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.
(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!