Sunday, 20 July 2008

The Stables at The Grove

On Saturday night we went to the restaurant called The Stables at The Grove. This is one of three restaurants at the Grove, the others being fine dining at Collette's and a luxurious buffet called the Glasshouse (not to be confused with the Michellan star Restaurant of the same name in Kew). Mostly all the hotel is contemporary and quirky, the Stables has a different feel. A little like your sitting in the dining room of a home in the Hampton's : All stone flagging , exposed beams, clapperboard and herbs in pots. Much more laid back and relaxed than the other 2 restaurants , yet still quite smart.

I love this hotel and always enjoy a meal here. Its tucked away in the forests of Hertfordshire near Watford and you wouldn't even know it exists far from its entrance gates on the A41. It was once a large old country home to the Earl of Clarendon , now a well thought through contemporary funky haven. I love its unusual and eclectic mix of antique, quirky Avant garde and modern classic furniture and artefact's. I was lucky to work with the main designer Mary Fox Linton a few years ago. They design the most sumptuous furniture, taking classic styles and making them very much of now.

Onto the food. Unfortunately despite being a fresh and nicely constructed menu , I was a little let down by my meal. Its saving grace was he the mans sea trout and a dessert of Chocolate torte with a surface like a mirror of brown glass!

We both started with a crab salad, which whilst a nice fresh and crunchy start , felt as if it could do with a bit more of a dressing . This was followed by Seabass on an artichoke palm with salsa verde. It had all the elements that I love , but combined it didn't seem to gel together and wasn't very satisfying. The artichoke tasted pickled and was quite hard and dry in places. There was an interesting cold shredded fennel salad on top , whilst a lovely element alone, with a slightly vinegary citrus taste, only jarred all the flavours even more.

He the mans dish was however much more warming on the mouth , with a decadent base of bright green salty and crunchy samphire sitting in a velvety butter sauce, topped with a melt in the mouth sea trout.

The accompanying wine was a perfect salve to my disappointment and very well chosen by the waiter. A lovely pineapple, fruity Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand.

He the mans dessert was cheese cake with strawberries. I have to own up here to not liking cheese cake, yes I know , how could I , such a philistine ! Its just that I can only eat cheese flavours as, well....... cheese !! The uneaten frozen strawberry yogurt on the side of his plate was another story and disappeared off there very quickly.

I allowed him to share some of my torte, (us foodie women can be rather possessive about our food) , as it was sooo rich and intense there was no way I was going to finish it all. Its texture was like the most soft and creamy fudge ever tasted , sublime! And as for the hazelnut ice cream , a perfect balance to the rich chocolate , especialy with the candied crunchy hazelnuts! A great dessert, albeit in a smaller dose!

See its quite good when you like different bits , there's no arguments. It all works out!!

I would give The Stables another try , as it has a lovely atmosphere and the staff seem quite friendly and attentive. I just think I may a bit more cautious about my choices.

Monday, 14 July 2008

The dinner that was

I will firstly let it be known that I was silly and didn't photograph much at all of our lovely lovely evening. It felt a bit too immodest to stand in my kitchen (my dining table is in the middle surrounded by guests) , and snap away at my own creations in a sort of "Oh aren't I just sooo wonderful", icky self absorbed way! Suffice to say the table looked lovely with our new glasses and there was a simple black and white theme going on. All quite low key though and relaxed , but yet smart. Well as smart as you can be sitting in the middle of a kitchen that needs ripping out!!!!!!!

You could say we had a Ramsey comes Rhodes inspired night and to help with our presentation I made some notes for us to both refer to ! Its a big thing for us cooking for a new audience , so everything had to be thought through.

Here's the menu :

Starter made by moi :

Chilled melon and basil soup - care of Stuart Gillies at Boxwood Cafe (Gordon Ramsey Holdings)

I was very lucky this worked well the 2nd time ,as lets face it , you cant always re create things as well as the 1st time. We had a mini disaster when opening the melons to find they were green ones and not what we had ordered and he the mans had to go searching quite late in the day for ripe orange cantaloupes , not an easy task but he did well. Its always quite good for the foodie ego to experience a humbling mini disaster!!! I was a bit nervous about serving this , as chilled liquids can be a somewhat acquired taste , but everyone finished every drop. My dinner guest L went as far to say that if M&S sold it fresh in a tub , shed go and buy it!!! Such a lovely compliment and makes all the effort very well worth it.

Main made by he the mans mainly from Gordon Ramsey's Secrets book :

Fillet with gratin of wild mushrooms - page 73

Braised baby gem lettuce - page 126

Butter fondant potatoes - page 151 of Gary Rhodes at the table

Sadly I have no picture of the finished plate , well apart from the one you can just make out in my previous posts pictures at the bottom from the book, but it went down very well and every plate was clean!!! I was really surprised at the lettuce dish , as soggy lettuce I didn't fancy much and urged he the mans to think of something else , but he ignored me , as you can see!(well you cant actually , but you get my drift). My other dinner guest K said it was reminiscent of bok choi and she was right , it is a savoury, soft and crunchy side dish. The potatoes were a good change to roast potatoes , but much much more naughtier being cooked in butter, I must admit I try not to eat as many as I used to when eating meat also.

The steak was wonderful (I think I can say that, it being he the mans creation and not mine?) . There is nothing more comforting than steak with a creamy sauce , but whats lovely about this is a sauce that sits perfectly right on the top of the steak so that every cut you make comes with a substantial topping. We were also blessed on the night that it didn't all slide off! Oh and despite it coming out quite rare , it was still eaten , even though several said they don't normally eat steak that way.

Id' just like to say here that I'm rather proud and in admiration of he the mans ability to put together a lovely combination of dishes and flavours. A little round of applause to him.

Anyway enough of all that , his head will swell to much, back to the menu!

Dessert was a joint effort and we made a lucky old favourite of pears accompanied by some new serving ideas :

Vanilla poached pears care of Delicious magazine September issue 2004 (page 76 for anyone who collects it). They may do back issues , Im not sure how far back though.

Served with dark chocolate sorbet - page 114 of Chocolate by Linda Collister

Watermelon and raspberry sorbet - page 96 of Ice cream and Frozen desserts by Peggy Fallon ,

Topped with Caramelized Melba toast - page 211 of Gary Rhodes at the table.

The pears always do well and are a nice fresh finish to a solid main dish. Its a mix of syrup, sweet Riesling , lemon and fresh vanilla in a wonderful fragrant combo. Unfortunately my chocolate sorbet became a grainy mushy mess, despite everyone thinking it was a mousse , I knew it was wrong and was quite disappointed and very typically said so, (I'm not good at lying but they would have been none the wiser had I kept shtum!). It becomes a very strange acidic sandy like mooosh rather than an icy melt in the mouth chocolate zing if the chocolate doesn't melt properly. Its actually a very hard sorbet to make, only 1/4 has ever worked, but I'm determined this summer to get it right and record how!

The watermelon sorbet is great (it reminds me of watermelon juice served in Thailand) and the addition of the raspberry vodka makes it all the more decadent and grown up , although may be not as healthy as pure watermelon, which is meant to great for the body in the summer. Little cupcake is very upset that I wont let her have any. I keep saying it has very grown up drink in it but shes not convinced!!!

I told my guests of my error to take more pictures and they said the best picture would be the table after its all gone , so here it is :

A sign of a good meal

Saturday, 12 July 2008

Today we will mostly be ......................

Cooking cooking and cooking, (Oh and a bit of shopping this morning for wine glasses , as we haven't bought any since our wedding 9yrs ago and they've all gradually smashed).

We have some friends for dinner this evening and chef at large is busying away next to me in preparation. I wont post much about it here till tomorrow as our friends know of my blog and we don't want to spoil the surprise and give away the menu!

So last night we made this


and something else for desert with this

and this morning he the mans is doing things with this

a sneaky at the recipe

Later today I will be making the melon soup again for the starter and hoping its as nice as our tester version couple of weeks ago!!

Watch this space for the final outcome!! (dh needs some courage also , hes nervous!!)

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

One of a few local great places

Its shame there aren't more,but the restaurant we went to on Saturday , Sargasso Sea, has a good following and has lasted where others have not , I recall a crab place round the corner thats now a chinese! I think its been going over 8 yrs which is some feat in any area and shows what great lengths the owners go to to make sure its a well rounded experience.

Its great if you want seafood , or just a lovely piece of fresh fish. The latest refurbishment of this mini contemporary restaurant, (all padded cream and plum suedette walls and Wenge type woods), makes it feel like your in the West end and not Palmer's green. I don't know what it is but going out locally never feels like a proper night out , but here it does . I think what makes it an evening is that you can wait for people in a smart little bar area at the front with tables and bar stalls and even sit outside with the road unseen at the front on a small terrace with umbrellas that reminds me of holidays in the med. There's something nice about an aperitif before partaking in a meal , its all very civilised!

We all opted for fresh fish, 2 of our party being kosher. It just didn't feel right somehow eating some huge crustacean, even though they don't mind and I'm the liberal sort of Jew ,it just sometimes feels a bit funny it in front of others who are more strict.

I started with a melt in the mouth tuna carpaccio , which wasn't on the menu , but on the online one and the chef kindly agreed to make it for me with the additional guacamole. The others chose an amazing Pernod marinated Alaskan black cod, which was really savoury and sweet with a fruit salsa, a great combination but not easy to replicate at home I imagine.

We all then went for versions of grilled Terbot and Dover sole in various sauces : meuniere or fennel and cucumber salsa. All very beautifully cooked and tasty.

It was a last minute thing later in the week to go and I'm surprised we got a table for Saturday night for four people , although it was for 9:15 . I am always a bit apprehensive about some of the local places and went thinking this will be an OK ish evening, but I'm glad we went . It worked out lovely , ( I got a chance to dress up and out of my mum clothes) and we had a very enjoyable evening with charming surroundings , (we had a private little room like area to ourselves), friendly thoughtful staff and great food .It also makes such a refreshing change to have good service after my experience a few weeks back too. I recommend it to all who come this way.

Alas I have no pictures for this and the website while clever doesn't show you what it really looks like.

Oh and he the mans also made a great Stifado (a rich , meaty and spicey sweet greek stew) and parsley & lemon potato's at the weekend and I need to post the recipe, as it was the scrummiest . Although hes not been home to tell me were he got his recipe from , so it will be on here soon!

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Oh how times have changed

He the mans walked over to the sofa the other night holding a rather full tumbler , suspectfully looking like his new drink of favour ; a vodka sour, (this time it was just still lemonade he says), stating " doesn't the drinking vessel you drink out of change your enjoyment of the drink". Despite agreeing with him, I couldn't help wondering were did this version of he the mans come from!! This from the guy who when walking into John Lewis many many years ago to discuss wedding lists , said, "cutlery is just cutlery" !!!! On our holiday recently ,( be aware there should be a ponceyometer inserted here at level 10), I'm sure the barman blanched at he the mans insistence many nights that his sour be served in a rocks glass and not a Martini one.

He's rather partial to vodka sours lately and numerous other soury lemon liquids and even has a worrying penchant for apple cocktails too, ( I just hope his pinky finger is down at the time the glass is in hand!). Hes bought ALL the ingredients for appletinis , banana daiquiris , Caipirinha and his fave vodka sour. In fact his whole eating and drinking habits have taken a 360degree turnaround over the last 10yrs. As have mine and I don't know who has been fuelling who or were it started. Thinking back though I remember many a day spent wrecking my mums kitchen in the preparation of some concoction or another and making sure I had the right bits and pieces to do it all . I also remember as a child in my late papas house , having to have a certain spoon for my cereal and soups and god help him if it wasn't found!! eeeeeeeek in fact a certain little cupcake is frighteningly similar in that respect! So my thing with all things culinary started as a teenager in my own mums kitchen , which seems to be the way it goes for most.

So progress to now and our foodie passions also seem to include making sure that , (ponceyometer level 10 warning) , things are, cooked , served and eaten with the right dish, bowl, pot , pan and cutlery! One friend who's mentioned often on my blogs was bombarded with my Tagine passion for a whole afternoon a couple of years ago!

My latest search is the perfect dessert and ice cream dishes, some of these were quite classic , but didnt quite hit the mark ! Then there's these retro beauties from Alessi , seen at Panik for £20 each! I'm drooling at the orange one!

Then these at £53 at MBS wholesale for 10 that look very restaurant styleee, which I quite like too!

Although again , like the lack of dessert restaurants , I struggled to find many retailers with any great offer for this product type. The old buyer instinct in me always has to come out at these shopping hunts and I'm almost ready there with a product line idea for some buying team somewhere! I always want to make every experience better!

Don't get me wrong I'll slum it with the best of them and in those moments when sometimes all you want is a food pill and be done I'll eat with my fingers , out of paper , polystyrene (god forbid) or anything coming my way . Just at home in our own space we like to have fun and strive to do it with style. The only thing is that no one wants us back to there's after a dinner party here , as we tend to go on mission like the next Masterchef!!!! and now Ive said that all our future meals will probably be dire and we'll be eating humble pie not Heston's!!! and yes may some of it is posturing , but also , we just enjoy the process of it all and the enjoyment others have in eating what we serve and how we serve it.

OK so there's a little about our changes in passions of kitchen product, (the non food variety) , here's a little on the food side. Take tonight's dinner , the ubiquitous cheese platter. There was a time when only commercial plastic packaged cheddar and Philadelphia would be had and a look at my parents after dinner cheeses had me sneering at the smell (as you do until your "our age")! Tomato's would make me squirm and mushrooms , the texture alone used to send shivers down me. Now I believe at this stage he the mans would have only drunk beer, probably for fear of not appearing manly and only had cheddar in a toasty! Now hes standing here picking at the cheese platter and asking me if I want a Banana Daiquiri and if we should buy some Gavi de Gavi wine for the weekend!

Now we can be scoffing the lot and and poncing it at Neals Yard Dairy like any foodie worth their salt . Tonight's platter had : Talegio , Pecorino Toscano, keen's cheddar & Pie dAnlgoys.
Just dont go asking there for a "cheddar like Cathedral City" , he the mans made that mistake in the early noughties in the once famed but now closed Bluebird Food hall in Kings Road. To the reply of " we dont do pasteurised cheese like that here sir" in a tone created to inflate you like a pin to a balloon! Bless him , all he wanted really was a strong but sweet flavour and that at the time this was his best way to describe it! Now to that shop person Id give them one of these for being insulting in the name of food . One has to laugh at these things, food should be a joy and a giggle. There is nothing worse than staff who are snootier than you are!!

What is it that makes that change : is it maturity , influence , taste buds , or just popular culture and life ? Can you remember not wanting to eat certain things years ago and now crave them? Are you fussy about utensils and will only have tea in bone china? Or do others mistakenly see it as pickyness rather than an educated enjoyment?

I say enjoy it all anyway and while your at it pass me that Chablis Cru in a Crystal glass please and that sea bass wild not farmed and that Gruyere reserve in paper not cellophane!!!

ponceyometer 20 I think and who cares !!!!!