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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Telephone: 020 7937 6912
Absolute Taste (Lyndy Redding)
14 Edgel Street
Telephone: 0208 875 4090