Tag Archives: dining

Apple Homage…our October dinners

Well as Autumn fast approaches this months dinner will focus on the humble apple as a key ingredient at each course.

We will kick the meal off with a glass of Kir Normande… A glass of chilled cider with the addition of creme de cassis and some seasonal apple themed nibbles!

The first course will be a homemade brawn of Kentish Apples, Cooked Potatoes and Smoked Haddock set in an Apple Jelly. We will serve this with a light horseradish cream and some crisp Melba toasts. It will be a light start to what will be a fairly hefty dinner.

Next will be a slowly braised pork cheek, cooked in apple juice the tart and slightly sweet flavour helps cut into the richness of the meat and we will serve this alongside a slow cooked and crispy piece of pork belly. We will serve some roasted apple to cut the richness of both meats and the mustard grain creamed potatoes and our ubiquitous serving of green beans will complete the main course.

We will then serve a couple of our favourite cheeses – namely the local cheddar from Winterdale Shaw plus a personal favourite the Stichleton, this is the blue veined cheese from Nottinghamshire made in the traditional way of Stilton from unpasteurised milk. All served with our porridge oat biscuits and our home-made Banana Jam, plus of course some fresh crisp apple as well!

Finally we will serve a Apple, Pine Nut and Cinnamon Torte with a garnish of Salted Caramel sauce and a scoop of Vanilla Ice Cream. We will also serve a glass of Muscat de Rivesaltes with this as we will have restocked our cellars of our local French wine!

To complete the dinner we will then serve either coffee or tea with an appropriate petit four. I will have the week before the dinners also been down in Spain (Girona) attending the opening of “master chocolatier” Damian Allsop’s new chocolate restaurant and shop so might have imported some special goodies! You will all have to wait and see!

We request a suggested donation of £35 per person (service not included) Guests requested to arrive at 7:30pm with dinner served at 8:00pm promptly.

Dates: Friday 10th (Breakfast Friends – Exclusive Night) Now Fully Booked 

& Saturday 11th October 2014 – Spaces still available


“Apple Homage”

Welcome Drink served with Seasonal Canapé’s

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Kentish Apple, Potato & Smoked Haddock Brawn

Horseradish Cream & Melba Toast

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Apple Juice Braised Pork Cheeks & Crispy Roasted Pork Belly

Roasted Apples, Grain Mustard Creamed Potatoes

Green Beans

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Winterdale Shaw Cheddar Cheese & Stichleton

Hari’s Porridge Oat Biscuits & Homemade Banana Jam

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Apple, Pine Nut & Cinnamon Torte served with Salted Caramel Sauce

and Vanilla Ice Cream

Served with a glass of Muscat de Rivesaltes

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Coffee or Tea with Petit Fours

N.B. Menu Subject to Market Purchases and Ingredient Availability 

To book please complete the form below or click this Breakfast Friends link for their exclusive Friday night.

 

Chef But to cook again at Hari Covert’s…

Noodles But

Well we are excited to report Chef Kam Po But formerly Executive Chef at Ken Lo’s Memories of China, Belgravia London has agreed to come back and present another two nights of his culinary prowess.

Chef But had been the Executive Chef of Ken Lo’s for some thirty years plus until his retirement a few years ago. He has been a friend for the same period and is god father to my daughter and we have done Chinese dinners in some truly amazing locations from the depths of the Hampshire countryside to the remoteness of the Isles of Scilly.

Chef But is a true master at blending dishes to be balanced in flavour, texture and colour. He has constructed a menu once again that will demonstrate all of this and to top it all off at the end of the dinner he will once again demonstrate the art of Hand Drawn Noodles. His skill in this is legendary as he has made countless appearances  on TV from The Generation Game to BBC Food & Drink and ITV This Morning.

This is a unique chance to sample some truly great Chinese food in a relaxed and sharing manner and will as always be totally oversubscribed!

We will kick the evening off with a welcome drink and simple nibbles before getting guests to sit down to a mammoth banquet. The meal will begin with a range of starters, Crispy Smoked Chicken served with Crispy Seaweed (not actually Seaweed), Sesame Prawn Toasts, Kuo-Tieh Dumplings – a little steamed pork dumpling that are then fried to give a crispy bottom served with a simple soy and ginger dipping sauce. Finally a baked fresh Scallop served in its shell with a piquant black bean sauce.

We will then serve a soup to guests – normally served at the end of a meal here though as a bit of a palate cleanser it will be a delicate Cantonese Hot & Sour Soup.

Next we will then serve what has become something of a signature dish for Chef But. Mongolian Crispy Lamb is a marinated braised leg of lamb that once cold is deep fried until crispy and served with a yellow bean sauce and lettuce leaves like the crispy duck and pancakes. It is a clever dish of textures and flavours and for many lighter than the Duck & pancake variety.

Moving onto the main course dishes we will then serve the following. Chef But will cook them and dish up as quickly as he can but they will generally come as and when they are ready. We will serve a Slow Cooked Beef Shin with water chestnuts. This is a real winter warmer dish and not found on your average Chinese restaurant menu, the beef shin is slowly cooked in a rich soy and spiced broth and then served with crunchy water chestnuts. Stir Fried Chicken Breast in a yellow bean sauce with crispy Almonds. Stir Fried King Prawns with Snow Peas (Mange Tout). Then depending on what we can purchase a fillet of fish done “Peking Style” in a light egg batter that is first fried then steamed with a sauce made from spring onions, garlic and ginger – the “Holy trinity” in Chinese cuisine.

We will serve a fresh vegetable either Pak Choy or Choi Sum (depending on our market purchases) topped with Oyster Sauce and some plain boiled rice.

To complete the meal Hari will be doing the pudding and he will showcase some exotic Asian flavour ice creams and sorbets from local producer Taywell Ice Creams. We will serve Jasmine Tea or if some want a coffee to complete the banquet.

Finally after all of this you will be treated to the hand drawn noodle demonstration by Mr But… this magical process is thousands of years old and we recommend you bring your cameras or phone cameras to capture it all as if you blink you will miss it.

Since we announced these dates spaces have filled very quickly and we now have limited spaces left for just the Saturday evening and are hoping to persuade Mr But perhaps to add an extra night on the Thursday evening. (will keep you posted)

If you want spaces or be on our waiting list please complete the booking form at the end of this post.

Arrival  7:30pm – Welcome Drinks and assorted Chinese Nibbles

Dinner Served 8:00pm – prompt

Suggested Donation £55.00 per person service not included (Guests to bring their own wines/drinks – Glasses, Water and Ice Buckets provided.)

Menu

Sesame Prawn Toasts

Crispy Seaweed

Kuo-Tieh Dumplings (Pot Stickers)

Crispy Smoked Chicken

Baked Scallop with Black Bean Sauce

吃 嘛

Cantonese Hot & Sour Soup

吃 嘛

Slow braised Beef Shin with water chestnuts

Stir Fried Chicken with Yellow Bean Sauce and Almonds

King Prawns with Snow Peas (Mange Tout)

Fish Fillet “Peking” Style with Ginger & Garlic

Chinese Vegetables with Oyster Sauce

Steamed Rice

吃 嘛

Assorted “Taywell” Asian Sorbet & Ice Creams

吃 嘛

Jasmine Tea or Coffee

Please complete the following form to reserve your spaces. Please note we are already fully booked for Friday and have limited spaces on Saturday (3) Waiting list for cancellations or potentially 3rd night.

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September Menus… Hari’s Favourites

UPDATE…

JUST 2 Spaces left  for 20th September …Please spread the word…

Well we are back home and all is looking good. We have decided to do four nights in September over two weekends this month as it has been over nine months since we did dinners in our own home and we have something rather different now. We have decided to do a simple choice set menu on each weekend that will give diners a chance to sample some of our favourite dishes. On September 5th and 6th the Menu will be as follows. Choice can be made on the night which is something new for us!

Arrival 7:30pm Dinner served at 8:00pm

Gravad Lax with a Sweet German Mustard Sauce 

Onion & Goats Cheese Tart with a Salad Leaf Garnish

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Spicy Moroccan Lamb Tajine with Cous Cous

Smoked Cod Fish Cakes, Wilted Spinach and a Lemon Butter Sauce

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Chocolate “Nutella” Torte with a Red Berry Compote

Hari’s Cheese Selection with Porridge Oat Biscuits & Banana Jam

Coffee or Tea with Petit Fours

Suggested Donation £30 per person (service not included)


 

September 19th and 20th the menu will be as follows:-

 

Wild Mushroom Risotto

Pork & Apricot Terrine with Rocket & Pine Nut  Salad

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Poached Chicken Breast with Spinach, Feta & Sun dried Tomato Stuffing, Herb Butter Sauce. Lemon Bulgar Wheat

Roasted Salmon Fillet with Chorizo, Green Beans & New Potatoes

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Flourless Orange & Hazelnut Torte with Marmalade Cream

Hari’s Cheese Selection with Porridge Oat Biscuits & Banana Jam

Coffee or Tea with Petit Fours

Suggested Donation £30 per person (service not included)

NB: All Menus Subject to

Market Purchases and Ingredient Availability

Please complete the booking form below to secure your places. Please note we will normally contact you within 24 to 48 hours to confirm your booking.

 

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Consistency Rules…

I could not resist a quick stop off on a recent return trip from the depths of south west London before a I hit the M25.

I wanted to check out a chain of Fish & Chip shops that I can lay claim to discovering possibly some thirty years ago when I was working for that doyen of critics Egon Ronay. I did all seven inspections visits of them in two days!!!

“Superfish” are a chain of Fish & Chip Takeaways with licensed restaurant seating  alongside them. When I discovered them 30 years ago they were ground breaking with their modern clean decor, freshly cooked Fish & Chips served with hot French Bread & Butter. It was the brainchild of owner Michael Rhodes, still at the helm and certainly not your normal greasy spoon.

They were different in the South East for a number of reasons. Firstly they fry in dripping the Yorkshire way. They also trained the shop managers to be the only people to fry the fish to ensure a consistent standard. Staff were also well trained to provide a friendly and smiling service to both takeaway and eat in customers.

I have fond memories of making a round trip of some 70 miles to eat their food with a bunch of Swiss visitors who craved the real deal of Fish & Chips. At that time decent local Fish & Chips to me did not exist but I am glad to say this has been rectified now!

I am glad to report the branch I stopped at in Ewell was still as good as ever if a shade dated in decor it made up for it with the friendly welcome and superlative Cod & Chips. It comes in three sizes, Small, Large or Moby Dick. ( I resisted the latter)

It was crisp light batter and for summer potatoes (New Crop) great crisp chips with fluffy potato innards. The fish was perfectly cooked soft and succulent, piping hot and really hit the spot!

It was good to see that after all these years this chain is still going strong and I do believe they have spurned many an operator including another of my favourites Chez Fred in Westbourne Nr Bournemouth. So I guess if ever you are in the depths of Surrey with hunger pains then head straight to Superfish and tell them the man from Egon Ronay sent you as consistency really does rule!

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Pickering’s Choice… Saturday 19th July

Chef Peter PickeringWe have decided for our first official dinner in our restored home to host a special dinner on Saturday 19th July. (if demand sufficient then we will also do Friday 18th July)

We have invited a guest chef to launch our new venue and we will be joined by Peter Pickering a 27 year old chef who is a young lad to watch. I have known Peter since 2009 when I was appointed his mentor at Oxford Brookes University in his final year of study before he graduated in May 2010.

He has since gone on to work in some prestigious places from the 5 star Milestone Hotel in London to the Broadcasting Centre for the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics to the opening of “Dinner by Heston Blumenthal” with Ashley Palmer Watts, The Café Royal relaunch in late 2012  and then more recently the Chiltern Firehouse the new André Balazs Hotel in late 2013 working alongside Chef Nuno Mendes. A truly impressive pedigree.

I have asked Peter to put together a menu to relaunch the new Hari venue and we will be hosting a five course menu that will reflect his experiences in some pretty amazing restaurants. I will be acting as his commis chef and it will be as much a learning experience for me with modern techniques and imaginative flavour combinations! Very exciting!

Peter’s menu will be as follows:

Menu

Grilled little gem salad, Nuns of Caen, marinated button mushrooms, soy and sherry dressing

*****

Seared Cornish mackerel, poached rhubarb, pickled shallots, borage

*****

Cotswold white chicken, confit heart, onion and horseradish, spring greens

*****

Chocolate mousse, passion fruit jelly, milk and lemon thyme

*****

Hari’s Selection of Farmhouse Cheeses with Porridge Oat Biscuits

*****

Coffee with Homemade Shortbread

Menu subject to market purchases and ingredient availability

Arrival 7:30pm – Welcome Drink & Canapés

Dinner 8:00pm – prompt

Suggested Donation £50 person – service not included

If you wish to attend then please complete the following booking form. It will be a single table seating 14 persons in total and we will be allocating places on a first come first served basis.

We look forward to seeing what we hope will be some new and old customers!

Not ringing my bell…

The Bell Inn – Ticehurst – Well I had a quick lunch here a couple of weeks ago with Mrs HC as we wanted a place close to a B&B that some friends visiting us were staying in. We only had some light bites but were quite impressed so we booked a table for dinner on this basis.

So the appointed day arrived and we rendezvoused with them for a pre dinner drinks while we perused the menu. The place had guests but was certainly in no way rammed with diners but service was a little slow and on reflection a little more formal than it had been for the lunch we had consumed.

Starters chosen ranged from a Spinach Soup that had a good vibrant colour and came garnished with supposedly soft poached egg in it (the egg alas was over cooked) A salad of smoked duck was also a bit of a disappointment. Some thin slices of duck were buried under a large mound of salad and for the price charged I felt all a bit of a rip off! My crab salad was ok with some nice fresh white crab meat and then topped with some mayonnaise and a mound of slaw – all pretty basic and at nearly £9 not mind blowing in culinary terms just the price.

Our main course choices ranged from a Fillet Steak listed on the menu as “Cow” that caused much confusion with the foreign contingent of the party who were not familiar with the terminology. Two had the Cod dish that was well executed and my choice was a confit pork belly that to put it mildly was awful. I was in an awkward situation in that to complain would have been a bit churlish as the friends were likely to be picking up the tab (not that I was expecting them to) and it could have put a dampener on the evening. My pork belly was so undercooked and tough to eat. It was just poorly executed but I persevered. It could have been so much better.

Finally we decided on a couple of cheese plates and one of the party had a dessert “Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate” It was OK but again nothing spectacular. The cheeses were alas fridge cold a good Kentish Blue a Lincolnshire Poacher Cheddar (Why not the more local Winterdale Shaw?) and a soft unnamed one by the staff that was ripe but for me a shade too mild tasting. An over acidic chutney and some good biscuits.

It was in no way mind blowing and staff were to put it mildly a touch patronising in the way they served us. I certainly felt less comfortable and overall thought the food had a pretension to it in comparison to what we were served for lunch and was all just a big disappointment. It certainly has not made me think I want to rush back and when I compare it to where we then ate the next night it could be described as chalk and cheese. More on that in my next post!

All about the service and the food… some reviews…

Well we are now just a few weeks away from the summer solstice – it has been nearly six months since our home was badly flooded and we had to evacuate. It has been a stressful time as we have battled with inefficient and frustrating processes conducted by loss adjusters and the insurance company, plus a rogue builder has meant we have yet still to move back home.

We have held a few private dinners and we have also conducted a couple of dinners in homes loaned to us for the purpose.

We have also used the time to go and try a few places to eat and thought as opposed to one review we thought we would lump them all together and give you a taster to perhaps try them yourself…there have been some real gems!

Alimo – Whitstable –  Tel 01227 272725

Well I had a very enjoyable lunch here with the imitable Jules Serkin who is the host of the Scoff&Quaff weekly Internet radio show. She has some amazing contacts and is a bubbly (Prosecco induced) lady to lunch with. With tales of her new husband and such like one can say lunch was certainly not boring. Alimo is a bit of a gem and I will have to go back. Located under a railway arch on the way into Whitstable from the Thanet way it has a vaulted ceiling and slightly themed Middle Eastern decor to transport your to the Kasbah or desert tent!

Alimo

I was impressed by the food we consumed as there were some sound cooking and authentic flavours – everything from some well flavoured lamb koftas in a mildly spiced tomato sauce to a zingy fresh Quinoa Salad and some tasty if a tad slightly overcooked (and sinewy) Lambs Liver with an almond sauce and creamy chick pea and potato mash. It was the manager Andy who served us and he was a great example of professionalism matched with great social skills and I guess contributed massively to the whole experience.

It is a place I am now keen to go back and sample yet again perhaps for dinner

Jo Jo’s – Whitstable  – Tel :01227 274591

photo (180)I am a big fan of this place and found myself eating here once again when celebrating my birthday. It is a gem of a place serving some great food that is well designed to share with family or friends. We had everything from the sharing platter of meats and assorted dips to the goujons of fresh fish to some amazing monkfish cheeks in a light beer batter to finally a massive meringue topped with a fruit compote or a salted caramel and brownie coupe that we enjoyed immensely and required us to take a brisk walk afterwards to try and aid the digestive system. If you have never been I implore you to try the place. It is so worth it!

Bills – Tunbridge Wells -Tel: 01892 548699

Me and the Mrs had been having a bad day with all our house woes and needed cheering up and we found ourselves in central Tunbridge Wells outside the newly opened Bills. It took over the site of Dame Tartine that had been a popular place and used weekly as the venue for a twitter gathering called Twuttle. photo (174)

We entered a pretty busy and crowded establishment and were shown to our table swiftly and politely and then a young waitress took our order and duly went about her business. We tucked into some Deep Fried Squid rings, tender and crisp, a pot of honey glazed sausages and some goujons of fish that were a little dry and tasteless. It was however the desserts we tucked into that provided a memorable finish. A lemon meringue coupe and a giant chocolate Jaffa cake that was very rich but scrummy.

The Vine – Sevenoaks –  Tel: 01732 469510

This former pub on the northern approaches to the town has undergone a great deal of “TLC” and beautification and is now something that could be described as a swanky place for the residents of Sevenoaks. I know the chef well here and have followed his career over the past few years from a new gaff on the outskirts of Maidstone to a gastro pub in central London. He is a Glaswegian that has spent most of his working life in the south but has not lost his accent one little bit, he can also cook some pretty amazing food as well.

I was eating here for a couple of reasons but what struck me was the simplicity of blending a cheap cut or inexpensive ingredient with something luxurious. It shows clever and photo (175)diligent purchasing matched to a creative eye of detail.

We kicked off with a black pudding scotch egg with a gorgeous soft unctuous egg yolk and then some fresh local asparagus topped with a crispy fried poached egg and some fresh morel mushrooms – a truly mouth-watering combination. It reminded me of a dish that I used to cook in Switzerland many years ago. Slowly poached calves tongue that was then thinly sliced and served with a brandy and morel cream sauce with a finely shredded vegetable garnish.

Next was a slow cooked pork belly and pork cheek served with an apple puree, boulangere potatoes and my dining guest tucked into a pan fried fillet of sea bream with a masterful potato puree charred leeks and truffle sauce. We ordered an extra of some truffled mash that just reeked of the fungus and we were told the peelings and nubs are used in this to ensure nothing is wasted, gosh it was so good…

A couple of desserts then followed and we were done – the Strawberry Parfait was a total triumph as a yet to be added to the menu and as I dropped my guest back at the station I felt we had consumed a very well executed and clever lunch. It will be another place I urge you add to the list to try.

Crabshakk, Glasgow  – Tel: 0141 334 6127

A few days after my visit to Sevenoaks I found myself some four hundred plus miles away from there in the centre of Glasgow. It was to be a fleeting visit with Mrs HC and teenage daughter who was off to see her idol Katy Perry in concert. I was to meet with an old friend who I had not seen for some twenty years and we headed off to the West End of Glasgow to have dinner together.

I had originally planned to go out for dinner with him at a swanky Asian restaurant as we both love this style of food but for reasons I kept from him had to change to this place. He initially said to me are you sure you want to go here as like myself I had looked at the menu and thought it was all pretty basic and not really selling itself to me via their web site or for that matter by the reviews on Trip Advisor.????????????????????????

Well a lesson to learn from this is never judge a place before you try it yourself. We arrived at the appointed time and were pleasantly surprised to be warmly greeted and shown to our table in the upstairs section of this minute and buzzy place. It’s simple decor and cramped tables all add to the flavour… clever use of every available square inch is made.

Service was slick, friendly and informed and we tucked into some stunning food. A specials blackboard boasted two of my most favourite seafood, Razor Clams and John Dory which had to be consumed and as we reminisced over lost friendships and past good times we became more and more contented with our enforced change of venue.

?????????It is a gem of a place where the seafood is so fresh and correctly handled with simplistic preparation and garnishing. The razors clams served with surf clams and a chorizo butter sauce were to die for and the John Dory well that cam e served with a celeriac puree and some puy lentils that provided an earthy dimension to the sweet flavour of the fish. Well worth the 800mile plus round trip!

A simple Panna Cotta with minimal garnish and a cheese board with ripe cheeses well explained by a bubbly pair of waitresses completed a truly magnificent meal.

So if you should ever find yourself in the region this place is a must… just make sure you book it as it is popular and do not believe all that is written about it – except by me!

Terroirs, London  – Tel: 0207 036 0660

This place is one of may favourites and located just a stones throw from Charing Cross station it provides a perfect watering hole should you need sustenance before jumping on a train to Kent! I chose this venue to have dinner with some Swiss friends visiting the UK for their summer holiday. Having done the tourist bit with them – a wander round Borough Market and then a cruise up the river and a wander round Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens we needed sustenance.photo (177)

I chose this place as a venue for it’s simple no fussy and informal atmosphere and as the friends are also appreciative of some good wines I felt this would fit the bill and it did so in so many ways.

It was not too busy when we arrived (they had emptied from the pre theatre crowd) but it soon filled and got busier. It has a bar counter with seats and closely packed tables and an open to view kitchen area allows you to see the chefs beavering away.

photo (176)We settled down to some competent and well judged cooking, A duck rillette with toasted sour dough was as usual a real triumph, a smoked duck breast and green bean salad with a soft boiled egg was also a light fresh starter but for me the best was yet to come. Grilled bone Marrow with a parsley and caper salad was as one of Swiss friends remarked as good as eating fresh foie gras and now is converted to a dish they were sceptical of trying. The main courses we consumed were boiled salt beef Pot au Feu a great classic that was comfort food at it’s best and a Sea Bream fillet served on a bed of samphire with Jersey Royals and a great saffron infused rouille sauce.

A great bottle of a biodynamic red wine from Italy was a real enjoyment and as I bid my friends fare well and jumped on a train to Kent they headed back to their hotel before setting off next morning to tour the west country.

Years ago we were hard pushed to recommend places to eat – now spoilt for choice it makes deciding where to eat a tough one – they have had a fantastic tour and we meet again in a few days for a couple of days before they head back home. I am confident they will go home still in love with what the UK has to offer!

The Kentish Hare, Bidborough – Tel: 01892 525709

photo (178)This place opened about 4 weeks ago and so is still finding its feet – I had heard mixed reviews on the place operated by a couple of celebrity chefs. James & Chris Tanner both local lads had worked in assorted places before heading west to Plymouth. They have now been tasked to turn this pub atop the Bidborough ridge into a food destination and asset to the village.

Well my visit was certainly whilst a fleeting one was impressive with some assured cooking and I have to say it was good to see the place was pretty busy for a Thursday lunchtime and whilst the clientele were predominately of a more senior nature the young staff still finding their feet seemed to be doing a good job. I will return and perhaps give it a more in depth test. The chicken liver parfait consumed was smooth buttery and generous portion size with its own little mini fresh white loaf. The Smoked Mackerel salad with salad leaves and toasted croutons was a good light starter

Main dishes of Skate Wing with sautéed jersey royals and green beans and the Duck photo (179)Confit with salad leaves were enjoyable and well executed. The cheese selection we then shared a good test to see how serious they are was I have to say a shade disappointing. The Kentish Blue the only local cheese and was the best served. A cheddar was OK but an unripe and nondescript Brie was a let down, good presentation with crackers and a piece of membrillo

A couple of small local Tonbridge brewed beers and the bill for just over £60 was fair for the offer but I suspect the extras and more alcohol could rack up the bill a good deal more. It has a great garden area to the rear and the decor within is airy light and due to hard surfaces a bit noisy when full but there are some nooks and crannies where you could hide yourself away for a more peaceful time. I will be back!

So there will be more revues soon plus we will be announcing dates for Hari dinners as well so watch this space!

Happy Eating

Hari C

 

Where’s the service…?

I recently paid a visit to a local newly reopened garden centre that has undergone a major capital expenditure and boasts a new restaurant called “Kitchen”.

Now call me old fashioned but to me a restaurant is one where one expects a level of service and there now seems to me a real movement in these type of places to make the experience totally devoid of all service.

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We the customer are herded into slow moving dithering lines bombarded with choice and herded like sheep to a till where there is a lack of social interaction with the customer as they are tasked to fleece you of your money as quickly as they can.

The amount of money they have spent here to make the place look stunning and it has given it a real sense of theatre but the one thing lacking was for me a real basic. Service.

I absolutely abhor the self service concept these and many like minded places adopt and their argument is they are cheaper to run as staffing levels are less. Well as a customer I can tell you they are totally wrong.

From the moment we arrived they had staff plentiful all looking as though they were busy but the whole concept was flawed as they did little to direct the customer as to how to order their food. A small queue to pay at a till ensued and the hot food ordered duly got cold – another pet hate.

They were not that busy and I could imagine it would be carnage when they are.

The local butcher that has a major concession within the food hall showcased his sausages on the menu and whilst they might look good they were pretty average and tasteless. Items in the food hall that tempted my wife could not be purchased and eaten in the restaurant… where’s the logic in that?

My wife in a wheelchair had no way of independently gathering her desired purchase and payment as there was no where to place her tray – obviously no thought had been given to this sector and for that matter for a single parent with young children as well would similarly struggle to collect their food and make payment.

An open plan kitchen revealed a plethora of staff and management seemed to be visible and hands on but for me it all lacked a soul or character. It looks fabulous but failed to deliver a memorable experience. If it had been mine a smaller menu and full table service approach would have made this place something to be proud of and very memorable.

It can be done, they should look at a place not that far from them called the The Twig and Spoon. It very nearly went the same route but a last minute ownership decision to provide full table service meant they have created something far more pleasurable and commendable than yet another self serve nondescript cafe.

Who ever makes these decisions might think on paper they look good but operationally they need to think the process through as to what sort of customer service do they truly offer.

They have totally missed an opportunity to provide a unique and I am sure very profitable eating establishment…maybe one day they will learn or perhaps there will be customer revolution and the masses will rise up and boycott them… then again!

Going Underground again… well almost

It was a lovely balmy summers evening when I was driving up Wrotham Hill with the car loaded up with goodies for a return dinner at Winterdale Shaw.

Robin & Carla Betts the hard working and passionate artisan cheese makers were to host a couple of days of a cheese workshop for the “West Country Cheese makers”. This was a milestone for this little select group as I am led to believe this is the first time they will have ever held such a workshop away from the West Country.

Following on from our September 2011 event Robin was keen to provide something a bit different for these cheese gurus so he asked me to cook and serve a similar dinner to what we did back then. It was to be a relaxed affair and I am glad to say it was to be held above ground in a marquee to the side of the barn (erected for a public event a few days later) so the steep cellar steps were not an issue this time and the little kitchen we were to work from had a bit more kit as well.

So the menu we served was pretty similar to the previous one so we could showcase their cheeses. Firstly some nibbles of chilled gazpacho soup shots and deep fried cauliflower cheese beignets were the nibbles and then they all sat down to the first course of double cooked cheese soufflé topped with smoked haddock and some salad leaves. They also rather enthusiastically devoured a loaf of Moodleys Beer Bread which I have to say unsurprisingly garners rave comments every time I serve it!

Robin & Carla were also keen to showcase their nearby neighbours Free Range Pork (Roundwood Orchard Pigs) so a gorgeous four plus kilo joint of rolled Pork Shoulder was slowly roasted for some 5-6 hours and the skin crisped to perfection. Served with a gravy laced with dried apricots it provided a nice citrus kick to the richness of the tender meat and well between 7 hungry souls got just about completely devoured in one fell swoop! A gratin dauphinoise and medley of vegetables accompanied this.

Finally I served up the dessert that on Carla’s request was not the junket we served originally as she felt it was an acquired taste! So some soft squidgy home-made meringues were sandwiched with whipped cream with added lemon curd and then some “Mill Farm” strawberries. This again was polished off with gusto, these cheese gurus can certainly eat!

By this time gone eleven pm I was pooped and needed my beauty sleep as I had an early start the next morning with a breakfast meeting I left them to their final course of cheeses with my porridge oat biscuits. I was mortified I could not stay and sample some of the goodies on offer. There was one rogue but magnificent cheese on offer a rather runny Brie de Meaux that a rogue Frenchman had bought along ( I did not quite establish how he was part of this select group)

It was a fascinating evening as I listened into their conversations on the tribulations and trials of cheese making. The story of West Country floods and how one of them managed to write off his Land Rover Discovery by thinking they could cross a flooded road was hilarious and I believe made BBC news headlines much to his disgust.

The passion they all have for their chosen craft was evident in bucket loads and you should just click the links below for their assorted web sites to get a flavour of how serious they all are to produce a product we can all enjoy and savour. Robin & Carla can also be proud of their achievements of being part of this select group with some incredible history and I know it was also a bit of a double celebration as they had just managed to secure the long awaited planning permission to convert the upper portion of their barn to be living accommodation for them and their young children.

The Cheese Makers Workshop at Winterdal Shaw July 2013

Winterdale Shaw (the hosts|)

Westcombe Dairy

Keens Cheddar

Montgomery Cheddar

Hafod Welsh Organic Cheddar

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!