Monday 18 October 2010

Montpelier Basement - Gastronomic success or gastroenteritis?

Slowly, almost painfully, one heavy lid creaks open to expose my bleary and bloodshot retina to the blurred soft grey hues of early Sunday morning. Sunlight leaks lazily around the corners of the curtain, rudely intruding into my dark hungover world. I lay there still, staring blankly, studying the ceiling as my brain winds up slowly like a dynamo; it's not quite there yet. Silence. But not perfect. I strain my hearing and concentrate on the deep rhythmic breathing of a slumbering 'E'.
Suddenly, almost surprising myself, I wrest off the covers and immediately wish I hadn't, as the cold morning air envelopes my still duvet-warm body. The shock wakes me up instantly and my brain moves up a gear, from reverse into first. Like an automaton, I reach out blindly for a sweatshirt from a pile of clothes, dragging it over my head, as I creakily fall out of bed in a kind of silent controlled tumble and pad quietly, bare feet on carpet to the door and the darkened silence of the rooms beyond.

Making my way downstairs, I turn into the dining room. Sunlight streams unrestricted through the French doors, lighting the scene in stark detail. I stand in silence, my eyes picking over the wreckage of the night before. At least a dozen empty, dull emerald wine bottles lay forlorn and discarded. The length of the table is strewn crazily with screwed up napkins, crumbs, water glasses, wine glasses, pitchers, knives, forks - in fact pretty much all the cutlery we own. The white tablecloth has a massive red stain spread across one end. I stare and remember. It looks like a map of Africa painstakingly drawn in claret. Strangely impressive.

Leaving this scene behind, I take a few steps and turn into the kitchen and gasp. Utter carnage. Every surface is covered haphazardly with bowls, plates, saucepans. It looks like a bomb has gone off. My head hurts. I'm starting to think that the bottles of Japanese lager that we necked whilst cooking the previous evening, followed up with white wine, then celebratory red, more white...stout, and sherry?!! Probably wasn't the wisest course of alcoholic consumption. But let's rewind....celebratory, yes....last night had been cracking, in fact it had been a real success. We'd even been applauded by our guests, amongst them no other than Xanthe Clay, the Telegraph food columnist and author.
Smiling, I turn back to the kitchen wreck and start the business of clearing up. It's something I'm rather good at, being almost borderline OCD when it comes to tidiness. Whilst I work, I process the day before in my mind; it had flown past in such a blur with all the preparation....

Saturday was to be the first date of our supper club, Montpelier Basement. We had begun early and were up and on the train to nearby Bath at 7am to pick up some bread from Richard Bertinet's famous bakery and fresh produce from the excellent weekly farmers market.
We met Richard Bertinet who was incredibly friendly and helpful, and the bread well what can I say - amazing. Gorgeously crusty and flavoursome sourdough, beautifully lightly textured Bath Buns and incredible focaccia. Both 'E' and I were goggle eyed, as we looked around at all this beautiful produce displayed on the shelves of the bakery. Richard asked us about our menu, and suggested some of the aforementioned incredible sourdough, a spelt loaf, two different types of focaccia (rosemary and olive), some ciabatta and finally, we couldn't resist a sweet Bath bun to nibble on as we walked along the still quiet, early morning streets to the farmers market, which by contrast was a hive of activity. The incredible fresh bread smell emanating from the bag was quite something.

Surveying the various stalls heaving with beautiful fresh local ingredients, we worked quickly and soon had a massive bag full of different types of beetroot; (purple, amazing candy striped and golden. We planned to roast these with thyme and a dash of balsamic vinegar), big bunches of cavolo nero, some brussel tops (similar to greens, we planned to chop, blanch and finally pan fry these), some beautiful locally grown Desiree potatoes, quite unlike anything you'd get from the supermarket in terms of quality, and some bunches of incredibly varied coloured carrots. Quite a haul and pretty damn heavy as we struggled our way back to the station.

Arriving back in Bristol, and leaping into a taxi at the station - I decided the next thing I should do in order to prepare for the evening supper club, would be to slam my finger in the taxi door. That's right, God knows how I did it - I jammed my finger in the closed door good and proper. As a justifiably alarmed 'E' struggled to help me and shouted at the Taxi driver, he looked blankly at me and said "errr do you want me to unlock it then?"
My barely restrained response of "errr yes!" elicited some action and as he unlocked the door from outside, freeing my mangled finger, I almost dreaded to look. It was flat - probably half the thickness that it normally is. Inside I was screaming like a child throwing a tantrum, but outside I was strangely calm as I assured both 'E' and the driver I was completely fine. I'm not entirely sure why we do that, put a brave face on things; the psychology of it is lost on me.
Strangely, despite my finger throbbing, and the taxi driver grimly assuring me that it would
"hurt tomorrow, oh yeah - that'll be black and blue that will",
before launching into a litany of other finger-trapped-in-door accidents he had known. Meanwhile, my flat finger had somehow 're-inflated' itself. Yes it hurt like hell, but it was back to its normal size. I could wiggle it. Not broken, luckily!

Leaping from the taxi, this time I was extremely careful in slamming the car door. We hurried downstairs to the kitchen and began preparing for the evening's supper right away. I glanced at my watch, it was just before noon.

We'd already laid the communal table, polished the glasses and cutlery, washed and stacked all the tableware. I'd got the log fire ready, I'd already made the beef cheek with milk stout stew, we'd tidied and prepared. 'E' had made the St Clements posset dessert, and was busily making stem ginger shortbread. We were well on track, in total control - we had hours and hours to prepare....

...Seemingly five minutes later, it was 7pm and our first guests would be arriving in half an hour as we hustled around the kitchen. I don't know how we did it, but as the first people began to arrive, we were ready. I have to say when it comes to organising a kitchen 'E' demonstrated ably why it's her profession.

With the guests drinking sherry and tucking into nibbles of spiced almonds and pumpkin seeds, we quickly readied ourselves. 'E' had drawn up a complete timing plan, and wow was it complicated. The roast baby squash with beet leaf and hazelnut pesto starter, although involving some last minute work, wasn't too bad, but getting the main and accompanying side dishes out for ten people… all at the same time, and all hot, would involve some serious organisation in a domestic kitchen.

As 'E' patiently explained to me how it would work, I listened stupidly, went boss eyed and wished that I'd studied rocket science so I would be better able to understand what the hell she was talking about. Snapping out of this revelry I assured a doubtful looking 'E' that I'd taken in all that she'd just said and understood the plan backwards. And we were off!!!!

The next hour or so passed in something of a blur. I didn't really get the chance to get out of the kitchen as much as I'd have liked, but - and this is the main thing, our guests were obviously having a cracking time judging by the sounds of raucous laughter and noisy conversation. The kitchen actually leads directly off the dining room, so we were no more than two meters away from the table.

The cleared plates coming back pretty much empty were also a good sign. After reaching the high point of the evening, getting the main course and accompanying side dishes out on time, and most importantly, hot, 'E' and I grinned at each other broadly and had a congratulatory 'high five'.
Able to relax a bit more, we joined our guests for dessert and a few glasses of wine - and received a round of applause. Superb.

Finishing off the meal with Keen's cheddar Welsh rarebit on Bertinet sourdough and some Trethowan's Dairy Caerphilly with homemade membrillo, some of our guests - proclaiming themselves stuffed to the gills, made their way off into the night. Others stayed till way after 1am as we chatted, and drank the remaining wine and sherry.

'E' and I had a bloody good time, and were more than happy with the evening. Of course there are things we'd like to improve, but it's a learning experience and for our first supper club, the feedback from our guests the next day was phenomenal.

I only wish I'd managed to get some more photos of the food, but just didn't have time.

My twin brother texted me the next day with the question “So, Montpelier Basement – Gastronomic success, or Gastroenteritis?”
Gastronomic success I reckon.

In actual fact, we enjoyed ourselves so much, we've already set the next date - Saturday 30th October. The menu is yet to be confirmed, but will again be British, seasonal and where possible, local. (With a bit of Halloween thrown in for good a completely classy and non-cheesy way, naturallement).

If you like the sound of this, and want to join us, or would like to be added to the mailing list - drop an email to


goodshoeday said...

Dan (and "E") that just looks so delicious. Glad it was a great success. Well done to you both. Shame you are so far away!

May said...

That looked fab and am so impressed that "E" had a to the minute plan. Hope to make it down to one soon.

Kavey said...

Oh! I had my Bristol friend visiting London this weekend and we agreed it's time for Pete and I to head down Bristol way again soon.

I can't make October but wondering if you'd be so kind as to email or DM me when you announce November and December dates?

We'd need to book in with you first and then arrange weekend around it, possibly make it a long weekend...

A fine reason to get us to Bristol I reckon.



aforkfulofspaghetti said...

Bravo, Dan + Ellie! I was absolutely confident you'd pull this off in style, but it seems you exceeded even those expectations. Bloody well done, the pair of you. I hope Montpelier Basement goes on to greater and greater things. Only wish I lived in Brizzle.

Dan said...

Goodshoeday - Thanks very much Linda. Really appreciate you saying so.

May - Thanks! 'E' says she'll give you a Magnum if you come. Her planning is impressively meticulous.

Kavey - Thanks very much. I'll add you to the mailing list, we haven't quite worked out dates that far in advance just yet, but will keep you posted.

By the way - here's the full menu, which I forgot to post....

La Gitana Manzinilla with toasted almonds and roasted pumpkin seeds.

Bertinet breads with Netherend Farm butter

Roast baby squash with beet leaf and hazelnut pesto, leaves and toasted seeds.

Beef cheeks braised in Bristol Milk Stout with horseradish and herb dumplings
Braised Puy lentils and roast celeriac with horseradish and herb dumplings.
(All served with mashed potato, roast beets and carrots, cavolo nero and sprout tops).

St Clements posset with stem ginger shortbread

Kean's Cheddar Welsh rarebit (made with Bristol Beer Factory Milk stout, and Bertinet sourdough).

Trethowan's Dairy Caerphilly and homemade membrillo.

The Ample Cook said...

God that menu sounds delicious.

Well done both of you. It's hard work isn't it? ;) I think your first attempt it went amazingly well and you should be very proud of yourselves.

I applaud your sourcing and use of such wonderful ingredients and I'm sure your customers thought so too.

Dan said...

Aforkfulofspaghetti - Thanks Helen, wow what a lovely thing to say. Thank you x

The Ample Cook - Thank you Jan, now I read it back in full, it doesn't sound half bad does it? You're right, it is hard work. 'E' is used to it through her business, but me? Nah!!! x

Nick Baines said...

Great piece there Dan and sounds like you had a fantastic evening. I too can't make October but I am damn sure going to make it November (providing you do one in that month)

Making the most of the South West I see, I look forward to coming your way again soon.

josordoni said...

Oh well done Dan and Ellie! That looks just delicious :)

Now, I need some tips on membrillo making.. (cos mine went all candylike :( ) So can you blog that for me pretty please?

Unknown said...

Fantastic effort guys! Congratulations. I can't wait to join you at a future event, but it will have to be December or the New Year for us. The foods you sourced sound amazing to start with and absolutely spectacular by the time you finished, and blogged to perfection (I'm drooling!). Will look forward to a future supper with anticipation.

Hollow Legs said...

Fantastic - huge well done to you both! I cooked curries for 10 once and almost went mad in the process; to even think about starters, in betweens and desserts would be a step too far!

meemalee said...

I knew it would be rocking - woohoo you two!


Anonymous said...

What a great night it was, thanks so much. Delicious food and great company. We can't make the next one but keep patching us in for future 'basements'.
Lia x

Dan said...

Nick - Thanks very much mate. We'll make sure to have one in November and save you a space. Yep, you'll have to pop over this way again soon.

Josordoni - Cheers! Membrillo making - if I wrote a post on it all it would say was 'Frigging hard work'!!! pushing it through a sieve - Elly's arms are like Popeyes. Mine are like Bluto's.

Kanga_Rue - Thank you! We'd love to see you when you're over this way. We'll keep you posted via the mailing list concerning future dates.

Green Onions said...

Well Done - its a great feeling isn't - be warned its quite addictive !!

Congratulations, will spread the word amongst Brizzle friends

Dan said...

Lizzie - Cheers, luckily I had 'E's meticulous planning to fall back on (Ok I ignored it because it was too complicated for my thick brain, but I must have taken some of it in). Cooking for ten = what a bitch.

Meemalee - Thanks Madam - we both felt extremely enpowered, and dare I say it - enriched by your faith is us. x

Lialeendertz - Thanks so much for coming, and thanks for being part of what was a wicked first night crowd. Was lovely to meet you and your husband and we look forward to seeing you again at a future supper. x

Graphic Foodie said...

Sounds and looks flipping brilliant. Love the style of food - it's like a great big hug.

Emma Jay said...

That menu looks AMAZING! I am soooooo chuffed for you both. Definitely want to try and make one in the near future xxx

Dan said...

Green Onions - Thanks! I think you could well be right about it being addictive.

Graphic Foodie - Lovely of you to say so Fran, It's certainly autumnal grub.

Emma Jay - Thanks Emma, would be superb if you could come down for one of the future dates x

Signe said...

Felicitations Dan and Elli, sounds like you're off to a flying start :)

gastrogeek said...

what a fantastic post, and a clearly v.successful evening!! - well done. Love the sound of that menu - we'll have to come to Brizzle v.soon :-)

Going With My Gut said...

Congratulations! Lovely to hear you're using farmers market produce. Looking forward to making a trip and trying your supper soon.


Dan said...

Signe - Hey Sig, Thanks. Went much better than we'd hoped! BTW - saw that your teaching a class at Richard Bertinet's cookery school really soon? If you're free for a coffee and a natter on that day, let me know.

Gastrogeek - Awww thanks Rej! We'd love to see you both in Brizzle soon.

Going with my gut - Thanks. We'd really like to use Stroud farmers market (It's amazing) but too far to be practical on the same day. We'd love to see you at a future supper.

Food Urchin said...

Bravo Dan and Elly, bravo. Really interesting to read, I liked your approach to sourcing ingredients and the menu sounded delicious.

The first brave step towards The Hole(TM)?

Anonymous said...

Felicitation, you made your dream come true, I am very very happy for you! Such an great achievement!

Niamh said...

Wow guys! This looks amazing. Well done. Count me in for one soon :)

PDH said...

The perfect description of a hangover... I felt your litery pain. Looks fantastic mate... I'm thinking of doing a supper club myself soon when I move into my new place in Pimlico :^D

Greedy Girl said...

Your description of the morning after made me laugh so much - like a dinner party clean up on crack! :)

The food looks amazing though, you're really brave for starting a supper club and it looks like you pulled it off in style. If I were still in the UK I'd be making a trip to Bristol to try it out. Good luck for the next!

tamara said...

I do hope the finger injury is not going to delay the third instalment of : "Two months in a Bristol Kitchen".
You do seem to be accident prone.

Dan said...

Food Urchin - Thanks very much mate. Sourcing ingredients is bloody exciting when there's such a cracking farmers market just down the road. As for The Hole TM - merely pending... it's a concept too good to fail.

Mathilde - Thanks!! yep, indeed - we've talked about it for ages, and actually done it. I'll see you on Friday at Draft House :) x

Niamh - Will do madam. As discussed on Twitter, I'll add you to the mailing list. We'd love to see you over this way x

Pavel - Thanks dude. Sadly I have much hangover experience to draw insipiration from. Would love to come to your supper club when it comes off - keep me posted!

Amy - Glad it made you laugh! My work here is done. Thanks for saying that, too kind :)

Tamara - The finger injury was but a mere flesh wound....the third's a coming.