Vegetarian tasting menu at Alimentum

I had been wanting to take my friends Sue and Michael to Alimentum for a while and when the restaurant announced head chef Mark Poynton had created a vegetarian tasting menu for Vegetarian Week, this was the perfect opportunity.
I started with Alimentum’s meanwhile (in)famous celery martini:

Celery martini

After canapes (the fennel jam sourdough crisps) and amuse (pea mousse with goat’s curd) our meal proper started with an amazing asparagus dish again with goat’s curd and smoked hazelnuts:

Asparagus, goat's curd, smoked hazelnut
Th really intense flavours of asparagus and hazelnut were mellowed by the cheese.

Cauliflower, comte sauce
Next up was a cauliflower dish with a comte sauce. This was lovely and warming with crunchy cauliflower and the best cheese sauce I had ever tasted.

Leeks, egg, potato
Then, slowly cooked and then charred leeks, slowly poached egg, potato crisp. Another dream of harmonising flavours and contrasting textures.

Artichokes
The equivalent of the meat main was a dish of artichokes and ceps. Strong flavours with a really meaty feel to it. Warming and filling.

All the cheeses
Having spotted the cheese trolley, we had to interrupt the tasting menu with a cheese board. Not wanting to choose, we just had one of everything and excellent it was. Perfectly matured and kept cheeses, from mild goat to strong washed rind and blue. Marvellous.

Ginger granita, lemongrass curd
After the rich cheeses, this palate cleanser of ginger granita, lemongrass curd and gingerbread crumbs was an excellent way of calming our palates somewhat while still keeping them excited for the desserts to come.

Battenberg
The first dessert was the return of a favourite from last year: Battenberg, apricot sorbet and amaretto foam. Sweet, fruity and tangy, a hint of summer during this dreary and cold May.

Pineapple, yoghurt
The last dessert was a dish from the April supper club: BBQ pineapple with yoghurt in different ways. This cooking method really brings out the flavour of the fruit and the yoghurt calms it down again a bit.

Petit Fours
And finally with our coffees, the petit fours.

Almost more enjoyable than the meal was watching and listening to my friends’ reactions which made me very happy indeed as they had come up specifically from South London.

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An evening at Gog Magog Hills Farm Shop

On Saturday, I joined the Cambridge Food and Wine Society in an outing to the Gog Magog Hills Farm Shop who had put together a selection of treats for us, both culinary and informative. As we arrived and mingled, we picked up drinks (various wines as well as beers from the Moonshine Brewery, of which I particularly liked the Barton Bitter). In the back of the (still half under construction) shelter two Big Green Eggs had been set up in which our dinner had been cooking away for the last half day or so.

Gogmagog Hills Farm Shop

Pork shoulders on the Big Green Egg

Gogmagog Hills Farm Shop

First, however, we were split into two groups, one to do a cheese and wine tasting, the other to watch a butchery demonstration. I was in the latter group who were invited into the back of the butcher’s shop where Miles showed us how to take apart a whole lamb into the various cuts one is used to see in a butcher’s display. Watching a master at work was fascinating and it took him less than 20 minutes.

Gogmagog Hills Farm Shop

Butchering a lamb

Butchering a lamb

Butchering a lamb

Butchering a lamb

Butchering a lamb

Butchering a lamb

Butchering a lamb

The next stop was the “canteen” where we had the chance to sample four of their cheeses (all from Neal’s Yard Dairy), each paired with a wine (except the cheddar which was paired with a Moonshine Brewery ale). I had had the Tunworth (a soft Camembert style cheese) before and it’s one of my favourites. The others were a soft goat’s cheese, a mature cheddar with a little blue woven in and a superb Stilton which was creamy and well balanced. Needless to say, all the cheeses were perfectly ripe and well kept.

Cheese tasting

Gogmagog Hills Farm Shop

Gogmagog Hills Farm Shop

Back at the shelter, our dinner was waiting. Pulled pork with one of the best home made BBQ sauces I had ever tasted, coleslaw, leaves and sourdough bread. There was also lasagne and pizza, both cooked on the Big Green Egg as well. Sadly, I did not have the opportunity to try any of the latter two but the pork was worth coming to the event alone.

Gogmagog Hills Farm Shop

Gogmagog Hills Farm Shop

Goat steak and kidneys, asparagus

The third special treat this weekend was some goat. I picked up a steak and three kidneys.
I trimmed the kidneys and seared the chunks before adding some lamb stock to the pan and covering it to finish, seasoning with salt and pepper before serving.
The steak I had marinaded in olive oil, rosemary and garlic for about six hours and then simply pan-fried it to medium, letting it rest while I warmed the kidneys.
I served the steak with the kidneys spooned over, blanched asparagus and crushed potatoes (which didn’t make it into the photo).

Goat steak and kidneys

I really liked the taste, similar but a bit stronger than lamb but not overly so. As it’s also a bit leaner than lamb, it’s quite surprising goat is not available more widely.

Chicken liver parfait, hearts and asparagus puree

Another special treat from my butcher‘s this week were chicken livers and hearts. These I soaked in milk for a couple of hours to draw out most of the blood.
With the livers I made a basic parfait by sauteeing them with chopped onions, garlic and thyme and then blending them with softened butter and let it set in the fridge for a few hours.
I trimmed the hearts, cut them in half, and gently cooked them in butter until done.
When the parfait was set, I served it spread on toasted rye with the hearts and a puree made from asparagus hearts on the side. This was Sunday’s starter of a rather offal-heavy meal.

Chicken liver parfait on rye toast, chicken hearts

Lamb sweetbreads, local asparagus

A new ingredient in my kitchen prompts a new cooking post. My butcher alerted me via twitter that he would have lamb sweetbreads in and while I’ve had them in restaurants I had never cooked with them myself I took this opportunity to try. A little research on the internet revealed that cooking them wasn’t tricky so I picked up three. I boiled them for a few minutes, trimmed them, cut them into bite sized pieces and then tossed them in seasoned flour. I fried the pieces in a little olive oil over medium heat until crispy.
I served the sweetbreads with some blanched local asparagus and drizzled the plate with a good extra virgin olive oil infused with garlic, pepper and balsamic vinegar.

Lamb sweetbreads, local asparagus

The perfect quick and simple spring lunch.

Spicy chicken thighs with roasted leeks

Last night I finally cooked something that looked good enough to post and I had not really blogged before. I had picked up a few free range chicken thighs from the Art of Meat on Saturday and marinaded them in African Volcano for about eight hours, adding a bit of salt just before cooking. I split three small leeks lenghtwise and put them cut side up in a roasting tray, seasoning with salt and pepper. On top of that I put a rack with the thighs and shoved it in the oven at about 220 degrees for half an hour. The skin had crisped nicely with most of the fat rendered onto the leeks below basting them.

image

I just served them like that with some sourdough rye toast. The meat was soft and wonderfully juicy, the leeks equally soft and infused with chicken and peri peri flavours. I was very happy with this dish that took all of five minutes to prep.

Cyrus Todiwala at Alimentum

On Wednesday night Alimentum hosted an Indian popup with Cyrus Todiwala OBE, acclaimed chef of Café Spice Namasté.
The evening started with a light summery cocktail using coconut milk, coconut water, rum, gin and bitters and some nibbles from the Alimentum kitchen.

Cocktail to start

As during the supper clubs, the dining room had been changed into four long communal tables which provided a good opportunity to chat with the other diners. I had the pleasure of sharing a table with Cyrus’ wife, Pervin, who shared many an entertaining story about their restaurant and private lives.
Chef Todiwala came out briefly to introduce the dishes we were about to enjoy, promising us it would not necessarily be the Indian food we were used to. On TV, he always seems a little grumpy but he turned out to be really entertaining and it was very obvious that he is very passionate about his food.

Cyrus Todiwala introducing his dishes

Then, the food:

Beetroot coconut Rasum

The amuse was a “beetroot Rasum”, a fine, spiced soup with a little kick at the end. Really refreshing while still deep in flavour. A good indication of what was to come.

Baked haddock, garlic and chilli risotto

Then came a baked fillet of haddock on garlic and chilli risotto and a snail mini tartlet. This was an interesting combination, the flaky, perfectly cooked fish with a spiced crust (fragrant but not hot, just a little kick at the end), the soft risotto (more like a rice pudding in texture) and then the more French style snails in garlic. Really enjoyable.

Maharashtrain style sizzled yoghurt and peanut rice

Next up, Maharashtrain style sizzled yoghurt and peanut rice with spiced onion fritters (basically what are called baji in the UK but strictly speaking aren’t, the correct Indian name is different and one I’m not sure how to transliterate). This dish was a wonderful play of various textures from crunchy to soft and back to crunchy again. Again, beautifully spiced but not hot.

Tandoori duck sausage, Denham fallow venison in a trio of anise, chicken in cream with mace and caradamom

Then Tandoori duck sausage (in the front), Denham fallow venison in a trio of anise (the thin slice of meat) and chicken in cream with mace and caradamom. My favourite of these three and if I had to pick one, the favourite item of the meal, was the duck sausage. This was similar in flavour to the duck seekh kebab I had at Trishna but with a more pleasant texture. The venison had good flavour but was a little tough (which might have been due to me being served relatively late, another guest I chatted to later praised its tenderness). The chicken on the other hand was beautifully soft.

Baked lamb mince, spiced egg

The main was curried lamb mince baked with spiced egg, chargrilled celeriac and parsnip puree, seasonal vegetables in coconut. The slab of soft mince was topped with a sort of but not quite omelette-like layer of egg, a combination that worked really well and an idea I want to use in my cooking at some point. The sides were also brilliant, I especially liked the baked quenelles of puree which added a bit of crunch while still being soft inside.

Zafrani Creme brulee, chocolate kulfi

The final was a crème brûlèe flavoured with ginger, cardamom and saffron. Light and a bit runny, nicely flavoured and not too sweet, this was exactly my thing. The chocolate kulfi was also great and a lot less sugary than other kulfis I’ve had.

The flight of wine served with the meal was also excellent and matched the dishes well. My favourite was the Maury Grenat, La Preceptorie, ‘Aurelie’ Languedoc-Rousillon 2010, a strong, dark red, almost like a port.

After this evening, the Spice Cafe is definitely going on my list of restaurants to visit as I want to experience their “endless” tasting menu. They basically will bring you dishes until you beg them to stop which I think is a brilliant concept.