Aged Pork at Lutyens ‘Food for Thought’ Dinner:
It seemed right and proper to me that the Food for Thought ‘For the Love of Pork’ dinner was held at Lutyens. Like much of Fleet Street, the building has an historic link to the Press, in this case as the headquarters for Reuters built by architect Sir Edward Lutyens. And that on the site where Samuel Pepys spent his early years, next door to St Bride’s, the journalists’ church. Using the venue to host a dinner challenging our attitudes to meat production and highlighting some of the shortcomings of current practise was achingly appropriate. The restaurant is a relative newcomer, having opened in 2009 as part of a small collection of food and drink related enterprises by Prescott and Conran. But, perhaps the venue is still haunted by the great investigative journalists it was once home to. Or by the diarist himself.
It is all too easy to forget what a unique part of London this is. A little early I had wandered round the corner to stumble into St Brides – one of the most beautiful Wren churches I know in London.
I worked in Fleet Street in the 1980s, not as a journalist but in the marketing department of a Bank. It was at the time when the papers were just starting to move out. What had been a vibrant and rather outre area seemed muffled and subdued by the exodus. Reuters was one of the last to go, leaving in 2003. Now the street is home to a slightly incongruous mixture of restaurants, hotels and law firms. But thankfully, for the most part, the buildings remain,a testament to the great journalistic heritage of the area.
Downstairs in the private club of Luteyns we enjoyed a glass of champagne before moving into the dining room. Our host for the evening, Peter Prescott, introduced Richard Vaughan, rare breeds farmer from Huntsham Court Farm, who explained a little of the ethos behind his farming.
Having started his agricultural career as a supermarket supplier he is achingly aware of the production methods and requirements of the mass market. What he does now with his farming is as different as a bottle of Vintage Margaux premier cru to a supermarket Bulgarian Merlot. Most of his produce is sold direct to the public or restaurants. And, he manages his livestock with a strong regard for integrity of pedigree, quality and of course, taste. He explained that in addition to grass-fed longhorn cattle and ryland sheep, he rears Middle White pigs, a breed known for pork (as opposed to bacon) and one that fell out of favour with farmers in the UK some eighty years ago when they realised they could produce larger quantities of meat by using faster-growing pigs.
Apart from tasting a whole range of pork appetisers, including crackling, pigs head croquettes, pulled pork on sour dough and Middle White Scotch eggs, the focus of the evening was to be a dish of 55 day dry-aged belly and loin of pork.
We devoured a seemingly endless supply of the dishes and enjoyed a 2012 Gruner-Veltliner ‘Hefeabzug’, Nikolaihof Wachau, Austria, I believe a biodynamic wine – the menu told us ‘the white peach and fresh apple notes together with other delicate aromas of this wine will complement and balance the flavours of the pork’. An excellent white, though my focus was on the food and our entertaining speaker and I have to admit to not worrying too much about whether I could find the peach and apple;). Our speaker’s story was puncutated by the occasional commentary provided by his wife Rosamund who, sitting opposite me, was happily explaining how she came to be a farmer’s wife after a successful City career, marrying Richard some ten years ago and joining him to farm lands that have been in his family since the Middle Ages.
The concept of dry aged pork is not one I’ve come across before. Beef and Game are aged or hung of course. But pork? Richard told us that he’d hung a pig for 40 days at the request of Nuno Mendes and discovered that it produces a tender, sweet meat remote from anything you might buy in the local supermarket. Head chef Henrik Ritzen has worked with Huntsham Court Farm for over ten years, presumably taking his favourite supplier with him through what sounds like a Who’s Who of the London restaurant scene, including a spell at The Square, at Blue Print Cafe and as head chef at Racine working with both Henry Harris and Eric Garnier.
According to The Pig Site
Ageing is one of the main factors that affect variation in tenderness. Pork tenderness increases rapidly in the first 48 hours post-mortem. In leg nearly 100% of the ageing occurs within 4 days post slaughter. In loin, 80 per cent of the total increase in tenderness occurs within 4 days, and 90 per cent within 6 days. Tenderness is improved further by longer ageing for up to 12 days.
What of 55 days? Well, if I am brutally honest, I’d need to have a whole series of blind tasting plates lined up to feel informed enough to comment. The same breed of pork, the same cut of meat, the same recipe. Without that, there is no relative scale.
But, this dish as a whole was wonderful. Tender and very moist, rare pork loin, meltingly soft roast belly. All served with apple sauce, jus, baby leeks and cabbage.
Washed down with a 2012 Trousseau Domaine Grand Cotes du Jura I am not entirely sure that I noticed the ‘little animal characteristic reminiscent of the farm’ but, I did really enjoy it!
Meanwhile we carried on enjoying the meal with a dessert of custard tart and rhubarb sorbet and a matched dessert wine of 2008 Moscatel, followed by coffee served with tiny choux buns.
If the measure of success of this evening is to have made me think, it does, of course, score a resounding 10. It raised issues about meat production and consumption which are all too easy to ignore in our day to day lives. I left feeling better informed and educated. And, well fed and watered to boot.
The company, a mixture of local businessmen and women, was good and conversation excellent. Perhaps this kind of immersive dining will be one of the food trends of 2014 – after all, it provides the perfect canvas for an aspiring chef to demonstrate his concepts safe in the knowledge that his ‘audience’ will leave with some idea of the thought process behind the menu.
Food for Thought hold a regular series of dinners at their London venues. For more information about forthcoming evenings, including the forthcoming celebration of the new asparagus season, sign up to their mailing list