A few weeks ago La Belle Assiette got in touch and offered me a crack at finally trying their dine at home service.
Private dining is the name of the game: they promise to bring a restaurant experience into your home with a minimum of hassle so you can just enjoy your guests without worrying about your sunken soufflés or your botched borscht.
Pick a date, pick a Chef, pick a menu: it’s that easy.
Your chosen Chef will contact you to discuss your meal: you can pick one of their menus at various prices, or do what we did and give Christos Georgakis free rein to impress. You have the opportunity to tailor a bespoke menu, but my inner glutton only needed to hear ‘oysters, pork, chocolate’ to give the go-ahead.
Christos has his work cut out to impress: he is cooking for a massed (well, six) gathering of keen cooks and Cardiff restaurant bloggers, all of whom should be on your radar: the utterly charming Octopus Diaries, Welsh language blogging’s eminence grise Rhidian from Bwyta Yn Y Brifddinas, my right-hand man Brad, and our gracious hosts, Cardiff food power couple Sarah and Lee of Blysiau Bach and Füüd.
It’s a promising start, this light, herby focaccia liberally salted and ready for dredging through Greek first pressing olive oil (Kalamata- Chef’s home region, where he collected them as a child) which starts mild and ends peppery.
Pacific oysters, from just over the water in Porlock Bay, are spiked with gin & tonic and lime, and dotted with red chilli and cucumber. Even those who are in doubt are impressed: for those who need no convincing, it’s a beguiling start to a meal. If you struggle with the rawness of oysters, having it soused in Hendrick’s (other gins are available if you’re a fully paid-up gin bore) might just be the molluscan mollification you’re after.
There’s excellent cooking on show with the locally-farmed pork: squares of belly have been braised in cider and pressed overnight. Crackling is exemplary, the meat having just the right ratio of seductively wobbly fat to protein: and while the richness of the accompanying red onion and bacon marmalade means a little goes a long way, there’s no denying that it’s heftily flavoured.
There’s an assortment of regulation veg, but the stars are the Welsh new potatoes which Christos has cooked confit. To avoid overpowering them Chef has used a blend of fats with the garlic, rosemary and bay; it lends them a revelatory, almost fudgy, new texture. They are a far cry from your familiar spud.
To see the alacrity with which Füüd scoops up the jug and deftly decants the remaining gravy at meal’s end is to be forcibly reminded he has the DNA of twinkle-toed Welsh number 9s hardwired into in his makeup. Grinding of teeth aside, that’s a host’s privilege. And he’s wise not to waste a drop- it’s a sexy thing, a hearty concoction of cider, red wine and demi-glace, all thickened by sliced spring onions and concasse tomato.
Dessert sits a fragile-shelled créme brûlée inside a cocoa shortcrust case. There’s a raspberry sorbet so tart it cuts right through the rich flourish of dark chocolate and the opulence of the just-set custard. It’s all rather lovely.
By any criteria, this was a thumpingly good meal, one which you’d be happy to have put in front of you in any local restaurant, and better than many locally. You save a dicky mint by not being at the mercy of someone else’s beer and wine list, and you don’t have to eat what someone else wants you to eat. If you don’t feel confident taking your children out to dinner yet, then have someone else do all the spade work, settle them in for the evening and then and sit back and enjoy the results.
You don’t even have to bother with the whole charade of pretending to consider the vegetarian option when the lamb or the pork are winking at you knowingly.
But that nagging question, the one that’s been burrowing its way up into your consciousness like Blake’s ‘invisible worm’?
Yes, they do.
They do the dishes afterwards.
Various packages are available at £39/£59/&89+
See the site for full details
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This blog is a very simple thing.
I won’t try to sell you any hand lotion, exercise programmes, coffee syrups or Patagonian nose flutes. You won’t find tips on dating, ‘wellness’ or yoga mats.
I write because I love it (and food, as indicated by my increasing girth). Greed happens to be my Deadly Sin of choice, but at least it is never shy of providing me with subject matter.
A simple thing, then: all you get is me wittering on semi-coherently about places I’ve eaten at; hence a ‘restaurant blog’ rather than a ‘food blog’, although there are a few recipes scattered throughout.
From mezze to Michelin ‘fine dining’ and all points in between.