, pink and sweet, fresh crunchy turnip & Kol Rabi offering up its earthy nature.
Locally sourced herb-fed chicken came as an alternative to meet the requirements of the SWMBO, served with chicken dripping, foraged wild garlic and flowers, and that beautiful Hen Of The Woods mushroom. I could never tire of that.
Somewhere round about here we had lollipop Bouche Cleanser Things of remarkable flavours. And I do mean remarkable, one was cep mushroom and white chocolate ice cream; something unknown to me but what a beautiful thing it was. It had a flavour something like eating a more savoury version of a malty malteaser, utterly gorgeous. Another was pine or spruce equally stunning but the mushroom was jaw droppingly moreish. Another was apple and rosemary; a delicious delightful mix of tart and herb that worked so well. The third a fennel root and berry that offered ricness and depth to the tastebuds.
Strawberry and herbs and a sumptuous foraged woodruff ice cream, scattered with marigolds, basil flower and verbena. Woodruff is an intriguing shrub as it contains coumarin, the very same compound that makes tonka bean so flavoursome. A second green tea & elderflower ice cream offing a pleasing contrast to the intense woodruff.
Elderflower sorbet with a thin honey honeycomb crisp thin, viola jam intensely flavoursome both of them buckets of honey punching from the thin delicate crisp that melted on your tongue. Quite sublime.
Petit fours just the size I could manage after the delights enjoyed.
All dishes excelled with flavour and it was enjoyable to have a number of the plates embellished with home grown (in the Restaurant garden) or locally sourced and foraged edible flowers and leaves; a number of which we had not previously been exposed to. The overnight stay meal and breakfast is a treat I will be happy to repeat and advocate.
Next The Raby Hunt of one James Close:
This was the second time we visited The Raby Hunt at Summerhouse, and this time we did what we promised.. we stayed over. Perhaps an extra indulgence but it is too far from Newcastle for me to drive eat and drive home.
I will say this, it just keeps getting better. It is my view that the dishes are becoming subtly more “mature”, they are evolving and being finessed to increasingly high standards, within the context of a fine dining experience.
The staff are delightful and informative in a manner I like. My experience is always improved by knowledgeable table service that enlightens me to: preparation methods, ingredients, where things have been sourced, and even something about the supplier.
The meal began with three delicate appetising delights.
Crispy cod skin with fennel frond and aioli.
Crisp, crunchy, and fishy fat flavoursome, it always wants me wanting a big bowlful of it.
Scallop was soft and savoury the dash of sauce underneath lifting it and a punch of flavour from the tiny Tagetes leaf. Beautiful.
Jerusalem Artichoke, I love the earthy pungency of the ‘choke. This crisp presentation with a pate like filling under the soft gratings superb.
Lindisfarne Oyster and Dill. Another delicate element with a texture created by low heat cooking, allowing a succulent seafresh flavour to burst on the tongue.
Razor clam almond & endive. The components of this dish work well. One has chewy nuggets of clam and shrimp creating a delightful richness. Another dish I would happily consume from a large bowl, until the cows come home.
Raw Beef, soft and succulent with a natural horseradish pepper hit from the nasturtium leaf. Nice presentation for me with its redness offset on a raku like monochrome plate.
Sea bream. Superbly cooked fish soft white flesh succulent and a beautiful crisped skin.. here we are back to the crispy fish skin I love so much.
Autumn salad has a somewhat lengthy description but the execution is dazzling in taste and colour. James and Ken combining talents marvellously well.
oooooooooh the magnificent 12 Volts wine from 4kilos Winery in Mallorca, complex, smooth soft rich, leaving one wishing for more. A very sophisticated little number, and a good find. Made in very small batches and quite difficult to get hold of I think.
This was a transient lamb cutlet that briefly touched down on our table but sadly was destined for another diner who positively purred when they ate it… I hate them for that, next time I shall hopefully have one.
Squab ragu & cauliflower. Squab is not something i have had in the past, but would quite happily have again. The flesh is dark, rich and delicate. Well it certainly was when the Raby Crew presented it to me. Accompanied by a superb savoury jus and went well with the last few drops of the 12 Volts
Apple, clove, peanuts. clove ice cream under fragile apple papery flakes and a nice little peanut salty crunch. Good flavours and crunchy nibbles.
This chocolate bar was dreamily dense and chocolatey, sort and gooey too. The popcorn ice-cream did just that …tasted nicely of popcorn, and the caramel popcorn? you guessed it I want a bucket of it please.
Petit fours. These tiny little bites were fabulous all flavours in each piece were of first class excellence.
A tasting menu of craft and excellence.
My final stop in this food parade we have here is to the culinary home of The Cool Man Coulson. That is to say Dave Coulson at Peace & Loaf
I will use my prerogative at this point, because I am writing this waffly wordage, to take a liberty as the next series of images are not a “true tasting menu” but more of an impromptu one that we enjoyed when the chefs “let loose” to show us a little of what they can do when you let them just cook their little hearts out. Bless their little cotton socks.
we began well on this Birthday Night Treat with a dash of Champagne and a rather elegant Gisbourne Albarino Bell Ringer 2014 a medium, zesty, clear chap with a soft, peachy, clean finish.
Canapes of beetroot fishcake/balls
Restaurant baby loaf with whipped dripping butter
A bouche of spiced pumpkin with melted Parmigiano crisp and fried sage leaf followed
The first of the mains was a velvety smooth and indulgently rich Jerusalem artichoke soup. So rich it is possibly descended from Royalty or some Oligarch. Artichoke crisps and blanched slivers were embellished with artichoke powder. I did mention it was artichoke didn’t I? a lovely mix of flavour and texture, the consequences of which I will avoid mentioning. But it was worth it
scallops with potato crisps were delightfully done. The scallops seared in butter to create a thin searing all over trapping the moist sweet meat inside. Lovely texture
Some Stunning Iberico pork was served next ( I assume from Enrique at Kaltur Foods). Now if you have not had this Iberico pork yourself you really, really need to try it. The colour and flavour are simply stunning, it looks like a cross between pink lamb or beef but has a super depth of flavour. The savoury jus enriching my experience beautifully. They do make canny sauces in that back room.
A lovely pice of soft-cooked halibut with samphire followed. Again two things I will eat in vast quantities if left unchecked. Samphire’s salty crispness gets my salivary glands going every time and the creamy meat of a lightly seared halibut is gorgeous.
This Boozy Sorbet with popping candy, prosecco and possibly rum is a P&L take on a Margarita and fun number it is too.
A Taste Of The Forrest is what this is, I can’t begin to describe how stunned I was when I saw it. The whole creating is just outstanding visually and from a taste perspective. It takes deconstruction to a whole new level. People on the next table sat in a mild state of awe, I had to show them because they didn’t believe it. Chocolate several ways, cherry fruit, meringue mushroom pistachio all doing their creative thing.
There was in fact yet another pudding of distinction but sadly unless I can steal an image from somewhere I can’t show it… the iphone died as I lined it up. no doubt bloated from all my food pictures i had stored on it.
And that pretty much is it. Four venues with four madly creative teams creating wonderful experiences. Each has their own game going for them:
One has a grand building with an inescapable elegance of surrounding. It might surprise some, but they really want people to see them as far less formal than you might assume them to be. They want the food they make to be enjoyed and the diner to have a relaxed friendly meal.
Another has pared back rustic charm and informative service, in a country restaurant pub vibe. Creative, imaginative, skillful chefs rule the plate and palate.
One has Rural Elegance with a simple and tasteful dining room. Delightful service, a remarkable chef with obsessional creative gifts plating fabulous food.
And another has a suburban split level location with an expressionistic creativity plated with passion and artistry.
I mean no slight to any of them in my personal descriptions to me they are all madly talented, artistic, creative, probably mildy unhinged and obsessional. Their staff are superb and only need to be engaged politely to be offered a wealth of information about the dishes. The all have stories to tell if asked correctly.
I thank them all for the wonderful meals and experiences they have given me.
Ciao for now
For those that know…..