Thursday, February 22, 2007

We ate all the pies!

Despite really looking forward to the latest cook book club at Blueprint Café especially as it featured Sophie Conran’s fabulous little pink Pies book it was with trepidation I ventured over Tower Bridge. And it wasn’t the food I was worried about or tonight’s esteemed guest but where I’d be sitting. Generally as a solo cook book club attendee I am placed on the longest table but generally most diners attend in a group so I never know where to place myself until everyone else is seated. This normally works out fine, wherever I sit there’s someone interesting to chat with whilst we eat the delicious dinner but last month I ended up at the furthest end of the long table sat next to a taciturn man and no one sat opposite and spent most of the meal sat in an awkward silence. Not really the best evening!

This time I vowed not to be “baby, sat in the corner” so I cased the long table I’d be assigned and positioned myself cunningly in the middle. I needn’t have worried at all as everyone was lovely and friendly at my table and a fine time was had by all. Before I sat down there was the business of the menu to check out and some tasty nibbles and exotic vibrant drink to consume.

Baked salsify, Parmesan

Haddock & black pudding mini tarts

Steak & kidney pie, puff pastry crust

Cheese, quince & a green salad

Sticky toffee pudding with cream

Prosecco & blood orange juice

Who would have thought salsify wrapped in filo pastry and sprinkled generously with Parmesan would be so wonderful, but it is. It is the perfect little nibble to go with drinks, you get the salty hit from the Parmesan which is way more classier that a bowl of peanuts and you can smugly count salsify towards your five-a-day.

We were also offered cubes of the most amazing smoked haddock and black pudding tarts. This may sound a crazy combination but U can assure you it was fastic. My attempts at photographing them wasn’t so good as the dark cubes even on a white plate in a dark restaurant just don’t really work. The reason why Blueprint Café is unusually dark is really for the benefit of showing off the excellent location. The Blueprint Café is on top of the Design Museum and by the Thames so the height affords a fabulous view of Tower Bridge and the city beyond and to your right the soaring towers of the Canary Wharf development. The bridges and the walkways along the Thames are illuminated and with the aid of your supplied binoculars and the restaurant’s ambient lighting you can check out the metropolis. I guess if the lights were brighter inside, seeing the world outside would be much harder.

To wash down our nibbles we had glasses of stunning jewel-bright Prosecco and blood orange juice. I particularly like the way that the blood orange pulp made up the head of the drink giving it a nice texture.

Thanks to Richard, I was very honoured to be invited into the kitchen for the first time to take a few well-lit shots the night’s pies as they came out of the oven. This meant that I could see them properly and admire them in their Portmeirion as designed by Sophie Conran pie dishes!

Not long after we were seated these stupendous steak and kidney pies started wending their way towards is and what fine beasts they were – meaty chunks of beef and juicy mushrooms with a lovely essence of kidney all topped with a tasty and crispy puff pastry.

Jeremy Lee, the ever ebullient head chef assured us of the excellent provenance, the love and care that had gone into our pies. Jeremy had considered reproducing his own rabbit pie from Sophie’s book but knowing that some are rather squeamish about bunny, made a steak and kidney pie and a spinach and ricotta filo wrapped thing for the vegetarians. We had some boiled potatoes, delicious purple sprouting broccoli and some very feisty lip-tingling horseradish sauce to accompany our pastry delights.

On these cook book club evenings the restaurant is closed to other diners but a couple of tourists slipped past the “restaurant closed for private party” sign and was well met by a pie brandishing Jeremy. It seemed they didn’t stay! More fool them I think!

In between mouthfuls of delicious pie the main topic of conversation on our table was “Wouldn’t Jeremy be awfully good on television?” and I am pleased to hear the wonderful rumour that he is indeed soon to grace our screens! As usual he made an impressive little introductory speech especially as Sophie is a good friend of his. Sophie perhaps made the shortest public address at one of these events as truly unaccustomed to making such speeches it was left for her brother to expound her qualities as both an excellent cook and mother. I must admit Sophie and her assistant Sarah are fine exponents of a life of pie consuming as a sylph-like and elegant a pair of pie eaters you’ll ever see. They even claimed to have tested sixty pies in one sitting, very impressive!

After the pies, we had some tangy cheese, quince and a well dressed mâche salad. I’m always so pleased when I realise it’s not just me who’s crazy about mâche (some say lamb’s lettuce).

Despite everyone declaring how utterly stuffed we were, we managed to force down to some of Jeremy’s incredible sticky toffee pudding with a few people around me declaring that they could happily just live on this forever. I agree that it was very good but with scrummy pies like the steak and kidney pie and the smoked haddock and the black pudding, personally I don’t intend to relinquish pies yet.

Sophie was signing copies of her Pie book and asked me as an already owner if I’d tried any of the recipes, I had to admit that I hadn’t but fully intended to correct this omission this very weekend. I got Sophie to sign a book for me anyway as I figured I could both supplement D’s cook book collection and ensure we’d have the pie recipe I had my eye on for this weekend Pies inauguration.

Thanks to Richard, Jeremy and of course Sophie this was a thoroughly wonderful evening and I am looking forward to the next cook book club featuring Skye Gyngell’s – ‘A Year in My Kitchen’.


DD said...

Wow! The orange drinks do look amazing! But I prefer the look of the wine fridge in the background!



J said...

Let's hope Mickey Mouse land does a good line in fabulous pink drinks! Get the Chambord out!

keiko said...

Dear J - it was really lovely to meet you at the event, thanks so much for the wonderful write-up and for reminding the menu. I thought the black pudding was lovely! (just in case you might have thought I'm a 'small' eater - I thought we're having another pie after the steak&kidney and I was saving for it...!) Looking forward to meeting you again some time, take care.

J said...

Dear Keiko,
I was worried about your lack of pie-eating. I understand it all now! I am sure we'll catch up at another event and then I can see some of your amazing photography in action!
Until then, J