Tag Archives: fine dining

Vegetarian Fine Dining

Last weekend we went completely vegetarian. We always aim to cater for all dietary requirements at the Manor but we like to put the veggies first every now and then. I used to be a veggie when I was a student so I don’t really feel like I’m missing out if I don’t have meat. I think these days vegetarian food has a much better reputation, helped by the exciting flavour combinations people are prepared to experiment with – as demonstrated by the likes of our foodie friends at Swine that Dines. They do a monthly veggie small plates menu where I’ve eaten some of the best food of my life.

Flavour is probably the most important aspect of cooking for me, and so we picked a menu that would showcase some strong, spicy and unusual flavours, all in veggie form. In fact most dishes were actually vegan or could be made vegan by omitting the minor dairy elements. People seemed up for it as well, at least two thirds of the crowd were not even vegetarian!

Susie got me a spritz book for my birthday this year and so I’m slowly making my way through it at each supperclub, as the recipes produce such lovely, refreshing aperitifs. This month I picked a Nero Chinato spritz, which was muddled blackberries, cocchi and prosecco. Very late summer inspired!

Our canapes started our veggie tour of the world, the first being ullunde vadi – Sri Lankan street food inspired by my recent travels. These chewy little lentil doughnuts came stuffed with a punchy, sweet and sour onion and chilli relish. Then it was onwards to Mexico with a smoky butternut squash tostada. A crunchy tortilla topped with spicy paprika spiked squash, topped with pink pickled onions and coiander oil.

Next on our culinary tour was Turkey. We’ve said before how our current food obsession is Selin Kiazim of Oklava and so I was keen to test a recipe ahead of our Oklava themed event in October. Ricotta stuffed dumplings came paired with a charred wedge of cabbage, a naughty yoghurt and cream sauce, chilli butter and toasted pinenuts. The sauce could essentially make anything taste nice and the spicy chilli butter cut through all the dairy richness.

Next was a detour to Asia via Greece with a real fusion of a salad consisting of black rice, aubergine, watermelon, feta and sesame! Black rice and griddled aubergines were tossed in a salty, umami miso,ginger and lime dressing and then topped with feta, watermelon and a chilli sesame caramel brittle. The salty savoury flavours were washed away by the watermelon, leaving you ready for another mouthful. This combination sounds bonkers, but our guests seemed to love it!

My Middle Eastern take on a risotto was up next and was packed full of unusual flavours including sumac and preserved lemon. This was topped with little bread and butter pickles, made from tiny Turkish cucumbers. The tart little pickles cut through the creaminess of the risotto and provided a lovely crunch against the comforting softness.

We stayed around the Middle East for Susie’s take on another of Selin’s recipes – chilli roast roast cauliflower. Smeared with sweet and spicy Turkish pepper paste, the cauliflower was roasted and charred and then topped with a tahini sauce, pistachios and pomegranates. A herby bulghur wheat salad accompanied. Roasting cauliflower really brings out the nuttiness of the vegetable yet retains the bite.

And then it was back to the UK for dessert – using a dessert recipe from Edinburgh’s Mark Greenaway. Mark’s recent book ‘Perceptions’ is full of complicated Michelin starred recipes, most of which I will never try. However the dessert section is very colourful and appealing and he breaks down all the steps in a (fairly) accessible way. I tried out the brown sugar cheesecake, bramble sorbet and tomato caramel. This was a beautiful little dish full of unusual flavour combinations. The brown sugar cheesecake was creamy and light and with a touch of butterscotch; the bramble sorbet full of summer hedgerow flavours; and the tomato caramel surprisingly fruity and zesty. It was a bit of a labour of love, but worth it!

And so we proved vegetarian food can be as exciting and fulfilling as anything else, we certainly didn’t miss the meat! Next up is our Scandinavian double bill at the end of September, where we will probably be welcoming in the start of Autumn. You’ll also no doubt have seen that we’ll be taking a wee break after January so that Susie can go on maternity leave (not my baby I hasten to add!). If you’ve managed to book on to our last round of events, then well done! If not then keep an eye on the blog and on twitter as we’ll advertise any cancellations as they arise.

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Midsummer House – Review

I grew up in Cambridge and so have always known of Midsummer House. But it was one of those places I never expected to go to, and was a bit intimidated by. It was the kind of place corporate business men took clients to show off a bit, not the place for locals to go for a meal, not even for a special occasion.

However 15-20 years on and Midsummer House has become far more accessible with Daniel Clifford at the helm as chef patron and a string of successful appearances on the Great British Menu. It was one of these Great British Menu appearances that got my attention and made me think, yes that food looks fun, I want to eat there! Plus it has managed to retain its 2 Michelin stars for the last ten years.

Midsummer House

As the name suggests, Midsummer House is a house and it’s based on Cambridge’s midsummer common. Cambridge is a funny old city with a number of protected commons, which are basically large areas of grazing land for wild cattle, which have the effect of making you feel like you’re in the middle of the countryside and not in the middle of a city. Midsummer House is located with the river Cam on one side and the common on the other. This sedate positioning means that cars cannot access the restaurant and in fact our taxi had to leave us at the edge of a footbridge to continue our journey by foot, which was quite nice and romantic.

The restaurant itself is surprisingly small, extended through the use of a conservatory and garden. As it was a lovely day the conservatory doors and windows were flung open giving us a feel of siting out in the garden. Our first canapés were delivered whilst we waited to see what would happen next. Little choux buns were filled with a truffle cream and looked just like mini chocolate éclairs!

Midsummer canapes

We started the meal with a glass of champagne which was brought to our table aboard a slightly pompous champagne trolley. This mechanical trolley magically presented the champagne from the depths of its cupboards, which was fun but a bit cheesy. The champagnes, however, were all dry and crisp and extremely refreshing. More canapés appeared including mini turnips in a pepper soil and smoked fish pate and a duck pate on a crumbly biscuit and encased in a pleasingly sharp redcurrant gel. Both were beautiful and full of flavour.

Midsummer canapes 2

Midsummer canpes 3

The menu is split into 7 courses or 10 courses depending how greedy you are. I was with my family who are not always big eaters and so I had to heartbreakingly agree to the 7 courses. This was tough as the courses we were giving up included the suckling pig and turbot with clams and squid ink pasta – devastating!

First up was a crab and pea dish, presented in a hovering little round bottomed dish. Full of crisp, green pea flavour and sweet, comforting crab this was a celebration of the British summer at its best. I was astounded by the superb flavours that had been captured in such a simple looking dish, and this was to start a theme for the rest of the meal.

Midsummer pea and crab

I had spied a little BBQ as soon as we had sat down and for our next course this was brought over to us by the head waiter on another little trolley. Inside the BBQ dome were a number of charred and wrinkly beetroot. These were sliced up with as much pomp and ceremony as could be mustered! The tender flesh was scooped out and added to our next dish of beetroot, goat cheese and quinoa. Beetroot is probably my least favourite vegetable but even I could appreciate its soft juiciness. The goats cheese was fresh out of Heston’s lab, frozen within an inch of its life in dry ice and steaming away on our plates!

Midsummer Beetroot

Midsummer beetroot 2

Next up was my favourite course – quail three ways! A beautifully rare and succulent quail breast was paired up with a sourdough toast finger spread with quail pate and a little deep fried quail egg. The meat was melt in the mouth, the pate umami at its best and the egg smoky beyond belief and full of skill, yum!

Midsummer quail

Midsummer quail 2

Our fish dish was probably the biggest scallop I have ever seen! Big, juicy and well caramelised. This came beautifully presented with granny smith batons and celeriac puree. Lovely little truffles were also brought along and liberally grated all over the scallop. What I noticed about this tasting meal was that every course was given its own importance, there was no dud dish and actually the sizes were all very generous

Midsummer scallop

Finally for the savouries was perfectly pink Cumbrian lamb. For me this was probably the least exciting course but this is mainly because it had such a tough act to follow after the high standard that had preceded it.

Midsummer lamb

Our first dessert was poached kumquat with tamarind sorbet. This did have the effect of cleansing our palettes and caused all manner of yum noises round the table. I felt there was a little bit too much kumquat for the size of the dish, to the point where it felt like I was eating a bowl of marmalade, but it was tasty nonetheless.

Midsummer kumquat

Our final dessert was a celebration of strawberry – who knew a simple strawberry was harbouring so much flavour! This included a little macerated strawberry, a ravioli coated in strawberry gel and a little cigar of strawberry. This was light, fruity and summery – just what we needed after a fairly rich meal!

Midsummer Strawberry

Coffees were not obligatory to enjoy the petit four. These were light little diamond doughnuts with caramel and calvados dipping sauces. The sauces were so good I was eating the leftovers with a spoon!

Midsummer petit four

And so that brought a very enjoyable meal to a close. Everybody agreed that they had been pleasantly surprised by the standard of flavours and the fact that we had been served generous courses and were perfectly full. Had I been offered the additional turbot and pork I’m not sure I could have fitted these in, so maybe 7 was the magic number?!

If I had any criticisms, and these are minor, it’s the toilet set up. For a medium sized restaurant (there’s at least 20 covers downstairs and a private dining room upstairs) there is only one male toilet and one female toilet, which is just not enough. I dashed to the loo just as the scallop was coming out and then had to queue, delaying the dish even further which I’m sure stressed the kitchen out. Also, whilst we were sat right next to a lovely open door that looked out on to the common, we were also right by the drains. So every now and then a lovely whiff of sewage greeted us. This wasn’t enough to cause us to ask to be moved but it does indicate that the restaurant’s toilet infrastructure is not quite right.

I was very impressed with the staff who were all very professional but also friendly and jolly at the same time, making the meal feel special. As we went to leave we were given a parting gift of a little box of chocolates. The chocolate work was obviously the hand of an expert as they were so thin. The insides were, again, superb flavours of pistachio and passionfruit. So if you want a meal where you’ll be thinking of and talking about the flavours long after then do try out Midsummer House – just avoid the private dining room (it looked soulless to me) and don’t sit too near the drains if the doors are open!

Timberyard Review

It’s been a while since we’ve done a restaurant review, and that’s not because we haven’t been eating out, more that general business and laziness has compromised our ability to keep our writing up with our eating! I’m going to put a stop to that and make a concerted effort to review my upcoming mouthfuls as there are some exciting ones on the cards. What’s more, it’s a fantastic way to keep a food diary. I love reading back on all the lovely meals I’ve enjoyed, even if no one else does!

So the object of my affections today is the lovely Timberyard in Edinburgh. Now I’ve been to Timberyard about four times, with a decent meal experienced every time, so heavens knows why I haven’t written a review yet. It’s a family run place on the cusp of the old and new town (although mainly in the old town near the Grassmarket). It takes up a rather unassuming slot on Lady Lawson Street but upon entering it opens up into the most unexpected, huge warehouse area. It has sympathetically maintained the character of the building’s industrial background but has brought in elements of the Scottish countryside with animal skins and skulls. The food has echoes of Scandinavia and the staff are achingly trendy. So trendy in fact that they have already got rid of their Hoxton beards – you can tell from the pale chins that have been left behind!

Timberyard

We were sat down right at the back, which was perfect for us to have a view of the entire dining room, and could just about peek into the wondrous kitchen. Nothing is normal at Timberyard so when inspecting the cocktail menu for an aperitif there were no familiar drinks and even a simple gin and tonic came with a bit of pine tree in it! I excitedly opted for a salty sea dog which I guess is a Timberyard take on a martini. It was my kind of drink – packed with lots of gin, vermouth and then salty elements provided by bladderwrack seaweed! It truly was out of this world – deep, musky and smoky, like a good whisky. Richard’s gin and tonic stumped us a bit. He opted for a beautiful Botanist, a dry gin made on the Isle of Islay (most famous for its peaty whisky). His ‘tonic’ came in a chemistry lesson style flask for him to add himself, which he duly did – all of it. He had a look of confusion when he took his first sip as it turned out the flask was filled with water instead of tonic. So essentially he had a nice big glass of gin, pine tree, and water! We wondered if this was the poncey way of drinking an Islay gin and no one had told us. But when the bill came it did say ‘tonic’ so we are still confused!

Timberyard Menu

Menus took a while to arrive which panicked us somewhat that we were automatically doing the 8 course tasting menu, something our stomachs wouldn’t have been able to comply with as we’d had a late lunch. We perused whilst munching on some of their warm and freshly baked sourdough. Not the best bread I’ve had but the bits you get to spread on are top notch. A choice of whipped crowdie, which is a sour cream cheese, or smoked bone marrow which was served in a bit of bone! The smoked marrow was my favourite, topped with piles of ground black pepper, mmmmm is all I can say!

Richard and I are probably becoming far too similar these days as out of the whole meal, for all three courses, we picked the same things. How it works at Timberyard is that the menu is split into small bites, starters, mains and desserts. Small bites are essentially a large canapé. We opted to have three courses of savoury as the desserts didn’t really float our boat.

Our small bite was an umami packed duck heart, liver and mushroom concoction. The duck heart was served savagely speared by a piece of yet more pine tree! I chewed into it like an offally lollipop. It was soft but meaty. Hidden beneath this was a mousse-like liver pate dusted with a cep powder for the ultimate umami hit. I was glad there was still some sourdough left to mop all of this up with. For a small bite it was certainly a generous portion.

Timberyard duck heart

Winewise we went for the L’indigene from Languedoc, a 2011 Syrah/ Grenache. It was very light and powerfully fruity so we thought it would be sympathetic to our upcoming fish and meat courses. A few glasses in and we suddenly noticed the sulphurous qualities of the wine. Upon reading the bottle our worst fears were confirmed – BIODYNAMIIC!! Those of you who read any of our Copenhagen reviews will recall the fall out we had with biodynamic wine which can often be very challenging and taste a bit ‘off.’ Anyway, prejudices aside this was actually an enjoyable wine but I could only have managed the one bottle! Is this why biodynamic wine exists do you think? To prevent binge drinking?!

Our fish course looked deceptively simple. A soft and creamy fillet of sole with all sorts of goodies including prawns, cockles and artichoke. It was full of different textures, some raw, some cooked. A very comforting dish that also felt strangely decadent.

Timberyard sole

Our final course was the smoked beef, which did not disappoint. The beef came in a thick slab and was so rare it was practically raw and yet a perfect temperature and texture. I didn’t get the smokiness if I’m honest. It was also quite a soft dish – succulent beef, rich gravy, cauliflower puree, mushrooms. It could have done with a crunchy texture, such as a chip, but that would make me a heathen in the food heaven that is Timberyard!

Timberyard beef

So I was full enough not to want a dessert, although I may have got a cheeky little pot of salted caramel ice cream from the shop opposite for the walk home! What I liked about this visit to Timberyard was that the meal was completely different to what I had last time as the menu is constantly changing. I’ve been going for about two years now and am not yet bored, in fact I am constantly surprised by what they produce. I can’t wait for next time!

 

Eating Canada!

Firstly an apology for the lack of posts of late. I’ve been in the Americas drinking beer and eating big food, whilst Susie has been busy baking over on her Sticky Pinny site – check it out!

Jasper1

Anyway now I am back in the real world I thought I would share with you some of the stories from my travels. I never thought I would ever say this, but if I’m honest I got a bit sick of eating out! Try it every day for 3 weeks and you’ll get what I mean. I even got to the stage where I was by-passing starters and desserts – what monster have I created?! A positive about eating out in Canada and the US is the HUGE range, ethnic diversity and value for money. The pound was a bit unsteady due to the impending Scottish referendum, but despite that there were no eye watering bills, making everything very affordable and accessible.

We travelled all over the North West coast of North America – starting in Vancouver, popping over to Vancouver island, a quick detour to Seattle, a trek over to the beautiful Canadian Rockies and then finally across the prairies to Calgary – land of oil and cowboys! Vancouver undoubtedly had the best selection and range of delicious Asian food. I had succulent soft shell crab and soft black cod in sweet miso that was of a Chino Latino standard and yet a fraction of the price. However the meal that stood out for us the most was perhaps the most unexpected…

Jasper2

Picture the scene: tall pine trees covered in snow, looming rocky mountains and little wood cabins with roaring log fires. This was our ‘glamping’ site in Jasper. The last thing we expected to find in the camp grounds was a gourmet dining room. A quick check on trip advisor confirmed it was one of the top eateries in the area – what a coincidence!

Tekarra cabin

The Tekarra Lodge is a top of the range dining experience, so exclusive that even Marilyn Monroe has eaten there. It prides itself on sustainability, provenance and unique flavours and cooking techniques.

The dining room was simply decorated with lots of wood and good quality napkins. The tables were adorned with paper tablecloths and pots of crayons. We drew away to our hearts content, as you will see! The seasonal menu was mouth watering and portions coming out of the kitchen were not overfacing but not stingy either. I enjoyed the show stopper starter of salmon three ways. This old school dish often conjures up visions of slimy smoked salmon and stiff salmon fillets. Fear not, none of these were present in my dish. A ponzu marinated salmon was bright red and full of umami flavours. A tempura sushi roll of salmon was the lightest sushi I’ve ever had. The homesmoked salmon (complete with smoke filled closh) was deep, earthy and almost spicy from the delicious smoke. Every mouthful was a joy – a starter to make the other diners very jealous indeed.

Salmon

My main was a sous vide venison, cinnamon charcoal and game sausage. If I’m honest I did feel that the venison was a little on the tough side and the sausage a bit dry. However it wasn’t until the end that I started to use the cinnamon charcoal as a condiment and I wish I’d tried it earlier. It looked beautiful gleaming away on my plate but I had no idea whether to dare eat it. When I did it gave the meat a lovely sweet and soft flavour and so I started piling it on! I’ve no idea if I was meant to be eating it but it really did transform the dish into something very wonderful.

Venison

Wine-wise we wanted a bottle of British Columbian merlot. Now Canada isn’t the most famous wine producer and the wines we did get to try on our travels were not punchy showstoppers but more of the easy drinking variety. The Canadians don’t make enough wine to export lots of it, which is why we don’t see much this side of the Atlantic. They also did not make enough for us to enjoy with our dinner that night! And so we disappointingly opted for a consistent Argentinian Malbec. Lovely all the same but not with the provenance that we wanted for our meal! At least it was from the right continent I guess.

Moving onto dessert I kept it simple with a cocktail glass full of maple ice cream with a shot of maple whiskey poured on top, yum! The whiskey in Canada is a lot cleaner and sweeter than its Scottish smoky counterpart. The addition of maple syrup turned it into a very pleasant liqueur – delicious with the ice cream.

Our waitress was very efficient and non-intrusive, which is a massive skill in the Americas when usually they are working overtime to get their tips from you. This was appreciated as we could just get on with our meal and enjoy it. Richard did manage to get locked in the toilet just as the main courses arrived! In Canada I swear that no door locks worked. They were either broken, non existent or scary and confusing mechanisms! Very stressful in a toilet going situation! Anyway in this case he was ejected quickly with little embarrassment which was a relief!

Crayon table

Overall this was a delicious slap up meal that felt very special indeed, and what’s more it was a mere two second stroll back to our cabin afterwards – perfect! We left the dining room with our present of an artistically doodled tablecloth which I am sure they will treasure. It was a great idea as it made a potentially stuffy venue much more informal and fun. For a bit of unexpected luxury in the rugged, isolated Rockies do check this lovely little gem out.

Fire

Dinner NOT at the Manor!

Regular readers will be aware that we will be closing the doors of the Manor on April 12th 2014 so that we can undertake some much needed renovations to the house over the summer. We plan to reopen again in September.

For those of you who can’t wait that long for your monthly fix of supperclub action, then fear not! Plans are underway for us to do some exciting pop up events in other venues, and so we’re putting a call out for potential venues. If you have an available and exciting venue with dining space for a minimum of 12, somewhere to cook food and are in Leeds and Bradford then get in touch!

If this sounds like you then contact us on our email dinneratthemanor@gmail.com. We’re looking for venues for June, July and August 2014. If you’re interested in dining at these upcoming events then keep an eye out on this blog for announcements over the next few months. The best way to hear first is to register to receive emails from the blog or follow us on twitter @dine_leeds

Noma – Part II

So, onto part II of our experience at Noma! If you haven’t seen part I, it’s here

Wooo Noma!

Wooo Noma!

Having had the huge array of canapes in the first part of the meal, the second part allowed us to start sampling the wines to go with each dish. Now I’m not a massive wine expert, so I won’t even try and describe each one we drank but I do like being introduced to wines that I wouldn’t normally choose. I love the way that a wine can change once paired with food. Biodynamic, natural, unfiltered wines are all the rage in Denmark and they’re something that you’ll either love or hate! The wines can almost take on a cider / sherry flavour, nothing crisp or fresh here! Anyway, back onto the rest of the food. Continue reading

Noma – Part I

It’s taken me an age to write this post, mainly because there is just so much to write about. In its entirety I’ve written just under 2000 words on Noma so I’ve decided to split this up into two posts. Trust me, you’ll thank me for it!

Just before Christmas Dan and I were dining at one of the best restaurants in the world, the mad world of Rene Redzepi and his team at Noma, and realising a dining ambition we’ve had for years.

We started planning our trip to Copenhagen just under a year ago, not knowing whether or not we would actually be able to book those elusive spaces… Months later, October came around and we eagerly sat at our computers waiting for the bookings to open up. We realised that we had only one day during our stay due to Christmas, which really narrowed down our chances. Would we get a reservation?!… Yes we would! Hooray! Only, we realised that our flight landed after reservation, Nooooo! After much deliberation we decided to change our flights! Dan and I were going to the ball and something like flights wouldn’t stop us!

We’ll have a few Copenhagen write ups coming soon, but for now just sit back and take in the poor quality photos and my ramblings of this delicious affair.

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So, Noma. The Nordic powerhouse that put Scandinavian fine dining on the radar. Two Michelin stars and crowned the worlds best restaurant for three years (now rated 2nd). We’d seen glimpses of Noma on programmes, such as Masterchef, and read everything there is to know about Rene Redzepi, but what would it actually be like to experience Noma, would it be everything we expected and more? What would we eat? Insects? Moss? Badgers?! Continue reading