First the canapés caught the attention of the visiting chefs… and after that it just got better and better. Joanna Wood reports on the last Chef Eats Out lunch of 2001, held at the Greenhouse in London's Mayfair.
It would be fair to say that the three canapés served to guests arriving for the last Chef Eats Out lunch of 2001, held at London's Greenhouse, caused a bit of a stir. In particular, a lobster mayonnaise cornet, with its allusion to seaside treats, attracted the attention of the 40 visiting chefs who had journeyed from all over the UK to attend the British Meat-sponsored event.
Served in a glass filled with sesame seeds to hold them steady as well as give flavour, the cornets were praised both for their taste and visual impact. "Presenting only four of them at a time and in such a clever way was fantastic," enthused Aaron Goldfinch, head chef of Canterbury's King William pub.
Like the lunch which followed, the canapés were the brainchild of the Greenhouse's head chef, Paul Merrett, and it was the chance to sample his imaginative six-course menu and to see for themselves the establishment's newly designed David Collins interior that drew Caterer readers to the Mayfair restaurant. In fact, the chefs were among some of the first customers to dine at the refurbished restaurant, which opened its doors again at the end of October after a two-and-a-half-month closure for a £300,000-plus overhaul.
Greeting guests as they arrived was proprietor Joseph Levin, whose affection for his restaurant has enticed him back to the restaurant floor to oversee front of house service. "All the properties in the Capital Group [the Capital hotel, Le Metro, People's Palace, the Greenhouse] have special meaning for me, but having spent so much time working at the Greenhouse early in my career, I feel that it's my baby," he explained.
Merrett, who has previously held a Michelin star, centred his lunch around dishes on his new à la carte menu. "I'm keen to give everybody what we would normally give our customers - the way we'll serve the dishes today is the way we serve them every night," he commented minutes before the lunch got under way.
First up was a potato and parsley velouté ("I can't get over how amazingly fresh that is, the parsley tastes as though they've just picked it from the garden 10 minutes ago," remarked Frank Rosello, food and beverage manager at ETC the Hatton), followed by a robust autumnal casserole of duck liver, snails and pork confit, served with red onion jelly, foie gras and garlic butter ravioli. "Big flavours, but very small portions," was Merrett's description of this dish, although opinion was divided among his guests as to whether the portions were quite small enough.
The third course of crab mayonnaise drew murmurs of appreciation for the zinging freshness of its accompanying mango vinaigrette, as did a palate-cleansing passion-fruit jelly served with a coconut espumas as a pre-dessert. Several people also commented on the way Merrett had combined ingenuity with directness of approach in his cooking.
Straw polls on "best dish" failed to come up with an overall winner, though. Votes were evenly spread, with arguments put forward for every course - from the technically accomplished main course of roasted loin of lamb given an edge by the use of spices (something of a Merrett hallmark), to a clever inside-out apple charlotte.
The inverted element of the latter is something Merrett is particularly proud of. "You've got a slice of apple holed out and filled with an egg custard containing diced bread, so the apple is on the outside and the normal filling on the inside of the dessert. Then we've got a little round of moist sponge spiked with ginger on the top separated from the custard with a twist on baklava - filo pastry, walnuts, cinnamon, butter," he explained. A final kick of apple was given to the dessert with a Bramley apple jelly, while another seasonal spice, nutmeg, was introduced through an ice-cream.
After the meal, guests had a chance to tour the kitchens, with Merrett and his team on hand to answer such pressing questions as: "How on earth do you make the coconut espumas?" Answer: in a pressurised flask.
It provided a suitable finale to a meal memorable not only for its enticing menu, but also for the relaxed professionalism of the Greenhouse's front of house team. The expertise of Mark van der Goot, the restaurant's Australian-born sommelier, was especially appreciated. "The wine pairings were really interesting. He could have gone with safe matches like Cabernet Sauvignon with the lamb, but he didn't and the wines worked really well," said Rosello.
"It's been a contentious issue, matching the wines, because Paul kept changing the menu - I felt like hitting him on more than one occasion," admitted van der Goot, "but it's his day and the food's the star."
British Meat is delighted to sponsor Chef Eats Out, which provides a unique forum for caterers from all sectors of the industry to meet, exchange ideas and experience for themselves how red meat dishes are being incorporated into the menus of some of the best restaurants in the country.
Paul Merrett's cumin-roasted loin of lamb served with sweet potato sauté, smoked aubergine confit, spiced pepper and pine nut jus, provided an excellent example of the way in which quality lamb, which is currently widely available, can be used with great creativity and imagination by one of the country's leading chefs.
Canapes: scallops en croute with cucumber pickle; lobster mayonnaise cornet; and duck tartar with Asian spices
Champagne Laurent Perrier Brut
Potato and parsley velouté with white truffle, poached quail's egg
Casserole of duck liver, snails and pork confit, red onion jelly, foie gras and garlic butter ravioli
Schoffit Tokay Pinot Gris 1998
Devon crab mayonnaise, new potato dauphine, red pepper, balsamic and mango vinaigrette Georg Brauer Rheingau Riesling Sauvage 2000
Cumin-roasted loin of lamb on sweet potato and aubergine confit, spiced pepper and pine nut jus
Clonakilla Hilltops Shiraz 2000
Inside-out apple charlotte, cinnamon filo, ginger sponge, nutmeg ice-cream
JJ Prüm Wehnlener Sonnenruhr Auslese 1997
Coffee and petits fours
- The Greenhouse and Caterer would like to thank wine suppliers Noel Young of Cambridge and Liberty Wines, and crockery specialist La Pulcilana of Brixton, London, for their help in staging Chef Eats Out at the Greenhouse