19 October 2010
However, I thought I'd take a step back and throw you a curve ball by writing about what Mat Follasand his fine brigade normally dish up.
Last February, my husband, his brother, his brother's girlfriend and I had resolved that as soon as the gladiator that had slain his opponents in culinary warfare had established a going concern, we would venture west and pay a pilgrimage to this champion.
None of us want to drive, so we get a train to the nearest station, and thus find ourselves in the village of Crewkerne wondering what the hell to do. There's some kind of funfair being set up, and the temptation to go on the Mega-Dance and 'llow Beaminster altogether is strong, but eventually we find a cab who takes us the rest of the way.
As we stand at the door, suddenly I feel a bit weird - I'm conscious of the fact that less than a month from now, Mat is allowing me to take over his restaurant, and seeing it in real life has made it become very real.
The flat is bigger than we expected, comprising a combined bedroom and lounge area, a fully equipped kitchen diner (plus bread, butter, wine and cereals) and an ensuite bathroom.
Moreover, I'm a sucker for a well-designed piece of furniture, and this flat is a showcase for some of the best including G-Plan and Ercol - a beautiful set of table and three-legged chairs which sleekly slot together to leave a clean silhouette, some Mad Men-style purple recliners, a starburst wall clock, and a glam mirrored pendant lamp.
It's my first time in a professional kitchen and I mainly get in the way, so we're all relieved when it gets to 7, and I can cross to the other side of the swing door for our reservation.
It's strikingly different from the other tables, which are by Marnie Moyle and just as beautiful, but engraved at the edges with the names of birds, plants, and randomly, types of potato.
Because I'm with family and I'm a control freak, I make all the food choices - we absolutely have to cover as much of the menu as possible.
Starters are Dorset Crab Thermidor; Smoked Scallops, Smoked Meats Carpaccio; Sweet Chilli Squid; and Confit Duck Leg, Orange Sauce.
Continuing this theme of allowing the main ingredient to shine, the Wild Garlic squid comes free of the usual batter shackles and, astonishingly, the texture is perfect - tender, delicious, with no sign of rubber at all.
The duck leg is a little too salty for my liking, but the skin is fabulously crispy, and the portion so generous that we dive in without guilt when my brother-in-law offers a tasting.
The smoked meats are textbook, but as for the scallops - oh, the scallops. Mr Follas has been known to dive for his own anyway, which already makes them that little bit more special ("hand-dived by the chef" and all that).
My husband has never, ever seen the point of scallops, but these ones, which have been smoked briefly over woodshavings in a little camp-style smoking pan, actually make him change his mind.
A storming start, so we're really looking forward to the next round. We, by which I mean I, have chosen Local Pork Chop, Hogweed, Purple Sweet Potato, Crayfish; Slow-Cooked Skirt, Truffle Cream; Whole Gurnard, Tomato and Tamarind; and Fillet of Beef, Smoked Mash and Bearnaise Sauce.
When my dish arrives, I want to sing "Under the Sea", so lively does my wee crayfish appear (and it tastes just as perky). The pork chop is a little tough, but the fat is nicely crisped, and the ground hogweed ramps up the savouriness. The purple sweet potato is soothing and moreish, with warm hints of miso.
Brother-in-law's beef is an even better chunk of cow than the husband's, with its frothy topping of truffley cream. And like the miso in my purple mash, there's another Japanese touch in the littletamagoyaki roll which comes with his dish - but it goes surprisingly well.
At this point though, we're close to admitting defeat. The portions are huge.
Possibly too huge. But despite the size, the presentation is somehow dainty - they're the prettiest plates I've seen in a while.
We also order some of Mat's home-made sloe gin - might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb, and it turns out to be delightful.
The Eton Mess is heavenly. There is no other word one could use. The damson and apple mix is too sharp; however, the granola in the oaty crumble works brilliantly.
And to be fair, the only reason I'm not so keen on the brownie is that I'm not fond of cardamom used in sweet stuff.
This act of kindness combined with the wonderful food we've indulged in means the rest of the night disappears into a bit of a haze ...
It's a bloody good thing we booked the flat upstairs.