Thursday, 8 September 2011
Best of 'The Basement'
It’ll come as no surprise to the readers of this blog, that as well as taking photos of pretty much everything I eat in restaurants, I also take photos of the food we cook at The Montpelier Basement, a Bristol supper club I run jointly with ‘E’ (well, photos of most of it, when it’s not too hectic in the kitchen…which, invariably it always is).
Sadly we had to let the official ‘Basement’ photographer go in a recent round of entourage cutbacks, along with the personal manicurist, hairdresser and stylist. (but you’ll be pleased to know we kept the all-important Feng Shui consultant. The upshot of this is we now look like absolute shit, but our dining room is orientated in a way that pleases the gods immensely).
But I was recently struck by the thought that I write a food blog and I hardly ever write about what we’re cooking at the supper club on it, which could be considered something of an oversight perhaps.
So, time to remedy it, with a selection of some of the best things we’ve cooked at ‘The Montpelier Basement’ in the last few months (errr…and that we have pictures of, and were reasonably happy with). Snatched pics in bad light, as we’re trying to frantically get food out to the diners, before it gets cold isn’t a recipe for great snaps, but here goes…in no particular order….
The end of May saw us serving up ‘chilled cucumber & horseradish soup with Cornish crab’ (or Homewood Ewe’s curd for the veggies). Cold soup has never really appealed to me much, but I’ve recently discovered that on a hot balmy evening, there’s nothing more refreshing. I was quite pleased with this, the horseradish giving a surprisingly subtle punch despite loads going in.
A dessert of ‘elderflower posset with deep fried elderflower fritters, drizzled with local St Werburghs honey’ was bloody awesome, even if I do say so myself. The contrast between the cool, fresh, silky posset and the hot, crisp elderflower fritters worked so well. As with anything that’s deep-fried at the supper club, it was incredibly messy churning these out for 18 people with tempura batter alles uber da platz.
‘Cornish smoked haddock fishcakes with watercress and hollandaise’, possibly one of the most substantial fish courses we’ve served up. The smoked haddock was fantastic quality, really subtle procured by our fishmonger Joe at Source in St Nicholas market. Absolutely cracking combined with my favourite sauce of all time, hollandaise (which is always fun to make when you’re making it for a crowd…how much butter!?)
An ‘egg & bacon salad’ was basically a locally sourced take on the classic French dish. ‘Soft boiled pheasant egg with Devonshire dry cured bacon, frissee and sourdough croutons’. Our diners were amazed when we got 18 just soft boiled eggs out of the kitchen in no time at all. To do this we used a cheffy trick of pre-boiling the eggs so they were just underdone, then plunging into iced water to stop the cooking and then refrigerating. To re-heat we plunged them back into boiling water for 30 seconds. We were really pleased with how this turned out, as it’s such a simple dish, but easy to cock up.
‘Braised shoulder of salt marsh lamb with peas, broad beans and potato’. This is a Jason Atherton recipe and is fantastic because most of the preparation is done in advance. The lamb shoulder is braised slowly for hours in a combination of chicken and beef stock, and allowed to cool, then taken out and ripped up, discarding all fat and gristle. The resulting meat is then rolled up into clingfilm cylinders and refrigerated, where it firms up. To serve, it’s cut into portions and fried off last minute. It’s already cooked really, so you’re just re-heating and browning the outside. I think this is a really impressive dish. A sprinkling of chopped rosemary to finish, and that’s it.
The beginning of July and for dessert we served ‘Homewood ewe’s curd cheesecake mousse, Wye Valley raspberries & spiced shortbread’. We pinched the mousse recipe from Tom Kitchin’s cookbook, but used the excellent local artisan produced Homewood Ewes curd to make our own version. It’s almost a deconstructed cheesecake. We were really pleased with this.
The end of July, and this was the vegetarian option, offered instead of the treacle cured salmon, ‘Beetroot mousse, horseradish crème fraiche, pea-shoots and Harts Bakery bread’. A striking colour, horseradish and beetroot are a classic combination and it seemed to go down well.
This is one of my favourite dishes ever, ‘Gloucester Old Spot pork belly, black pudding, gooseberry chutney & potatoes’. It’s another one of those recipes, like the lamb shoulder, where it’s mostly prepared in advance, which is perfect for a supper club. The pork belly is rolled and tied, then braised in stock, removed and laid out flat, it’s then weighted down to press it and refrigerated. To serve, it’s portioned up, and fried to order. We made the gooseberry chutney in advance, the tart sharpness cutting through the fatty pork nicely…. and the potatoes…mashed. The best mash I’ve ever made in fact, sheer silky creaminess, lets just ignore how much butter, full fat milk and double cream went into them. Just to finish it all off, we crumbled some black pudding over the pork.
Another chilled soup, tomato in this case. Ok, technically it’s gazpacho (even more so as it’s Spanish chef Jose Pizzaro's recipe), but as all the ingredients were perfectly in season in England at the time, it’s too bloody good and there were so many fantastic tomatoes around, we had to make it. The recipe is simplicity itself and it astounded me that it tasted so fantastic for seemingly such little work. We used locally grown Radford Mill organic tomatoes, and served it with something else pinched from Tom Kitchin; a dollop of Basil Sorbet (which tasted incredible by the way).
Finally, right up to the most recently held ‘Basement’ one of the best desserts we’ve made, ‘Mirabelle plum & thyme tart with cinnamon ice cream’. The plums were also from Radford Mill and were organic. Plum and thyme went together incredibly well. The cinnamon ice cream was also one of the best we’ve made so far, but it’s always a pain to make enough for 18, as our machine is one of those small, cheap ‘freeze for 24hrs before using’ jobbies, which means much scheduling and planning in order to knock up the required amount.
So, there you have it. Some of the better food we’ve cooked in recent months at The Montpelier Basement (that we have photos of). I’m proud of all it to be honest. To knock 18 of any of those dishes out, from a small domestic kitchen, under pressure, with a room full of expectant guests and no practice run… it's always going to be massive sighs of relief, cheesy grins and back slaps all round, I reckon. At the very least, we haven't poisoned anyone...yet.
On Sunday September 25th, we’re bringing the whole Montpelier Basement dog and pony show to London, at Farringdon’s The Coach and Horses pub, for one night only. It’s already fully booked up, but if you fancy being added to the waiting list, or want to come along to any future possible Basement On Tour dates, or any of our regular Bristol ones for that matter, drop us a line at email@example.com and we’ll add you to the mailing list.