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Bladebone Inn, Bucklebury, Berkshire, United Kingdom

January 1, 2013 Leave a comment

I have lost count how many years I have chatted to Kiren, the current owner of Bladebone Inn, in the social media space; but it’s only in June 2012 that we accidentally bumped into one another in the real world. One of his first questions when we finally met was “when are we going to see you at Bladebone?”. OK, Berkshire is not exactly that far from London but I just did not seem to find that opportunity to visit Bladebone Inn because of all my work travels outside the UK. In fact, there was one time when I got so close to visiting the place, but a business acquaintance decided to take his initiative and book another place in a neighbouring village for dinner instead, thinking that the other place was where I was thinking.

Still, finally just before Christmas, the opportunity came up one lunchtime, en route from London to the west country. I grabbed that opportunity firmly and made sure that it would not slip out of my hands into 2013.

Bladebone Inn is a pub in the quiet village of Bucklebury – thanks to modern technology, the GPS was a much-needed gadget to guide me to this former 17th century inn. Strangely enough, the GPS and mobile phone signal just dropped dead as soon as the pub was in sight. There’s a certain charm to the pub, not just its location, but with its “Dogs and muddy boots welcome” sign at the front door.

Kiren came to the bar area to give us a warm welcome and suggested that we should try his “cheeky little 5-courser”. Even though I’ve got plans for dinner that evening, I thought – why not? A first little plate of “cheese and pineapple” promptly arrived, as a prelude to the 5-course tasting menu. Even for a non-cheddar cheese fan, the salty flavour of the fried Montgomery Cheddar cheese really brought out the sweetness of the pineapple cubes.

Cheese and Pineapple

We were then taken to the table, where brioche was brought to the table. Then Kiren just pushed the plant pots in the middle of the table in front of us, and announced proudly “here’s your first course, Chicken Liver Parfait with Brioche”. The presentation  certainly came as a surprise, as it did look more like a quirky herb pot decoration than an edible dish, with some herb leaves growing out of a dark-brown soil-like layer of dried crumbled malt loaf. Digging down into the “soil”, the chicken liver parfait was revealed. The concept was certainly interesting and made the food look fun. The flavour of the liver was a bit too strong on its own; and it was better when combined with the sweetness of the brioche.

Chicken Liver Parfait Brioche

The next course was like a piece of art on a plate and was brought to the table with a glass dome cover – smoked salmon with beetroot and wasabi mousse. The smoked salmon tasted beautiful, and one piece of beetroot disguised itself as a raw tuna lookalike – it’s only when I cut into it did I realise that it was not tuna at all. The wasabi mousse was not too strong-flavoured which was a relief (some chefs were very good at over-doing it with wasabi and I hated that, unless I had a bad cold and completely blocked nose). The beetroot meringue added the necessary sweetness to the dish. There were beetroot popping candies peppered over the plate, which I thought was not needed. Making the dish fun and playful? Yes, but it lowered the tone of the dish.

Smoked Salmon with Beetroot and Wasabi Mousse

The third course was mackerel with squid ink pearl spelt, mussel, samphire and trout roe. While the mackerel was a little on the dry side on its own, it was saved by the moisture from the spelt. There were a few small crunches of honeycomb which gave that little extra sweetness to the dish. The presentation was once again impressive and looked like some Japanese artwork.

Mackerel with Squid Ink Pearl Spelt, Mussel, Samphire and Trout Roe

The main course was duck breast and confit leg, celeriac, mulled cabbage, beetroot, walnut and blood orange. Whilst the duck breast was a bit tougher than I would have liked, it was still beautifully cooked, and all the ingredients worked well together. With such impressive starters and fish courses earlier on, it was a hard act to follow.

Duck Breast and Confit Leg, Celeriac, Mulled Cabbage, Beetroot, Walnut and Blood Orange

So far the portions were not exactly little, but I enjoyed the lunch immensely. The final course was a light . Apart from the lemon, all the ingredients were locally sourced, according to Kiren. This dessert was light and not too sweet – a very refreshing dish to finish off this wonderful journey for the taste-bud.

Blackberry Mille Feuille with Crab Apple Jelly, Wood Sorrel Sorbet, Lemon and Honeycomb

The presentation and choice of ingredients showed some very promising and impressive, yet playful, ideas, even though some fine-tuning is needed to take this to the next level – it’s only a matter of time. Is this a  future star in the making? I think so. I already look forward to the next visit to Bladebone Inn (hopefully not too long into 2013).

Address:  Chapel Row, Bucklebury, near  Reading, West Berkshire RG7 6PD, England, United Kingdom
Telephone: +44 (0) 118 971 2326
Website: www.thebladeboneinn.com

Opening Hours: Monday-Saturday 12.00-23.00 ; Sunday 12.00-22.30

Food: 7/10
Ambience: 4/5
Service: 4/5
Total: 15/20 [Based on visit in December 2012 ]

John Campbell’s Pop Up at The Pass (23 June 2012)

Introduction

Ever since John Campbell and Olly Rouse’s departures from Coworth Park in 2011, I have been wondering what they would do next. It just seemed such a shame that the immense amount of work building up the magic of Coworth Park suddenly evaporated, and it would be hard to re-create something similar elsewhere. They went quiet for quite a while, and so I was pleasantly surprised and excited when I learnt that they would do a 3-day event with Matt Gillan at The Pass at South Lodge Hotel just outside Horsham 21-23 June.

I knew very early on that I would not be able to make it to the first 2 days as I would be away from the UK for business, so that left me with no choice but to just shoot for Saturday 23 June. Not a bad thing anyway, as I did not have to worry about getting stuck on M25 during evening rush hours just to get to Horsham. I was pleased to go to South Lodge again also, having not been there for over 10 years (last time I stayed at South Lodge was a team-building event at my ex-employer in Horsham – at that time The Pass was not even there, and the hotel was a lot smaller).

There was a masterclass run by John Campbell mid-afternoon, and so I made sure I got to the hotel before then. Even with meticulous planning, M25 as usual worked its magic against me and I was nearly late – fortunately I built in some extra travelling time and that meant I arrived at South Lodge with about half an hour to spare.

Afternoon Masterclass with John Campbell

I took a front row seat at the afternoon masterclass, listening to John sharing his passion on cooking supplemented by his scientific knowledge and understanding in food chemistry, from cooking the different cuts of beef to the use of agar in delivering the flavours in food, as well as making fizzy grapes (imagine sparkling wine in solid fruit state). A lot of good tips and hints for cooking for friends at home – it’s not a matter of making something ultra-complicated a la Heston Blumenthal style, but to understand how all the different ingredients contribute to each dish based on flavours and ultimately timing is the crucial factor for all cooking. The “back to basics” cooking is almost music to my ears. I was already looking forward to dinner by this stage.

 

Pop Up at The Pass

To serve with the aperitif, we were offered some very delicious Jabugo ham – the flavour just burst in the mouth and I had to really control myself not to eat too much of it so that it would spoil my appetite for the evening. The ham came from black Iberian pigs that have been fed on a pure acorn diet for 2 years. We also had a taster of the new olive oil which went from tree to bottle within 2 hours. It was one of the fruitiest olive oils I’ve ever tasted.

 

 

The first dish was Eel served with beetroot, corn, radish and maple. The more sour/acidic taste of radish was balanced by the sweetness of the corn and maple. Even with the sharpness of the beetroot, the dish had a clean fresh flavour. It almost reminded me of the magic of the dishes at Coworth Park.

The second course was Pollack. The fish was beautifully cooked, and I loved the contrast of the crunchy cashew nuts accompanying this dish.  The turnip and cucumber provided an interesting contrasting flavour, and accented with a bit of miso. However, none of the flavours dominated the dish. I could easily have had a second plate of this.

The pigeon dish was next – it was by far the most tender piece of pigeon I’ve ever had, and the flavour was wonderful. The plate was peppered with tiny chocolate flakes. What I thought was supposedly cherries on the plate turned out to be tomatoes – the sweetness was wonderful. The polenta was there to just soak up any remaining bits of the flavour from the plate.

The next course was buffalo cheek which was cooked so well that it literally melted in the mouth. The meat on its own was moist and has a mild flavour, but the dish was transformed when eating the meat together with lemon curd, wasabi meringue, artichoke, pearl barley and basil sauce – suddenly all the flavours came to life in the mouth.

The “cheese” course was Barkam blue cheese with truffle, mint, onion and potato. There are only very few cheeses that I like, and blue cheese is not one of them. Still, the combination of the ingredients is an interesting concept especially with the potato right in front of me. The dish was a twist to onion and cheese crisp (again, not something I’d have usually), and the after-taste certainly reminded me of that. I finished it though it’s not something I’d like to have again, but that’s purely based on personal taste rather than something fundamentally wrong with the dish.

I could not decide whether the sixth course was meant to be a palate cleanser or a proper dessert. Either way, the vibrant red colour on the dish was stunning – it was watermelon batons with moscatel vinegar strawberries, lime and clotted cream. The taste was simply refreshing in the mouth, and it’s a shame that it was not a hot summer evening as I could just see myself sitting outside eating this dish again and again.

The final course was elderflower with peach melba, green tea sponge, baby daikon leaves, raspberry, vanilla and a few broken pieces of langue de chat. The bitterness of the green tea was balanced by the sweetness of the peach; while the langue de chat biscuits added a bit of crunch to the otherwise soft texture of the dish. This dessert was also so light that I could have easily eaten a second plate of it without any problems.

To finish off the dinner, it was the usual plate of petit fours, though we were never told what they were?!

After Thoughts

At the end of the meal, I did not feel that I’ve over-eaten – it was just a very pleasant sensation, feeling that I’ve eaten a light meal, and I don’t feel lethargic. It’s a shame that I was at the tail end of a bad cold; otherwise the enjoyment of the meal would be even greater. It would be difficult to choose one single favourite dish as each of them was good in its own right; the use of simple ingredients to create a symphony of flavours is the way to go – as John has said several times that chefs are custodians of nature’s larder and not magicians, and they should not change what nature has given us.

The best part of the meal for me was actually to speak to John Campbell and hear from him about his vision of cooking and the journey of re-discovering his passion and drive. Bizarrely enough, while I work in a completely different industry, my view in what I do is also “going back to basics” as many people are just too immersed in doing “fancy things” and losing sight in the bigger picture. So I can totally relate to what John is thinking and can share his excitement. If this meal is a preview of what is to come later on this year when he opens his new restaurant venture, it could easily be the most exciting restaurant opening in 2012, and I’m already looking forward to that!

Restaurant Sat Bains, Nottingham, United Kingdom

December 26, 2011 Leave a comment

My UK geography must be worse than I thought – for some reason I thought it’d be a perfect idea to stop over in Nottingham en route from Scotland back to London, as I thought that’s just over the half-way point. It’s only when I figured out the mileage from Scotland to Nottingham that I realised that I might as well drive all the way back to London. Still, it’s “north of Watford” and I thought it’d be a good idea to have a nice meal at Sat Bains and also stock up on the meat at one of my favourite butchers in the UK (JT Beedham in Nottingham). Just by pure coincidence, my friend Val has just moved to Nottingham from Sussex, and it was a perfect opportunity to meet up with her after not seeing each other for years.

The amuse-bouche was Sweetcorn Chowder with Pop-Corn – this was a variation of the same dish from my first visit to Sat Bains. I loved the intensity of the sweetcorn flavour, and the contrast of the crunchy pop-corn worked well with this dish.

Sweetcorn Chowder with Pop-corn

(1) Although I’ve had the famous “Ham, Pea and Egg” a few times now, since Val has never had it, it was only fair for her to try it; and it would be torturous to just watch her eating it, so we all had one each. Although there were a few modifications to the dish, it was still impressive – simple ingredients all come to life in a magical way really.

Ham, Pea and Egg

(2) Pressed Pigs Head with Smoked Haddock and Pickled Vegetables – a rather vibrant colourful dish that looked so much like a piece of modern art that it seemed a shame to eat it. I was half expecting this dish to be heavy on flavour but to my surprise was rather light and refreshing.

Pressed Pigs Head with Smoked Haddock and Pickled Vegetables

(3) Salcombe Bay Crab with Sea Vegetables, Peanuts and Lemon – this was served with a very intensely-flavoured crab bisque. It’s a truly outstanding dish: the rich bold flavour of the bisque was balanced with the sweetness of the peanut brittle; and the contrasting texture of the crab meat and peanut brittle also worked surprisingly well.

Salcombe Bay Crab with Sea Vegetables, Peanuts and Lemon

(4) Oxtail with Pearl Barley and Smoked Bone Marrow – I was not so keen on the presentation of this dish, though it tasted wonderful.

Oxtail with Pearl Barley and Smoked Bone Marrow

(5) Ripley Estate Mallard Duck “Waldorf Flavours” with Stilton and Chicory – I’m not a fan of Stilton cheese but it seemed to work well with the duck, which was cooked beautifully.

Ripley Estate Mallard Duck "Waldorf Flavours" with Stilton and Chicory

(6) “The Crossover” – Buttermilk curd with rocket and tarragon granita. The green colour resembled Japanese matcha, but the curd with the granita worked so well together. I could quite happily eat another bowl of this.

The Crossover

(7) Chocolate with Yoghurt and Cumin Caramel – I was most curious about the cumin caramel and it’s probably one of those things that I’d either like it or hate it. Fortunately it’s something I really liked.

Chocolate with Yoghurt and Cumin Caramel

(8) The Bramley – the caramelised apple with apple sorbet, cider granita and custard worked so well together that I wouldn’t even mind eating this for breakfast and still feel healthy and good about it.

The Bramley

Restaurant Sat Bains continues to deliver exceptional food, and with this high quality I was not surprised to see that in October 2011 it finally gained the long-awaited second Michelin star that it deserved. Now I just need to plan my next visit to Nottingham in 2012.

Address: Lenton Lane, Nottingham, NG7 2SA, United Kingdom
Telephone: +44(0)115 986 6566
Website: www.restaurantsatbains.com
Opening Hours: Lunch: Tuesday to Saturday 12:15 onwards (Chef Table only) ; Dinner: Tuesday to Saturday: 19:00-21:00

Food: 9/10
Ambience: 5/5
Service: 5/5
Total: 19/20 [Based on visit in November 2011]