Sunday, 8 November 2009

COCO - Eating the Book

Regular readers of my blog will know that I love a good cookbook. My shelves sag under their collective weight but still, like every addict; it's never enough I want 'more' and 'better'. Which is where my latest acquisition comes in, because it certainly fulfils both requirements.

COCO is a beautiful, weighty, glossy, large and rather sleek book. It is the first of it's kind, in as much that it is at once, a reference book, a recipe book and a up to the minute snapshot of the serious talent working in kitchens across the globe today.

Interestingly, all of the featured Chefs were selected by their peers. Ten Internationally respected leading chefs (Including such luminaries as Ferran Adria, Alain Ducasse, Fergus Henderson and Gordon Ramsay), who were asked to nominate their pick of contemporary talent. 100 of these Chef's are featured.

What you get in this beautifully laid out book, is an introduction by the nominating Chef on why they picked this particular personality, a Biography of the chosen chef, a tasting menu representation of the Chef's dishes that best represent them; with accompanying photos. And then, best of all as far as I'm concerned, the actual recipes for those dishes.
Given the concept, it's surprising to find that not all, (in fact hardly any) of the Chef's featured are who you would expect, the usual well known, celebrity Michelin starred brigade. For example, Fergus Henderson chose Kitty Travers, a London based independent ice-cream maker. The selections have serious integrity, and are interesting in themselves when you consider the whys and wherefores of that particular persons inclusion in the book.

Despite this being an International selection of Chef talent, it's fantastic to see so many British Chef's represented throughout the book, the likes of Tristan Welch, Tom Kitchin, Theo Randall, Care Smyth and Skye Gyngell to name but a few. I think this solid showing is a glowing testament to how far Britain has risen in the global gastronomy stakes in the last 20 years or so.
So, I have the book, I was sent it free to review and I'm very pleased with it indeed.

But, what's this? There's more? Would I like to accompany a small group of my fellow food bloggers to four of the Chef's featured in the books restaurants and eat a course consisting of a dish also featured in the book in each? Possibly meeting the chef's along the way?

Let me ponder this carefully...

Who am I kidding with the careful pondering... SIGN ME THE HELL UP PLEASE!!

So, last Wednesday evening found me briskly making my way through Soho, in an extremely agitated and excited state and giving off just the sleight whiff of alcohol after indulging a quick pre-event sharpener in Rules with some of my fellow bloggers.

The Destination? The House of St Barnabas on Greek Street, a rather lovely members club, where we were greeted and ushered up a grand staircase to a function room. There to indulge in more drinks (don't mind if I do) and to sample some frankly incredible canapes prepared by Lyndy Redding of Absolute Taste. Lyndy is featured in COCO and provides Michelin standard event catering with celebrity clients including Gordon Ramsay and David Beckham.

I can honestly say I've never had canapes like these, Salt and Pepper crusted beef tenderloin skewers with horseradish cream, Tuna Tataki with radish, apple and mustard (which were artfully served, suspended on chopsticks), Pea and Mint Tartlets with feta and fresh mint...incredible cheese straws... I was slightly overwhelmed...I mean, I was trying to make polite conversation with my fellow bloggers, PR's from Sauced and Phaidon and Lyndy Redding herself (Who I should add was charming and extremely interesting), but my eyes were bulging out on stalks at the sight of all this fantastic food and my stomach was making urgent grumbling noises, it was all I could do not to grab hand full's of the incredible beef skewers from the proffered trays and consume them in a spectacular orgy of feasting. But, being from Essex, obviously I'm extremely refined (as those who have met me will testify) and I restrained myself, remaining just slightly over the tipping point of greedy without drawing attention to my gluttony. It's a fine art.

By the way, I've since found that recipes for all of the canapes we ate are featured in the book. Excellent.

So, from there it was outside to the waiting mini-bus and on to our starter, cooked by Jason Atherton at Maze.
I'd never been to Maze before, and we emerged as a group into a moodily lit contemporary space and wound our way to our table through a profusion of expensively suited, well-heeled customers lounging, drinking and eating. It's strange, I've eaten at a Gordon Ramsay outpost before (Claridges) and the service was first class, friendly and surprisingly informal - but there was a vibe in Maze that I couldn't quite put my finger on, the service was excellent but I somehow felt the waiters and front of house were slightly frosty and aloof. Like I say, it's hard to define but my spidey senses were tingling and not in a good way.

Nevertheless our starters of Cornish red mullet, rabbit bolognese, cuttlefish tagliatelle, squid paint and asparagus arrived. Yes that's right, Fish and a Rabbit Ragu... not a combination I've ever encountered before. I have to say, the presentation of the dish was immaculate, absolutely beautiful to look at. And I was surprised to find that I really enjoyed it, not least because I've never eaten Red Mullet or Cuttlefish before. Unfortunately we didn't get a chance to meet Jason Atherton, the kitchen apparently being extremely hectic and busy while we there.

Rising slightly unsteadily, (the wine at Maze was excellent), we headed outside into the night air to board the mini-bus and head off to our next destination, Theo Randall at the Intercontinental on Park Lane.
Warmly welcomed, we took our seats and offered more great wine (Yes please) plates of excellent focaccia and bruschetta were brought out for us to pick at. (I found the focaccia particularly good, being incredibly soft and moist). At this point Theo Randall himself popped out of the kitchen to welcome us and describe the main course we were about to eat 'Monkfish with prosciutto, artichokes, capers, parsley and Charlotte potatoes'. Theo Randall was very chatty and friendly but also obviously extremely passionate about his food and ingredients. He spent some time explaining why the Cornish Monkfish we were about to eat was such a fantastic ingredient due to the way it was fished. It was fascinating stuff. Theo, as I now like to call him. (See reason "here"...By the way, he's definitely not trying to escape my drunken new best chum attentions), returned to the Kitchen.

Our main arrived and it looked stunning, the monkish being rich and meaty working incredibly with the flavour of the prosciutto, artichokes, capers, parsley and lemon. A simple dish in some ways when compared to Jason Atherton's offering at Maze, but this was all about the fantastic quality of the ingredients paired immaculately together. To be honest, I could have eaten it all day. Seriously beautiful food, it's making me hungry just thinking about it.

Towards the end of the meal, Theo Randall popped out of the kitchen again to chat and ask us what we thought of his food. He comes across as an extremely nice guy and happily signed our menus and posed for photographs, I would love to return to eat a whole meal there.

Boarding the mini-bus in a drunken staggering fashion for our final hop of the evening, we headed excitedly to Launceston Place and dessert supplied by the Chef Tristan Welch.

Pulling up outside I was immediately struck by what a lovely street Launceston Place is located in, with the darkened boutiques and the quite Georgian terraced houses it felt very homely. Launceston Place itself is also an extremely attractive looking restaurant from outside, extremely warm and inviting. Which is exactly what we got as Tristan Welch was in the reception area to greet us and shake our hands as we were shown to our table.

Our sommelier came over and introduced himself as Mickey, explaining which wine he had selected for us to partner with the dessert, why he had chosen it and some background on the wine itself. The timbre of his voice had an almost hypnotic quality and we all listened fascinated as he described the wine in a measured, well-delivered and immaculately well-spoken fashion. If he ever gets tired of being a sommelier I suspect a career in politics awaits. Oh, and the sweet wine (Jurancon ‘Syphonie de Novembre’ Domaine Cauhape 2004) was incredible.

At this point Chef Tristan Welch appeared to chat briefly and introduce pre-desserts consisting of raspberry jelly and lemon sorbet topped with a black pepper tuile by way of a palate cleanser. They were beautiful to look at, and the flavours worked very well together - sharp, but not too much so with a surprising heat from the cracked black pepper on the tuile. Lovely.

Tristan Welch appeared again to introduce our main course properly and showed that he'd done his homework extremely well by commenting on recent blog posts we'd made. Very impressive and a nice personal touch.
His Pastry chef and other members of the kitchen brigade arrived carrying large slates loaded with the most incredible selection of desserts I've ever seen. Eveyone's jaws dropped at the sight of these platters. The Pastry chef carefully described what each of these were, but by this point I had serious trouble taking it all in, being quite overwhelmed by the desserts on offer and the excellent wine. I've since learned that the slates contained, an Assiette of Tristan's desserts....

Rice pudding soufflé, raspberry ripple ice cream
Lavender cream, violets, raspberry
Apple parfait, toffee, walnut
Dark chocolate, iced milk, crumble
Set custard cream, caramel and praline, malt ice cream
Banana sticky toffee pudding, Guinness ice cream (Created by Steve Grove, Winner of Master Chef 2009, who works at Launceston Place).

And if this wasn't enough, Tristan Welch then brought out the most incredibly caramelised tarte tatin I've ever seen, this was served with home made clotted cream.

Silence. The table was momentarily stunned by this offering before everyone started noisily digging in... there's just too much to describe but a particular favourite of mine was the apple parfait, toffee, walnut presented in an apple shape complete with stalk! The tarte tatin was incredibly good as well, rich and sticky as a good tarte tatin should be. The final act of the evening was excellent cognac and coffee and Tristan Welch happily posing for photos and signing menus. He was incredibly friendly, chatty and approachable and extremely generous with his time. As soon as I get the chance I'll be heading to Launceston place for a complete meal.

I left, as with Theo Randall's restaurant earlier in the evening incredibly impressed.

What an evening! Without a doubt the best event I've been invited to as a food blogger, made all the easier to write about because I can honestly say the COCO book, which the evening was promoting is excellent. I wouldn't say it if I didn't think so, yes, granted If the price is right, I may be easily bought (drop me an email all offers considered) but when it come to my blog, this very blog which I have invested 11 months of effort in!... I have the integrity of one of Eliot Ness's untouchables - I cannot be bought. It's Definitely worth picking up.

Thanks to all the Chefs and restaurants mentioned above, and to my fellow diners for the excellent company Gastrogeek, Foodurchin, Scandilicious, Gastrogossip, Laissez Fare, Mathildes Cuisine, Meemalee, The girls from Sauce Communications Danielle, Laura and Chloe and finally, from Phaidon; Jenny.

COCO is available from
Amazon, RRP £29.95

Maze (Jason Atherton)
10-13 Grosvenor Square
Telephone: 020 7107 0000

Theo Randall at the InterContinental
1 Hamilton Place
Telephone: 020 7318 8747

Launceston Place (Tristan Welch)
1a Launceston Place
W8 5RL
Telephone: 020 7937 6912

Absolute Taste (Lyndy Redding)
14 Edgel Street
SW18 1SR
Telephone: 0208 875 4090


TC said...

Wow, sounds like an amazing evening. Definitely like the sound of the desserts at Launceton Place (perhaps not all at once though!). We have been there a few times on Toptable deals, but I think it has upped its game since then.

gastrogeek said...

Hi Dan, am so pleased you enjoyed it! You captured the evening really well, will definitely invite you to the next event :)

The Ample Cook said...

Wow Dan, what a beautifully descriptive and well written round up of your evening.

And, not only did you get to sample some fantastic food, but you ended up with a new best mate!;)

goodshoeday said...

Sounds an amazing night. How did you manage to eat all that food though I'd never have managed to fit the dessert in I would just have had to look at it. If you had to pick a favourite which dish would it be??

LexEat! said...

Can you feel the jealousy oozing through this comment! What a brilliant idea for a book and a fabulous evening!
(By the way, we Australian's claim Skye Gyngell as our own sorry)

Dan said...

TC - It was an amazing evening thanks :) That's interesting, I've heard nothing good things about Launceston Place from my fellow bloggers.

Rej - How could I not enjoy that?!!! I'd have been pleased with just the book, but 'that' evening as well, had to pinch myself. Thanks so much for inviting me along, I owe you one. I had a fantastic time and as always was lovely to see you, your great company and a good laugh.

Jan - Thanks. Yes, very and Theo, well I don't want to talk about it publicly. But a beautiful relationship was created on that night. (Theo Randall - if on the pure off-chance your read this.... I LUUURVE YOU!!!! - No, hahaha joking of course I'm kidding. No need to a restraining order...yet).

Linda - how did I manage to eat all that food, ha I managed all right. Favourite - tough one, the dessert selection and the whole experience at Launcestion place was incredible. But if I had to pick a single dish, it would be Theo Randalls 'Monkfish with prosciutto, artichokes, capers, parsley and Charlotte potatoes'. So simple but lovely.

Lex - hahaha thanks :)
Skye Gyngell is Australian? don't hunt me down, I'm innocent! I had no idea.

neil said...

Sounds awesome. I worked for Lyndy quit a bit over the summer (she owns a chunk of my cookery school also). I'm keen to see what she put into this book.

Food Urchin said...

Patrick, there is absolutely no way that Mr Randall is going to let you near his person within a radius of 10 miles now. You blew it.

But hey what a fantastic night eh?

Unknown said...

Very jealous - sounds like a brilliant evening - now I would like to see you try and cook something from the book.

Dan said...

Neil - That's interesting, it mentions the cookery school in the book. Her input is all canape recipes.

FU- Patrick? must be v.slow on the uptake but for the life of me can't remember or understand this reference LOL. Yes I did blow it hahaha
Was a cracking night dude.

GC - I'd like to see me cook something from the book as well! - some of the recipes are deceptively simple, but well within the scope of the home cook. Some are outrageously complex and require the use of all sorts of expensive pro-kitchen gadgetry Pacoject's and Sous-Vide kit etc. So, something for every level of cook there. The best dish I ate on the night, Theo Randall's Monkfish recipe looks pretty manageable - I might have a go at re-creating that.

Graphic Foodie said...

Ok, this has to be the best foodie blogger event thus far! Very well done to the PR people as this was an excellent idea to work with the book launch. And COCO does indeed sound great - will definitely have to look this up.

Might have to pinch you on Thursday as am so jealous though!

Anonymous said...

Great write-up! You managed to have catched the atmosphere of the evening and the idea behind the book. it was a wonderful evening and I'm sure that your picture with Theo is now on your bedside table :-)

josordoni said...

There is no doubt that the effort of writing a good foodie blog is outweighed by the rewards! That was a hummdinger of an evening..!!

Boo said...

What an evening! Jealous is not the word Dan, sounds like such an amazing night. I totally hear you on the book addiction, this one seems to be offering something unique though, can't wait to take a look.

Anonymous said...

You were truly spoiled! That dessert platter looks incredible. Have you got a slightly larger pic of that around somewhere?

Dan said...

Fran - Agreed, the PR's did a cracking job, (although I would say that!) No, honestly - fantastically well organised and a great evening. Pinch me, think I'll have to conspire to sit far away from you then.

Mathilde - Hey thanks, Yes me and Theo have forever been captured in time, in that image... together. It takes pride of place on my bedside cabinet.

Josordoni - yep totally agree, the benefits of getting invited to something like this far outweigh the hours spent writing the blog in this case!

Boo - Hey thanks, really lucked out getting invited to this. Be really interested to hear what you think of the book.

RoastPotato - yeah I know, totally spoiled! I'll dig a bigger pic out later and email it to you. Meemalee (Link in my links list to the right) also wrote up the same evening and has some pics on her blog of the dessert platter.

Hollow Legs said...

Fantastic post, Dan - and I echo the sentiments of everyone else's jealousy!

Food Urchin said...

Google Patrick Bateman!

Dan said...

Lizzie - thanks :)

FU - Patrick Batemen, wow aren't I slow on the uptake? I remember now, American Psycho. Honestly, don't think I've recovered from that Fluid State thing on Saturday yet.

Helen said...

Blimey - that was epic! "my spidey senses were tingling and not in a good way" - love it. I am also, naturally, jealous.

Marcus Shingler said...

Hi Dan,

Book sounds like a good stocking filler for me this Christmas. Sounds like a great night out. Lucky bunnies! Cheers


Alex said...

What a great concept for a book - and what an AMAZING night of food you had!

Dan said...

Helen - Thanks, hahaha it was epic, took me 5 frigging hours to write all that!

Marcus - it's a great book, if only to see exactly what some of the best chefs in the world are serving up right now - the food photography is amazing.

Alex - Thanks, I really was lucky to get invited along to this.

LexEat! said...

Hey again - found the book for just under £18 on Amazon - am definitely going to give as a xmas present for friends (VERY tempted to either buy a second one for me or photo copy the gift one ...) - so thanks again for a great recommendation. Looks like a lovely book just to have but also to attempt cooking from.