Thursday, 27 May 2010

"Keep heart, you're still en route"

Michael Caines has held 2 stars at Gidleigh for as long as I have been interested in food yet despite several holidays in Devon in recent years I had never eaten there. In April we stayed in Ivybridge and made the torturous trek over the moors to Gidleigh in honour of my husbands 31st. And what a journey ! The driveway itself is narrow, long and winding; indeed it's so long that they have even erected a notice assuring you that you've not gone wrong. But once the valley opens out and you see the beautiful Arts and Crafts house complete with the rocky River Teign at its feet you forget the past 2 hours of driving hell.
Once inside it feels like you're in a du Maurier novel. Rich oak panelling is everywhere and the soft furnishings are chintzy without being twee. We settled into a couple of comfy wing chairs in the lounge and looked out over the gardens. Champagne was poured, the menu arrived and canapés, goats cheese mousse with caramelised walnut vinaigrette and chicken roulade with herb purée, were enjoyed.

The restaurant itself is split into 3 separate rooms, a nice arrangement which made the whole experience feel much more intimate. We shared our area with two other couples, one of which provided much entertainment (man to waitress "which part of Germany are you from ?" Waitress "I'm French"). Our table overlooked the lovely gardens and the sounds of the river babbling along made a pleasant change from the usual background muzak.

Bread is served with your own basket left on the table so you don't have to be ashamed of your greed in wanting to try one of each of the three breads (baguette, sundried tomato and burnt bran). The amuse on our visit was nettle and wild garlic soup - made with foraged ingredients from the gardens. Our starters, complete with standard "michelin-ey" presentation, were terrine of chicken with truffle and leek salad and seafood salad with lemon purée and chorizo foam. This came with some tender samphire spears which are always a delicious treat. Main courses were Cornish duckling with red cabbage, apple & spiced jus and Cornish cod with cauliflower, lemon thyme and cumin velouté. Both delicious. My cod came with an interesting looking leafy thing which was, apparently, wood sorrel, gathered from.... the garden. Obviously chef is heavily into foraging.

The cheeseboard here is fabulous, the best I think I've ever encountered, with an inspired selection of cheeses ranging from locals to Mimolette and a Corsican cheese that I had only encountered previously in books (Fleur de Maquis). The man that served the cheeses was extremely knowledgable which is unusual, even in restaurants of this calibre. The cheese was served with dried fruit, raisin bread and homemade membrillo jelly (a bit too solid for my taste, too much like pâte de fruits and rather lacking in the spreadability factor).

We followed our cheese with pistachio soufflé & pistachio ice cream. At this point the meal took a slight veer off it's "perfect meal" course; the soufflé was (as it should be) perfect but the ice cream was a bit disappointing. The pastry chef had been a bit heavy handed with the Sevarome and the ice cream tasted rather too artificial for my liking. Unctuous yes but not exciting. The second disappointment came in the petits fours. Call me old-fashioned but I like to see nougat, truffles, tuiles, fudge, marshmallow etc served with coffee; sadly the coffee accompaniments here are miniature desserts. They were delicious (pannacotta, beignet with crème anglaise and passionfruit tartlet) but they were what I would expect to be served as a pre-dessert, not a petit four. A small complaint I know but I was thoroughly looking forward to an exciting selection of candies :( So Restaurant Lallement in Reims retains the Petit Four trophy. I wonder if it will ever be beaten.

Petty pastry chef niggles aside we had a fantastic lunch in a delightful setting. It could never be described as a cheap lunch (especially as you need about a tank of petrol just to get up the driveway) but it certainly is great value at £45.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb

I absolutely adore rhubarb. From ice cream to fools, through jams and crumbles to granitas there is nothing in which I do not enjoy it's tart presence. We recently planted 4 large Timperley early plants in the allotment and watching them grow in their own, lovingly prepared bed, has given me much pleasure. I love watching the dainty pink shoots come out of the ground, a harbinger of summer eating.
One thing not to love about it, however, is the astronomical price in the supermarkets. This would appear to have something to do with the Delia effect and you can easily pay over £3 for a few piffling, sad looking stems. Rhubarb seems to have turned into the fruit equivalent of lamb shank - previously a cheap cut of meat happily minding it's own business in the fridges of canny cooks. Chefs have turned these "forgotten" cuts of meat from bargain basement to premium and made them unaffordable everyday. It's a shame; I liked being one of the few people really enthusiastic about rhubarb. Now I just look as if I am jumping on the Waitrose bandwagon.
Anyway, if you can manage to obtain some rhubarb, one of my favourite ways to enjoy it is simply roasted. You need very young stems, preferably champagne rhubarb. Trim off the ends, put in a roasting pan, slosh over some cava/champagne/fizz of some sort, bung in a quartered orange, a few star anise and a vanilla pod. Roast at around 160 for about 20 minutes. You could serve it cold with ice cream or crème fraîche but I find it best enjoyed warm from the oven.
This week's bakeoff also involved rhubarb in the form of very moist rhubarb cakes with soured cream and poached rhubarb topping. Delicious !