Thursday, 30 November 2006
I got the vibe we were in for a good evening when we were greeted at the restaurant front door by three members of the restaurant team. Very focused, the way I’ve always imagined an experience should be. Taking our jackets and showing us to our table, a nice table, center of the restaurant, half with normal chairs and half banquet seating in a semi circle. Mark ordering the start of what’s to come with a nice bottle Champaign. N.V. Louis Roederer brut premiere, Reims.
Restaurant decorated in shades of brown. Textured walls, Bang Olufsen Cd player on the wall, great lighting and the heaviest crystal vases on the table, Clean Cut and unfussy
Menus read well and hard to choose from, could have had the tasting menu to save the hassle but finally got there. I chose the Partridge and foie gras Red Cabbage and Apple Sauce to start. Well presented, colorfully presented. Partridge wrapping the foie gras into a paupiette shape and sliced three times, Red cabbage braised into a sweet and sour chutney and ate well, as usual very hungry and the starter always gets devoured a bit too hastily! One of my down falls really. All of mostly choosing something different so sneaking a fork full here and there. You can tell by the table cloth’s new pattern!
For the mains Roast Monkfish, Braised Squid, Pea risotto and white onion sauce. Fantastic, Squid melt in the mouth, braised with good red wine and other elements. Monkfish and risotto all perfect and layered in the centre of the plate. With a fine cotton ball shaped potato angel hair, crispy and golden. Dish light and full flavored with a lightness of touch with presentation.
Cheeses were chosen next and we had a great presentation of three plates all with about six cheeses and a little truffle honey to eat with the goat’s cheese. Very good walnut bread, sesame seed biscuits and some digestive type sweeter biscuits.
Tasting of deserts were all fantastic and came separately, all stand alone well presented dishes. Caramel soufflé and caramel sauce, A pannacotta dusted in coconut and with a crème fraiche sorbet and a mousse in a chocolate crispy tube, A little boozed up to remember the titles but ate well and then came our petit fours, five different flavored jellies and about ten different soft centered truffles with the patterned tops, all presented on slate and in perfectly places lines, equally spaced (with a ruler?)
Coffee and several top ups of a great wine list and we head back, well impressed and a tough act to follow for next year.
These are the details that I can remember, we are a group of close friends that have a lot to catch up on from year to year so we will do our best to calculate the evening into words that can make sense.
Wednesday, 29 November 2006
I headed for the drowning awaiting me under that great shower in the magnificent bathroom to completely revitalise me and remove the last remaining embers sleep from my eyes!
Dressing I made my way down to breakfast served in the Orangery restaurant. Polite, enthusiastic staff awaited me there and brought me good fresh coffee and hot taste in no time at all. My companions joining me we all opted for the full works. I almost said “full English” but quickly remembered I had crossed the border and was now in Scotland! Such a request I am sure would have brought with it insult!
What a breakfast it was! I have to say it was by far the best white pudding I have ever tasted. Yes, that right, white pudding. I know, I haven’t seen it for ages either. It was fantastic! I could have eaten it again and again. Well done chef!!!
Breakfast consumed it was time to bid farewell to Mark and Nigel for another year, and being the nominated driver, it was my pleasure to return them to the airport for their awaiting flights home. Returning to the hotel, Darren, Alan and myself decided on a touch of sightseeing to pass the hours until our flight departed at six pm. off we drove to Edinburgh city centre.
We walked around for a while, a little lost and sat down for a coffee in a little café off the high street to discuss where we should spend the day. After much discussion we came to the conclusion that such an important decision could not be made over coffee and seeing how it was already 12pm we should carry on the debate in much more appropriate surroundings. Yes you guessed it…..off to the pub!
Now with a pint of Guinness in hand suggestions were flooding out and I am pleased to report that finally it was my suggestion that the group decided to go with. NO, I’m not that bad, we didn’t get another round in and spend the rest of the day on the pub!
I had noticed a sign directing you to Roselyn Chapel whilst making my way back from the airport. Now for those of you who are not movie or book buffs, Roselyn Chapel plays a huge part at the end of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. So off we went.
We arrived at Roselyn at around 3.30pm on a now cold and wet Wednesday afternoon, early November and made our way into the gift shop and to the chapel itself.
I have to say Roselyn Chapel is breathtaking! The stone carvings are magnificent and the history and legends that surround the chapel fascinating to say the least. There are tombs galore, and even a couple of tombs where Nights Templar rest! We must have spent at least an hour and a half in there! I would advise anyone planning a trip within 50 miles of Edinburgh to take the time to visit this amazing piece of Scottish history.
We left the chapel feeling fulfilled having taking time out to fill up with culture and history and made our way through Scottish rush hour and to the airport. Being the good, kind-hearted friend that I am I dropped Daren and Alan off at the terminal building due to the heavy rain and returned the trusty Mondeo back to the kind people at Budget car hire, then took the courtesy buss back to the terminal, cold and wet!
We checked in to our flight with more time to spare this time round and bought sandwiches waiting for our flight to be called; the end of another Chefs Eat Out for a year and talk of what will be on the cards next year.
Thank you for reading this blog over the past few days, but keep checking us out as we are about to start writing about Midsummer House, last years Chef’s Eat Out which was an amazing experience with some of the most daring, modern, cutting edge food we had yet experience…..
Tuesday, 28 November 2006
We entered and made our way up the stone staircase to once again take our seats in front of the now dying fire.
A very friendly night porter arrived in the bar soon after us and, taking drinks orders made his way to the small bar area to serve us.
Time to dissect the latest “chefs eats out” dinner! After a little debate and another round of drinks it was time to retire for the night.
Making my way up the endless staircase to my room was a daunting task after the vast quantity of alcohol that had now passed my lips! Entering the room I made my way to my huge, sumptuous four-poster bed, undressing I turned my attention to extinguishing the room lights. Now to say I have never experienced real darkness is somewhat of an understatement having now experienced the endless darkness that devoured me on turning off the room lights at Dalhousie Castle! If you want to relax and have a well-earned lie in without dawn drawing you from a deep sleep then this is the retreat for you! I am sure that mid-day sun on a perfect July day would not succeed overpowering the heavy curtains that donned the windows here at the castle. A good nights sleep lay before me and I could not wait to get started!
Sunday, 26 November 2006
Tasting of desserts. This is fantastic for the diners, but in the kitchen your workload increases ten – fold! You have anything from four to eight desserts to prepare for each guest instead of the traditional one per guest, and when the whole table goes for this option as we did, well I’ll leaved the pastry chef’s comments to your imagination!
Before taking dessert however, we opted for a cheese course. A well-informed French waitress took us through the huge cheese trolley; we had about twenty cheeses placed on three plates in the centre of our table to digest. The waitress knew them all by heart, I’m sure, if we had asked, she could have told us the name of the animal that had produced the milk to produce them! She told us the order in that we should sample the cheese due to their intense flavours, and a fantastic accompaniment to the goat’s cheese was a small dot of truffle honey. To be honest it looked a little understated on a small plate also in the centre of the table, but once tasted it was obvious why we only needed such a small amount, it’s pungent flavour packed a punch like Evander Holyfield holding a fistful of bolts!
Mark, once again not to let the group down, chose a fantastic bottle of Maury, a sweet red dessert wine that I would never have thought to accompany cheese, but it worked perfectly.
Cheese polished off it was time for dessert, and another bottle of dessert wine, this time a Riesling. Unlike some restaurants where a tasting of dessert comes as one course and you must rush your way around it to prevent soufflés dropping, parfaits and jellies melting, these courses came separately, which was a refreshing change.
After dessert came the compulsory coffee and petit fours, a very good cup of espresso for me which was served in the traditional way, with a shot glass of water. Something I feel is very important but how many restaurants do you visit who have taken the decision to omit various traditions like this?
Next was the final part of dinner but as always by far the bitterest and hardest to digest, the bill. Dinner came to £620.00 for five of us, which I felt, was very reasonable indeed. After all we had eaten our way through seven courses including the canapés, amuse, cheese course and coffee and petit fours! Not to mention the consumption of 1 bottle of champagne, 1 red wine, 1 white wine, 1 Maury and a bottle of dessert wine!
Bill settled and cab on it’s way to return us to the digs, we bid farewell to the waiters and waitresses whom had all made our evening so pleasant and brought to a close the latest Chefs Eat Out dinner, but not the event for their was the time honoured tradition of drinks back at the hotel to contend with before we would turn in for the night!
Saturday, 25 November 2006
A quick drink and a short taxi journey later and we were making our way down the newly renovated Leigh district of Edinburgh. We almost missed the restaurant so understated is the façade! We made our way in, 30 minutes early for dinner. This did not seemed to concern the professional, well oiled machine that is the waiters and waitresses to which nothing would seem to cause a problem.
Taking our seat around a large round table with partial banquet seating and three comfortable chairs we decided what to drink as an aperitif. It didn’t take long to come to the conclusion that we would share a bottle of champagne. Mark as always took charge of the wine list and made a great choice in a bottle of N.V. Louis Roederer brut premiere, Reims at £75.00 a bottle.
We toasted the end of another year and started discussing how our lives and career paths had changed over the past twelve months. Then we moved onto the menu. Now on the past there have been strict rules set out between us on how you may order your food in a restaurant like this. Two people may not order the same dish. This way we can see as many of the dishes that are produced by the chef as possible. In any case we all taste each other’s dishes and pass comment to decide who chose the most wisely out of all of us. This was until a couple of years ago when we all got a little bored of that. Besides, you ended up choosing dishes from the menu in break - neck speed just in case the guy next to you should opt for your starter or main course before you and you were left with something you didn’t really feel like. It really was a case of “God, there are only five starters, and one of them is eel, choose quickly, choose quickly, don’t wanna eat eel, quick, ahhhhhh, I’m gonna have the terrine.” “Oh, I just said I was gonna have terrine!” “Ahhh, choose again, ahhh!”
Too late, you’ve got to eat the eel!
So now we all just choose whatever we feel like eating and it works so much better.
Martin Wisharts menu is composed with such thought and passion going into each creation that you really do want to eat everything on the menu. Each dish has been carefully devised to use the best of flavour, texture combinations it is almost impossible to choose which one you would most like to eat.
For those diners who really can’t make a decision there is also the tasting menu comprised of eight courses taking you thoughtfully through the dishes on the menu.
I opted for the Langoustine ravioli with braised endive in orange and langoustine jus, as did Mark. The others all opted for different starters and it was only the Pumpkin Velouté that was cast aside. Main courses again was a decision that took another glass of champagne to come to the conclusion that I would take the Baked Turbot, Scallops, Cepes and hazelnuts. The others all opted for different main courses, so in fact we did almost see the whole menu that evening. A lot of fun for us, a chef’s nightmare in the kitchen!
Dinner started with a light amuse bouche, as it often does in a restaurant of this calibre, followed by our chosen starters. My langoustine ravioli was fantastic. The langoustines delicately wrapped in the finest pasta paste, so fine in fact you could see the light pink blush of the plump langoustines carefully enclosed. Three raviolis sat upon the braised endive in orange, a little bitter but with the ravioli it worked perfectly. The light jus just enough to complement the main components of the dish.
The starters were polished off in no time after the sharing ritual was completed, I would not play fare this evening though! I wanted to savour every last mouthful of my raviolis and every fork passed to me had the smallest morsel I could fit onto it without raising discussion over how measly the taster was I was returning to my friends!
The polished plates were removed from the table with all the grace they had been delivered whilst full of their proud starters and it was onto main courses.
My Turbot arrived with perfect timing, just allowing my starter to go down well enough and the group to polish off the remainder of the wine Mark had chosen to accompany our starters.
If I thought the ravioli was amazing then boy was I in for a treat? My turbot was cooked to perfection with carefully sliced cepes layered on top like scales, a small pool of celeriac purée rested to the left of the fish with three slices of perfectly grilled scallops sat gently on top. A little hazelnut jus finished the plate perfectly. The turbot and cepes was a pleasure to eat, the bitterness of the wild mushroom cutting through the fish and the purée to perfection, the purée itself was of a silky texture which made me wonder if a Pacojet tucked itself away somewhere in the kitchen? The nuttiness of the hazelnuts working with the scallops in perfect harmony with all the other elements on the plate.
Again, it was hard to allow anyone to take tasters away from me. I almost wanted to take the plate and hide in the corner hoping to go undetected until I had done the creation justice!
Everyone else seemed to have equally good comments for their chosen dishes so I am sure had I escaped to a quiet corner then just about every corner of the slick, modern restaurant would house a member of our party enjoying the delights we couldn’t believe our luck having been blessed with. Although when we received our main courses the restaurant had filled up somewhat to around fifty diners (possibly all looking for corners) so we would have been hard pushed to hide anywhere without raising suspicion.
The main course plates were removed and it was down to business, we had just less than half a bottle of wine to polish off and a dessert menu to perusal. Down to business!
Friday, 24 November 2006
We passed the Falconry, which is very impressive with over 40 birds of prey just over an arms length away! Further along the drive the car turned to face the imposing entrance of the castle.
The castle was built around 1450ad and is steeped in Scottish history, which can be viewed at www.dalhousiecastle.co.uk/history.asp.
We made our way through the stone entrance and to reception where we had rooms awaiting us courtesy of Daren who works for another of the Von Essen hotel collection.
My room was situated at the very top of the castle with breath-taking views of the stream and woodlands set in the acres of land that surround the hotel. The climb up to the room is not for the faint hearted however; I seamed to be climbing an uncountable number of stairs to reach the entrance to my room for the night. Although it was a journey worth making, as I entered the room I was impressed at the size and furnishings present there. I had a sumptuous four – poster bed, a comfortable sofa and a large bathroom. I made straight for the shower that was fantastic, plenty of hot water with ample pressure, as you would expect from a hotel of this standard. I spent an eternity under it, warming up and washing off what seemed like half of the Scottish golf course we had visited earlier that day.
I redressed in warmer attire and made my way down to the library bar to meet the rest of our entourage. After a quick beer it was off to the Orangery brassiere situated in the newly built spa deep in the belly of the castle. The restaurant was extremely pleasant, again making the most of the amazing views over the endless woodlands through large glass windows along the side of the room.
We took a table and browsed the menu. I opted for Smoked Salmon on rosemary foccacia with chive cream cheese, and a large glass of Riesling, the others choosing beef sandwiches and beers all with side orders of fries and mayonnaise. I was disappointed to find that my foccacia had been replaced with a ciabatta, but apart from that lunch was good, just what we needed after the busy morning we had endured that day. The reports of the beef sandwiches came in also favourably, and at the speed the food was devoured, I would have to concur!
We signed our bill and made our way into Edinburgh to collect our last group member Mark then it was back to the digs for a quick breather and dress for dinner.
Thursday, 23 November 2006
How it all happened...
Alan was bestowed the "Honour" of organising the seventh annual "Chefs Eat Out" event this year. It was a grand time in Alan’s' life, the moment everyone of the group waits for. Having consumed enough alcohol at the previous gathering so as you are too drunk to deny the honour and even yourself thinking what a great idea it is, you gratefully accept and even get a little excited, that is until morning when the realization of what you have let yourself in for actually hits you, and you think "Pooh"! (Pooh is a translation from the chef’s vocabulary to layman’s terms!)
I am well aware of this rollacoaster ride of feelings of anticipation, will it be me, will it be me. To overwhelming emotions, Ah bless the guys have chose me, love you guys. To excitement, I am gonna out do the last gathering, I'll show you all how the daddy is at organising this event. (About now sobering up) To regret, why do I always drink too much and let myself be lured into this? To Denial, nah the guys were only joking, you'll see at breakfast, someone else will offer to organise next year’s dinner. To squirming out of it, no one is speaking up. I'll try. "So who did we agree would organise next years dinner" In synchronisation comes the response "YOU". To accepting the fact you were too drunk to ever stop this happening, it's your own fault and just get on with it!
You see, you would imagine it easy to organise, but alas no. You first of all have to choose a restaurant that will meet everyone’s expectations, because when the bill comes around for anything from £150.00 to £250.00 each the last thing you want to hear when you are back to the bar at the digs is "What a waste of money that was!"
You then have to arrange a date that fits into everyone’s hectic schedule. Then there are hotel rooms to organise where anything over £65.00 per night is seen as a waste of money which would have been much better spent on that other bottle of red wine that was 3 years older! Sometimes there are flights to book as well as hire cars. If we are going somewhere like Dublin or Edinburgh you also need to plan activities to keep the group entertained until it's time to get ready for dinner. It really is a huge headache. Like I said, I am well aware of this, I have organised 4 of the past seven dinners. Daren organised one and said he would never organise another, but that’s another story for later!
So there we all are, drunk at midsummer house when suddenly someone speaks up and offers the honour to Alan who drunkenly accepts (haha).
As the months pass Alan is "encouraged" to make a decision and start planning where we are going. After much contemplating he comes up with Martin Wisharts, Edinburgh's only Michelin starred restaurant and proud owner of 4 rosettes from the AA guide.
He also decided, being a keen golfer as am I, to book a round of golf for earlier that day to fill in the time before dinner. Golf divided by Scotland times November. Now I'm no Einstein. I was never any good at working out formulas. However, even my untrained eye can spot a huge floor in this formula! Being a strictly summer golfer and even the first sign of a breeze or shower will send me running to the comfort of the 19th hole, I knew this would never work!
So the eve of the dinner arrives and I opt to make the journey to Darens house near Birmingham as it would make more sense to fly together rather than me travel from a London airport. (Alan, as I should have mentioned, works as sous chef for Daren)
I arrive at Daren's house around 10.30pm and, as we don't see each other that often, begin catching up and drinking beer, a lethal combination with a 6am flight looming ever closer! We eventually call it a night around 1am and turn in.
After what felt like only a few hours the alarm clock sprung to life with an energy I am forever jealous of at any hour of the morning, let alone such an unearthly hour as 4am, hold on, it was only a few hours!! I dragged myself out of bed and dressed quietly as not to wake any members of Daren's young family. We made our way to the car and waited for Alan.
Alan arrived and of we set to the airport listening to My Chemical Romance at a volume high enough to wake the residents of every house we passed and at break neck speeds (always with in the speed limits Mr Policeman, it just felt faster due to the ridiculous hour!) so as to be in good time for our pending flights.
Arriving at the airport we lugged our cases and golf clubs across the long stay car park to the terminal building in a manner that reminded me of Planes, Trains and automobiles! We eventually arrived having sustained damage to our shoulders due to the weight of bags and proceeded to check in to our flight. At this point I would like to thank the members of check in at the Flybe desk for politely pointing out the difference to Flybe and Flybmi who were situated just round the corner!
Passports checked, luggage on the mysterious conveyer belt that always seems to know where your bags are going (well, mostly anyway) we were off to departures with 20 minutes to spare! Perfect timing, it's 5.40am, it won't be busy. Woops! At this point I would also like to thank the member of the departure team who very kindly allowed us to queue jump the many passengers patiently waiting in good time to be x-rayed ready for departure, unlike us!
Increasing the pace somewhat we made our way to the departure gate, or so we thought. At this point I would like to thank the nice lady on the tanoy system who informed us we were about to miss our flight, as well as the stewardess who pointed us back in the direction we had just come from to our correct gate!
After a short bus journey we were sat on the plane awaiting takeoff! 60 minutes of flight time and we were landing (very bumpily) on the Scottish tarmac at Edinburgh airport. We immediately looked out of the window to inspect current weather conditions for our forthcoming round of golf. A little drizzly but it was the wind factor that was worrying me. Now I'm not entirely sure how the good folk of Scotland measure the wind factor, but to me if I can see kilts blown up around the neck, and providing I have not strayed down an alley with a forbidding glow of red coming from all of the buildings nestled there, I call that bloody windy! But, I was assured it was simply breezy! Liars!
We collected our luggage without any incidents and finding a great labour - saving invention they call a "trolley" made our way to the hire car rentals to collect our pre booked car, a Ford Mondeo. Now this is another little ritual every year. You book a hire car slightly under the size you require but a little cheaper and then prey on the good nature of the girl sitting behind the desk, also, a little tip is to flirt outrageously and make her giggle! Giggling is a sign you are probably going to get the estate version that will fit all cases and three sets of golf clubs into, not to mention the two other group members you are to collect a little later during the day.
We found our estate car and off we went in search of the golf course. At this point I would like to thank Jenny, the friendly, soft spoken lady who lives inside so many Tomtom devices for putting us on the right path and taking us to the course without any mishaps whatsoever!
Paid up, shoes on and there we were on the 1st tee at Craigmiller Park Golf Course. (http://www.craigmillarpark.co.uk/)
We all teed off and made our way up the first fairway. Actually, although being a little cold it wasn't too bad. Wait a second, did I just feel rain? No, my mistake, it's a monsoon!
It rained like never before for the next two holes. It doesn't sound like much but believe me, it was. By the time we reached the 3rd tee I had proved that waterproof is a very broad term used for clothing donned by brave golfers during the winter months and doesn't actually do what it says on the tin, if you know what I mean?!
But all was not lost, by the 5th tee we had all dried out. No, don't be silly, the sun barely shines here in June let alone November, the wind had dried us out!!
So, we trudged around the course and actually had a really good time. The course was challenging with some fantastic holes. There is a lot of work being carried out there during the winter, and it looks like by summer it will be a course worth visiting. However, I am still not sure of it's worth the full price of £45.00 per round, that’s up to you. We got a discount due to one of the holes being unplayable because of the works and paid only £15.00 each a round. If any member of Craigmillar Park is reading and they come across any of the many golf balls I lost that day, could return them to me I would be very grateful!
Returning to the car, and removing the polite notice that had been attached to our hire car during the course of the round pointing out the thoughtless manner in which I had parked, we made our way back to the airport to collect Nigel.
Package on board and it was off to the hotel for a nice warm shower, a bite to eat and a glass of wine!
Then what are you going to write about? I hear you ask. Well, I think I should start at the latest culinary experience we all had as a group, a little over a week ago at Martin Wisharts in Edinburgh.
So here goes.....
Wednesday, 22 November 2006
The profile for the evening is simple, find a restaurant which will appeal to the group. The restaurant must hold at least One Michelin Star and Three rosettes. The hotel for the evening; cheap and cheerful (so as we have more money to blow on the food and wine!) and that's it! You would imagine simple enough, unless it's your turn to organise the get together!
We started as a group of four, Simon (that's me), Mark, Daren and Nigel, in 2000. A passing comment in November, "lets all go out for dinner."
2004 saw the introduction of the fifth member of the group, Alan.
Little did we know back then that such an innocent comment would turn into a ritual that none of our partners would ever quite understand. You see, a golden rule is no wives, girlfriend or partners allowed! Now it's starting to sound like a cult, it isn't honest! We have no secret handshakes! We DO NOT dress up in little white aprons or dance naked around any burning bushes - not unless the bush is still moving, if you know what I mean!!!
Stop it, it's sounds sordid, and it isn't at all, really! It's just good fun! Reminisce on old times and passed acquaintances, let each other know how our career paths have changed over the past twelve months, basically, take time out for old friends.
This year one of our group - I think Mark, through the idea out across the table suggesting we develop a website to write about our experiences in these restaurants each year as well as the restaurants we each visit separately over the course of the year, so you can read about our experiences before you go and spend your hard earned cash there.
We also would like to encourage our readers to post their own comments on the restaurants we visit as well as write about there own gastronomic experiences around the world.
As I have had a little experience of Blogging, I thought this would give us the gateway we desired to reach the people we hope this would be interesting, as well as useful to.
Over the next few weeks I am going to write about our experiences in these fine dining restaurants over the past seven years, good as well as not so good, and provide you links to the restaurants' own websites. I will also write about what we each do now as well as our backgrounds and, later in the year, a small diary as we plan next years trip! (perhaps you could post comments on where you feel we should try next?)
We really hope you are going to enjoy whats to come here as much as we have enjoyed our reunions every year. Here is a list of the restaurants we have descended upon as a group over the past seven years;
2000 Halcyon Hotel - Toby Hill, London 1 Michelin Star,
2001 The Fat Duck - Heston Blumenthal, Bray 1 Michelin Star (Now 3)
2002 The Capital - Eric Chavot, London 2 Michelin Star
2003 Hibiscus - Claude Bosi, Ludlow 2 Michelin Star
2004 Patrick Guilbaud - Guillaume Lebrun, Dublin 2 Michelin Star
2005 Midsummer House - Daniel Clifford, Cambridge 2 Michelin Star
2006 Martin Wisharts - Martin Wishart, Edinburgh, 1 Michelin Star
Watch this Blog!!!