Thursday 18 September 2014

Brocket Hall, Banquet Food Tasting

So, I realise that over the last year or so I have been making vague and slightly sideways references to GrubsterGirl and I throwing a big party together.  Well, that happened and I am delighted to say that GG is now Mrs Grubster! 

Whilst I won't (for obvious reasons) be sharing everything about the absolutely magical day Mrs G and I had last month – this is not a 'lifestyle' blog after all – there have been some wonderful food related moments that I would like to blog about.

One of the most exciting of which was the menu tasting.

You see, basically you get to go to your venue and be served fantastic food and decide what you like and don't like.  Mrs G and I had chosen a venue that was renowned for it's food (hardly surprising, I expect) because we wanted to make sure that our guests would be served a really good, yummy meal – as opposed to some of the luke-warm, half-congealed, mass-produce stuff you so often get at otherwise very nice venues.  So we really put our foot down – in some cases even insisting upon the chef creating a new dish to our specifications!

The venue was the beautiful Brocket Hall in Hertfordshire. 

After a morning of wedding planning, we were shown into a little private dining room which was immaculately laid out with all the silverware and frippery that would be there on the day (barring the favours and flowers, of course).  They had even laid out little notepads so that we could each take notes.  It's serious business, this menu tasting.

First up we had our two starters – we were allowed to choose one of each course to try. 

Option 1: Chicken liver and foie gras parfait, grape and port chutney, smoked duck salad and toasted brioche.  Beautiful, smooth, rich pâté perfectly offset by the chutney.  The edition of the frisée salad and sliver of smoked duck breast was a nice touch.  Also, it was nice to see it served with brioche rather that the more ubiquitous bread – or even melba toast.  It's not that much harder to drum up and it really does make a very palpable difference, the sweet, charred crumb combining perfectly with a rich silky pâté.

Option 2: Confit green asparagus, duck egg, Parma ham and truffle.  This was an absolute delight, and tasted as beautiful as it looked.  The addition of the little edible flowers was a wonderful touch, really bringing the dish to life aesthetically and reminding everyone that this was a summer wedding.  The egg had a slightly weird texture – was it, perhaps, sous vide? – but was delicious nevertheless, and acted as a nice accompaniment to the asparagus.

In the end we plumped for Option 2, the asparagus.  Both dishes were delicious, but given that the main course was going to be cow-based (would you expect anything less?) we thought that the pâté would just be way too rich a starter.

Mrs G and I are all for palate cleansers, and don’t give a damn if you think they're pretentious.  They taste fantastic, and I love a sorbet.  So we tasted three – Granny Smith apple, champagne and basil.  The apple was actually a surprise, the chef having knocked some up previously and decided we should try it.  They were each fantastic, but the apple and basil were out a head, and it was a very close call.  The apple had a wonderful 'apple-y-ness' to it, not at all a fake apple flavour, but the basil came out just ahead.

Onto the mains.

Option 1: Braised blade of beef, bone marrow, broad beans, mashed potatoes and morels with a beef jus.  This was rich and sticky and yummy, but just too much so for a summer wedding.  The morels and the marrow added a further layer of meaty richness that would be perfect of a dark and damp winter's night but which had no place on a summer's table.  The beef was, sadly, verging on the dry which was  disappointing and worrying in equal measure.

Now, this is a pretty good example of what I'm talking about when I said that we were quite careful picking a place that could do food.  Instead of the choice of roasts that most venues insist on, we could try a dish as ballsy as it was traditional – bone marrow may be making a comeback right now, but it's still off many people's plates (and we feared may put some guests off, but we decided to try it nevertheless).  Although we didn’t go for it in the end, it was reassuring in itself to see a chef unafraid to use such a delicious ingredient regardless of its 'ewww' factor.  However, all that said, it does also highlight the number one wedding planning lesson I learned: be demanding, don’t settle.  Because originally Brocket Hall offered us roast lamb, roast chicken or roast beef.  We pushed back and were rewarded with a much better set of choices.

Option 2: Slow cooked short rib of beef with beetroot, polenta chips, mustard and herb puree, roasted and pickled onions and a treacle jus.  This was absolutely the business.  The meat fell off the bone and was juicy, almost buttery.  Beetroot and onions are perfect partners to beef, but the addition of the pickled onions was fantastic, adding as they did a peppery sharpness to cut through the fatty meat.  The only fault was the mustard and herb dressing, which seemed to jar with the other flavours – so we ditched that element in the final reckoning.

If I said that the beef blade was a good example of why it was good to go somewhere good with food, the short rib was doubly so.  Because, before us, it did not exist.  We, quite literally, tailor-made our own main course.  We had loved the fantastic short rib and beetroot at Wild Honey and whilst we were not so demanding as to expect the same Michelin-starred quality, we thought that the chef could manage an approximation, so just asked him to put something together – which he did with gusto and not just a little skill.  This was a winner of a dish, both at the tasting and on the big day.


Option 1: Malt vanilla ice cream, salted caramel and malt madeleine.  I love salt caramel.  But Mrs G LOVES salt caramel.  This was definitely a dish to try, and did not disappoint. However, like the beef blade it was fantastic but very much a winter's dish.  We wanted flavours that were light and summery; this was rich and dark.  Fantastic, but just not right.

Option 2: White peach parfait, roasted peaches, blood peach sorbet and poppy seed tuille.  For every inch that Option 1 was un-summery, Option 2 blasted out summer.  It shouted it from the battlements.  This was a peach of dish (pun intended and, frankly, #sorrynotsorry).  Ticked all of the boxes we needed ticking and then some.  Top marks.

That was really that.  We managed to persuade Brocket Hall to let us bring our own wine, albeit at extortionate corkage – and that was another victory of being stubborn.  The red a fantastic, ballsy carascal from Weinert, a winery in the infamous Mendoza region of Argentina – we visited Mendoza (and Weinert) a few years back to sample their fantastic wines and, as far as reds went, theirs was the best.  For the white we stuck with Argentina, opting for a Torrontés which is a much under-known and under-appreciated white wine.  We also through in a beautiful dessert wine, a mountain wine from Malaga that, being un-botryised, avoided the cloying sweetness of something like a sauternes and which matched our peach pudding so well it was almost as if the two had been made together.  All three (and, indeed, our champagne) came from The Wine Society.  If you're not a member, I heartily recommend membership – they provide access to a fantastically good value selection of hundreds of wines for a pitifully small lifetime membership fee.

I would be lying if I said that there weren't many, many other food-related elements of the wedding.  The stag, for example, was almost all food.  But that's for another post.

- GrubsterBoy - 

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