Before you set about my spring 2015 Seasonal Dinner Party timeplan, see what it was like for one of my guests and friends, the completely unbias cookery editor, Lucy Blackwell…
Aperitif: A whisky cocktail served in vintage-style sherry glasses
Amuse bouche: Purple asparagus sashimi served on vintage floral saucers
Starter: Rhubarb and red bream ceviche
Main course: Velveted turkey on cauliflower purée with purple sprouting broccoli, morels and Jersey Royal crisps
Palate cleanser: Pomegranate and rose jelly
Dessert: Espresso cream
The wine: Comte de Brismand Champagne Brut, Condesa de Leganza Tempranillo 2011, Kosi Bay Sauvignon Blanc
The setting: A flat of regal proportions, in a rabbit’s warren of a converted period property, on a Kilburn road a mere stone’s throw from the tube station.
The guests: A collection of media types including Eat In editor Sheena Correa, the Meat Trade Journal’s Oliver Haenlein and Picture Editor Matt Thurston.
Conversation: Celebrity arrogance and integrity; smoker’s etiquette and quitting; pickles, pickles and more pickles (our lovely hostess had a kitchen full of them for some upcoming recipe development); can food be macho?; the publishing industry then and now; where and how to buy property in London; how to achieve the perfect work/life balance; the pronunciation of words (‘porcelain’ in particular created quite the divide); the legality or otherwise of bestiality in Denmark; and the ethics of stripping – who is really winning?
And now for how it played out… We found the venue without a problem and following a buzzer-related mistake, which led to a brief encounter with a confused neighbor, managed to track down Miss Seasonal Dinner Parties in her beautiful, spacious North London flat.
The fun began as soon as Miss SDP herself opened the door. We were welcomed with our aperitif – iced tea laced with more whisky that is perhaps wise for a Wednesday evening and a dash of bitters to finish. This heady concoction is definitely not one for the faint-hearted, but the iced tea had a wonderfully calming effect on the harsh kick of the spirit.
The mahogany table nestled in the huge bay window was already set for our cosy culinary adventure, complete with an oriental lantern centrepiece. Soft lighting and the mellow strains of Nina Simone and Billie Holiday completed the scene. After the welcome drinks had done their work and the cork was popped on our first bottle of bubbly, we took our seats and were served an amuse bouche as pretty as a picture – paper-thin shards of asparagus drizzled with lemon dressing and a sprinkling of pea flowers. I’d never tried raw asparagus before and this delicious dish had me wondering why I hadn’t. The zesty dressing spiked with punchy pink peppercorns and a sweet note of mint honey brought vibrancy to the dish, but without overpowering the fresh, almost cleansing quality of the raw asparagus. It was a perfect pairing for our sherbety fizz. It lasted about 30 seconds.
Next up was the starter. The piquant ceviche featured delicate bream, buttery avocado and fragrant coriander. It was served in chicory boats, which added a satisfying crunch and background bitterness. And the raw rhubarb I hear you ask? Worked a treat.
We then enjoyed a welcome little break while our hostess preparedthe main course and we moved on from bubbles to white or red, depending on our preferred poison, while reflecting on our own gastronomic good fortune so far. The main dish when it arrived took us from the spice and zing of sashimi and ceviche down a more traditional route – well, at first glance at least. Velveted turkey and sprouting broccoli were piled atop a silky smooth cauliflower purée packed with pungent garlic and finished with a morel mushroom sauce. Delve a little deeper though and Miss SDP’s trademark twists start to surface. The morel mushroom sauce benefitted from a sweet hit of orange zest and chilli jam, which was in turn undercut by an unexpected, but not unwelcome, wasabi warmth. Mustn’t forget that drizzle of truffle oil either, which lent an ever so subtle overall muskiness. Jersey crisps and wild garlic were more than just pretty garnishes, adding both flavour and texture. I devoured this with the Kosi Bay Sauvignon Blanc, a tart white with topical fruit flavours and a crisp finish that cut through the creaminess of the cauliflower purée and velveted poultry. The red drinkers opted for the Tempranillo. For those not familiar with the term ‘velveting’ by the way, it refers to a tenderising process commonly used in Chinese cooking whereby poultry is marinated in cornflour, egg white and something acidic like sherry or Chinese cooking wine. This is designed to prevent the meat from drying out during cooking, giving it a silky texture and it certainly served its purpose here with our flash-fried strips of turkey breast.
Now for the palate cleanser. I must own to not being the world’s biggest fan of rose – to me, that level of perfume is for skin, not stomach – but this little number was a Turkish Delight lover’s dream. A shot of seductively wobbly soft-set rose jelly studded with crunchy pomegranate seeds and finished with a smattering of dried rose petals. It was delicate, light and fragrant.
Our final course was a beautifully executed espresso mousse finished off with a touch of warming nutmeg. It was rich, unctuous and if anything is going to turn me into a coffee addict, this is. And then, all too soon, we had come to the end of our soirée. And what a soirée it was. I left feeling elated and it wasn’t just the effects of the booze…