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!


Hari C