A random set of images from Japan:
A few more images from Japan:
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A photo album of Pete and I enjoying Japan.
A picture post today.
I came across these Scandinavian biscuit photos whilst sorting through my photo drive. They are vanilla cookies from Trine Hahnemann’s Scandinavian Christmas book. I formed all the dough into rings but then sprinkled half with some cinnamon sugar from a different recipe. These were baked last November, during a visit to my friend’s place, Orchard Cottage. I love the bright sunlight and the happy feel of the images, so I’m sharing them with you today.
Ready to go into the oven, above.
Fresh out of the oven.
Ready to eat!
I made the switch from film to digital photography many years ago, and swiftly taught myself how to use simple image processing to make the best of my images. Whilst a few folk still like to suggest that all digital processing is fakery, they are often just woefully ignorant of how significantly one can adjust a printed image in a traditional darkroom. It’s for good reason that image processing is often called the digital darkroom, allowing for similar adjustments in exposure, contrast, shadows and highlights as well as cropping, colour balance and saturation. Having used both, I don’t miss the back ache and slow progress of a traditional darkroom, though I used to enjoy it at the time!
I’ve been using Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Lightroom to process my images for years; these days I mostly use Lightroom and open my older version of Photoshop more rarely. Lightroom is currently priced at around £100 for the full version or £60 if upgrading from an earlier version, which I think is a fair price. However, Photoshop pricing has gone through the roof with a full version currently priced at £660 and the upgrade from earlier versions still £188. Both tools are focused on photo editing, and do not offer any graphic design features. For that, you’d need yet another programme, such as Adobe Illustrator. And if you need to throw some professional documents together, there’s a separate desktop publishing programme, InDesign.
When it comes to video editing, I used to struggle along with Windows Movie Editor, but gave up on that some time ago, when it suddenly became incapable of handling multiple clips in one file. As one would expect from a free tool, it was very short on features anyway.
I was recently approached by Magix with the offer of trialling some of their photo editing and video editing tools. To that end, I’ve installed Xara Photo and Graphic Designer (£70) and Movie Edit Pro Plus (£80).
One of the first things to notice about Xara is that it offers photo editing, graphic design functionality, and desktop publishing. I’ve spent just a few hours playing with Xara so far. I will say that, with so much functionality, you will need to invest a fair amount of time in learning how to use it. The help pages are not ideally arranged, and it took me a fair bit of searching through the Help Index and jumping from section to section, to work out even the rudimentary functions. However, this is true of any complex software tool used for similar purposes. There are also a number of tutorials available in the online magazine and video tutorials are often shared over at their Facebook page.
The photo editing offers reasonable functionality, though would not replace something like Lightroom for a serious photographer – one example is the temperature (white balance) control which offers only one slider to cool or warm the image, rather than the usual pair of yellow/ blue and red/ green sliders. It also doesn’t offer batch processing of images, which is essential for large volume processing.
The graphic design tools look good, and there are also lots of design templates which you can use as they are, replacing the holding images with your own. It took me only a few minutes to create the collage above, using a template, pulling in my own images and replacing the text. I’d like a wider range of collage templates, but that’s probably because this is one functionality that doesn’t exist in my Adobe tools. I’ve been using Picasa to create collages but am unhappy with the way Picasa handles files and file locations, so have been looking for an alternative.
I’ve never really used graphic design software, though a clever friend of mine used Xara to transcribe my hand-drawn logo for Mamta’s Kitchen into the image file we currently use as the header for the website. This is an area of Xara I need to explore further going forward, though I’m not very talented in this area.
That leaves Movie Edit Pro, and I’m afraid I’ve been rather lax in this area, and not yet had time to play around with it. However, Pete has some video footage from a recent trip to edit, and he’s going to give Movie Edit Pro a go. The features list looks promising so I’m confident it’ll be a big improvement over the tools we’ve tried before.
Magix are offering both the above products as prizes for a Kavey Eats competition.
The first winner picked will receive a code to download a copy of Xara Photo and Graphic Designer.
The second winner picked will receive a code to download a copy of and Movie Edit Pro Plus.
Please note that these programmes are suitable for Windows users only. Full systems requirements can be found at the Magix.com.
HOW TO ENTER
You can enter the competition in 2 ways:
Entry 1 – Blog Comment
Leave a comment below, answering the following question:
How do you currently edit your photos or videos?
Entry 2 – Twitter
Follow @KaveyF on twitter. Existing followers are, of course, welcome to enter!
Then tweet the (exact) sentence below:
I’d love to win @Magix_UK photo or video editing software from Kavey Eats! http://goo.gl/EIPmn #KaveyEatsMagix
RULES & DETAILS
The deadline for entries is midnight GMT Friday 26th October 2012.
Kavey Eats reserves the right to alter the closing date of the competition. Changes to the closing date, if they occur, will be shown on this page.
The winners will be selected from all valid entries using a random number generator.
Entry instructions form part of the terms and conditions.
Where prizes are to be provided by a third party, Kavey Eats accepts no responsibility for the acts or defaults of that third party.
Prize 1 is a digital download of Magix Xara Photo and Graphic Designer. Prize 2 is a digital download of Magix Movie Edit Pro Plus. Prizes cannot be redeemed for a cash value.
The prizes are offered by Magix.
One blog entry per person only. One Twitter entry per person only. You do not have to enter both ways for your entries to be valid.
For twitter entries, winners must be following @KaveyF at the time of notification, as this will be sent by Direct Message.
Blog comment entries must provide a valid email address for contacting the winner.
The winners will be notified by email or twitter (for twitter entries). If no response is received within 7 days of notification, the prize will be forfeit and a new winner will be picked and contacted.
Kavey Eats received review copies of Xara Photo and Graphic Designer and Movie Edit Pro Plus courtesy of Magix.
This competition is now closed. Winners are MarklesUK (via twitter) and Tori.
Every time I eat some of Nidal Rayess’ apricot jam, which I’ve eked out with unusual willpower, I chide myself for not having shared the experience of our day visiting Nidal at his factory in Lebanon, last spring.
So, extremely late though it is, I am finally sharing another Lebanon highlight.
Nidal Rayess is the manager of Rayess Trading, a family business established by his grandfather Nemer Rayess in 1920, during the French occupation of Lebanon.
The business makes top quality cheese and dairy products such as labneh (strained yoghurt), halloumi and several local cheeses as well as a wide selection of mouneh, a catch-all term which describes preserves made during the harvest season and stored in the larder to be enjoyed throughout the year. Mouneh includes jams, pickles, fruits in syrup and even dried balls of labneh preserved in oil.
Before meeting Nidal, we stopped for a brief snack in his small traditional store in Chtaura, shelves stacked high with mouneh and deli counter well-stocked with fresh dairy products.
(One thing you learn very quickly is that you never go long without eating, on a Taste Lebanon tour!)
But the highlight of our day was heading to Nidal’s home and factory, where he showed us around the manufacturing premises and processes. First, we watched his staff making and branding halloumi and preserving candied orange peels.
During the First World War, Nidal’s grandfather Nemer was working in concrete construction for the French Army. Also working for the army was a Greek chef from whom Nemer learned the traditional recipe and methods for making Greek halloumi, as well as fresh and pressed ricotta.
Nidal still makes halloumi in exactly the same way, with milk from the business’ own herd of cows, pastured in the North of the country.
The halloumi is cooked in huge copper vats, which were hand made in Turkey in 1870 and formerly used to cook wheat in the Taanayel kitchens of Ottoman governors (who ruled Lebanon until the close of the First World War). Whilst many modern producers use stainless steel vats, Nidal says that copper handles a higher temperature, allowing the heat to better penetrate the halloumi during the cooking time, resulting in a difference in taste in the finished product.
Hot out of the pans, squares of halloumi are folded in half and arranged on a metal table between large wooden planks, which help them to set into the right shape.
After they’ve all been shaped, they are branded with a logo.
And then turned over to flatten the other side.
Labneh is traditionally made by straining yoghurt. Modern industrial manufacturers have switched to using centrifuges to spin out excess liquid, but the resulting labneh doesn’t have the incredibly rich and creamy texture of Nidal’s, which is still made the old-fashioned way. Nidal makes both cow and goat milk labneh, the cow milk coming from his own herd, as above.
Don’t assume that the factory is without any modern technology. Nidal doesn’t stick with the old ways unthinkingly but follows tradition where it creates a superior product. The factory uses modern equipment where and when it’s needed, such as this vacuum-packaging machine, above.
Orange peels are first prepped, then added to a hot sugar syrup, stirred regularly as they cook. They smell wonderful!
No jams are being made during our visit, but Nidal does share some of his tips for the astonishingly special apricot jam that both Aiofe and I fall head over heels for.
First, of course, is the selection of the fruit. As most jam makers know, the better the quality of the fruit you start with, the better the finished jam. But Nidal takes this to another level; for his apricot jam, he uses only the ripest half of each fruit, the half that was most bathed in sunlight, as it grew. I daren’t ask what happens to the discarded halves, though I’m sure they are used by someone to make a less magical product! There are also improvements to be made elsewhere in the recipe; Nidal uses three different types of sugar, balanced to contribute just the right flavour and consistency to the jam.
In our tasting of cheeses, labneh and jams we are blown away by the warm, fresh halloumi (better than any I’ve tasted), and the wonderfully creamy labneh (which really brings home why Nidal’s products are a favourite of the Jordanian royal family, no less). But it’s the jam that steals our hearts, and which we happily bring home with us. In fact, Pete and I bought a brand new suitcase, just to ensure we had space for our precious cargo!
Just as in the UK, the Lebanese enthusiasm for top quality artisan food continues to grow. After our day with Nidal and our visit to Abu Kassem’s za’atar farm, it’s not hard to see why.
Lebanon is a beautiful country to visit – striking landscapes, ancient history, a warm and welcoming people and some really fantastic food. Go! See you for yourself!
When I was sixteen I had my wisdom teeth taken out.
Explains a lot, doesn’t it?
My best friend’s mum gave me a brown paper bag of clementines as a ‘get well soon’ gesture. They were the tiniest clementines I’d ever seen, little more than an inch in diameter. I loved these adorable miniature citrus fruits and have always bought them whenever I’ve come across them since, which hasn’t been often…
But I looked for them last winter, and again over the last few months, and couldn’t find them anywhere. Worse still, more than one fruit stall vendor looked at me like I was asking for oranges grown on Mars! Occasional sightings by friends (in non-local shops) convinced me I wasn’t going crazy.
Finally, I found these baby tangerines in my local Waitrose and had to put them in my basket. (I didn’t have a choice, they were calling to me, “Eat me, Kavey, eat me!” they squeaked).
I candied them, using the same recipe I first tried for Christmas day, and made again a few days later.
No alcohol this time, just sugar, water and the little oranges. Delicious!
These oranges are so cute, I can’t resist sharing photos, even though I blogged the recipe so recently.
At the end of September last year, I turned 40; a number imbued with all kinds of emotional baggage, with references to the hill of life and one’s position on it. But for me it was an excuse for a party and I had a really great day, surrounded by family and friends, new and old. I was overwhelmed by thoughtful, generous and perfectly-chosen gifts, but one in particular really took my breath away.
Here’s the clue my sister gave me:
You’d think I’d have guessed immediately, wouldn’t you? A food obsessive like me, with a particular fascination for watching chefs on the telly and visiting restaurants. But to my embarrassment, I didn’t twig. My only excuse is that I was so flustered by the sudden surge of cake-toting guests arriving that I wasn’t really thinking straight!
But the next clue was a printed tasting menu, and it’s at that point I started screeching with excitement.
My sister shares my birthday. She’s three years younger than me… but about 10 years younger in looks and several years ahead when it comes to behaving like a grown up…
For my 40th (and her 37th) she would take us to The Fat Duck.
It took a while to secure a reservation, but eventually our January lunch date rolled around.
I realise there are a thousand reviews of The Fat Duck already on the internet, but it was one of the most amazing meals I’ve ever had so I’m still going to add one more review to the mix. And it’s going to be chock full of clichéd superlatives like incredible, fantastic, wonderful, magical! If you can’t bear gushing, click away now!
Although the day started with a downpour, by the time we arrive in Bray, the sky is blue and the sun is shining. We park in the car park for the Hinds Head pub and pop in for a drink in the bar. I enjoyed a meal in the Hinds Head a few years ago and it’s a worthy destination in its own right, as the stream of diners arriving for lunch testifies.
As we leave, the bar man asks if we are having lunch at The Fat Duck. When we nod, he tells us that Heston is about today, filming for something or the other, so we might see him. We don’t. But kitchen and front of house teams are evidently trained to work like a well-oiled machine, whether or not the great man is present.
We walk into a restaurant with most tables already taken, and are soon seated amongst the smiling diners.
Unlike many Michelin-starred restaurants, the interior here is quite simply styled. White walls and table linen lend a feeling of space, much needed given the low beamed ceilings. Table decorations are minimal and there are a couple of colourful but unchallenging pieces of modern art on the walls. Tables are nicely spaced out and the overall vibe is very relaxed.
A bottle each of sparkling and still water are ordered, and the tasting menu for the day presented.
We are asked if there are any problematic ingredients. I explain that whilst I don’t have either an allergy or an intolerance, I find the flavour of aniseed very difficult, it makes me a bit nauseous. As one of the dishes is described as salmon poached in a liquorice gel, I say it would probably be a no-no for me, but as I’ve not given any advance notice, I am happy to simply skip it, if the liquorice is integral. To my delight, the waitress pops away for a moment before returning to our table and offering to replace the salmon dish with turbot. She also points out that another dish is garnished with shavings of fennel bulb, but that it can easily be left out if I prefer (yes, please) and that one of the desserts contains a little fennel, to which I reply that I’m OK with a hint of it, if it’s not a dominant flavour. Whilst I appreciate that this level of service is no doubt standard practice for a restaurant of this calibre, I am still impressed at how accommodating they are, given my failure to let them know my preferences ahead of our visit.
With fourteen courses listed on the menu, we are both surprised when an amuse bouche is served. Described as aerated beetroot with horseradish cream, these bright red and white, feather-light spheres are a revelation of texture and taste; they have a honey-comb texture and the distinctive sweet sharp flavour of beetroot and are sandwiched together with a mild cream which gives just a nudge rather than the usual kick of horseradish. Best of all, the flavours linger and linger…
I wish Heston from Waitrose could replicate these for the mass market!
Next are the famous nitro poached aperitifs. Given a choice of vodka and lime sour, gin and tonic or Campari soda, I choose the Campari, which also contains blood orange, and my sister opts for the vodka and lime with green tea.
Whilst freezing in liquid nitrogen is not exactly old hat, it’s also no longer as unexpected and surprising as it must have been for early customers, but it’s still a fine piece of theatre and fun to watch. Our waitress squirts liquid onto a spoon, turns it for a few moments in the liquid nitrogen, dusts it with a puff of pink or green powder and puffs an accompanying perfume into the air as she instructs us to eat the ball in one mouthful.
It’s far too big for me to manage that, so I make a mess as I break into mine, and the liquid centre spills out, but I try and pop the rest into my mouth as fast as I can. It’s a very refreshing taste, a real cleanser of the palate before the meal to come, but so cold it makes my teeth ache a little more than is pleasant.
Having tasted Heston’s supermarket version of his mustard ice cream, I’m excited to try his Pommery grain mustard ice cream with red cabbage gazpacho. Like the Waitrose copycat, the ice cream perfectly balances the sharp kick of mustard with the sweetness of ice cream. Unlike the Waitrose one, it’s much smoother in texture; silk-like. The red cabbage soup is thin, with tiny pieces of cabbage. For me, it’s so strange to taste the very essence of this crunchy vegetable in a liquid format. The two elements marry well together, and I enjoy the dish far more than I expect.
The first thing brought to the table for our next course is a wooden box of oak moss with two plastic containers labelled Fat Duck Films. Shortly afterwards we’re presented with truffle toasts on a wooden board and a deep round bowl in which we can see a pink quenelle sat on pink cream.
We are told that the oak moss represents the mossy area at the base of oak trees; where truffles are most commonly found. Instructed to open our little boxes and place the thin sheets of film on our tongues, our waiter pours a kettle of liquid over the oak moss, our table is covered in white “smoke” and the aroma of an oak-wooded forest fills the air.
Heston is keen that customers understand how taste and aroma combine to create flavour, and this impressive display brings the message home a second time.
The white bowl protects a perfect little spoonful of rich chicken liver parfait. The layers beneath are crayfish cream, quail jelly and right at the bottom a jewel-green layer of pea puree. A tiny fig tuile is perched in the parfait. Tiny slices of radish and herb adorn the truffle toast. So many flavours, all of them shockingly intense, and yet somehow they all merge together so beautifully.
Just how does one make chicken liver parfait so smooth, quail jelly so very meaty, crayfish cream so rich, pea puree so fresh and sweet?
“Is that you humming?” asks my sister, as I savour each mouthful. I realise it is, and nod. “Stop it!” she tells me, but her smile says she’s loving it every bit as much.
As promised, the shaved fennel has been omitted from my snail porridge, and replaced with a garnish of pea shoots instead.
With or without the fennel, neither of us fall for this famous Heston dish.
The snails are certainly softer and less chewy than I’ve often experienced, but still with that familiar muddy taste. To my surprise, I don’t even notice the Iberico Bellota Ham, it doesn’t register against the porridge – a thin green sludge with soggy oats through it. It tastes of… green, and that’s as well as I can describe it. It’s not unpleasant, but it doesn’t thrill either and I can’t help but think that I’d have enjoyed a portion of the top quality ham on it’s own, far more.
Like the snail porridge, the next dish – roast foie gras, barberry, braised konbu and crab biscuit – comes out completely assembled and ready to enjoy. Konbu seaweed is one of the two main ingredients of Japanese dashi stock and Heston uses it here to great effect; a paper-thin layer of jelly sits beneath the foie gras and more konbu is mixed with chives and sprinkled over the liver; it imparts a subtle mushroom or Marmite taste – that savouriness known as umami. The foie gras is perfect in every respect with a wonderful richness of texture and taste; a delicious buttery meaty fat that melts away on the tongue. Barberry is not something I am familiar with, but the tartness it brings is very welcome. Tiny leaves of sorrel also add their tiny sour note.
My sister raises her eyebrows when I try to remember what the thin crunchy crab biscuits brings to mind, and suddenly announce “roast chicken flavour crisps”. But it’s exactly what the translucent shards remind me of!
As soon as the silver foil stamped bookmarks are placed in front of us, I start to smile, remembering the Victorian episode of Feasts in which Heston took inspiration from Alice in Wonderland to create a Mad Hatter’ s tea party.
‘Have you seen the Mock Turtle yet?’
‘No,’ said Alice. ‘I don’t even know what a Mock Turtle is.’
‘It’s the thing Mock Turtle soup is made from,’ said the Queen.
Bowls of strange things are placed in front of us and gold fob watches are presented in a glass case. We take one each and drop them into our tea cups, stirring to produce a beautiful amber-coloured stock decadently flecked with gold leaf from the wrapper.
The March Hare took the watch and looked at it gloomily; then he dipped it into his cup of tea…
Our waiter pours the rich broth into our bowls, and our mock turtle soups are ready.
There’s so much going on it’s hard to know where to start, but I begin with a spoonful of the meaty liquid, including one of the neatly cut strips of truffle. Mmmm! The wobbly yellow and white mock turtle egg, with the tiniest of mushrooms poking out of it, is made from turnip jelly, swede juice and saffron. I’d never have guessed, as it tastes of mushrooms to me – perhaps that’s the power of deliberate suggestion? Inside a white wrapping of lardo – cured fatback – is a densely pressed block of meat. The lardo is di Colonnata, reputed to be the very best. On top of the meat are impossibly neat cubes of white, green and black. I love the flavour the cucumber brings, and more earthy truffle, but have to ask the identity of the white turnip, which I can’t taste very clearly.
Whilst I like the tastes and textures and do enjoy the dish, I don’t think it pulls together like the oak moss extravaganza, nor are the individual elements quite so mind-blowingly perfect. It’s more about the fun of the story (you need to allow yourself to revert to childhood a little to enjoy this; if you’re too stiffly sophisticated you’ll fail to be charmed) and the strange appearance of the various parts than about a comprehensively balanced dish.
Sound of the sea is another very well known Heston dish. A large shell is placed by each of us, and we pull out the protruding headphones and pop them into our ears. For the next several minutes we are left alone, listening to a recording of breaking waves, seagulls and the distant sounds of children playing.
Having deliberately avoided reading a single Fat Duck review since my sister first announced our visit (and blessed with the kind of appallingly bad memory which means I remember next to no details from reviews read previously) I start to wonder if this course is just a sound sensory experience, and doesn’t actually feature any food at all.
And then, finally, the dish arrives.
Served on a plate of glass suspended above a wooden tray of sand, the elements are presented like fish and seaweed on a sandy shore, with a line of foam left behind from the last breaking wave.
We eat with our headphones still in place, enjoying the dish with our eyes, ears, nose and taste buds.
There are three pieces of fish – mackerel, halibut and yellowtail kingfish – which have been lightly cured with citrus, bergamot and redbush. The seaweed varies in appearance and texture; the only familiar one is samphire; my favourite is the small red and yellow pellet-shaped seaweed that bursts salty liquid in the mouth. The briny foam is made from vegetable and seaweed stock and adds a taste of rock pool sea water. And oh my goodness, that sand, the most amazing element of the dish – a delicious crunchy powder made from tapioca and fried baby sardines, allowed to clump into small and large granules for a more convincing sandy texture.
I expected this dish to be style over substance, clever rather than enjoyable, but actually it is a delight to eat and yet another example of Heston’s determination to have us engage multiple senses at once.
Click here to find out more about the thought processes and research behind the dish. Click Start and then click on the sea shell.
For our next course, we are served two different plates.
My sister has the menu item salmon poached in a liquorice gel with artichokes, vanilla mayonnaise and golden trout roe. Echoing the colour of the fish roe are tiny pieces of pink grapefruit; this really is a stunningly beautiful plate. When it arrives, I can smell the liquorice quite strongly, and am glad I asked to switch. But when she breaks through the slightly crisp coating to the beautifully moist fish within, and tastes it, my sister assures me that it doesn’t taste much of liquorice! It’s not a flavour she’s a huge fan of either, so I’m persuaded to try a tiny bite, and agree – if anything, it tastes more like unsweetened cocoa than aniseedy liquorice. Unsurprisingly, I don’t love this, but sister judges it another beautifully balanced dish with lots of strong flavours that manage not to overpower the more gentle ones.
My turbot comes with artichokes, morel mushrooms and a verjuice sauce. It’s a far subtler dish altogether than the salmon, and if you were to try only a bite of each in turn, you’d judge mine bland. But actually, it’s not at all, and with each bite I find myself appreciating the gentle flavours and that marvellous sauce a little more.
Size-wise, the saddle of venison with beetroot soubise and risotto of spelt and umbles is the most generous of all the courses, a fact that doesn’t fill us entirely with glee, given that we’re now pretty full from the previous nine courses and know we still have five more to come. But it’s so darn good that we smile and smack our lips all the way through it, once again.
The word melting is over-used when it comes to tender meat and yet, I can’t think of a more appropriate way to describe the texture of the venison, probably the softest I’ve ever had. And with the hint of game flavour that differentiates it from a bland beef fillet.
A powerful reduction serves as gravy, whacking the taste buds with an intense meaty punch.
Luckily, that’s offset by the use of beetroot in two forms. Like the aerated spheres right at the beginning of our meal, the beetroot sauce is the very essence of this root vegetable and a nice balance between sweet, tart and earthy. I’m told that, like a soubise (onion sauce), the beetroot sauce uses béchamel as a base. The pickled baby beetroot pieces (in two colours) provide something more solid to bite into.
Also on the plate are several tiny sprout leaves; inside the curved cup of some of them are little cubes of something sweet, mushy and with a really strong, sweet kick. They’re so distinctive a taste, but I struggle to place them; a member of staff comes to my rescue and identifies them as candied chestnuts. I’d never have guessed in a million years. And actually I’m in two minds about them – they make me stop and furrow my brows in an effort to work out what they could be, and that certainly makes me focus even more on my food, not that I wasn’t doing so already. But I’m not sure the strangely perfume-tasting sweetness goes well with the rest of the dish.
Served alongside the main plate is a little bowl of rich, wet risotto, sealed with a layer of mushroom and madeira jelly, studded with cubes of venison heart and flavoured with braised shoulder and chicken stock. Umble, by the way, comes from ‘umble pie, a pie filled with liver, heart and other offal.
On top is a square of breaded sweetbread and crunchy candied spelt that make me think of the honey monster.
The risotto is magnificent in its entirety and work brilliantly well with the venison and beetroot.
It’s also our last savoury dish and we mentally prepare for the onslaught of sweets.
Hot and iced tea is served with firm instructions not to rotate the glass at all as we drink it. My sister picks up the sensation of hot on one side of her mouth and cold on the other, straight away. I gingerly pick up my cup, taking care with its orientation, but my first sip is all warm, as is my second. Only on the third sip does the distinct separation of temperatures kick in and then it’s perfect! And alarming!
The liquid is thick, like a liquid apple jelly before it’s set, and the flavour reminds me of Turkish apple tea too. But when I ask one of the staff, I’m told that it’s actually earl grey tea! “But, the hot one tastes a lot sweeter to me,” I say. Am I imagining that too, like my impression of apple? No, I’m right; she explains that they adjust the acidity in order to ensure that both the hot and cold versions have exactly the same viscosity, so they don’t run into each other.
Clever stuff, and really rather strange. I carefully turn my cup through 180 degrees and giggle when the hot and cold sensations in my mouth are neatly reversed. At the bottom of my cup is a small reservoir of cold tea, which explains why the first two sips were all hot – mine must have slipped a little when poured into the cup.
The Taffety Tart with caramelized apple, fennel, rose and candied lemon (which the menu reveals is from c. 1660) is just beautiful. As mine is served, a waitress explains that they’ve omitted the tiny fennel leaves and crushed fennel from the garnish beneath the sorbet, so all that remains is the fennel flavour within the tart itself. And yes, I can taste it in the cream that sandwiches those paper thin leaves of pastry, but it’s mellow enough that my brain can focus instead on the lovely caramelised apple, sat in two thick gelatinous layers towards the bottom of the tart. The rose and lemon flavours are just wonderful. I’m not a huge fan of blackcurrant sorbet so I give mine to the sister, who in turn passes across her unwanted rose petals. Result!
If you watched Heston’s In Search of Perfection, you might remember his black forest gateau creation, fondly listed on the menu as The “BFG”. At first, I can do little more than admire it (and grab a few snaps). The menu also refers to the smell of the Black Forest and this is achieved with a puff of kirsch perfume.
The precision of the straight lines and squared corners, the even coating of chocolate and the shaping of that teardrop of kirsch ice cream are hugely impressive. Cutting into the cake, we marvel at the individual layers; a sweet crunchy base, aerated chocolate (like a posh Aero bar!), dense moist chocolate cake, sweet sour black cherries and chocolate ganache and white kirsch cream. On top is a beautiful kirsch-soaked cherry complete with a knotted stem. Next to the gateau is a smear of cherry, a veritable beach of grated chocolate and that kirsch ice cream which packs such a strong alcohol kick that we wonder about its impact on a driver’s blood alcohol levels!
Again, Heston’s attention to textures, tastes and aromas combines to lift what is already a huge favourite of mine to a whole new level.
By the time the whisk(e)y gums are served, attached to a map inside a wooden photo frame, we are really very full. As I’m not even a fan of whisky, I ask if there’s a way I might take the gums home for my husband, without the attendant frame, of course. Sadly, I’m told they’re too soft and will liquefy within an hour or so; when I pick one off the glass I appreciate just how soft and squidgy they are, adhering to the glass purely because of their wet sticky surface. They remind me of the sticky wall walker toys of my childhood; we used to throw them against the enormous windows at school and watch as they tumbled down the surface, limb by slimy limb. I resist throwing my whisk(e)y gums at any nearby windows and eat them, in the order indicated.
1 Speyside – Glenlivet
2 West Highlands – Oban
3 Orkney – Highland Park
4 Islay – Laphroaig
5 Tennessee USA – Jack Daniels
As expected, the flavours of the respective whiskies come through loud and clear; the dry pepperiness of the West Highlands, the smoky peat of Islay and the sweet caramel of Tennessee whiskey. I’m a bit confused by the order, as they don’t seem to be arranged by strength of flavour; I can’t discern any pattern.
I like this course but I don’t love it, and I wonder who might? As a non-whisky drinker, whilst the sweetness takes the edge off, the whisky flavour is still a bit overwhelming. But wouldn’t a real whisky lover find the sweetness a distraction from flavours they know and hold dear? Perhaps not. Since Pete isn’t here to contribute his opinion, I have no way of knowing…
At last, out comes a striped pink and white paper bag each. This course is called Like a kid in a sweet shop and is presented with its own menu card which we are encouraged to smell. It’s meant to evoke an old-fashioned sweet shop, but to me it smells like old-lady toilet freshener, or like stale marshmallows, if I’m being more generous. Still, it lists the four goodies inside, which we take out and admire before putting away again to enjoy later. After fourteen courses, we’re not alone in deferring the fifteenth!
At home, a few hours later, I investigate my little haul.
Firstly, a white envelope with what looks like a rubber seal. It breaks so easily as I pull open the envelope that I realise it’s chocolate and pop it into my mouth. Inside is a beautifully painted white chocolate playing card, filled with raspberry jam and crumbled biscuit. The menu card reminds us that the queen of hearts, she made some tarts… It’s wonderful!
The aerated chocolate with mandarin jelly is like a cross between a posh Aero bar and the orange jelly inside a Jaffa Cake. Very nice!
Apple pie caramel comes in a clear edible wrapper. Popping it into my mouth whole, I enjoy the tastes of both apple and caramel but it doesn’t put me in mind of apple pie. The edible wrapper reminds me of the White Rabbit sweets I used to enjoy as a child, which came in printed rice paper wrappers.
The only item in the bag which I don’t like is the strange coconut baccy, described as coconut infused with an aroma of Black Cavendish tobacco. Presented in a little pouch, just like real loose tobacco, it looks more like elastic bands and the texture isn’t far off either. Chewy stretchy strands of coconut with an unpleasant flavour; I’m not a fan at all. A shame, as I love the Artisan du Chocolate tobacco chocolate, which they originally developed for Heston, so I know that tobacco can work in a sweet.
At £180 per person, the experience we’ve just enjoyed is certainly expensive. But when we realise that this comes to just £12 per course, with still and sparkling water included, we both agree that it’s also good value. Each one of the courses reveals an incredible amount of work on many different elements brought together perfectly on the plate. Service is added at 12.5% but I would imagine that some of the £180 price tag must also cover the staff-intensive service, where dishes are finished or explained at the table and staff are constantly on hand to top up drinks and answer questions about the food.
Is it worth it? As my sister’s guest, that’s not for me to answer but I can tell you that it was certainly one of the most exciting dining experiences of my life, with some dishes that really did take my breath away.
It’s not a meal I will forget for a very long time to come.
The menu changes only slowly, so I wouldn’t rush back anytime soon, but should I notice in a year or few’s time, that most or many of the courses have changed, I’ll be back in a heart beat.
With enormous thanks to my beautiful and generous sister. x