19 October 2010
Yes, I know I've just come back from cooking Burmese food at The Wild Garlic and you may want to know a little more about that.
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.
Well, life is what happens to you when you're busy making other plans, so it's not till more than a year later that we four are embarking on an adventure to the distant land of Dorset to make good this resolution.
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.
The Wild Garlic's address is 4, the Square. Beaminster appears to comprise just this Square, so it's easy enough to find.
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.
Any weirdness is immediately replaced by awe - being pedestrians, we've lazily booked the apartment directly above the restaurant, and Katy, one of Mat's brigade, leads us up to a retro vision of wood, pale greens and lilacs (a theme carried over from the restaurant).
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.
I make the other three strike a pose for posterity. It has to be done.
There's time to kill before dinner, so we loaf around the stylish apartment for a while, and then decide that we really ought to get some fresh sea air. Sadly, there is only one bus from Beaminster toWest Bay (the nearest beach) and we miss it - the brother-in-law and his other half make it to the sea on foot, but my husband and I do not, as Mat has asked Terry Ireland (his sous chef and a semi-finalistin this year's MasterChef) to let me have a go at prep before service that evening.
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.
Bread, Nuts and Oil
The four of us sit down at a gorgeous wooden table which looks like a large piece of driftwood, but in fact used to be a French carpenter's table.
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.
A jug of iced water arrives immediately from a smiling Steph. Jen and Emma are also front of house tonight - Jen takes drinks orders - some wine for the others and Mat's Fizz for me. We're also given good bread, oil and balsamic to dip in, and some spiced, caramelised nuts to nibble.
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.
Often Thermidor is so smothered in cheese that the seafood is suffocated, but here the creamy sauce simply serves to enhance the sweetness of the delicate crab, as it rightly should.
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.
Sweet Chilli Squid
And the chilli jam that comes with it is fresh and uncloying (in fact, not half an hour beforehand, Terry was trying to teach me how to make both this and the thermidor sauce, to which my reaction was, "You're not really expecting me to remember all this, are you?").
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).
But these scallops have been smoked until they turn into nuggets of yum. Yes, that's possibly the worst phrase that I have ever written in my life (although give me time), but seriously, people - nuggets of yum.
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.
As we wait for our mains, two platters are brought with five beautiful types of leaf on each for us to try as amuse-bouches. Sadly I can't remember them all, but there's ice leaf, oyster leaf and Tiny Totoro Umbrella (aka nasturtium). All mad, all exciting, the peppery nasturtium's my favourite and not just because of the Ghibli/Animal Crossing connotations.
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.
Pork Chop, Hogweed, Crayfish, Purple Sweet Potato
The hubby's beef and smoked mash is gorgeously autumnal, the mash a sexier version of the one I'd tasted in Birmingham.
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.
Skirt Steak with Truffled Cream
And his girlfriend's gurnard is the biggest beast we've ever seen - she immediately names the fish Bernard, and then apologises to it repeatedly as she eats its delicious body covered in tangy sauce.
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.
Bernard the Gurnard
But I'll be damned if I don't get to try dessert, so we plough on and order Mixed Berry Eton Mess; Local Damson and Apple Crumble; and Trio of Chocolate Desserts (Chocolate Cardamom Brownie, Dark Chocolate and Rosemary Mousse, Chocolate and Orange Sorbet).
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.
The trio of desserts is also a success - my favourite being the citrussy sorbet, though the mousse is a close second.
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.
Trio of Chocolate Desserts
By now, we're weakly scraping at the plates with our spoons, lapsing into a food coma, when Mat appears to say hello and gives us all a shot of Somerset Pomona on the house.
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.
Meemalee's Kitchen at The Wild Garlic
1 October 2010
I'm staring at the biggest box of onions I have ever seen in my life. And all I can think is, "Oh boy".
About six months ago, I was chatting on Twitter, when someone asked me for a Burmese restaurant recommendation. I mentioned Mandalay as being the only place I knew of, and then someone else jumped in and asked if I'd do a Burmese night and cook for people.
The next thing I knew, Mat Follas, the chef and owner of The Wild Garlic and winner of MasterChef 2009, tweeted to me, "Why don't you come and cook Burmese food at my place?"
I am not a chef. I had never been in a professional kitchen. So I did what any normal person would have done in the circumstances, and I rang up my friend Kavey and screamed at her in excitement,
"Oh My God - is he joking? I'd love to do it. Do you think I can do it? What the hell should I say?"
Kavey is infinitely more sensible than me, and she said to me, "Play it cool and say yes".
So I said yes. Fast forward to October, and I'm on a train to Dorset with my husband and a suitcase full of century eggs and a rucksack full of fish balls.
This little video will tell you how it went
It was and is the biggest thing I've ever done, and probably the coolest.
At one stage, I was hefting great stockpots of curry down the windiest, creakiest, most precarious stairs from the upstairs prep kitchen to the restaurant kitchen, and my only thought was how much fun I was having.
Although initially panicked by having to work out quantities and timings, and the number of dishes on my menu, I'd done all the prep, and I knew that I had a full team behind me, supporting me all the way.
Then the diners started arriving and it was show-time. Service itself was frantic, but wonderful, and passed in a mad, lovely blur.
My right-hand man was the lovely Terry Ireland (a semi-finalist in this year's MasterChef), but everyone, both front of house and in the kitchen, was absolutely fantastic.
Green Bean Salad, Century Egg Salad, Fish Ball Salad
As the night went on, seeing empty plate after empty plate come back was an amazing thrill.
At one point, Mat came into the kitchen and said, "There's a dairy farmer out there who says he will give up beef for your Cinnamon Chicken".
I thought I'd burst with delight and excitement.
And then at the end, when I was knackered and flustered, Mat dragged me out to the diners and the whole restaurant applauded.
Tired though I was, suddenly I felt my heart singing with happiness.
I thought to myself, "God, this must be what it's like being on MasterChef", and I finally understood why people become chefs for a living. I was almost tempted myself.
The icing on the cake was when Mat gave me a proper Furi chef's knife when I left to say thank you.
Anyway, Burmese Night at the Wild Garlic was an absolute blast, and I think I will definitely do it again if there's interest - and this time a bit closer to home.
And all the recipes, including the one for Cinnamon Chicken, will be in the Burmese cookbook which I'm currently writing - although I haven't got a deal yet - hint hint to any publishers that come across this ...
Talking of thank yous, it wouldn't have been possible without the following people, so thank you so much to Mat Follas, Amanda Follas, Gill Anstey, Terry Ireland, Charlie, Sophie, Katy, Shannon, Tash, Zoe, Jen, Georgie, Steph, Emma, and Annie at The Wild Garlic.
Terry and me
Thanks also to Will and Tom at delicious. Magazine for helping with prep.
Lastly thank you to Nick Tett Family Butchers, Fruit 'N' Two Veg, and Davey's Locker.
BURMESE NIGHT REVIEWS:
Certain photos copyright Kavey Eats, Lost in the Larder, The London Foodie - click the photos to see the photographer (thanks guys)
Film by Simon Stirrup. Music by Tom Phillips and Simon Stirrup.
Burmese Night at the Wild Garlic
Matpe Bean Fritters
Charred Tomato Salsa
Wood-ear Mushroom and Bean-thread Vermicelli Soup
Fish Ball Salad
Century Egg Salad
Say Bè-Oo Thoh(k)
Green Bean Salad
Mogok Pork Curry
Tomato and Coriander Prawns
Straw Mushroom, Oyster Mushroom, Baby Spinach
Burmese Coleslaw, Shrimp Relish
Gorbee Thoh(k), A’Ngun Jaw
Coconut Sorbet, Tapioca Milk, Brioche
Mohn(t) Le(t) Saon
Film by Charlotte Griffiths
I was invited to shoot 'behind the scenes' during a dinner service in July 2010 at The Wild Garlic restaurant in Dorset, England. Owned by chef/patron Mat Follas, the winner of Masterchef UK 2009, the restaurant specialises in locally sourced, seasonal food.
This slideshow offers a glimpse of a typical night at 'The Garlic' and takes you through the whole of a dinner service in the busy kitchen - all the way from prep to cleandown.
Keep your eyes peeled for Masterchef 2010 semi-finalist Terry Ireland and finalist Alex Rushmer...
Jasper Gerard is delighted by The Wild Garlic restaurant in Dorset.
The Wild Garlic: Simple, stunning and seasonal. Photo: Christopher Jones
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