Sunday, 27 September 2015

Pickled Plates Supper Club, London

More than ever, eating out is becoming a social experience. My instagram is awash with people's culinary snaps. Chefs and critics may bemoan bloggers, vloggers and the like for reaching for the camera with every dish they're served, but it's all part of a new social era. Social has become virtual, but it's also gone back to basics too. Supper clubs have sprung up across the UK. What can be more social than someone inviting you into their home to try their food? One of my very talented friends Polly, a trained chef, and Hana, with a background in events, have created a superb social dining experience with their Pickled Plates Supper Club. Earlier this year we got a group of friends together and went along to their home in Walthamstow to give it a try.
Pickled Plates Supper Club Menu
We arrived excitedly and were greeted with a cocktail of whisky, blood orange, ginger and bitters. If all greetings were with a cocktail that was this good the world would be a better (and drunker) place! I can imagine that if you didn't know your dining compatriots then starting off with a boozy cocktail is a great way to get the conversation flowing. Handwritten menus, tea lights and succulents dotted artistically around the table - this is an instagrammers paradise - created a wonderfully cosy atmosphere too.
Whisky, Ginger, Blood Orange and Bitters
Polly and Hana are big fans of Lee Wescot from the Typing Room and James Lowe at Lyles. Both chefs are about celebrating British food with a modern twist and this is certainly echoed in the Pickled Plates menu. A canapé of haggis, neeps and tatties, were crispy, coated, deep fried balls of good Scottish stuff. It's worth adding at this point that they were great at catering for my gluten allergy too. They had sourced gluten free haggis and cooked mine separately and they were delicious. A rabbit rillette was well seasoned, pickled beetroot and radishes cutting beautifully through the richness of the rillette, beetroot crisps giving added texture and a cassis dressing bringing all the components together. The salt baked celeriac was a real triumph, with a wonderful depth of flavour, and provided a superb companion for a perfectly cooked chunk of whiting. The crispy chicken skin provided a sumptuous, salty seasoning for a creamy clam and prawn butter sauce.

Haggis, Neeps and Tatties
Wild Rabbit Rillette
Pan Fried Whiting with Salt Baked Celeriac
When I read toasted marshmallow on the menu for dessert it conjured up images of bonfire night. I'll be disappointed with the Guy Fawkes version in future, because this toasted marshmallow was something else! A big, creamy, silky square, blow-torched to give just the right amount of caramel notes and then served with the acidic hit of blood orange and perfect (gluten free) shortbreads, it was a brilliant dish. The bring your own bottle policy - plus cocktails and a sloe gin accompanying the cheese course - meant that things were probably starting to get a little hazy! But I've got just enough recollection of the deliciously nutty comté, served with plum and juniper jam, a candied walnut and again gluten free oat cakes for the coeliac.
Toasted Marshmallow with Blood Orange and Shortbread

Sloe Gin, Comté, Plum and Juniper Jam, Candied Walnuts and Oatcakes
It was a great night, with great friends and great food. So if you want a fantastic social dining experience check out Pickled Plates, you'll also get the bonus of having some brilliant food to instagram!
Our Pickled Plates Team For the Night

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Loch Fyne, Norwich (branches nationwide)

Loch Fyne Oysters
I hadn't been to Loch Fyne for a few years, the last time I went the menu was fairly restrictive for those following a gluten free diet. So when I was invited to review their 'non-gluten' menu I was keen to see what changes they had made.

My wife and I visited their Norwich branch on a busy Friday night. We were shown to our table and our server, Pedro, couldn't hide his excitement at being able to explain their new gluten free credentials. In fact, Pedro was great all night, excitedly explaining dishes to all his tables and even at one point bringing out a lobster to one table to show them what they would get and how to eat it. The staff have always seemed impressively knowledgeable and there is clearly a passion for produce and provenance when it comes to fish and seafood. We were given the 'non-gluten menu' which has good selection and we were also brought the allergen bible which detailed the allergy ingredients in each dish. Pedro also explained that a number of the dishes could be modified as they make nearly everything from scratch.
Razor clams with chorizo and basil
We started with some oysters which were served with a red wine and shallot dressing, a coriander and chilli dressing, a wedge of lemon and a bottle of tabasco. I love oysters and these, fresh from Loch Fyne's own farm on the west coast of Scotland, did what good oysters do, take you straight to the sea. For starter I had razor clams with basil and chorizo which was full of flavour and reminiscent of a Spanish tapas dish. My wife had the Loch Fyne Smokehouse Ashet and I have to say I had a little bit of food envy. It had an element of theatre with the centre piece of Bradan Rost smoked under a cloche. It also came with two different types of smoked salmon, crispy capers and a horseradish cream. Each piece of salmon was beautifully smoked with a range of tastes and textures. The crusty gluten free bread roll we shared was some of the best gluten free bread I've eaten in a restaurant too. A crunchy exterior and soft middle - perfect for mopping up the leftover chorizo and basil butter from my starter.
Loch Fyne Smokehouse Ashet
For main I chose the seafood grill, a celebration of Scottish fish. The stars of the show were the hand dived scallops, served with the roe and cooked to perfection. They were meaty and packed with flavour. Plump mussels were well cooked with the chilli and coriander butter seeping into the shells. Salmon and bream were also succulent pieces of fish, only let down by an absence of crispy skin caused by the butter. A large whole king prawn looked like it should have been the protagonist but couldn't compete with the quality of those scallops! It was all served with spinach and sautéed potatoes and was certainly a filling plate of food. My wife opted for the fish bar, a great concept where you chose a fish, how you want it cooked, a sauce and two sides. She had positive reviews for her grilled cod with tomato salsa, sautéed potatoes and samphire.

Seafood Grill
Grilled cod, tomato salsa, samphire and sautéed potatoes
Coconut rice pudding with mango
As a coeliac I'm used to a limited choice when it comes to gluten free desserts so it was great to have a few to chose from. I chose the coconut rice pudding with mango compote. Luckily our server  explained that it came with some biscuits that weren't gluten free which they would leave off, so when the kitchen accidentally put the biscuits on the plate I knew to steer clear. Mistakes happen and our server was very apologetic and there was no harm done. The dessert itself was a winner, a crunchy brulee top with delicious coconut flavoured rice and mango to cut perfectly through the richness. My wife, who can't resist the allure of the words salted and caramel in the same description, was always going to pick the salted caramel ice cream which she said was one of the best she had had.

I was extremely impressed with Loch Fyne's new gluten free menu, plenty of choice, delicious dishes and some great cooking.