It was a scorcher….

Well, we could not have planned our latest round of dinners any better… it was some thought foolhardy to try and host two dinners back to back “up the garden” totally alfresco. It was ambitious on many levels as we had to transport food from the kitchen across the decking down to the bottom of our long garden.

As we monitored the weather, prior to the dinners, we were pleased to see there was a predicted heat wave on its way and so the fears of being rained upon or being unseasonably chilly were forgotten and we readied ourselves.

The menu we put together was one we had devised for an aborted “pop up” in a lavender field .Too good to not offer to our guests and so we decided to run it at our own secret venue.

The day arrived and the sun shone.  We readied our patio with gazebo and the fire-pit was all stoked up.  It was a gorgeous evening with warmth lingering as the sun set across the patio. The Friday night was a more genteel evening for us as we only had six diners in total, as guests arrived we then realised it was to be a bit of a wedding anniversary fest as one set were celebrating 40 years each and the other was a mere “whipper snapper” at 27 years! We served up our welcome drink, a glass of kir royal, and our nibbles were little shot glasses of chilled fresh asparagus soup, butter popcorn dusted with smoked paprika and some slices of Catalan Fuet Salami.

With the fire-pit glowing we then began the process of cooking the meats, as we served up the first course. A Smoked Haddock, Potato and Apple Brawn garnished with a horseradish cream and melba toast – it was a great way to start a meal as it was light and summery with good fresh flavours. The haddock was barely cooked as it was warmed by the hot apple juice jelly as it was poured into the moulds that set the brawn. I will have to experiment with some other versions of this for some future dinners I think! ( A jambon persille will likely appear at a future dinner now!)

So the meats we then cooked on the fire-pit were rumps of Lamb that had been studded with garlic and rosemary, boneless chicken thighs were marinated in garlic, olive oil lemon juice and chopped thyme. Some wonderful thick Magret de Canard (Barbary Duck Breasts) and then sausage were turned with regularity to ensure an even cooking and then at the last minute we placed some large shell on king prawns to grill.

All this was served with our chosen salads – Green Bean with toasted pine nuts, Cherry Tomato with thinly sliced red onions Olive Oil Baslamic Vinegar and Fresh Basil and a grated carrot with an onion and roasted cumin dressing for a bit of a kick. Pots of homemade aoili were provided to accompany the prawns & meats. Bowls of butter minted boiled new potatoes were also served.

Guests tucked in on both nights to a veritable feast and much praise for the lamb and duck breast. In fact there was little left over as we cleared plates away in readiness of our next course. In true French fashion we served our cheese selection. A local cheddar cheese and favourite… Winterdale Shaw from Wrotham Hill – now a totally carbon neutral cheese-  was served alongside a piece of Stichleton an unpasteurised “Stilton” cheese and then a piece of fresh goats cheese that was served with some of our homemade banana jam and our veritable Porridge oat biscuits.

The final course served was a melee of summer fruits, Local Strawberries, Raspberries, Cherries and Blueberries served with a scoop of earl grey & lavender sorbet and also some of our homemade strawberry parfait. With a freshly baked shortbread biscuit that was topped with some foraged meadowsweet pollen sugar it made an interesting combination with a glass of our Muscat de Rivesaltes dessert wine.

As the light faded on both nights and the evening temperature cooled we lit the garden with candle bags and fairy lights and guests conversations ebbed and flowed. It was a really magical atmosphere that seemed to have all leaving enthused by the experience and the comments afterwards in our guest book and by some of the guests on twitter were much appreciated.

from – @lemezma it was absolutely amazing. On behalf of @emzylemez & me thank you so much ;)

and from @Leilanimitchel – AMAZING evening at @MrHariCovert s secret restaurant, a birthday surprise for @mark_head, the surprise was its not his birthday for ages!

It was a tough couple of nights for us as we had to lug all the food up and down the garden and we had a total of 16 guests on the Saturday night and it was a very hot night as well so I must say a big thanks to my helper Julia… she is the unsung hero behind all my events as she has to put up with my mood swings and tantrums as we battle to give the guests a secret adventure to remember!

In between our two nights was also an event I was keen to support and glad I did. A regular attendee and patron of Hari Covert’s is Laura Goode who was behind  the Tunbridge Wells Food Swap. The idea was to grow it, make it and then swap it! There was to be a clandestine meeting of like minded foodies scheduled to be like a flash mob in central Tunbridge Wells on Saturday 13th July at 11am when we would all bring along our chosen foods to swap with others.

Well I had arisen early Saturday to make up two loaves of fresh Moodley’s Beer Bread to go with already packaged up jars of Strawberry Coulis and a couple of jars of Strawberry Jam, and bags of Porridge Oat biscuits with little bags of my salt & pepper mix and a recipe sheet to have a go and make some of their own!

It was great fun to see what I could swap and I must admit I was delighted with my haul of a lovely fresh baked sour dough loaf made by @JPJanetPenny that went down well with my Saturday night guests and the little chocolate and almond petit fours by @sunnyingrid were also well devoured by my guests.

A gorgeous Lemon Drizzle Cake (thanks Sharon) and some of Mike Goode’s Welsh cakes with a cup of tea were also much appreciated. I have yet to sample @TunWellsFoodie Chilli Jam and Laura’s Sun Dried Tomato and Almond Pesto and then Adele’s Spiced Plum Chutney – it was a great simple idea and I urge all fellow foodies to sign up on the web site here and look out for the next one which I think is scheduled for sometime in September – they also have a Facebook page and twitter profile so make sure you follow them if not already doing so!

So it was a real scorcher of a weekend… we are now taking a break till September… we hope to see you sometime soon and please keep checking our site for the latest posting or why not sign up to get our regular newsletters.

Have a fun filled summer break… we will !

Hari C

PS some of the photos are by Leilani who was a guest on Saturday!

In Vino Veritas dinners… a report

Well that is our November dinners now complete and it is the rush to Christmas now… Booking for the Ho Ho Ho Christmas nights are now open and we still have some spaces up for grabs!

These dinners were a first for us in so much we decided to ask wine merchants Rodney Fletcher Vintners to supply wines to match the food and also proprietor Tim Fletcher was on hand to guide the guests through the process.

It was an ambitious menu and also quite a big one with five courses and following on from the welcome aperitif there were a total of nine different wines over the five courses!

It was a menu designed to showcase some good seasonal produce and included a few dishes inspired by some good local products as well.

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We kicked the dinners off with some nibbles that were designed to go with the first wine… An English Sparkling wine from Marden called Herbert Hall. This is a really lovely bubbly comparable to champagne and we were informed by Tim now chosen by none other than HRH Prince Charles to have as his own label on it and to be served to guests at Highgrove! We served it with three hot canapés namely little shot glasses of tomato and wild garlic soup (I am sparingly using up my home-made and personally foraged wild garlic pesto!) Some cheese pastry pinwheels and then some little toasts topped with bone marrow and a dollop of balsamic vinegar glaze!

As guests seated Tim deftly ensured glasses in place for the first two wines that went with the starter course. This was a cold salad starter of Green Beans with Cob Nuts and Pastrami… the green beans were also mixed with some dried green beans or what the Swiss call Dörrbohnen a staple normally served hot with a smoked sausage or a braised rolled piece of ham. I had pre cooked the beans and mixed them cold into the salad. The added crunch of chopped local cob nuts and slices of pastrami topped with a dressing of a bearnaise sauce flavoured with tarragon completed what one diner @moiramcb described as a highlight. The wines served with this were Altano Douro Branco 2011 – Symington Estates, Portugal and the Cousino Macul – Sauvignon Gris 2010 Maipo Valley, Chile more on how they faired later!

Next course of this mammoth five course dinner was a dish we served at our true underground dinner in the cellar of Winterdale Shaw… a double cooked cheese soufflé this time topped with some smoked haddock. We used vintage Gruyere cheese and served with a little rocket salad garnish. With this the two wines Tim and I had chosen were perhaps surprising for some a Pinot Gris Prestige 2010 Michel Wust Cave de Cleebourg -  from Alsace and then from Crotia Bolfan Primus Reisling 2008 – Again guest raved about this dish as I explained was a easy to prepare but stunning dish to execute… for those keen you can find the recipe here just replace the cheddar with another strong hard cheese and top it with some chopped smoked haddock for this variation!

The main course came next and again this was a dish I felt would be fitting for the dinner… a spicy Moroccan Lamb Tajine that would be served with a vegetable cous cous. It had taken two days to prepare with the cubes of lamb shoulder marinated in the spices overnight and then slowly braised with dried apricots, sultanas and flaked almonds to make a really unctuous dish. We decided this dish needed something bold and gutsy on the wine front and Tim’s suggestion of two red wines provided much discussion Domaine des Tourelles 2008/9 – BekaaValley – Lebanon and then Chateau Rossenovo Mavrud 2009 – Southern Black Sea, Bulgaria were the wines served.

As the guests seemed to be enjoying these wines so much we decided to stick with the reds to serve with the cheese course that we had planned to serve after the pudding but we kept to French and Hari tradition of cheese before pudding… The cheeses chosen this time were two favourites Winterdale Shaw and Stichleton…the blue cheese made like a Stilton but from unpasteurised milk.

The final dish we served was an Apple & Pine Nut Torte with a toffee sauce and a ball of vanilla ice cream, a good seasonal dish to finish with! The wines chosen here were also something of a bold move as we decided on a classic French dessert wine Chateau Ma Passion 2008 Bernard Dornic, Monbazillac and slightly more radical we went back to the Lebanon for Chateau Kefraya Lacrima D’Oro Lebanon 1993 a wine that ended up causing much discussion on both nights that on the scoring’s pipped the Monbazillac at the post as the favourite of the two dessert wines.

We had decided to ask guests to score their wines out of ten as a bit of fun just to see what was liked and what was less liked… it made interesting reading. I can report the following… the favourite of the night was the bubbles from Herbert Hall… a local wine that seemed to go down well with a good proportion of the guests as over 50% of the guests awarded 9 and over out of 10.

Next it was a tie between the Pinot Gris from Alsace served with the Soufflés and then the Chateau Kefraya served with the dessert! It amazed me to find on the Saturday morning I had a mention on my Twitter time line from Rhea Semaan (the Commercial Delegate at Château Kefraya – Export, PR & Communications, Event Management) stating the following “that vintage of Chateau Kefraya Lacrima d’Oro is a trophy winner & a rare one to find nowadays! Amazing” seems unbelievable to think the world of covert dining is reaching the ears far and wide.

Overall it was a really fun couple of days that seemed to go down very well in fact it was so oversubscribed we could have filled a third night!!! Having Tim supply the wines was for me both fascinating and a challenge to come up with dishes to ensure they match the wines. It was also amusing to see how different opinions were on the wines and for me the quote of the night has to go to Tim after a very boisterous first night as he served the sweet wines with the dessert! “The one on the left is the Lebanese the one on the right is the French one, Now eat your pudding”

We hope our guests had as much fun as we did and learnt something along the way…It was fascinating to find the Alsace wine coming second as Tim reflected this regions wines are the hardest for merchants to sell but the guests clearly loved it! One comment in our Guestbook remarked how fascinating it was to try wines from regions not normally found within the supermarkets and challenging to try something different!

For me though always having been a lover of dessert wines it was good to see that both our dessert wines proved popular and then the English Sparkling knocked all the “foreign johnnies” for six!

The league table for the wines finished as follows!

1: Herbert Hall – scored 9.11

2: Pinot Gris Alsace – scored 8.33

2: Château Kefraya – scored 8.33

4: Ma Passion – scored 7.61

5: Domaine Tourelle – scored 7.38

6: Mavrud  - scored 7.27

7: Altano Branco – scored 7.22

7: Bolfan Reisling – scored 7.22

9: Cousino Macul -scored 6.11

Comments welcome…

Hari Covert

October Feast… Hari Fest a report…

We had a very busy weekend with a full house on both nights for our last couple of Hari nights which we loosely named “October Feast”… in fact it was an interesting couple of nights as we decided to do something a little different. Firstly we did a simpler menu, with a choice of dishes for each of the three courses, and then we also did it a little cheaper than our normal donation as it was all a little bit simpler.

Crab Cake…

It all seemed to go down well and what was interesting was the fact that we had  a high proportion of new guests and quite a few parties of two who were forced to share tables. We have tried all sorts of table configurations with our guests… separate tables, a single large one, but what now seems to work best for us is two large tables of six.

It is also quite interesting to find each night is very different with a differing dynamic at the dinners. This time the Friday night we had mostly two’s which meant there was a more rowdy feel to the room whilst the Saturday had one larger party who had their own table and then the other table of four and two seemed to all get on like a house on fire.

We are always fascinated to see how our guests get on and enjoy the experience. We have had some admit to us they were so nervous about where they were coming to etc,

Moodley’s Braised Beef Steak

they drove past the day before to just check us out. Others have said they love the whole mystery of coming out for a meal not knowing whether they will like the food, company etc, to find themselves going home having made new friends and eaten food they would never have dreamt of eating!

We like to try and slightly challenge our guests to try something new and for many they might find it a big ask but this is all part of the fun. Our recent Chinese nights were for one party a big eye-opener as they admitted to me afterwards they were not normally keen on Chinese but we had converted them… then we had one guest admit at a dinner he did not normally eat pork but he loved the main course that was pork done three different ways!

Panga Fish Fillets with caper & lemon butter sauce

The best way to enjoy a secret supper is to enter into the spirit of the evening… be open minded about the food, company and the whole event and you will have some real fun. One guest at the last dinners even admitted realising my name was not Hari Covert had dreamt up a complete new persona for herself and was thinking of becoming a high class hooker for the night making out her husband, who she thoughtfully was dining with, was her pimp. It caused much mirth and merriment amongst her fellow diners on the table when she admitted it had been her plan but she ended up just being “plain Jane from Tonbridge” (not her real name or abode).

For us it never ceases to amaze us how guests gel and my side kick commonly known as  “the hands” is oft confused as my wife but has been a friend, former neighbour and work colleague over a great many years, she seems to relish meeting each new and returning guest.

She perfectly seems to put those nervous ones at ease and make them relax whilst the

Cheese Selection

more boisterous and cheeky guests (you know who you are “Terry”) are dealt with aplomb and wit. Her normal day job would make many a toe curl as she works with much of societies detritus in a secure environment and has many a tale to tell that certainly keeps me in stitches… she will take no prisoners…so be warned!

So yet another couple of dinners, are complete and, as is now our policy, to open bookings the day after completing that months dinners. We posted on the next day our November In Vino Veritas dinners and booking form and by the Monday morning we have had 40 people clambering for just 24 places – a first for us and a very humbling thought that there are so many wanting to sample what we offer.

Iced Strawberry Parfait with warm shortbread

We have also been thinking hard about what our plans will be for 2013 and we have just the December dinners to now put the final touches to.

There is much planning go on behind the scenes as we have also been helping a local business open a “pop up” shop for the Xmas period – more on that soon  and we are also hoping to announce something a bit different for the Xmas period that might appeal to some of you out there keen to become better cooks. More on this soon.

If you have never tried a supper club then give them a go… they are fun, different and a real social challenge for those that are a bit shy but we think we will convert you. Check out the following site for more information on where to find them and remember if you want to book Hari you will need to be quick when the booking opens (or ask us about your own exclusive night here at HQ or even in your own home).

Just remember to be open minded and you will find the experience will be rewarding and

yummy….

different and not like your normal dining out adventure.

We hope to see you soon…

Hari Covert

covert by name, covert by nature.

Chinese Memories – a review

Well we have now completed the return visit of Chef But with his second visit with again two highly enjoyable nights… These nights take some planning and organisation as it is quite an involved feat to cook a banquet of some ten dishes in a domestic kitchen…

I have known Chef But for over thirty years and we have cooked many a dinner and done many a promotional event together. We have taken Chinese food to the Scilly Isles, East Anglia, Hampshire and other parts near and far. He has always been a pleasure to cook with as he is such a professional and as equally enthusiastic about food as I am!

We used to often meet for a Sunday Dim Sum lunch following a bout of tennis in the morning and follow that lunch with a slap up tea at a 5 star hotel… oh the days before marriage and family commitments!

I dashed down the motorway on Thursday morning to pick B and his wife Sue up from East Croydon station followed by a quick trip up to Wing Yip “the big” Chinese supermarket. It is a veritable emporium of all things Asian and the source of much that we needed so following a quick bite to eat in the restaurant next door we loaded up the car and headed back to HQ to start preparing.

It’s always fascinating to see how much hard work goes into the events we do and this one was no exception, we worked solidly until early evening prepping the meats and the smells emanating from the kitchen wafted throughout my home.

It was also slightly stressful as B announced the little bottle of “Lye Water” he had brought with him had been damaged in transit and he was in dire need of more! Well firstly trying to understand what Lye Water was or is, meant a Google search to discover it is a caustic soda and water mix used in soap making and in some cases for pastry. Hence the need for Chef But and his impending noodle demo!

A quick request via twitter revealed a place nearby in Tunbridge Wells should stock it but a phone call revealed it was not availible and the person on the phone went on to tell me it is something now illegal… this was news to chef But as he has been using it for over 30 years in his noodle making process and still able to purchase from other chinese emporia.

Another fellow tweeter kindly posted a little (you tube) video on how we could make our own and in fairness if we had time and a large plastic oil drum knocking about we might have considwered it! Anyway chef But soldiered on and duly managed without and we continued to prepare the banquet menu.

So onto the dinners… we always find the first night harder than the second – I guess it is to be expected… first night nerves and doing dinners back to back we have an easier task on night two as some prep work is already done. These dinners were no different and we had a full house both nights. A two of no shows on the second night was somewhat annoying as we had turned others away and we pride ourselves in ensuring all those attending will turn up so this was a first and all rather annoying!!!!

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So what about the food well I am going to say it all went down rather well with some lovely comments and I will direct you to the following blog written by one of our guests who was in attendance on the Friday night. Check out Laura’s comments and lovely pictures here

We rounded each evening off with the noodle demo and if you have never seen it then just check out this little video from last years dinners. Chef But has hardly aged!!!

The following comments from our guestbook say it all…

“What a marvellous experience, every course hit the spot and Mr But’s noodles perfectly formed!. Great Evening…” Claire & Graeme

“I did not like “Chinese” until tonight”Mark

“Lovely evening… food was amazing and & atmosphere great… our 4th visit so expect nothing less! Thanks Hari”Emma & Nathan

“We thoroughly enjoyed watching you get your noodles in a twist!!! Seriously what an excellent evening ! Fabulous flavours that came through each individual dish, an absolute delight – Thank You”Russell & Ruth

The last comment means much to us as these guests travelled all the way from Chelmsford in Essex braving the M25 and the Dartford crossing on a Friday evening… that is what we call dedication to the cause!

Chef But has also left me three signed copies of his Memories of China Cookbook so if you are interested in purchasing a copy then please let me know via the following form. The cost of the book will be £10 plus P&P (£3 profit on the book will be donated to charity!)

Signed Book…

Cheers

Hari C

Bastille Day… a storming night…

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It was a bit of French theme here for our last dinner… As one of the nights fell exactly on the French national holiday of le 14 Juillet we felt it was only proper to celebrate such a day in an appropriate fashion.

In fact our dinners were due to kick off on an auspicious date of Friday 13th July and we ended up having to cancel this one due to a lack of numbers. I think there were just too many suffers of Triskaidekaphobia out there to attend…! In a way it was a bit of a blessing as I had spent the previous ten days trying to shake a chest infection and was only just back into the land of living!

Well this months dinner was to be as feast of French classic dishes… to kick the evening off we served a glass of Kir Normande… A refreshingly chilled French cider with a slug of creme de cassis. The nibbles we served with it were some warmed toasts topped with bone marrow and then a shot glass of prawn and lobster bisque.

The first course was a classic Porc Rillettes – slow roasted pork belly that is then pulled apart when hot with forks, the cooking liquor/fat is added to the warmed meat before being set. This served with some baby gherkins and some fresh slices of toasted bread is a simple peasant food that we hope kicked the meal off well.

Next for the main we served a plump pink roasted breast of Barbary Duck. Magret de Canard is the classic meat of the South West region of France and these breasts had been initially seared to remove some of the excess fat before a coating of sugar on the skins were crisped in their final roasting. The sauce we served was a fresh cherry one using local cherries, these cut into the fattiness and richness of the meat perfectly. The serving of a creamy potato gratin dauphinoise and some green beans wrapped in a slice of parma ham completed the dish.

In true French fashion we then served a selection of Fromages Francaise which included a triple creme Vignotte, a goats cheese log, Camembert, Roquefort, and a rather unctuous Epoisses. All served with our porridge oat biscuits.

The little pre dessert we served up next was a taste of summer! I know not something we were accustomed to in a rain soaked UK but a little home-made strawberry parfait with a fresh local raspberry got the taste buds tingling for the final flurry…

Finally we served a creme brulee with summer berries, notably raspberries and blackberries with a glass of our dessert tipple Muscat de Rivesaltes… not long now till we decamp to our home in the village for hopefully some warm summer sun!

Guests well fed and relaxed, conversation flowed and comments within our guest book made me smile as it was evident guests had really entered into the spirit of the French theme with their comments in French and Franglais!

So now as we plan ahead for the period after our summer break… First up will be a return visit of our friend Mr Kam Po But with a couple of Chinese nights in September, in October we are planning a simpler dinner with a slightly cheaper price as we are conscious that we give all types of diners chance to sample a Hari experience. Then in November we are planning to host some special wine dinners. The idea for these will be a seasonal four course dinner with two specially selected wines at each course. Will hopefully be able to announce more soon.

Then December will be upon us and we will be hosting a couple of Christmas inspired nights followed by as usual some private party lunches the following week that will be a chance for parties to book and celebrate the festive season in a slightly more novel way!

So watch this space and make sure you book early for the More Chinese Memories as we are filling up fast and it will be a couple of very special nights!!!

Cheers

Hari Covert

Best of British… a report

Well we have had a busy and hectic time with our Best of British dinners that we recently held at the Olive Stores in Brenchley.

We first met the owner Sarah Crysell when she was a guest at our Cheese dinners at Winterdale Shaw last September. We were impressed by her little deli & cafe when we visited and were delighted when she invited us to host some dinners there.

We planned initially to do a dinner last November with Brewer Yudhistra Moodley but had to postpone until January this year and we had a really fun night when we put together a five course veggie feast with his Moodleys Beers.

Well this time we did the two nights with twenty plus guests each night. It is always a challenge to cook in someone else’s kitchen as it means we have to ensure we take every last little thing with us!

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This month we felt it was only right and proper to showcase some great British produce as it will be an action packed summer what with the Queens Diamond Jubilee and then the hosting of the Olympics. In fact we had not fully realised the significance of the weekend what with the start of the Olympic Torch relay and start of ramping up of the Royal celebrations.  We also felt as we head into summer there is a real abundance of some great produce to be had. However the biggest challenge was getting hold of one of the key components. We had such a warm March and then a cold and wet April it has meant the local Asparagus has been a very late and slightly scarce crop this year.

We decided also to kick the meal off with our welcome drink of Bucks Fizz – we used a sparkling Perry with this and served some very British nibbles. Butter and Marmite on little toasts was one, a delicate chilled cucumber and dill soup and then some little mini toad in the holes with some onion jam.

First course was some fresh poached asparagus with Devon crab served as a stack with crisp filo pastry and garnished with some parsley oil.  A savoury concoction that was designed to be a light but visually impressive start to the meal.

The main course we called “This little piggy” as it was to be a bit of a pork fest. We served a pair of pigs cheeks that had been braised in apple juice and then a piece of pork belly that had been slowly poached in lard (confit) that was then crisped in the oven. The belly served with some apple puree to cut the richness of the meat. The garnish was broad beans and Jersey Royals potatoes.

Next we served a selection of the Olive Stores cheeses that they use themselves and sell across their deli counter… what better way to showcase some of the produce they serve..They were Winterdale Shaw, the cheddar made on top of Wrotham Hill, a mild Somerset Brie and then a blue cheese called Smelly Apeth. We had again made our porridge oat biscuits that are something of a signature for us and do take a good while to make. Check out the recipe here

To complete the meal we then served a sherry trifle that we served in individual glasses. The sponge fingers base was soaked well with sherry and then some fresh local strawberries and we then made a custard infused with the worlds most expensive spice… saffron. This is the stamens of an autumn crocus that gives a bright vivid yellow colour but also a lovely scented flavour. It is a spice that is both very expensive and well-known in British cuisine.

To complete the meal with the coffee we served a quintessential British sweetmeat namely fudge but with the twist of the addition of peanut butter.

Our guests were a mixture of new and old and it never ceases to amaze me how they clammer for the spaces. When we initially opened the bookings we found we filled all within the first 48 hours and as numbers fluctuated for assorted reasons we found we were able to fill the vacant spaces quickly from a reserve list…. It is always worth asking for the reserve list if the web site says we are full as we have often found numbers have dipped with these larger events.

So if you attended these dinners we hope you enjoyed them as much as we did. It was a challenge as we know the small kitchen at the Olive Stores has its limitations but overall we think we did a good job… would love the hear what you think! My thanks to Sarah for letting us use her lovely place and we hope to see you there in the future we certainly love popping in for one of their gorgeous cakes a cuppa or something more substantial!

It was also a big foodie event in central Tunbridge Wells over the weekend with the 2nd Pantiles Food Festival. I was a little busy on the Saturday so did not get chance to pop along but on Sunday late morning I managed to pop into the town to have a quick wander.

It was crowded with people and seemed bigger and more varied than last years and as I wandered around I was tempted by everything from bread stalls, cupcakes and vegetables  including some local asparagus! There was one stall that caught my eye with its clever branding. The packaging of black and red boxes for chocolates made using a quintessential British drink Sloe Gin had the very clever name of “Sloe Seduction” Now the marketing possibilities with this got my brain working overtime as I tried to think of how I could use their product…will keep you posted.

There was a crowd watching the cookery demos but it was a talk at 1pm that had got my interest. Damian Allsop is a chocolatier who is based just outside of Tunbridge Wells and I was keen to hear him talk and also sample his chocolates.

He was previously a pastry chef with the likes of Gary Hollihead and Gordon Ramsey and a stint in Spain where he met his wife before he moved to his unit located in Eridge. He has had some great exposure recently with a judging slot on Masterchef. It is however how he makes chocolates that is quite revolutionary. Instead of using cream or butter to make his ganache fillings he uses water.

It was a fascinating talk as he tried to explain the differences between the quality of chocolate and how to recognise the nuances when tasting and what led him to make his chocolates with water and the challenges this brings.

He was so passionate and erudite in his presentation it was hard not to be impressed. I am now keen to visit his set up and explore more about his art and craft. His list of places he supplies with chocolates for their petit fours is impressive and he has some interesting future ideas that he touched upon.

So it had been a fun packed weekend with much to ponder upon. Our June dinners are now open for booking and we already have one night full so be quick if you want to sample a sizzling little dinner!

Cheers

Hari C

Our Birthday Bashes… a report

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Phew what a week of celebrations!!!

It seems unbelievable that we have now been cooking and serving secret dinners for two years… and what a two years it has been… what is more amazing is we now have nearly 1000 followers on Twitter and over 80 Facebook likes and some 60 plus subscribers to this blog as well as a mailing list of over 300 people. What started as a bit of a social experiment has become something of a monster that continues to gain momentum.

When we set out it was to proove a point that social media would be the way forward and well it seems as though you have embraced it with open arms and now clamour to be part of it and want more. We hope we can continue to provide an alternative to the traditional restaurant experience and welcome more to our home and give you something novel and just a touch different.

Well as I said what a celebration… a full house on both nights was what we had and not only that we had a night on the Friday where we were on tenterhooks as we awaited the results of the Torchlight Dinner Auction for the Hospice in the Weald. More about that in a bit.

We had decided as it was to be a birthday celebration we needed to do something a little bit more special! So the first course was to be based around liver – a Fresh Foie Gras as one component and then chicken livers as the other! So a smooth chicken liver parfait went out with a spoonful of homemade banana & date chutney and a slice of toasted brioche. The Foie Gras was seared and then served on top of a fresh rhubarb coulis to cut the richness… The pink coulis had a wonderful colour and also a delightful tartness. Well it all seemed to go down well and one diner on the Saturday night after having eaten one parfait hinted as to whether there was another spare one and promptly managed to finish a second one! This was not bad for someone who had admitted to us they did not like liver!!!

Next we served a double thick entrecôte steak that was trimmed of all fat and sinew. It was then roasted and topped with a breadcrumb crust with the addition of bone marrow, shallots, thyme and chopped parsley. This is a dish inspired by an Austrian/German chef Eckart Witzigmann who is something of a legend in Europe and inspired my early culinary career.

The bone marrow is something that we seemed to have forgotten as a food and some think it vile but I recently came across a great blog with some lovely recipes. I cannot wait to try the marrow on toast as a potential appetiser as I managed to purchase just over 10kg of the marrow bones from a great little butchers in Cranbrook.

We served our cheese boards next this time we had a couple of favourites Winterdale Shaw and Stichelton as the British representatives and a fresh goats cheese which we topped with a slug of olive oil and some truffle aged basalmic vinegar along with a mild tasting tomme de montagne completed the French contingent!

The final flourish was an Orange and Polenta cake that we served with a scoop of Sea Buckthorn sorbet. This ice cream is a first for the local artisan producer Taywells Ice Cream and is we believe the only manufacturers of this flavour.

Then a few days later we hosted a private dinner for a group… it was a surprise celebration for a young lad (Chris) that his girlfriend Lydia had managed to keep as a secret with much anguish for over 4 months since she had first enquired about hosting his special birthday bash… So we served an exclusive dinner to a party that had travelled from all over the place… it ended up being a really raucous evening. They tucked into some of our favourite dishes…They also left us some lovely comments in our guest book. So we think we have managed to celebrate in style!

The icing on the cake has to be the result of the Auction with the Hospice in the Weald Torchlight dinner I mentioned earlier… we had donated a prize to them that meant yours truly would be cooking for a private party of six persons… We had also because otherwise detained with our own suppers been unable to attend the dinner put together a little promotional video. With the generous help of two twitter followers @ambersandvideos and @copyconsultant to help on the video that was shot at Hever Castle to add something novel in the bid process.

We launched the video a couple of weeks before the dinner to help the promotion and had received some pre-bids. However on the night we are led to believe there was much frivolity and interest over the item that it was hotly contested by two parties. Anyway we raised £1,100 for the Hospice on the proviso if we could do a second dinner for the dejected second bidder they too would donate the same amount… how could we refuse so £2,200 was raised and we look forward to cooking for the parties concerned… The chefs who are assisting me in this were more than happy to donate their service for the extra money and so we think it was a job well done all in all.  The video we are informed certainly helped the process along  so if you have not seen it yet it can still be viewed here.

So that was our week of celebrations and now we are planning our next dinners… more on them soon and also another charity initiative to launch that will take Underground Dining to new heights - literally… so watch this space!

Cheers

Hari

Moodley’s Beer Bread… the recipe

The recent dinner at the Olive Stores in Brenchley was a hit and the Beer Bread we served with the main course seemed to go down well.

As promised to the those attending I have put togther the following recipe that you can view here

Please feel free to share and your comments are always welcomed…

Hari C

PS… Feb Menu coming soon so watch this space

Veggie Feast…a report

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Well we have just completed our January dinners and I have to say it was a real pleasure to work in conjunction with a couple of like minded passionate individuals to deliver what we hope our diners found to be an exciting and memorable event.

I must firstly say a big thanks to Sarah Crysell the owner of the Olive Stores in Brenchley who agreed to allow me to host the event here so that we could serve the alcohol we had planned to serve and incorporate with this special vegetarian inspired menu. Sarah opened this little cafe & deli in late summer 2011 and she has quickly established the place as a venue for “ladies who lunch” and also is keen to establish regular evening events with a difference. It meant we were able to offer more places as the venue is not only bigger but the set up provides an intimate atmosphere that lends itself to our covert theme. I am sure we will return for a future events and I look forward to attending one of her own events…

Having become aware of Moodley’s last year and helped to introduce founder and brewer Yudhistra Moodley to a few foodie contacts I have been keen to incorporate and introduce his beers to a wider audience and what better way than at one of our dinners.

Well this month we had a private dinner at our home venue on the Friday night and then decamped up to Brenchley for the Saturday night. We decided the menu this month would also since the excess of the festive period would be a recent memory so a good idea if we  went the route of a vegetarian theme. So this we duly decided upon and also with a unique selection of Moodley’s Beers to go with the chosen dishes.

We kicked the dinner off with a welcome drink of Sparkling Perry that we mixed with a shot of the Moodley’s Winters Solstice making a version of a “black velvet” and with this we served some nibbles, some black olive tapenade and some crispy cauliflower cheese fritters and some shot glasses filled with curried parsnip soup.

Well as guests settled in for the six course feast we served the first course, cold smoked tofu that was served on top of cold rice noodles and a julienne of cucumber. This was all coated by a peanut butter and sesame oil sauce that with the drizzle of chilli oil made up the the Bang Bang element of this oriental inspired dish. The beer we served was a Mr Toad’s Tonic a pretty effervescent brew that was lively as we pored it but slipped down well and got the party going!

Next came the freshly made roasted butternut squash risotto that was served topped with some crumbled goats cheese and deep fried sage leaves. With this dish we served a new beer that Yudhistra had brewed specifically for the night. This one had no name and we had run a competition to come up with a name… there were five names shortlisted for the night and voting forms given to guests resulted in a winning name being chosen.

I can now reveal the winning name submitted by Sarah Kennaird of Tunbridge Wells is “The Thirsty Bear”… so we will now invite her to attend a special tasting of the beer and a plate of the risotto.

So the next dish of this veritable feast was a mushroom and chickpea burger that we served with a mint,cucumber and yoghurt relish and a this we drizzled some olive oil and truffle balsamic vinegar over the garnish of pea shoots…. the Moodley’s Autumn Leaf was the beer we served for this course!

Then it was the main course… a mixed bean chilli that was in a rich tomato based chilli sauce, we served this with some rather special homemade bread, a simple beer bread made with some Moodley’s Penshurst Pleasure and then a simple side salad of green beans with toasted Kentish cobnuts and cobnut oil dressing. With this we served the second special beer of the night especially brewed for the occasion. This one named Olympic had a little citric tang that went well with the chilli. The use of overseas hops namely the Czech Saaz and German Halltauer  gave it a unique perspective.

With the cheese course we served four cheeses just some of the extensive selection the Olive Stores have for sale or use themselves for their cafe customers. We had a neat little selction of British and French… a runny ripe Somerset Brie, a black wax coated Welsh cheddar called the Black Bombardier, a classic Stilton and then a garlic & black pepper cheese from the Auvergne in France called Gaperon.

Finally it was the dessert, this we kept nice and simple and we had made a lovely dense gooey chocolate brownie that we served with a dollop of  creme fraiche. This we served with the Winters Solstice beer that seemed to go down very well indeed.

Some freshly baked shortbread biscuits with coffee rounded the evening off and we had completed yet another Hari event. It is always a bit daunting when we have an idea for an event and how are we likely to pull it off but I think I an say this one was a success and we had some delightful comments in our Guestbook that was circulated around the tables on the night!

Now we are busy planning for our February dinners – will be announcing the menu soon and then also some further news on some big charity/fundraising ones as well!!

Keep watching this space…

Festive Frolics December 2011…

Our Festive Christmas Dinners and Lunches…

Well as Christmas now fast approaches we have completed our festive dinners and nearly completed all our festive lunches.

We started with the normal weekend of dinners and were once again a full house… it is with much pride and trepidation that we find ourselves fully booked pretty much as soon as we release the tables. It has however been very much the article that appeared in Index magazine back in June this year that has helped spread the word and also a local networking group that I discovered early on that have been a massive support to me.

The group based in nearby Tunbridge Wells and known as Twuddle and Twuttle are a mixed bunch who basically use twitter to loosely network and stage a range of imaginative and friendly social gatherings…When I totalled up our weekend guests I found 50% had booked via Twuddle/Twuttle connections…  guess that illustrates well the power social media can have on the business and the ways to source customers! I would like to say how privileged I feel to have found them and more importantly how they have embraced what I am doing…

Equally the editorial/revue that was done by Index Magazine in June 2010 has also been very helpful and looking at my web stats seems to have been responsible for increasing the traffic to my site to what now is circa averaging 1000 hits per month. (In fact 50% more when the article appeared) The immediate effect has meant my dinners were booked up for about 3 months ahead and has also helped to ensure repeat customers. So it was a real pleasure to supply the editor with her secret Santa present of a specially made batch of porridge biscuits and Hari’s Christmas Buttons when she asked could I do some as the person who had sampled them initially when they reviewed me had not stopped raving about them since… perhaps there is a market for them out there!

Well now to the report – first the dinners started this time with a welcome glass of Cider & Crème de Cassis commonly known as a Kir Normande. With this we served some little cheese quiches and other nibbles before then serving a smoked salmon rillettes that was garnished with a fresh mango salsa, chopped mango was mixed with olive oil and Cameroon Mango Vinegar. This provided the right balance to the rich oily texture of the chopped smoked salmon that had been bound with crème fraiche and freshly chopped dill. Thin melba toasts went with this.

The main course we served was a classic Confit of Duck. The leg of a Barbary Duck is very gently poached in the duck fat for a couple of hours. To finish this in then roasted in a hot oven until it goes crispy… another good 20-30 minutes. We served a bed of Puy Green lentils from the Auvergne region of France that had the addition of finely diced smoked bacon, leek, celeriac and carrot to add flavour and then a jus scented with a pinch of cinnamon added the wetness required. With such a rich meat and filling lentils we thought a light side salad would go best and so we served some blanched green beans that were then mixed with toasted Kent Cobnuts and a Cobnut Oil dressing.

The oil and nuts coming from the local producer… In fact the only UK producer for said product… that was recently featured on Radio 4 Farming Today programme.

We then moved onto the cheese course that featured a Christmas version of Hari’s Buttons. This time we soaked dried cranberries in a homemade apricot schnapps..(A friend in Switzerland supplies me) and then layers of a blue cheese and a cream cheese. We also served some Winterdale Shaw from cheesemaker Robin Betts and a very good ripe Coulommier and Petit Munster from France. The porridge oat biscuits, once again, going perfectly with them.

For dessert we thought a festive menu without the Christmas pudding would be deemed as sacrilege so decided on our version should be an iced parfait. This we served with a marmalade sauce and to supply the ubiquitous pudding flame we served a little vessel with a burning tot of Cuarenta y Tres (43) from Spain. It certainly gave us the “wow factor” and the glass of Rivesaltes Tuile – a sweet red wine with it was this month’s dessert wine choice.

In all we felt we provided a good festive menu that had classics alongside some experimental ideas that seemed to go down well.

Certainly we have had some lovely comments… our twitter followers provided some of the following revues

Chris_Maslin Dec 11, 11:28pm via TwitterJust back from @MrHariCovert’s, the courses kept comin, we could barely fit into car afterwards! Thanks Hari!

Chris_Maslin 8:45am via TwitterToday’s gonna be tough. Still full from @MrHariCovert, got B&B fry up in a minute, then full Sunday roast for lunch…no belt today!

EvthingCupcakes 9:23am via TweetDeckSet the shoulder of lamb to start cooking at 7am for a slow cook. Still stuffed from @MrHariCovert & the thought of another meal, bleurgh!

EvthingCupcakes 9:09am via TweetDeckHad a wonderful dinner last night at @MrHariCovert Still so full cannot even contemplate more than a coffee for breakfast!

LTrebs 9:55am via Osfoora for iPhoneDinner at @MrHariCovert One of the nicest meals I’ve had recently. Lovely atmosphere along with good food. Great combination.

LTrebs 9:50am via Osfoora for iPhoneJust finished my breakfast coffee. Too full for food right now. Unusual for me. All down to dinner last night at @MrHariCovert :-)

KeepTriin10:42am via Web Back down to earth with a bump. Wonderful weekend away with @EvthingCupcakes and @LTrebs. Fantastic dining experience with @MrHariCovert !!

For the lunches we decided on a similar menu but just the three courses. We also gave our diners a pre ordered choice so they kicked off with either a homemade Ham Hock terrine served with a red onion and dried cranberry chutney or a spicy curried parsnip soup with crispy croutons. Then we served either the Duck confit or a roasted fillet of salmon served atop a bed of roasted winter vegetables garnished with either a meat jus or a green mojo salsa.

To round off the festivities we served a homemade traditional sherry trifle or a board of our specially selected cheeses. We served them the Winterdale Shaw and a Stichelton. The Winterdale being the cheddar like hard cheese from atop Wrotham Hill and the Stichelton is what a true Stilton should be. It is made from unpasteurised milk by an American cheesemaker on the Welbeck estate in Nottinghamshire. It really is rather special.

We also at the lunches knowing we had some competitive guests ran a little Christmas themed quiz and a winner each day who went home with a bottle of Muscat de Rivesaltes as their prize. – perfect to go with their Christmas Pud!!!

All in all a very good festive season and we would like to wish all our followers a very Merry Christmas and all the best for 2011

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