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!

Mmmm… Hari Dinners are back…

Hari Covert LogoWell we have been touched and appreciative of all the generous offers of venues for our Supper Club having been victims of the Christmas Day flooding.

We have had to move out of our home and are likely to be out until at least mid summer as it dries out and gets re-instated.

We currently are busy doing a couple of private dinners over the next month in people’s homes as we get our lives back to some semblance of normality and routine.

Our first public “pop up” will now happen on Friday 28th and Saturday 29th March in a Yalding venue (You will be informed where once your booking is confirmed)

Our next date will then be Saturday 3rd May (if demand is sufficient then also possibly Friday 2nd as well) and we will be using a very nice property at the top of Linton Hill on the outskirts of Maidstone.

Then Friday 30th and Saturday 31st May again back in another secret Yalding venue. We will publish menus etc in due course for the May dinner events but for the March dinner we will be cooking a four course meal that will highlight some good seasonal produce. It will also be pretty much vegetarian friendly as well apart from the first course where will happily also provide a substitute dish for those that so desire. We are also happy to accept booking for any of these events now so please complete the booking form at the end of this post to reserve those places as we are limited to ten persons each night as the venue hosts rightfully get two places for themselves.

So for our March dinners we thought we would start the meal with a classic Jambon Persille… Ham Hocks slow cooked and chopped then added to the stock with an abundance of freshly chopped parsley and garlic and then set. We will serve this with a mustard and caper mayonnaise dressing and salad leaves. If you would prefer a veggie option then please state at the time of booking.

Our next course will be one of my favourites. A freshly made risotto of roasted butter nut squash. The creamy risotto will have the addition of roasted squash and a sprinkling  of Parmesan. We will then serve a freshly poached fillet of Salmon that we will serve with a very light beurre blanc sauce with an abundance of freshly chopped herbs. It will be served with some simple baby new potatoes and then a melange of spring vegetables including some haricot verts … well it has to does it not?

Finally dessert will be a warm Almond Frangipane Tart served with a scoop of Vanilla Ice Cream and of course a glass of our ubiquitous Muscat de Rivesaltes.

Coffee will be served along with some Petit Fours to complete the meal. If you wish to reserve spaces for either evening then please just complete the booking form below. We normally will contact you within 24/48 hours to take a credit card number to confirm the booking.

If you wish to book the later dates in May then please pick the date required on the booking form and we will contact you to confirm.

Friday 28th & Saturday 29th March – Venue in Yalding

Arrival 7:30pm

Dinner 8:00pm prompt

Suggested donation £40 per person service not included.

Menu

Welcome Drink & Nibbles

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Jambon Persille with Mustard & Caper Dressing and Salad Leaves

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Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto

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Poached fillet of Salmon with a herb beurre blanc

New Potatoes & Vegetable Medley

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Warm Almond Frangipane Tartlet with Vanilla Ice Cream

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Coffee & Petit Fours

Menu subject to market purchases and ingredient availability

Jingle Bells – ’tis the season to be jolly…

Well for our Christmas menu we felt we would not go too festive as I am sure you will all have had enough of the “Turkey and Tinsel” by the time the big day comes. We have only the one night this year on Saturday December 14th as the Friday 13th we have a private dinner.

So what can you expect this year…

We will kick the meal off with some seasonal nibbles and a welcome glass and then for the first course we will serve a home-made Pork Terrine studded with Apricots and served with a simple green bean and toasted hazelnut salad garnish. A home-made relish that will incorporate cranberries will complete the starter to this festive meal.

For the main course we have decided to serve a classic beef dish. We will use beef topside and make what are commonly known as Beef Olives. The thin slices of steak are served with a sausage meat stuffing that is laced with wild mushrooms, a smoked sausage, juniper berries and herbs. Slowly cooked in a rich red wine based sauce it means this is a heart warming and filling dish that will go perfectly with some creamy mashed potatoes and then some braised red cabbage as well.

We will then serve up a selection of cheeses with our porridge oat biscuits and our home-made banana  jam. Cheese selection is normally made up of a Hard, soft, blue and goats cheese – we will just have to see what we can find but will ensure it is a good interesting mix!

Finally to complete the meal it will be what we are terming a “Citric choice”… an unctuous lemon posset of double cream laced with Lemon juice, then a lime and Mascarpone Cheesecake that has a fresh zingy taste with a ginger nut biscuit base and finally some brandy soaked marinated oranges that we will serve with a small scoop of chocolate & wasabi sorbet from Taywells.

To complete the meal with coffee some festive stollen and iced schnapps will complete the meal.

So what better way to start your Christmas festivities. We will then be opening again after the Xmas break in January and we hope to publish a programme soon of what we are planning for 2014.

Saturday 14th December

Arrival 7:30pm Welcome Drink & Nibbles

Dinner 8:00pm

Suggest Donation of £35 per person service not included

Menu

Pork Terrine with dried Apricots

Green Bean & Hazelnut Salad Cranberry Relish

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Braised Beef Olive

Creamed Potatoes

Braised Red Cabbage

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Hari’s Selection of Cheeses with Porridge Oat Biscuits

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“Citric Choice”

Lemon Posset, Lime & Mascarpone Cheesecake,

Brandied Oranges with Chocolate & Wasabi Sorbet

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Coffee, Iced Schnapps & Mini Stollen

Menu subject to Market Purchases and Ingredient Availability

FULLY BOOKED – WAITING LIST ONLY

Rhyme nor reason…

Well it was a Friday lunchtime and a sunny day. I had a rendezvous with an old college mate at his new pad and quick show round. This was duly done and we then decided to shoot off somewhere for a pint and bite to eat.

We decided to head down the road to The Poet. The pub is a grade II listed building in the village of Matfield (blessed with several vibrant pubs) and they state the Pub is so called because one Siegfried Sassoon a war poet was born nearby.

The pub was once the village bakery and was previously known as the Standing Cross and also used to boast possibly the best chef in Kent (it used to make me smile but did little to tempt me in!) It opened in it’s current format about 18 months ago.

Now the mate is also in the hospitality business in the big smoke and is like myself always one happy to try a new place. I had heard mixed reviews on the place but thought lets give it a go.

The bar snacks ranged from a Burger with House Chips (however the hand scripted blackboard menu made them look more like topical “horse chips”) at what we thought was a bit pricey £14.50 to a deli board at under a tenner, Ham Hock Croquettes to a bowl of smoked sausages.

We decided to share the Deli Board, Sausages and Croquettes and then about twenty minutes later (they were busy) our snacks duly arrived.

The deli board was a wooden board consisting of a smooth chicken liver parfait and some toasted brioche, some slices of Coppa ham and then a little paper parcel of baked Camembert. On another board a couple of moist but crispy Panko crumbed ham hock croquettes were delivered along with a bowl of some smoky little sausages. The sausages were a Toulouse and a spicy little Chorizo varieties that were perfect with the Old Dairy Top beer they serve on draught.

A couple of bread rolls appeared alongside and all in all this was some pretty good sophisticated pub grub that was perfect for our Friday lunchtime catch up.

It left me feeling I wanted to return and sample the main menu and overall with some unobtrusive and friendly service this is a place was now well and truly on my radar and worthy of a return visit!

Another return visit for a bar snack and pint with the self same friend got me thinking why had I not been back for dinner so with Mrs HC we decided on a child free night to take the plunge and head out for dinner.

Booking could not have been simpler. They use an online booking system I presume for some of their tables (Top Table) and so online I went to secure my table… two minutes later confirmation email came through. Sorted.

The night arrived and off we set, Mrs HC was unaware where we were headed and so there was a good air of excitement and expectation.

The bar was busy with a party of drinkers in full swing but we were quickly guided to our table to the rear and it was much quieter and relaxed as we perused our menus.

The a la carte menu offers a simple 5/5/5 choice of dishes – we were tempted by most but Mrs HC plumped for the chicken liver parfait, one of her favourites, whilst I chose a crispy egg, something I am led to believe is a signature dish.

The parfait was a generous slab, slightly greying with a quenelle of insipid onion relish and some vibrant pickled vegetables. It was well constructed but did woefully lack seasoning as Mrs HC kept reminding me…  Overall it was OK but did not sing out as spectacular, or live up to it’s price tag.

My choice was a poached egg that had been crumb coated and fried to crisp the exterior served on a bed of pea shoots, broad beans and then a pea veloute was served poured by the waitress. Now if the egg was crispy I cannot say as she duly flooded the egg with the veloute so making it all soggy and the egg was more hard boiled than soft poached. Again a lack of seasoning meant it was OK but nothing more. Looked good, with vibrant colours but for the price of £6 did lack something!

Main course dishes next was a Smoked Haddock, Spinach, Samphire, Poached Egg and Hollandaise. Now Mrs HC is stickler for wanting her plate of food to be served hot. It was rather tepid so back it went. Fresh plates when delivered a short while later were good , good plump fish, generous mound of mashed potato, spinach and samphire. A good soft!!! poached egg and well made hollandaise. A classic combination.

The other main course was Roasted Duck with carrot, spinach and a confit duck roll and orange. The duck was perfectly cooked and very tender, a carrot puree and some baby carrots and wilted spinach were good, no discernable orange flavour and the confit duck roll was confit duck wrapped in a filo style  pastry and crispy fried. Overall was a good dish but again it lacked something in terms of seasoning and flavour. The baby carrots were the best flavour of all!

To complete the meal we shared a Peanut Parfait, with as the menu stated, textures of Blackberries. A pretty concoction was presented a creamy parfait with a peanut brittle crumb a few scattered blackberries, blackberry coulis and well made sorbet of said same fruit was good.

As we headed home Mrs HC and I reflected on what had been an enjoyable night out but a meal that alas had not really lived up to expectations. The Blackboard bar snack menu I have to say seemed far more appealing and interesting so the title of Rhyme nor reason sort of sums it all up! It makes no sense that they offer two very different styles of menu and not really deliver on the one they seem to feel is their main offering. We will go back but only for a bar snack!

Last Chance – The Vicars Picnic Festival…

4597148356_708x731We will be closing the bookings on Wednesday 11th September at 9;00am

Bishops Feast Picnic (Limited Numbers) – £35 per person incl Festival Ticket

These are you own individual (returnable) Tiffin Boxes that will be delivered to you on site at an agreed time.

The top layer of your box will contain assorted nibbles and some of our infamous Beer Bread.

Then the first course level of the box will have a “tea smoked chicken & dried apricot brawn” served with a herb cream and Melba toasts.

The  main course layer will be some freshly poached Salmon and some King Prawns all served with a garlic mayonnaise and then a selection of home-made fresh seasonal salads.

The final layer will be the dessert. Some Home-made chocolate brownie and a Creme Caramel with summer fruits. All cutlery and napkin will be provided. Drinks can be purchased on site from the bar.

Your festival ticket is also included in this price as well so great value!

Vergers Box Picnic - Pre order only – £25 per person incl Festival Ticket

“The Vergers Box”  will comprise of three freshly made salads served in a disposable box with eco friendly cutlery and napkin that will go perfectly with the hog roast that is being offered on site by “Smoking Hot Pig” Hog roast and a portion of the hog roast is also included along with your festival ticket.

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!

Up the Garden…

Menu

Welcome Drink & Nibbles

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Apple, Potato & Smoked Haddock Brawn with Horseradish Cream

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Fire Pit Grilled Marinated Meats & Fish

Assorted Seasonal Salads including a Green Bean Salad

Hot Buttered Minted New Potatoes

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Hari’s Cheese Selection

Porridge Oat Biscuits

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English Summer Fruits, Lavender Earl Grey Tea Sorbet 

Home made Shortbread Biscuits

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Coffee & Petit Fours

NB. Menu Subject to alteration & Market Purchases

Dates: Friday 12th & Sat 13th July

Welcome Drink: 7:30pm Prompt

Dinner: 8:00pm

Drinks: We will provide a welcome drink and glass of dessert wine with the pudding. Please bring your own drinks to have with your dinner. Water, Glasses and Ice Buckets provided.

Cost: We request a £35 Donation per person – Service is not included. We do prefer cash but will accept a card payment if we have to.

This months dinner will be an alfresco one… yes I know this is ambitious with an English Summer, but we will try to ensure it works and we will provide a covered terrace. With a couple of fire pits and blankets on hand this will ensure our guests are well cosseted. We would request guests bring or wear suitable clothing to ensure they are comfortable should the evening be a little fresh. We will also have a contingency to bring the meal indoors if weather is that bad. (We will keep fingers crossed)

We have therefore opened the bookings early as we will have a slightly bigger capacity with a maximum of 18-20 spaces depending on the table configurations and how prepared guests are at sharing.

It had been our plan to do a bigger “Pop Up” for this month in a lavender field. It was to be a mammoth event and a very big challenge! However because of some logistical issues we felt, to do it justice, we would hold off till next year!

We had already a menu planned so thought we would now use parts of this menu for our “Up the Garden” event.

To kick the meal off we will serve some seasonal nibbles with a glass of something chilled!

The first course will be an apple juice jelly set brawn of diced apple, potato and smoked haddock, which we will serve with a delicate horseradish cream sauce.

We will then have a selection of marinated meats and fish, that we will be cooking on our fire pit barbecue, and serving this with hot minted new potatoes and selection of seasonal salads. We will, of course, somewhere or other serve up some green beans… would be strange if not!

Our cheese course will then be served with our home-made and much admired porridge oat biscuits that will also be accompanied by our banana jam as well!

Finally the dessert will be a light refreshing finish, We will be making our own Lavender Earl Grey Tea Sorbet that will be served with a selection of summer fruits and a warm freshly baked shortbread biscuit.

Coffee and petit fours will complete the meal – all we can hope for is the weather will be warm and sultry to provide a perfect summer’s evening as the backdrop for our event.

Please complete our Booking Form. We will normally contact you within 48 hours to confirm your booking with a credit card number. If date required is “Fully Booked” please still apply for cancellations or unconfirmed bookings.

The next generation…

I have now for the past couple of years been asked by my daughters school to teach a Masterclass to year 10 Food Tech students. To try and give them a bit of realism and give them some tips and ideas on food preparation in a professional kitchen.

So this last week I duly arrived at Maidstone Girls Grammar School to prepare and teach a class of 20 students the intricacies of boning a chicken, making a new potato and spinach terrine and then finally having been given the “water” chocolate mousse recipe by Damian Allsop I felt it was of sufficient interest to also get them making this.

It was a packed day as I started off by showing them how to joint a chicken and stuffing its French trimmed breast ready for roasting and serving with a wild mushroom ragout.  The making of the terrine (a quiche without the pastry basically) and then presenting two finished plates to illustrate some presentation ideas.

Well I was impressed their teacher Mrs Meek was keen to give each girl a whole chicken to work with as this was no small cost. So as they all settled into first quickly making their own terrines and then boning their chickens there was a great deal of grimacing and  squeamish face pulling as they were made to handle the chickens. It is a sad state that we have become so anaesthetized by handling fresh unprepared foods so much. They did a remarkable job some obviously better than others but overall they all managed to produce a boned stuffed and rolled breast of chicken.

With the terrines now out of the oven and cooling down we then had chance to quickly knock up some Irish soda bread as well. There was not a spare 5 minutes to be had as I had set them a deadline of 12:30 to serve up the terrine and then the chicken so they could all sit down and eat together.

Well they just about did it… the classroom looked a bit like a bomb had hit it but overall it was a success and they all seemed to like the terrine and the “monster” sized chicken breasts also seemed to get devoured! The bread was a triumph apart from a couple of students who managed to forget that all important addition of bicarbonate of soda to act as the rising agent! I guess the reading of the recipe will be high on the agenda next time!

So fed and rested (a bit) the afternoon session kicked off with the chocolate dessert. We firstly had to blow up small water bomb balloons to act as the mould to make little chocolate cups that we could then use as a casing for the finished mousse. This required a large pot of chocolate melted and tempered ready for the balloons to be dipped and left to harden. I had warned them if the chocolate was too hot they had a tendency to explode! This they duly did on several occasions but overall we managed to get 20 plus balloons chilling!

The mousse was then started by melting chocolate over a saucepan of hot water (bain marie) and the egg whites were whipped to soft peak meringues with some added sugar and the chocolate was then emulsified with some water and agar agar mix. This all then combined ensured the mousse was light and the absence of cream means a much cleaner flavour. The girls all did an amazing job as it was all a bit unfamiliar and the cries of “I don’t like dark chocolate” were turned to “OMG this is a bit of alright” As I dished out some Damian Allsop water ganache chocolates to them all to sample and I showed them how to plate up the mousse and garnish. One girl presented a truly magnificent example that had a true “Faberge Look” about it and it even garnered praise from the man himself Damian Allsop via Twitter when he tweeted a few days later.

@emmamurphy_98: Well done to you too!! I wish i was there, but it looks like @MrHariCovert has it well under control ;-)

As the girls departed with their extra mousses for their family to taste at home and we tidied up and packed away I reflected they had done an amazing job in the time given. It was good to see them not only embrace a task they viewed with trepidation but also thoroughly enjoy foods and products they were unfamiliar with.

So next year will be a new challenge and we hope a new set of budding cooks will step up to the challenges we set them.

The recipes used can be found via the following links

Warm New Potato & Spinach Terrine with Chorizo Dressing

Irish Soda Bread

Chicken Breast with A Wild Mushroom Stuffing & Wild Mushroom Ragout

Damian Allsops “Water” Chocolate Mousse

Summertime Sizzler…

Welcome Drink & Seasonal Nibbles

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Catalan Red Pepper “Escalivida”

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Roasted “Kentish” Lamb Chump with Skordalia Potatoes

Melange of Beans

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Hari’s Cheese Selection & Porridge Oat Biscuits

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Choux Pastry Bun filled with Lemon Curd Cream

& Fresh Local Strawberries

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Coffee & Petit Fours

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NB. Menu Subject to alteration and Market Purchases

Dates: 7th June & 8th June

Welcome Drink: 7:30pm Prompt

Dinner: 8:00pm

Drinks: We will provide a welcome drink and glass of dessert wine with the pudding.
Please bring your own drinks to have with your dinner. Water, Glasses and Ice Buckets provided.

Cost: We request a £35 Donation per person – Service is not included.
We do prefer cash but will accept a card payment if we have to.

This months menu will be an interesting mix of dishes that reflects some different cuisine styles. There will be a Mediterranean influence with several dishes. The starter is a Catalan salad of char-grilled roasted red peppers and aubergine that we will serve with some toasted home-made bread.

Roasted Lamb Chump will be served with Skordalia Potatoes.. A Greek influenced dish this is potatoes cooked in milk, garlic, olive oil and lemon juice and then pureed to a thick sauce consistency. We will also serve a mix of seasonal green beans, round, flat and broad!

Next we will serve up our selection of cheeses with our now infamous porridge oat biscuits and home-made banana jam.

To complete our dinner we will serve a classic choux pastry bun filled with a lemon curd cream and fresh local strawberries – a real taste of summer to complete our meal.

Please complete the Booking Form below to reserve your places.

We will normally contact you within 48 hours to confirm your booking with a credit card number.