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By hook and by book

The 17th-century book which inspired the name of the Compleat Angler hotel in Marlow, Buckinghamshire, played a key part in a recent menu served to world-class anglers, sports journalists and angling celebrities at the Forte Heritage property.

Twelve champion anglers took part in a televised Champion of Champions angling competition on the banks of the River Thames on 17 October and this was followed by a gala dinner for 55 covers in the hotel’s Regency Room.

Head chef Alan Swinson sourced original freshwater fish recipes from The Compleat Angler, by Isaak Walton, and based his dishes for the function on them.

“Devising a menu featuring fish isn’t difficult when you can use ingredients such as scallops, but creating a menu featuring just freshwater fish was quite a challenge,” explains Swinson, who asked his regular fish supplier, Billingsgate-based Chamberlain and Thelwell, to source as many varieties of freshwater fish for the event as possible.

A starter of “English freshwater fish soup imbibed with winter herbs” was served, which comprised a rich broth of salmon, carp, pike and eel infused with thyme, parsley, marjoram and rosemary and was served with a puff pastry “net”.

Together with senior sous chef David Morris, Swinson then created a fish buffet – described on the menu as “a piscator’s interpretation of God’s finest food” – for the main course. This featured bream, zander, carp, pike, salmon, trout, oak-smoked trout and smoked eel. Dishes included zander stuffed with herbs, cooked in claret and onions and scented with English apples; and pike stuffed with anchovies and herbs and roasted in an orange sauce. The fish dishes were accompanied by an assortment of salads, including marinated artichokes and asparagus and wild mushroom salad with balsamic and olive oil dressing.

The sweet, entitled Isaak’s Vineyard, is Swinson’s new signature dessert and it was trailed on the table d’hôte menu for several weeks in the run-up to the event (it is currently available on the Riverside restaurant menu at £12.50.) “We played about with the sweet and managed to perfect the dish for the event,” explains Swinson, “I was very happy with the end result.”

Isaak’s Vineyard features layered black and white grape mousses, steeped in red wine and white wine respectively, and served with a sugar twist corkscrew, chocolate grapes and vine leaves and a chocolate swan floating in a “red syrup river” made from a reduction of Fleurie, grape juice, syrup stock and Sauternes.

“The thinking behind this sweet was to emphasise the link between the hotel’s heritage as one of the hostelries actually featured in the original book, our angling heritage and our reputation for fine food and wines,” concludes Swinson.

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