Sunday, December 26, 2010

Second helpings!

As I returned to my hotel (Robert Thompson at the Hambrough) shaking the sand off my boots after the now customary appetite-inducing tramp along the beach and around the little winding streets of Ventnor (also witnessing the Charity Boxing Day Swim - though frankly it's less of a swim more of an endurance test for who can survive in the freezing waves) I am assailed by the intoxicating perfume of truffles. Not chocolate truffles (which have a heady cocoa aroma of their own) but those elusive diamonds of the fungi world. I was convinced I couldn't eat the tiniest bit of food despite my exertions this morning but that exotic aroma gets me going every time - thankfully!
On returning to the sea green dining room for what would be the last time (sob) now less windswept from my walk I can hear the excited murmurs from my neighbouring diners over the big decision of choosing the menu options.

Amongst today's difficult choices are:

Champagne and Canapés
Ravioli of Lobster, Scallop and Salmon with a Crab and Lemongrass Bisque
Parfait of Rougie Foie Gras with Comice Pear and Aged Port
Lovage Linguini with Pink Oyster Mushrooms, Braised Celery and Shaved Walnuts
Velouté of Parsnip with a Hazelnut Cappuccino and Bitter Cocoa
Roast Fillet of Scotch Beef with Artichoke, Potato and Truffle Madeira Jus
Pan Roasted Halibut with a Fricassee of Sprouts and Chestnuts
Chestnut Pasta
Glazed Tart of Leeks with Truffle and Poached Quails Eggs
Dark Chocolate and Griottine Fondant Pistachio Ice Cream
Glazed Rum Baba with Citrus Fruits Vanilla Ice Cream
A Selection of Fine Cheeses
Coffee, Mince Pies and Petit Fours

It's a tough job but someone got to do it so I make my selection and sip another glass of Champagne. I've sussed out the canapés now so eat them in order of preference: the squishy, finger-licking truffle and goats' cheese sandwich first, the smoked salmon, soured cream and caviar blini next and then the unctuous slow-cooked veal shin cigarette in paprika mayonnaise. The feasting has begun again!
The yummy Cheddar gougères and delectable hot-from-the-oven focaccia (other breads are available!) appear as if by magic next. Maybe I should check that they're as good as the last two days - oh yes they are!

My starter choice is a nod to the influence of the salty sea outside the windows and I opt for the Ravioli of Lobster, Scallop and Salmon with a Crab and Lemongrass Bisque. The wafts of the heady scent of lobster and crab heralds the arrival of the dish. And it tastes as fabulous as it smells, a plump silky cushion containing juicy morsels of the lobster, scallop and salmon nestled in a circle of iron-y crunchy kale, napped with the delicate foam and a swirl of the intense moreish bisque. Again I hanker for more of that luscious liquid, it may have not looked as pretty on the plate in the quantities I would have happily polished off but it tasted way too toothsome not to crave more.

The soup of the day is Velouté of Parsnip with a Hazelnut Cappuccino and Bitter Cocoa. This may all sound too sweet but this parsnip is a distant cousin to the golden roasted parsnip we enjoyed on Christmas Eve, this is slightly more reminiscent of celeriac with a purer more ethereal taste. The potent chocolatey nutty foam bathes it all in a delectable blanket just to ensure it doesn't taste too virtuous!
I fear I may run out of superlatives before the main event and I'm pretty sure this will be an absolute stunner.

This time the intoxicating aroma is my own plate of Roast Fillet of Scotch Beef with Artichoke, Potato and Truffle Madeira Jus wafting towards me. And it is indeed a thing of beauty. But enough of the admiration, I pick up my steak knife and plunge in. Firstly it's that sublime bisected rosy fillet of melt-in-the-mouth beef, just perfection! And for me the ideal marriage is the crunch of the Parma ham rose which is baked or sautéed to intensify the baconiness. This instantly transported me back to ghosts of Christmas past. The original D could never tolerate poultry and turkey was a definite no-no. Beef was his meat of choice and when I first decided to jazz it up a bit inspired by a treatment I'd seen Jamie Oliver do I slathered some truffled parfait onto a fat fillet of beef and then wrapped the lot in a dozen overlapping slices of Parma ham before roasting rare. This made the Christmas joint sensational and M's inevitable pickings the next day an extra treat (she never really liked her meat hot). And this duly became the family favourite.
But coming back to the present we never accompanied our beef with the soft yielding caramelized artichoke that unfurled each petal or leaf on the gentle probing with my fork. The truffled Madeira jus is sensational, but anything that smells that good has to be. Maybe a mound of the butteriest mash potatoes would have been gilding the lily, but I just love mash so secretly wish there was some. But if Robert has added this extra indulgence I probably wouldn't be able to do his dessert justice, and that would be utterly criminal!

The pre-dessert of a little clementine posset With vanilla foam replaced my licked clean main plate (well I would if I could!). The posset's foam cap was not the usual pert piped crown tonight but seemed to have have slipped and neutralized the Space Dust lurking below somewhat. The clementine was however still a refreshingly tangy palate cleanser.

And finally, they had me at "chocolate" and again at "fondant" so my dessert of choice just had to be Dark Chocolate and Griottine Fondant Pistachio Ice Cream. An unusually discrete Versace dessert plate displays the dark chocolate and vibrant green creation.
My surprise as to the uncharacteristic subtlety exercised by Versace is probably based on my 2008 Christmas present from M - a place setting of the Versace Dedalo range which believe it or not was one of the tamer designs!

The alchemy between deep, rich chocolate and the verging on unnatural green pistachio has been well documented and here was no exception but this has an extra dimension or two, the oozing fondant, the hit of Griottines (Morello cherries in Kirsch), the delicate crunch of the filigree wafer, the ice cream melting with the chocolate and the texture of the crushed pistachios. In the last two meals despite two very fine illustrations of the patisserie's art I was defeated by the crisp pastry of the Tart Tatin of Apple and the light Clementine Steamed Sponge, but had no such problems today. Another scraped clean plate, scrumptious!
There's still tonight's hamper but the final festive feast at the hands of Robert Thompson at the Hambrough is over. I came to Ventnor, to the Isle of Wight for this gourmet mission, meeting fellow epicurean pilgrims on the way, being lavished with exemplary food and wonderfully attentive but not overbearing service, languished in this beautiful, elegant hotel - what more could foodie diva desire? A very, very merry Christmas to me!

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