Having heard some very enthusiastic endorsements about Lee Skeet’s supper clubs, when he announced his 40 Days 40 Nights pop-up, I bought tickets immediately! The blurb promised a six-course tasting menu with canapes for £70 per person, served in the upstairs dining room at Pontcanna’s Cafe Milkwood. We’d most recently been there for the Matsudai Ramen pop-up in September.
In the meantime, I scoured the web and then got in touch with Skeet directly to learn more about the story of a much-lauded and somewhat enigmatic rising star.
Lee Skeet is what you might call an accidental chef. Born in Devon and a keen surfer, he originally took on a job washing pots in a local kitchen to earn cash to support his hobby, including travelling around the world in search of great surf spots – he had no particular interest in cooking at that point. But realising he could earn more by cooking than pot-washing, Skeet learned on the job and worked as a cook for the next two years. It was during one of his trips abroad (to Colombia) that he saw an advert for a cooking job at Claridge’s under Gordon Ramsay. He applied, came home for an interview, and despite having no qualifications, he got the job. Working at Claridge’s opened Skeet’s eyes to what cooking could be, and lead to seven years cooking in London, first for Gordon and then for Marcus Wareing, and Tom Aiken. Keen to learn more, the long work hours didn’t deter him from spending his time off working for free for many more top chefs in London including Nuno Mendes. Eventually he became head chef at Mikael Jonsson’s Hedone.
After several years in London, Skeet moved to Cornwall with the intention of opening a restaurant, and held a few adhoc supperclubs in Cornwall, Cardiff, Devon and Bristol in preparation. It was during this time that he further developed his signature style, showcasing top quality Cornish and Welsh produce, cooked and presented in a highly elegant style, but delivered in a far less formal atmosphere than the Michelin-starred restaurants at which he trained.
His burgeoning success was rudely interrupted by a horrendous hit and run road accident in which a lorry ran into Skeet while he was walking on the pavement with his family. Skeet was with his young son at the time, and was able to react quickly enough to hurl the pushchair out of the way, such that Jackson’s injuries were relatively minor. Skeet’s own injuries, on the other hand, were far more serious, one of his legs badly crushed and damaged as the lorry with crane pushed him into and through a nearby wall. This was a hugely difficult time for Skeet, and in 2020 he moved to Cardiff to be closer to his kids, having separated from their mum in the accident’s aftermath.
It was three years before the scars from the accident – both physical and mental – healed sufficiently for Skeet to even consider a return to his cooking career. With no furlough or government support – reliant on food banks and living in an unheated house – Skeet needed desperately to earn some income. Falling back on what he knew, he set up a table in his living room and launched his Bones Supper Club, serving lunch and dinners to a very appreciative customer-base. It wasn’t plain sailing, with various and changing restrictions on hospitality, so Skeet also supplied top quality seafood from Cornwall to customers in Cardiff. Since May this year though, the supper club was running full pelt and always fully booked. Despite all the challenges, it was during this period that Skeet rediscovered his joy in cooking.
After announcing that the super club was ending in October, Cafe Milkwood’s Cerys Furlong got in touch, the outcome being a pop-up residency in the upstairs dining room, to kick off in late October.
40 Days and 40 Nights is both the name and duration of Skeet’s pop-up at Cafe Milkwood.
The price per person for a six course tasting menu is £70 plus a £2.50 booking fee per reservation. With just 12 covers per service in the small upstairs dining room, tickets sold out very quickly.
We visited on a sunny Saturday lunchtime at the beginning of November
Before the six courses proper came two amuse bouche offerings. Crab with avocado and pistachio on a tapioca crisp was light and fresh. Mackerel on a rye crisp with granny smith apple was a flavour bomb, and absolutely did the job of awakening one’s taste buds and anticipation for the meal to come.
Most of the dishes were iterations of Chant’s existing dishes, tweaked and refined to differing extents.
The first was a savoury custard made with bone marrow and seaweed, topped with “toasted sauce (the jelly)”, croutons and pickled shimeji mushrooms. Comfortingly silky, with crunch from the croutons and balance of flavour from the pickled mushrooms, I loved the deep umami flavours.
I would never in a million years have imagined the combination of mackerel, cucumber, grapes and hazelnuts and yet these disparate ingredients each brought something to the dish!
The mackerel was brushed with seaweed mustard, the cucumber made into a sauce with cider vinegar, the grapes served raw – some peeled and some skin-on, and the hazelnuts were roasted to bring out their sweet nutty flavour.
Possibly my favourite of the menu was a dish of langoustine, king oyster mushroom, pumpkin puree, and beef jus, garnished with pumpkin seeds and mushroom powder. A decadent composition of luxurious textures and flavours, this was both beautifully plated and utterly indulgent to eat.
The presentation of the steamed turbot was also very striking. Topped with fish eggs and a beef sauce, and garnished with rainbow chard, it was another clever unification of flavours and textures.
Another contender for my favourite dish was the roasted duck, cooked to absolute perfection (despite the minimally equipped kitchen Skeet was working in!) What I particularly adored (on top of the deft cooking of the duck) was the rich, savoury seaweed sauce which brought strong vegetal flavours to the sweet, tender meat; another surprise affiliation. The plate was garnished with roasted lettuce and blueberries; I didn’t enjoy the lacklustre blueberries, but the rest of the dish was divine!
On to the final course, a dessert of velvety lime posset, hot chocolate mousse, and vanilla mascarpone. The chocolate mousse also featured hazelnuts – reminiscent of Nutella – and I loved its gentle warmth against the cold posset and cream. Dehydrated raspberry powder added a visual wow factor as well as a welcome tang of sweet sour fruit.
What a meal! A hefty price-tag at £70 each but one we felt is justified by the quality of the food, both in terms of ingredients and clever, clever cooking. Some of our fellow diners had taken advantage of the offer (sent a couple of weeks before time) to add extra dishes to their meals: a dozen oysters (£25), a Cornish lobster course (£40 for two to share), and Otoro bluefin tuna belly sashimi (£12 per person). Now we know how good Skeet’s food is first hand, perhaps we’ll sign up for one or more of the extras next time around.
We skipped the matched wine flight and just had a couple of fruit juices between us, so our total bill (including the prepaid tickets and our tip) came to £195. That’s a lot to drop on one meal for two, but the food was superb and overall, a worthwhile experience.
Skeet is definitely one to watch, and we can’t wait to see where the path takes him next!