Friday, December 24, 2010

Have yourself a tasty little Christmas

I was keen to explore the rest of my current 'home' (Robert Thompson the Hambrough) so agreed to have an aperitif in the lounge. I imagined roaring log fires, wing armchairs and homely touches but in fact it's more like a Swedish sauna with tables and chairs. The vaulted blonde wood ceiling and white plain walls gives it a slightly austere appearance, I suspect it comes into its own when you can fling open the French windows on a balmy summer evening onto the little terrace. On Christmas eve despite Ventnor's infamous microclimate, I'm not chancing it however! There are enormous glittery stars hanging from the rafters, little tealights in glass pots and my favourite white lilies but my room, though significantly bigger than the lounge, is much more cosy. The menu looks way more interesting, tonight's is as follows:

Cornish Oysters in Various Forms
Salad of Smoked Pheasant Breast with Celeriac, Apple and Walnuts
Fine Tart of Onions
Watercress Soup with a Truffled Poached Organic Egg
Truffle Brioche
Roasted Saddle of Venison with Creamed Savoy Cabbage
Roast Parsnip and Sauce Grand Veneur
Pan Roasted Monkfish Tail with Curry Spices and Cornish Mussels
Seasonal Vegetables
Risotto of Butternut Squash with Glazed Bosworth Ash,
Trompette De La Morte and Autumn Truffle
Tart Tatin of Apple
Tahitian Vanilla Ice Cream
Citrus Terrine with a Natural Yogurt Sorbet
Warm Madeleines
A Selection of Fine Cheeses
Coffee and Petit Fours

I've ordered a deep, dark bottle of Clos des Andes Malbec for the duration of my stay, there are wine pairings available but I find generally these exceed my famously deficient (in some peoples' minds) capacity for alcohol so my decadent wine plus a couple of Kir Royales will do me just fine.

The dining room has a much warmer feel, there's still the wooden floorboards, the minimalist but elegant decor but with the sage green textured walls, jewel-like sea green satin blinds, the most stunning slightly Art Deco mirror above the unlit fireplace it's all so much more snug. Whilst I'm pondering the room my beautiful evocative-of-the-sea fluted crystal dress plate and silver twist of a napkin ring are removed and a linen waterlily containing a couple of just-from-the-oven Cheddar gougères appear accompanied by a mini disc of the most fragrant focaccia with that most perfect sea-salt adornment. Oh my this is seriously good!

But lo, the appetizer arrives. It is a diminutive pot of the most sublime silky cauliflower panacotta, marinated lobster and shellfish oil and is a massive seafood hit but the perfect size to get you salivating for more. That's one talented chef!

Next I plumped for the Fine Tart of Onions, I may had hankered for some of the onion to be as caramelized as the rest but that's my own taste and I'm sure this was all part of achieving the optimal texture and there's no denying it's very tasty.

The heady aroma of the other diners' truffled brioche have already assailed me several times and when my Watercress Soup with a Truffled Poached Organic Egg and Truffle Brioche arrive I can't wait to dive in. Beneath the foam is the most verdant of green soups. I've waxed lyrical before about both my love of the black diamond - truffle (I'm rather partial to black diamonds in all forms actually) and softly poached eggs which when speared release their golden elixir in rivulets to anoint the rest of the dish. Hence my excitement and it didn't disappoint. It wasn't too heavy and felt slightly virtuous despite the decadence of the truffle.

The sculptural Roasted Saddle of Venison with Creamed Savoy Cabbage, Roast Parsnip and Sauce Grand Veneur was next to grace my white linen altar. I'd been fearing that I would struggle (blame the focaccia, gougères AND brioche!) but one taste of the Clanger shaped perfection of parsnip, a ridiculously good parsnip puree, the rosy succulent venison and that rich 'hunter' sauce and I'm sold. Somehow I manage to utterly clean the plate. I think I may have died and gone to heaven!

A palate cleanser or pre dessert of pear posset with vanilla foam may restore my sense of equilibrium, I am literally reeling from this menu. The Space Dust (popping candy) hiding in the soft creamy folds of the foam literally has the pear nectar dancing on my tongue. I do love a Space Dust surprise, it's a witty little treat to find in your dessert. It seems the packets of my childhood have had a welcome resurgence and I for one think this is a good thing.

I'm not entirely sure there's any room left but I plan to tackle the at least a corner of the Tart Tatin of Apple with Tahitian Vanilla Ice Cream. I've had many tart Tatins, sometimes the pastry can be rather dense and stodgy, the caramel just too caramelized verging on bitterness and the whole thing can be very hard work and frankly just too tart. But this Tart Tatin is how they should be, the light-as-air pastry shattering on your tongue, the bronzed apples yielding to the spoon and a very attractive plate. It was a masterpiece, sadly there was no room at the inn (cue seasonal nod!) to do it complete justice as there is a limit.

The finale were a couple of festive petit fours and in my case, hot water. Even a mild Earl Grey may have pushed me over the edge tonight.
I chose to come to the island, to this (so I'm told) slightly shabby very off-season seaside town that time forgot because my interest was piqued by this intriguingly incongruous "restaurant with rooms." Michelin starred and Ventnor - sophisticated eyebrows were raised somewhat. But this is a find, this epicurean diamond truly is a gourmet destination, this incredibly breath-taking food and attentive and warm service wouldn't be out of place in any of the foodie capitals but here instead of having to drag myself onto public transport or spend a king's ransom getting a cab, I can just climb upstairs to my beautiful room and most likely collapse.
And oh my, tomorrow I get to do it all again! Thank goodness I has the foresight to bring my hiking boots, though possibly known as the worlds worse walker, I need to somehow prepare for an even more sumptuous Christmas lunch. Tomorrow I'll explore Ventnor and see if what I've read is true, I suspect that the chicest of seaside resorts would struggle to look its best all shuttered up in winter garb but I think there could be much promise in a windswept beach and wintry sea, as long as the rain stays away! It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas!

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