Tag Archives: dining

All about the service…

Well during the past few months I have had quite a few eating out experiences of both a good and bad nature.  Having made a living out of restaurant reviewing in the past as both an “Egon Ronay Guides” inspector and also an “AA Guides” patch inspector my tastes have developed to appreciate firstly much simpler food where the ingredients provenance takes centre stage.

I have however begun to appreciate far more the service proffered by an establishment as also being an integral part of the whole experience.

I recently found myself for a few days in the West Country and we had a rather posh afternoon tea at a newly opened 5 star hotel – the Afternoon Tea served was £30 a head and whilst generous in proportion was not so memorable for the quality of the offer. Firstly sandwiches when delivered did not match the menu description and the chefs predilection for tomato in them was rather overzealous.

Scones whilst home-made were stodgy and stale, jam and cream was however generous. Cakes and pastries were pretty unimaginative and amateurish – a tartlette case filled with meringue needed the citric base to compensate for the sweetness. A chocolate cake and a caramel mille feuille were also nothing special and the only saving grace was the fresh fruit tartlette.

An apfel strudel with vanilla sauce was also out of place as a tea time treat – more in keeping as a restaurant dessert was also soggy and not in the least bit dainty!

The only saving was friendly and concerned service from a young but professional team of staff who held it all together and helped redeem the food quality misgivings.

A couple of days later we then had a meal in the depths of Cornwall at an establishment in a very busy and bustling coastal town that is dominated by a certain celebrity chef.

We went to his “Bistro” operation for a dinner. It was a return visit since we had had a memorable lunch some nine years earlier. Whilst the food was spot on and highlighted well the great produce on offer from fresh local scallops served with a truffle butter to an amazing combination of John Dory, Grilled Baby Leeks, Soft Boiled Egg and shaved Parmesan  cheese that was an enlightening combination. It was however the service we had that was more memorable. Young staff were engaging, sociable and efficient throughout so much so it was refreshing to watch and made the evening all the more memorable!

The day afterwards at a seaside Cafe we visited for a traditional Cornish clotted cream tea there was a slightly annoying pre-order system at a bar counter and then your order was delivered to your chosen table. Not ideal, but acceptable except what annoys me more is waiting staff who walk past a laden table of a previous occupants detritus that is not cleared by them… somewhat all to apparent at this canal side eatery that whilst popular lacked the slickness of the previous nights dinner.

My other pet hate is the “Nandos” concept of sitting at a table and then being made to go to a till to order and pre pay – My disabled wife has been discriminated before with this concept  and forced to send our young daughter to order and pay. A visit to chain of burger restaurants using such a format was underwhelming and confirmed my favourite style of this eatery is the “poetically named group” found all over London who has continually delivered great service and a very consistent product in each of their places. My daughter is now hooked on them as are all of her school friends.

Whilst eating with friends at one of Mr Raymond White’s bustling restaurants a mistake to our dessert order was handled with great aplomb and apologetic efficiency that left us impressed with the establishment and happy to return at a future date as opposed to a negative and disgruntled attitude!

Our visit to a wonderful restaurant with rooms in deepest north Devon owned and operated by friends admittedly was made more special by the service proffered that was concerned, measured and efficient throughout our visit. From the welcome cup of tea on arrival to a coffee served in the lounge whilst writing up a report to a sumptuous dinner and well cooked breakfast reminded us how committed you need to be to be hospitable and successful. This couple have now done some 15 plus years in their own business and just one look at the positive and glowing feed back on their trip advisor rating speaks volumes for their dedicated professionalism. I am not surprised they are trying to now sell up and take things a little bit easier as they work long hours and very hard to maintain their loyal and appreciative guests! I wish I had the energy and money to invest in their truly lovely place. I thoroughly recommend a visit to see how it should be done.

Whilst the food is important the service can make or break the experience and the rise in popularity of TripAdvisor hated by many a chef in my mind when you read between the lines is a useful tool to ensure you do not waste your money!

I can thoroughly recommend the following as they provided some truly memorable meals and service over the past few months… I will not bore you with the not so good!

St Petrocs Bistro

Blagdon Manor

Byron Burgers

Restaurant Aquar’aile

Cultural differences…

Well I have been watching the BBC 2 series about Chinese School “Are our are kids tough enough” – despite it’s infuriating editing making it seem a disastrous experience it does illustrate very well the differences between ours and their cultures.

This was also brought home to me following a recent visit of a young 15 year old Singaporean lad who spent two weeks staying with my family for some culinary mentoring.

His very polite and respectful nature for such tender years was refreshing – his eagerness to learn was also commendable – unlike some of the 15 year olds on the TV programme.

It was however the visit we made together to France for an eating and shopping fest that also illustrated to me how different our cultures are with just twenty plus mile of water between us!

We paid visits to some French hypermarkets… he was in awe of the 50 plus checkouts/tills and the range of produce on sale. We then paid a visit to a weekly market in the village of Etaples where the range of fresh seasonal produce was breathtaking. Fresh peaches apricots and nectarines were cheap and great quality alongside an amazing array of fresh tomatoes.

Stalls selling just cheese, fresh fish or one selling a freshly made Paella or another a spit roasted chicken all seemed quite exotic. We had also visited earlier in the week the farmers market in Tonbridge and whilst the produce on show was good the price differentials were eye watering. It seems that twenty plus miles of water has a great deal to answer for.

John Dory with a ginger beurre blanc sauce
John Dory with a ginger beurre blanc sauce

We also paid a visit to the local fish market after having had a wonderful fish based lunch at Perard in nearby Le Touquet – a hugely popular  and busy restaurant that seemed ever popular (it had been many years since my last visit) their infamous fish soup still as good as ever! The range of fish on offer at the Etaples fish market was stunning and so fresh looking – we succumbed to a purchase of three large John Dory at an eye watering forty plus euros. Worth every penny when we the next day filleted them and cooked them for supper.

It all illustrated very well how different our cultures are and respecting this is key to ensuring we appreciate what is on offer. It never ceases to amaze me how we expect to be able to eat an out of season strawberry at Christmas or an asparagus spear imported from thousands of miles away instead of only consuming when in season and more locally sourced.

We should all embrace cultural differences and what they can contribute to our daily lives and not treat them with suspicion or fear…

Rant over…

Fowl Feast…our September menu

Well it has been a very hectic Summer for us… apologies for my tardiness in posting and getting our menus up to date. Will reveal a little more on what has been going on in a separate post.

So for our September menu on Friday 25th & Saturday 26th September we will be offering what we term a fowl feast… to kick the dinner off we will serve a smooth unctuous Chicken Liver Parfait that will have a homemade Onion Chutney with it. A classic combination. For the main course we will then serve a crispy Duck Leg Confit that will have a selection of roasted root vegetables and a tart redcurrant sauce with it – it is a rich dish to remind us that the Autumn chill is just around the corner!

We will then serve a selection of cheeses with our homemade porridge oat biscuits and Banana Jam

To complete the feast we plan to serve a glazed lemon curd tartlette with a compote of fresh blackberries and a dollop of clotted cream – fresh French pressed coffee as they say across the pond with some homemade peanut butter butter fudge should round it all off

If you wish to reserve your spaces then please just complete the booking form below and we will normally contact you within 24/48 hours to confirm your reservation with a credit card number

Arrival Time: 7:30pm – Welcome drink & Seasonal Nibbles

Dinner Served: 8:00pm

Suggested Donation: £35 per person (Service not included)

Menu

Smooth Chicken Liver Parfait served with

Homemade Onion Relish

¤¤¤¤

Crispy Confit Duck Leg with Roasted Root Vegetables and a Redcurrant Sauce

¤¤¤¤

Hari’s Assorted Cheese Selection with Porridge Oat Biscuits

¤¤¤¤

Glazed Lemon Curd Tartlette with a

Blackberry Compote & Clotted Cream

¤¤¤¤

Coffee & Fudge

Independence Day… Happy 4th July

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Well I cannot believe it has been two years since we last attempted a totally alfresco dinner… we will endeavour to  do so again this year (weather permitting) and what better day than to make a night of it on Saturday July 4th when we will serve up an American themed dinner in our garden terrace setting.

We will welcome guests with a drink and some simple nibbles (monkey nuts and freshly popped corn very likely!)

We will then serve up a couple of platters for dinners of loaded nachos and some spicy deep fried chicken pop corn that will be shared out on each table.

For the main courses we will then serve up either a Texan spiced pulled pork burger bun or freshly grilled Salmon Fillet bun with a dill sauce all served up with freshly dressed slaw and French Fries. The choice is yours…

To complete what we hope will be a fun night we will then serve you either a chocolate fudge brownie with vanilla ice cream and pecans or a Strawberry Shortcake with Strawberry Sauce. Simple fare that we hope will get the party started.

Finally we will then serve what across the pond they call French pressed coffee with home-made peanut butter fudge.

Arrival: 7:30pm Welcome Drink & Nibbles

Dinner 8:00pm Prompt

Suggested Donation: £30.00 per person (Service not included)

 Menu 

Loaded Vegetarian Nachos

Popcorn Chicken with Hot Salsa

 ****

Texan Pulled Pork Burger, Slaw & String Fries

or

Grilled Salmon Sandwich with Dill Sauce, Slaw & String Fries

****

Home-made Strawberry Shortcake with Strawberry Sauce

or

Chocolate Fudge Brownie with Vanilla Ice Cream

& Toasted Pecans

****

Coffee & Peanut Butter Fudge

Menu subject to market purchases and ingredient availability

Please complete the Booking Form and we will confirm your spaces normally within 48 Hours

Over Sexed, Overpaid and Over Here…

Well I certainly cannot vouch for the first two of this infamous statement –  but the third one is pretty accurate when it comes to describing Jeff Kipp the chef patron of a cute little eaterie in Saltwood Green near Hythe. The Saltwood is his baby.

Jeff hails from the “Windy City” across the pond and spent time working with Charlie Trotter a much respected and alas now departed cook. He arrived in Saltwood Green having worked in some pucker establishments in London town and London’s loss is now this sleepy village’s gain on the outskirts of Hythe.

I came across Jeff slightly by accident having been introduced by a chef acquaintance and a few weeks ago I met him when I was helping Jules Serkin on her weekly radio show called Scoff Quaff that is broadcast from just down the road towards Dymchurch! It was a lively programme… you can listen again here

Why I waited so long for an excuse I do not know but I found myself there for a luncheon with my good lady and an old friend (he is definitely older than me – he he sorry Mario!)  We had drooled over the menu on line and were looking forward to sampling the small but well balanced menu. Lunch is a simpler affair whilst dinner has a little bit more involved and complex dishes.

We settled into our luncheon with a celebratory welcome drink – a chilled glass of Prosecco that also contained some Kentish hop syrup – it went down rather well and certainly got the party started!

To get us going we chose a couple of their homemade breads – a soft American style pretzel served with a little ramekin of rarebit and then a Corn Bread with a dollop of tomato relish and goats curd… both were very good.

Having perused the menu my wife decided to go for one of the little plates for her main course… namely a smoked fish cake. Me and my considerably older friend decided to share a plate of Jeff’s Home-made gnocchi flavoured with wild garlic that was on the menu… I had taken Jeff a big bag of freshly foraged wild garlic and a large bunch of wild garlic flowers. These then duly appeared on the resultant starter and very pretty they looked too!

The little pillows of gnocchi had also been lightly fried to give them a slightly crunchy texture… it was an accomplished dish.

Mario chose as his main course a pan seared fillet of sea trout with petit pois, pea shoots, samphire and Jersey royals with a punchy tartare sauce… spring time personified on the plate with beautiful succulent sea trout perfectly cooked.  I went for roasted shoulder of Romney Marsh lamb served with a romesco (red pepper, almond and olive oil) infused mashed potato plus grilled Mediterranean vegetables and a Salsa Verde/Gremolata sauce. The meat was lovely, cooked slightly pink it had a lovely sweet flavour that married well with the earthy mash and the vibrant herby green sauce. Overall another well accomplished dish.

We then decided to partake in a few of the puddings on offer… Mario went savoury with what was described as Stilton crumble with apple & rhubarb… it was a de-constructed affair of apple slices, rhubarb with apple foam little pieces of crumbled Stilton of great provenance and taste… garnished with assorted young shoots it looked a pretty picture on the plate.

My better half chose the home-made Cheesecake with orange and cardamom – it had good oaty biscuit base topped with a vanilla cheesecake glazed with an orange jelly. It was however my dessert that garnered the most compliments. A chocolate tart with a malted milk ice cream and a malted caramel. This was pure luxury and the simple de-constructed presentation made it even more enjoyable (the pastry biscuit base was perfectly buttery and crisp)

Well Jeff has won us over and we are now planning a return visit (hopefully a dinner) it was worthy of the seventy mile plus round trip for us and a perfect way to complete my birthday celebrations.

I do hope Jeff remains over here and well the first two statements in the title will not be an issue either.(Just kidding Jeff)

Go and try it, it’s well worth it!

Saltwood on the Green, The Green, Saltwood, Hythe, Kent CT21 4PS

A wild one…

Wild Garlic FlowersWhere is this year going… cannot believe we are already nearly a third of the year through it…

For me the end of winter is signalled by the arrival of a wild food in the form of Wild Garlic or as known by it’s “English” name Ransom. The broad green leaves that poke their heads up in wooded areas from about mid march onwards remind me that warmer weather is hopefully around the corner and we should also start seeing more abundant seasonal produce in our baskets.

Posset's on Parade!!!This months dinners will feature the foraged herb in the starter and main course (to a lesser extent) and then a true spring fruit fresh rhubarb married to a tart lemon posset!

To book this event then please complete the booking form below and we will contact you normally with 48 hours to confirm your places.

Arrival: 7:30pm Welcome Drink & Nibbles

Dinner: 8:00pm

Suggested Donation: £40 per person

Service not included

Assorted Seasonal Canapés with a welcome drink

****

Wild Garlic, Pea & Prawn Risotto

****

Herb Crusted Roasted Rump of Lamb

with minted crushed Jersey Royals

Haricot Vert & Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

****

Hari’s selection of assorted Cheeses

with Porridge Oat Biscuits & Banana Jam

****

Lemon & Rhubarb Posset served with a warm home-made shortbread

Served with a glass of Muscat de Rivesaltes 

****

Coffee & Petits Fours

Menu Subject to Ingredient Availability and Market Purchases

From Nose to Tail…a veritable collection of local charcuterie…

It was a bitterly cold Thursday morning when I swept into Shipbourne Farmers market near Tonbridge to collect some ingredients for a home brew from Moodley’s Beer and Wine Kits. At the entrance was a table laden with some rather good looking Salami and cured meats plus a plethora of smoked fish… It was a bit of a shock to then discovered they had all been produced in Kent and were the brain child of former Chef Paolo Rigoli and his partner Dalton Hopper. These were the real deal and Paolo willingly kept slicing a piece from each to let me sample… charcuterie overload or what….

I purchased some to take home and try and duly demolished in double quick time and then ordered some more to use at my pop up dinners in February when we did a small board of charcuterie to start off our Fondue parties. Their Tuscan salami was an amazing product – made with red wine, fennel seeds and some bigger pieces of fat the resulting salami is a real gem. I duly purchased whole lot more in readiness for my March Beer dinners as well. Including their small snacking salami aptly called a beer stick that is designed to go with a glass of beer!

Then recently I arranged to go over and see their production set up… It was an eye-opener and good to see how two passionate young lads have for a fairly modest sum set up a true artisan business. They have assorted Porta-Kabins that are the production kitchens and then an old refrigerated unit that has been adapted to be their curing chamber.

Then another area for smoking of the fish. In just over six months of production this set up is already not able meet sufficiently the demand they have created from the selling via the Farmers Markets they go to along with a growing wholesale demand as well. Plans to put in another curing chamber will mean they can then increase production of the larger joints they wish to cure and store such as the Parma Ham style legs, Coppa and Lomo joints. The legs taking up to eighteen months to reach their optimum maturity. The smaller salamis and sausage style meats taking less time means they would have greater capacity to meet the demands.

For Paolo it has been a steep learning curve as he gets to grip with the legislation and demands of running a new business. Dalton still works full time in his front of house role at a nearby restaurant so supports where and when he can. It truly is good to see such passion and dedication to produce what is a very fine product and I urge you to seek out their products at one of the Farmers markets they attend namely Shipbourne, Aylesford, Elm Court and Tonbridge and then also Horniman Market in south London.

Take a look at their web site for more details on the range of products http://www.kentcateringltd.co.uk/

March onwards…

We love a good glass of beer and we thought what could be a great theme for our March dinner event would be to pair up once again with Yudhistra Moodley of Moodley’s Craft Beer & Wine Making (we last hosted a dinner with Moodleyshim in January 2012) and this time are offering something a bit different. We have always loved using his beer especially in our beer bread.

Yudhistra only brews his beers to  order now commercially but he is however now selling “The Simple Beer Kit” mostly through Farm Shops  and local farmers’ markets including Tunbridge Wells Town Hall, Tonbridge, Aylesford, Hildenborough, Lamberhurst, Shipbourne Horsmonden , West Malling & Robertsbridge and then his web site on the Internet. All so you can brew your own high quality home brew using brewing quality ingredients. You can follow him on twitter @moodleyslimited or on Facebook at Moodley’s Limited

We have teamed up with him for our dinners on Friday 13th & Saturday 14th March when we will be serving a simple beer themed supper to our guests. We will also for each pair of guests be providing a simple beer kit for you to take home and try brewing yourself. Yudhistra will also be on hand each night to answer any brewing questions you may have on how to make a successful brew.

musselsFollowing a welcome drink and beer themed nibble we will kick the evening off with a bowl of freshly cooked fresh mussels cooked in a home brew and served with our now somewhat infamous beer bread.

We will then go onto the main course dish a classic pork shoulder stew braised in beer with carrots and onions. We will serve this with a herby bulgur wheat and some purple sprouting broccoli – a good warming bit of comfort food

Decadent Chocolate TorteFinally we will then serve a classic chocolate cake made with a dark beer that will be served with a compote of blood oranges and some mascarpone cream.

Then with coffee and we will serve some petit fours.

We think it will be a fun night with the added benefit of a take home beer kit with full instructions on how to make your own home brew, what could be better?

Arrival: 7:30pm Welcome Drink & Nibbles

Dinner: 8:00pm

Suggested Donation: £40 per person including for each pair a Moodleys Simple Beer Kit (retails at £30)

Service not included

Menu

Poached Fresh Mussels in Beer with Hari’s Beer Bread

****

Beer Braised Pork with Carrots & Onion

Herbed Bulgur Wheat

Purple Sprouting  Broccoli

****

Chocolate & Porter Cake, Blood Oranges & Mascarpone

****

Coffee & Petit Fours

To reserve your places please complete the booking form below and we will contact you normally within 24 to 48 hours to confirm  your places with a credit card number.

Happy New Year…

Well here at “Covert Towers” we have been enjoying the festive season in our warm and dry home… a bit different to last year when we evacuated on Christmas Eve and did not return until early July!

imagesIt was a challenging year in 2014 for a number of reasons and we are now looking forward to a what will be our 5th year of secret dining.

We cannot thank our supporters enough for sticking with us during such trying times. We cooked in new venues provided by generous hosts and then we returned to our refurbished home and new kitchen and have been cooking up some storming events since then.

Now as we start off in 2015 we have set dates right through to the end of the year. We have some exciting themes planned for the year and we will publish more details in due course but for the moment we have two dates on February 6th and 7th when the menu will be based around Fondues. We will publish full menus in due course.

On Thursday March 26th we will also be taking part in a charity dinner called “Take 5 Cooks” plus one (a late entry) This will be held 5at Redwood College in Essex and the profits from this dinner is to be shared between Home Start (Essex) and the Welcome Project (Ilford) two small local charities. We will share more details soon as we are just awaiting confirmation on booking details and price per head. Feel free to use our booking confirmation form to register your interest. We Promise it will be a real fun night!

We will publish more details on our other events as soon as we can just keep checking back. In the meantime we wish all our current and potential new customers a very Happy New Year.

Hari Covert

The final “O come all ye Faithful”….

dec

Cancelled – sorry for any inconvenience

Our final supperclub event of 2014 is something a bit special for us… We have always wanted to do a “Pop Up” in central Tunbridge Wells and we can now announce we are coming to the town on Saturday December 20th.

We will be located in a space in Chapel Place (8a to be precise) where for one night only we will serve a special dinner. It will be a big challenge for us as we will have to transport a kitchen into the site and all the associated equipment.

We hope you will come along and support us and get yourselves intosanta1 the festive spirit…

We will kick the evening off with a welcome drink and some festive
nibbles then diners will sit down to a sumptuous four course dinner

Arrival:  7:30pm

Dinner:  Served 8:00pm Prompt

Suggested Donation £40.00 per person (service not included)

Bring your own Alcohol – we provided water and ice buckets

Menu

Homemade Pork, Apricot & Hazelnut Terrine

with a home-made Seasonal Relish

*****

Crispy Confit Duck Leg served on a

mixed bean & Spicy Chorizo Stew

*****

Hari’s Selection of Cheeses,

Porridge Oat Biscuits & Homemade Banana Jam

*****

Christmas Pudding Iced Parfait with a Red Berry compote and holly tuile biscuit served with a glass of Muscat de Rivesaltes

*****

Coffee or Hari’s Tea Blend with Festive Petit Fours

Menu subject to market purchases and ingredient availability