Monday, December 26, 2011

Breakfast after the night before!

All but four of the hotel guests are in the breakfast room discussing “things that go bump in the night”! It turns out that Hambrough isn't haunted at all but the remaining guests, who appear to be parents and their two children, have been enjoying that age-old Christmas tradition of a big old humdinger of a family row. So no ghosts of Christmas past, present and future entertaining us, but I suspect spirits of another sort helped fuel the nocturnal activities instead! The screaming, door slamming perpetrators are breakfasting in their rooms (or burying the body on the beach) so we can't count all their limbs but our curiosity will most like be sated at Boxing Day lunch. 
In the meantime I eat some of the beautifully presented ring of smoked salmon (don’t think Iceland here more Fortnum & Mason!) with the happy chickens’ golden scrambled eggs. 
There is a charity swim, or how long you can stay in the cold, cold sea endurance test, taking place at midday so our daily constitutional is joining the Ventnor inhabitants cheering on the hardy participants. I felt I got drenched enough yesterday striving for that decisive moment, and my hiking boots are still very much out of commission so will watch safely from the sidelines.
Oh and then there's the final lunch, gulp,!

Haunted hamper

In a wine induced haze during lunch I reconfirmed a hamper of provisions for my room tonight. So the hotel and kitchen staff can enjoy some semblance of Christmas day celebrations, they batten down the hatches when we've safely retired to our rooms after we've all been fabulously fed at lunch. And to make sure we don’t go hungry (as if!) Robert Thompson whips up a hamper of goodies to help while away the food-free hours!   
When the overflowing basket is delivered along with my remaining Malbec and a stack of little white plates I know I'm really not remotely peckish but I check out what's on offer. 
Selection of Cured Spanish Meats
Potted Gressingham Duck with Orange
Scottish Smoked Salmon with Crème Fraîche and Lemon
Smoked Mackerel and Peppercorn Pâté with Sourdough
Selection of Olives
Spanish Fried Mix
Local Potato Crisps
Selection of Local and Continental Cheeses
Freshly Baked Bread
Homemade Scones with Jam and Cream
Clementine Sponge
Vanilla and Caramella Chocolate Fudge
Cranberry Jelly
I definitely don't fancy any wine but I'd really like some cold water. I heard raised voices and doors banging earlier so I guess there are still staff around to help quench my thirst. I go downstairs but everything is very much shut up so I’ll have to make do with what I can find in my room. Throughout the evening I still keep hearing the banging and the only conclusion I can draw is that the hotel is haunted! 
Despite the angry ghosts I fall asleep on the bed watching a bit of Agatha Christie and on waking at 2.30am-ish wondering why I'm a little cold realise I could investigate some of the delights laid out on on my little carpet picnic. My rather-past-midnight feast consists of the delicious rosy slices of succulent smoked salmon with the slightly tart creamy sauce, the moist potted duck and orange spread on the croutes, some of the Spanish meats, the only cheese that wasn't goat or blue, a small taste of the crisps and Spanish fried mix, a shard of shortbread and a soupçon of scone with a smudge of jam. I really enjoyed what I did tuck into and wish I could have done it more justice but eyes bigger than stomach again, maybe the ghosts will spirit the rest away whilst I sleep!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Stuffing!

We’re back in the dining room again, the bling factor has been upped, the stylish crackers are out and we’re all looking forward greatly to our traditional Christmas lunch. 
Well maybe not so traditional, no matter which of the three of Robert Thompson’s Tasting menus you've selected you'll find a turkey-free zone and something rather more glamorous instead.  I've plumped for the seemingly slightly less extravagant of the three (more of that assumption later!) and in a moment of Christmas madness I've elected to have the accompanying sommelier choices of wines alongside. What could possibly go wrong?  
The cheese oozing gougères are out again this lunchtime, still incredibly moreish! 
The appetiser is an elegant glass filled with a tasty spiced aubergine dip with walnut toast. It has a light, moussey texture, a slick of olive oil, a crunch of a finger of toasted walnut bread. All washed down with the ubiquitous bubbles - a nice glass of Billecart-Salmon Brut Reserve.
Next is the picture-perfect Local Sea Bass Lightly Cured, Vinaigrette of Oysters, Potato and Tarragon. Again this is a dish I wouldn't immediately plump for on a menu but that's why tasting menus are such a fabulous invention, you get to explore new flavours and not necessarily forgo the old favourites. And this was a perfect foil to the inevitable richness ahead, sweet wafts of tarragon, an oyster-y note, tastes of the sea, very fine indeed. The wine was a cheeky little Silvaner, Villa Wolf, Pfatz 2009. one of the reasons I succumbed to the wine extravaganza. 
Next an unusual dish that provoked much chatter about the inventiveness of Robert and his team. This was the Canneloni of Roasted Goose, Artichoke Risotto and Roasted Various Beetroots. We got to enjoy deliciously delicate risotto hidden inside moist slices of goose (do you see what they did here?) topped with a chunk of soft, yielding artichoke heart. Also there's a wedge of the very earthy purple beetroot and, more preferable to me, the more delicate golden beetroot. A fruity little Pinot Noir, Blanc de Noir/Chardonnay, Uruguay 2008 accompanied the ’cannelloni’.
The perfumed steam from the Baked Scallops in the Shell with Celeriac, Hazelnut, Beurre Noisette and Lemon Thyme was truly tantalizing. The sealing of all the aromatic goodies in the shell certainly intensifies that oh so sweet scallop taste and really was a revelation.  I'd always believed it was sautéed, flash-fried or nothing else for the perfect scallop.  And yes another wine appeared a Côte Du Jura ’Les Varrons’ Julien Labet 2007.
The fish course was Pan Fried Fillet of Local Cod
(originally Lovage but changed to) Spinach Pasta, Chantenay Carrot, Walnuts and Osietra Caviar . The perfect golden cod was fashioned as a high-rise scallop with a verdant quenelle of spaghetti (I don’t think it was ’alla chitarra’ - square cut) topped with dollop-ette of caviar and a vibrant smear of carrot purée. The nut and fish combo was a new one on me and really added to this lovely plate.  The wine is making everything pretty hazy by now but thanks to my cheat sheet I can read that the wine was a glass of Limoux ’Haute Vallée’ La Cave Des Sieurs D’Arques 2007 but I have no recollection. 
So my antidote to dry turkey was the splendid Roasted Saddle of Venison with Root Vegetables, Braised Red Cabbage and Agen Prune, Sauce Grand Veneur. And this really was as good as it looks with deep, deep purple of that intensely meaty hunk of venison nestled up to the perfect roasted roots surrounded by a moat of rich burgundy, prune-y, red cabbage-y sauce. Yes, another sublime dish! This was perfectly washed down more if the wine I'd been enjoying at previous meals - the lip-smacking Malbec, Clos Des Andes, Reserva, Mendoza, Poesia 2006
This curious misconception I had that the menu was less substantial than yesterdays convinced me that I'd have plenty of room for the optional Cheese Course. From the extensive selection I first eliminated the goat and blue ones I chose Brin D’amour, Brillat Trufflé, Sharpham Rustic and Lincolnshire Poacher - a bit of soft and a bit of tangy hard. My cheeses came accompanied with dried grapes, chutney, wedges of fig, a smooth slab of honey-sweet Membrillo and a napkin formed like a dinner jacket containing bread and crackers. The cheese was a nice little diversion but really there wasn't room at the inn.  
I moved tables over to the window and to S and A so we could compare notes on our preparation for this meal (they walked further than me but I got oh so much wetter), our collective excessive food consumption and the highlights of our Christmas dining so far. I think it was A who said when confronted with Locally Grown Apples with Roasted Chestnuts and Dry Cider on the menu he had half expected an apple with a glass of cider. But no, the little joke was what we were really delivered was this elegantly refreshing pre-dessert of a wobbly panacotta, cider granita, apple balls, sorbet, crisp slices of apple and the slivers of essential festive flavour - roasted chestnuts. 

My final dish is a caged pear or more specifically a Poached Pear with Pain D’epice Ice Cream and Quince Puree. Thankfully this dish is perfectly balanced and whisper light so I'm able to taste everything. The juicy pear is surrounded by a little wall of that Burgundian speciality pain d’epice, thin spicy gingerbread that shatters on gentle impact. There's a pear-shaped scoop of the same flavour of ice cream, a smear of fruity quince purée and artful drizzles of caramel sauce. The dessert wine is Château Filhots, 2nd Cru Classé, Sauterne 2001.
As I never drink coffee and rarely drink tea I don't end my meal like everyone else so as we’re still all enjoying our conversations I order hot water and get to also experience the petits fours. 
In another moment of madness I'd pre-ordered the evening hamper in case the hunger pangs strike later. How on earth did I think that could possibly happen.  There are only two words to describe how I feel now after all this fabulously delicious food and wine - utterly stuffed!

A Christmas swim!

Yesterday's schoolboy error of setting forth on a photographic excursion with mere moments of battery life available, is not going to be repeated, I'm more prepared today. I have three fully charged batteries, tripod and the neutral density filters I need. My plan is to return to the beach, stake out a couple of good spots and try and ’smash’ (in LA’s vernacular!) the creamy waves and smudgy clouds. I'm all set up, the weather is not as fine as yesterday, I spot S and A from the hotel setting forth for their constitutional to the botanic gardens but I'm on a mission so wish them well in their walk.  I'm glued to the viewfinder, fully manual (yes, living on the edge!) and tweaking the aperture and shutter speeds oblivious to everything else. Apparently too oblivious as I didn't spot the much feistier waves today building up a head of steam and trying to wipe out the pesky photographer in their wake. Hmmm, I was wearing hiking boots (occasionally I don sensible footwear) but I needed waders it seemed. The waves soaked me up to my knees and filled my boots with sludgy sand and bits of seaweed, I suspect hiking socks would have been useful here. I figured that when I'd been doused once, then twice, then a third time that I'd just stick it out until I had something I quite liked. Apparently photography is not supposed to be easy - Magnum’s Robert Capa said “If your pictures aren't good enough, you're not close enough”, best not to mention what happened to him, but I'm fairly confident I'm not going to drown so I can suffer a little more for my art. Not sure my boots will ever be the same again by I captured something at least and this time I didn't run out of power!

It's Christmaaaas!

I had a lovely surprise from my team but especially the gorgeous other J and the fabulous new H. They had secretly organized the assembly of an intriguingly jingly, lumpy, jolly Father Christmas stocking so “I'd have something to open on Christmas Day”. I had sworn not the peek and I hadn't, not even the tiniest bit. I'd carefully packed the stocking for its Speedcat ride over to the Isle of Wight and hung it up on the door handle in lieu of a suitable fireplace and now it's time for the grand unveiling. But I did say I'd be down for breakfast nice and early (to maximise the recovery time before lunch) with the other festive guests so I'd would just have to wait a little bit longer. 
I'd calculated that the lightest of the breakfasts would be soft boiled egg with soldiers. But as I’m down so early the just-out-of-the-oven pain au chocolat aromas assail me as I arrive in the dining room. Perhaps if spend the interval between breakfast and lunch stomping around Ventnor I might justify the Christmas breakfast indulgence. 
Boiled egg and soldiers was my special dish as a little girl and it still transports me back in a whirl of nostalgia. So I always want to keep the tradition and  have to have my boiled eggs served ’old school’. That means the soldiers have to be a slice of buttered and untoasted white bread, cut into the requisite orderly columns. I must admit when I make soldiers I butter the bread first as it is so much less fiddly but that will be my fault for not pre-warning of my preference for untoasted bread. The eggs are local, clearly borne of happy chickens and have the most golden sunshiny yolks to dunk the buttered soldiers into. A perfect start to the day of festive fare. 
Before getting on my hiking boots I'm champing at the bit to unwrap the contents of my intriguing jangly stocking and it's been so much worth the wait. They've surpassed themselves, in Father Christmas nether regions I discovered a delicate snowflake garland to decorate my room, fabulous new H’s cousin’s suitably seasonal novel The Snow Merchant to curl up with later, our team’s favourite-for-any-occasion Lindt truffles, glamorous bath confetti for future soaking and my beloved Coco Chanel perfumed lotion and the new season’s Chanel Black Pearl nail varnish. With these gifts you are thoroughly spoiling me! An incredibly happy Christmas to me! 

Saturday, December 24, 2011

T'was the night before Christmas

So dressed in my finery I join the other festive diners with an air of expectation, as for the hotel guests, we are embarking on our initial culinary adventure with the first of Robert Thompson’s three tasting menus. The non-residents, I suspect, have chosen their favourite of the menu trio also. I've selected the most elaborate for tonight's dinner, the slightly less extravagant for Christmas lunch and more modest for Boxing Day lunch. My rationale is that I've had time to summon a little hunger in preparation for the feast tonight, and I’ll have less time to work up an appetite tomorrow and the day after. At the corner table I see L and B from Christmas here last year. They are joined also by L’s sister C (or is it K?) We were the only people availing ourselves of the Hambrough’s chic boutique rooms last year but this year the hotel is full and I wonder which tables seat the other guests.   
I start with the delicious gooey cheese filled gougères, this time on a square of slate, and a glass of cassis laced Champagne to get the tastebuds tingling.   
Todays appetiser is a little white onion velouté topped with winter-warming chermoula foam.
Next is the Mackerel with Island Potato and Osietra Caviar. The elegant cubes of fish, slivers of potato salad, nuggets of haricot vert are arranged in a tower of discs. I wouldn't generally choose a dish like mackerel but it had a delicate, clean taste with fresh iron-y zing of the pearls of caviar. 
One of my most favourite aromas starts to assail my senses as a soup dish of Velouté of Jerusalem Artichoke with Parmesan, Black Winter Truffle and Wild Mushroom Brioche is delivered. The soup is delicious, woodsy, creamy with tantalizing shards of Parmesan melting into its depth with a scattering of the finest chopped chive rings.  But the star of the show is the slices of black truffle, the heady perfume extends to the baked-in-a-flowerpot warm brioche and the salt crystaled butter. Just layer upon layer of truffle-y goodness, this is nirvana, I've died and gone to epicurean heaven. Every morsel of this elixir is polished off, this is superb cooking. 
The Pressing of Foie Gras and Wild Duck, Caramelised Clementine Puree, Pain d’epice and Watercress Salad is a smooth marbled slab of delicate meaty morsels bordered by two walls of the thinnest, crispiest spicy ginger bread.  Each forkful can be dunked in the tangy streaks of vibrant clementine. 
One fresh pasta cushion filled with light chunks of langoustine surrounded by autumnal spheres of pumpkin partially submerged under nutty foam or otherwise Raviole of Langoustine, Pumpkin with Sautéed Swiss Chard and Almond Cappuccino.

I'm starting to fade a little so have asked for a rest after my fish course. What I have awaiting me is a beautiful hunk of burnished golden Cornish Turbot on the Bone. Stew of Cannelloni Beans, Clams, Cockles and Horseradish. I always think that open clams add a quintessential flash of seashore sunshine to a meal and this is how this dish makes me feel.  It’s too dark to see the sea outside but I can enjoy the seaside on my plate. The turbot yields to white soft flakes at the merest fork, there are, annoyingly, more bones than I'd like to spoil my eating pleasure (and I don't mean the bone it’s cooked on!) but fish can be infuriating like that. I've never been a huge fan of cannelloni beans, and I'm still not convinced but I gave them a try. I do like a subtle kick of horseradish however, this horseradish was very subtle, really too subtle, I only believed it was in the dish because the menu told me so. 
The beef is coming next and I'm having a breather with a fine Malbec checking out the other diners with that contented, well-fed buzz around the room.
After the longest pause I can muster the main event arrives. Island Beef with Potato Gnocci, Crispy Braised
Oxtail, Salsify and Trompette de le Mort, Oxtail Jus and Parsley Oil. I was fairly sure I would struggle to eat another morsel but here we have draped rosy slices of the rare fillet on top of a flat cake of crunchy oxtail-y loveliness. Then there is the beautifully bronzed salsify, dark dense mushrooms and creamy cauliflower puree. The potato gnocchi were so superior to the lumpen ones last night, still firm but not stodgy. 
And for the final flourish the entire dish is decorated with Jackson Pollock splashes of verdant parsley oil.
Even though I've said how full I am, my waitress asks me if I'd like to partake in the optional cheese course, which is pretty funny. I'd like to at one meal but perhaps with one of the smaller menus. 

The pre-dessert of Sloe Gin Jelly with Pink Champagne Foam is a welcome, light, refreshing and restoring, I'm nearly at the home straight now. 
The signature dessert of the three tasting menus is in front of me - the Dark Chocolate and Hazelnut Layered Parfait with Hazelnut Tuille. The stylish layers of rich chocolate and hazelnut with airy crispy shards of tuille and extravagant wisps of edible gold. Think Michelin starred Nutella! It's picture perfect and I'm admiring its stature whilst chatting to my neighbours on the next table. S and her husband A used to live in the Isle of Wight and can impart oodles of local knowledge which I hope I can profit from. And we also share a love of the Orient Express extravaganzas.  We swap experiences of my trip to Venice and across the US and S and A’s fabulous holiday exploring castles in Scotland on the newly restored Royal Scotsman. We are so absorbed in our tales my dessert keels over with my neglect. The few mouthfuls I have however are very good indeed.  It’s actually after midnight when we finish our drinks and retire to our rooms - so “Merry Christmas”, tomorrow is another day of culinary indulgence - oh my!

Don't forget your batteries!

I'd been determined to build up an appetite for the first and most elaborate of the tasting menus by not eating from breakfast until dinner and taking in plenty of lungfuls of sea air. As I'd lugged my tripod, filters and all the camera accoutrements with me over to the island I was very much hoping to capture some picturesque winter seascapes. Suitably clad in sparkly hiking boots (well, it is Christmas) I locate a spot on the beach that has a nice view of one of the distinctive red coastal hazard markers and set up.  
I'm crossing my fingers I might get some attractive shots at sunset but the sky doesn't look promising.  I am well prepared, I've even braved a long queue of locals in Boots buying last minute perfumes and indigestion preparations to procure a shiny new SD card for my camera.  I fire off a couple of test shots then screw on the filters to slow the crashing waves down.  
A couple of clicks and the inevitable slow shutter drains the camera battery almost immediately. But no fear, of course I've bought a spare with me.  However when I spot that it's upside down in the battery holder I know this one is flat also. And my third? Well that's fully charged and back up the hill again in my hotel room.  And typically, as I throw in the towel, wipe my tripod of sand and pack everything away the clouds clear slightly. And as the clouds become wispier the gold, yellow ochre and tangerine streaks start to emerge and I am camera-less. Most definitely a schoolboy error! Perhaps if I rush back up the hill, shake the beach off my boots and grab the last remaining battery from my other bag in my hotel room, there might a chance I preserve the Christmas Eve sunset. Around me everyone is holding their camera phones aloft and each time I turn around the sky has bruised further, and the indigo was merging with  the orange streaks. 
There wasn't time to return to the beach but I did manage to get a few hand held shots squeezing in between the parked cars and peering over the balustrades. Tomorrow, I will try again but with plenty of batteries!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Eve Eve at the Pond Café

Considering the gourmet marathon I was embarking on I had opted to temper the full indulgence by booking a table at the Pond Cafe, Robert Thompson’s more casual establishment in Bonchurch. I tried to visit last year but their Christmas opening hours coupled with not being able to consume another morsel pretty much for the duration of the entire trip meant I hadn't wandered that far. The Hambrough ordered me a taxi, a courtesy I gratefully accepted as a constitutional on Ventnor beach strapped into hiking boots was one thing but venturing forth to another village clad in high heeled sequinned shoes seemed insensible. 
I'd purposely not eaten since breakfast to ensure a good appetite for the evening.  I’d spent the day exploring Ventnor’s little shops on finding them open for the first time and was deposited outside the Pond Café feeling quite ready for the spread ahead. The pond that gives the name to the restaurant is directly opposite and though thankfully the sky isn't polluted with the sodium lights that turns the sky so orange back home I could still discern a fine flock of ducks that paddled over to see the new arrival. Sadly I hadn't thought to bring bread. The taxi driver mentioned as he restarted the engine that he thought the restaurant looked empty and he was quite right, I was the only diner. I hoped I was just early and was soon assured that I was the only booking. An old friend, N, had a curious fear of empty restaurants, didn't like the soul attention and would demand we sought a livelier place. In fact his oft used phrase, especially when seeking a suitable eatery when travelling, was an insistence we avoid a place as on glancing through the window he declared that it was “full of murderers!” I do feel, however, he must have been mistaken as the likelihood of a little French village being able to congregate so many cut-throat killers seemed awfully slim! I haven't heard he has since stumbled upon some den of assassins so assume his dining out in the last few years has been less perilous. 
I am rather embarrassed being the only diner. I suspect the staff would rather be putting their feet up on Christmas Eve Eve but I'd thwarted that plan. I rather admired the Christmas decor in the restaurant, it was probably no coincidence seeing I recognised a few duplicates to my own decorations - particularly the sparkly black Christmas trees adorning the tables.  
The menu was more Mediterranean or Italian than back in the hotel and a few old favourites leapt out at me. I started with the Local Beef - thinly sliced raw beef, rocket, Parmesan, pine nuts and olive oil.  I like a good Carpaccio and prefer it when it is served with Parmesan and drizzles of olive oil rather than the original Harry's Bar sauce. The rosy slices were chilled and refreshing and alongside the warm-from-the-oven focaccia a delightful start to my light(ish) meal. 
Believing that Carpaccio doesn't really fill me (I may regret that belief later) I next tuck into Raviole - organic pumpkin, sage, ricotta and Parmesan. I always like a fresh pasta and the pumpkin makes it all delicately Autumnal.
For my main I've avoided anything that will clash with the taste odyssey I will embark on tomorrow. So knowing you can never go wrong with Pork Belly - slow roasted with thyme, anchovies and lemon, potato gnocchi, wilted chard and pumpkin I choose that with a side of black cabbage.  I'm expecting moist, juicy, meltingly tender pork and little fluffy pillows of potato gnocchi but to my amazement it just didn't deliver.  The pork was tasty but surprisingly a tad dry, and the gnocchi were dense - more akin to dumplings. I was shocked, I haven't had any dish associated with the Hambrough or Robert Thompson that has given me pause and when the waitress sees me staring at the plate in astonishment she immediately wondered how she could assist.  Her suggestion was a red wine sauce which was speedily whipped up, and it helped a little with the pork but the stodgy gnocchi were sadly unredeemable. The nuggets of roasted pumpkin were a triumph though and I should have just eaten those and been happier with my fare. 
By now I'm actually feeling rather full (though it would have been worse if I'd eaten the gnocchi). Clearly my confidence in ordering two starters was misplaced. I thought I may be able to go for the sweet finish with the bitter chocolate sorbet from the pear and almond glazed tart with red wine. I imagined I'd get a single velvety mound but I presented with these abundant shiny globes of grown up bitter chocolatey sorbet. I could barely make a dent but I enjoyed what I tasted. Time to get back to my hotel and let the staff enjoy their final Christmas preparations. 

Starting the day in style!

Well not technically, as the tray would have been a little tricky to manoeuvre, but in my room at least. I don't generally avail myself of hotel room service, I'm not sure why.  Perhaps I think it won't be as nice as what's on offer in the dining room or I’ll miss something but as I was the last to leave the dining room last night it was suggested I may like to take them up on their kind offer. And it was perfect start to my first morning here and added to the indulgence of the whole experience. So I could wrap myself in a fluffy robe and receive first a tray laden with a silver toast rack, condiments, teapot and linen.  Followed by a second knock to bring my full cooked breakfast and then a third to bring me a caramelised apple on a small slate. How chic to have an amuse bouche with breakfast!
The 'full English', with the barest of reminders to exclude the tomato (they had remembered!) comprises of a plump, juicy sausage, a smaller sausage of the moistest, crumbliest of black pudding, tasty dry cure bacon, sautéed mushrooms and a golden yolked egg.  Oh I could get used to this. 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Let the feasting begin

I knew I hadn't blogged for ages but on examination on my old daily companion I was shocked to discover it was nearly a whole twelve months since I last committed foodie thoughts electronically and was, curiously, the previous time I was in the Isle of Wight. And after pondering a couple of months ago whether it was preferable to explore a whole new destination or revisit a tried, tested and loved old friend I plumped to return to Ventnor in the Isle of Wight and avail myself of the extreme delight of Robert Thompson's fine, fine dining at the Hambrough for Christmas again. 
Last year was my first foray to the island so everything from the quirky old tube trains that whisk you from the ferry port at Ryde to the end of the line at Shanklin, to the festive branches and baubles adorning the bannisters wending their way up to my boutique bedroom was new and pleasant surprise. This time I'm an old hand so I didn't go looking for how to purchase a ticket for the old tube train as I knew you just paid the conductor on board, I knew how close my hotel was to the beach and I knew those enticing aromas wafting up from kitchen promised untold culinary delights and I couldn't wait to quickly unpack and reacquaint myself to the elegant chocolate dining room. 
It's lovely to see familiar faces from last year, it's not just the guests that like being here. I've arrived later than planned, I was distracted by some last minute sorting out, meeting baby N for the first time, a final farewell to E(D) and a minor diversion to acquire some new sparkle. Leaving later meant that gaps occurred in the journey and I only arrived barely moments before the deadline for the kitchen being unable to accept new diners. 
I am swiftly furnished with a small stone brandishing some deliciously oozy cheesy filled gougères and I'm pleased I didn't succumb to snacking en route so I can do all the anticipated delights justice. 
After perusing the à la carte and weighing carefully the options so as not to clash with the three tasting menus on offer for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day, I make my choices and a flavoursome white onion velouté topped with sage foam arrives. 
Next it's the Pressing of Lightly Smoked Eel with Foie Gras, Pork Belly and Granny Smith Apple Celeriac Remoulade and Toasted Brioche. By happy accident I've ordered Robert's signature dish straight off the bat and on arrival with a small fanfare I'm immediately reminded of why I've returned here. The food is first a feast for the eyes and then each forkful adds another layer of delightful taste. The long glass plate comes replete with an elegant band of the moist, juicy morsels and little mounds of the creamy remoulade scattered with micro cress. 
My next treat is the elegant Oven Roasted Anjou Squab Pigeon with Braised Crispy Leg Foie Gras Sauce and Pommes Anna Local Rainbow Chard.  As usual I go a little menu blind when I see words like Foie Gras, Truffle, Mash Potato and Chocolate. And I've chosen well again, This is just perfect, the rosy pigeon breasts, the tiny crunchy leg, the diminutive roundel of potato cake and the subtle creamy foie gras sauce. 
The palate cleanser or pre-dessert is a zesty, fresh clementine soup with cranberries, yoghurt sorbet and meringue. The meringue look either like tiny cotton buds or large matchsticks and give a pleasing chewy texture to the soupy clementine with little tarty nuggets of cranberries. 
Typically they had me at chocolate, the signature dessert is Tarte Tatin, if you go for this you have to put your hand up at the beginning of the meal. It sounded interesting but I was alarmed that it was for two. Another table had opted for this and they got half each. Though admittedly were defeated as asked for a doggie bag. I didn't really fancy Tarte Tatin for breakfast so instead chose the Manjari Chocolate and Passion Fruit Marquise, Grue de Cacao, Chicory Ice Cream. An ideal finish, crunchy shards of chocolate, a fruit smear of passion fruit, deep, rich chocolate and the whisper of chicory in the ice cream. A more than auspicious start to my gourmet Christmas holiday. 

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Red Dot Snapper

Seeing as I'm struggling to keep one blog up to date it does seem a rather bizarre decision to start a brand new blog. But there is method to my madness! Last year in an attempt to beef up my food photography I splashed out on better camera. And then I realised that I needed to learn how to master all that extra cleverness. And much to my shock I started to take the odd picture that wasn't food related! This new blog records my travails with my lovely little Leica and will be a space to record a year long photographic project I've just signed up for.
My thought was that I'd just upload all the photos without the verbiage, but I don't seem to be terribly good at that. Now I have a backlog of two blogs to catch up on, I'm petitioning for a few more hours in the day. Wish me luck on that!
Click here for the non-food photography blog - Red Dot Snapper

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The party's nearly over!

I awake with a sigh, my little foray across the Solent is nearly at an end. At least I can see the sea today from my balcony as I watch the last vestiges of the sunrise disappear, perhaps my camera will have a happier day. At breakfast all the guests are fascinated by the red squirrels flitting back and forth outside the windows. None of us have ever seen a red squirrel, well in the flesh as it were, their beefier grey American cousins have put paid to them almost entirely in England, they fare slightly better in Scotland and Ireland however. I see the grey ones everyday, they're generally running up and down the trees outside my windows, chattering away. They are pretty bold, street-wise city squirrels and seem to show no fear. These slighter, more delicate, shyer long-eared red ones seem to be a lot more cautious and never linger but for the merest moment in one spot lest something should pounce. I make it my mission today to shoot one. I hasten to say with my camera only. Knowing I have nothing remotely resembling a true telephoto I'm going have to try a bit of sneaking up on them whilst they gorge at the handy nut feeders positioned near to the house. Hmmm, I wonder how successful that plan will be. But first it's back to the beach.

My first shock is that there's scenery, a lot if it, both to the left and right. Yesterday it was just walls of white. Today there are kites flying and dogs cheerily chasing crows and splashing about in the water.

There is a slither of blue sky this afternoon, not enough "to make a sailor a pair of trousers" so I doubt it will improve.

The golden sand with an artful piece of driftwood being gently caressed by the frothy waves will sadly have to be an image solely in my head. The reality is a whole lot more stark, wintery, lacking the warmth and the light quality I crave so I will have to resort to a touch of Photoshop wizardry to juzz them up a bit!

On returning from the beach I see if I can get one of those red squirrels in my sights. I find a couple cavorting in the trees near the house, but it's clear they are not going to let me get too close. In the end I decided that showing one of these flighty creatures against the backdrop of one of the perfect chocolate-box cottages would be very fitting.

After the photography 'expedition' it had turned a little chillier (more like the weather I had at home before I left) so I had the perfect excuse to make myself cosy in front of the roaring fire. And after picture editing, writing, blogging and reading (a wonderfully chilling holiday afternoon) I decide to check out their afternoon tea. Somehow eating cucumber sandwiches and strawberry jammed scones seems too quintessentially English summer to consume in front of a crackling fire in mid-December, I tried adding a seasonal glass of mulled wine but it was still a little incongruous. But the smoked salmon and crab sandwiches were wonderfully fresh and appropriate for being so close to the sea, and the fruitcake did seem to make it feel more wintry. I would have rather liked something like a warm cheese scone (memories of Hoste Arms in Burnham Market on an incredibly rain-drenched August afternoon) but a non cheese scone slathered in strawberry jam is more afternoon tea. My only problem is now that it's not many hours until dinner, well that's easily dealt with I'll push back my table for tonight. I'd originally hoped to catch the dramatization of Nigel Slater's Toast as I don't have the luxury of Sky+ here but that's why they invented the heady combination of an iPad and BBC iPlayer I guess! Isn't technology a wonderful thing?

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