La Belle Assiette –
One TWO Masterchefs at Home:
I first bumped into the people from La Belle Assiette about 6 months ago. I love the concept – that you can book chefs online to come and cook dinner for you, and I’ve been lucky enough to try out the service twice before – once hosting a blogger dinner and the second time doing a validation dinner for Rajiv Pratap (my friend Madeleine wrote a lovely review here). Meeting Masterchef finalist Tony Rodd at the Hixter Hillfarm Rapeseed Oil lunch seems to have been serendipitous, I mentioned to him that I loved the concept of La Belle Assiette and suggested he might get in contact with them – and he mentioned to them that he’d like to do his validation dinner at my house.
The idea of the validation dinner is that all the Belle Assiette chefs do one dinner before they are actively promoted by La Belle Assiette, just to check that they can cook in a stranger’s kitchen and can deliver the kind of quality food that La Belle Assiette expects.
When Tony turned up at the door, complete with cases of food, crockery and essential cheffy tools, he had another familiar face in tow – Luke Owen, one of the 2014 finalists. It turned out there’s something of an exclusive club of Masterchef contestants and Luke was staying in London with Tony for a few days. What better to spend your evenings doing than sous cheffing for your mates!
I always get a little bit over excited when there are people coming for dinner. This time, once everyone started to arrive, I stopped taking photos and started serving drinks. Fizz to start for everyone, while we sampled some of the new Chef’s Signature Kettle crisps, which seemed very appropriate to me. So, most of these photos are courtesy of La Belle Assiette’s photographer Davide, who managed to take some great pictures without ever getting in the way of the evening.
Tony had a suggested menu with four courses that really did read like a Masterchef skills demonstration. And, there were nice little additions like freshly baked bread and butter, napkins and matching china (we could also have used Tony’s own glassware and cutlery). Essentially, all I needed to provide for the evening was space, an oven and a hob. And some wine;)
Textures of beetroot was a beautiful plate of beetroot prepared in a variety of ways (roasted, pickled, pureed and paper thin raw slices) and served with feta cheese, tiny fresh broad beans and walnuts. It looked and tasted like good restaurant food and was an excellent way to start the meal.
Next, my favourite dish of the whole evening, sounded on paper like a slightly over enthusiastic concoction. Pan seared sea bass with figs, porcini mushrooms, parma ham, sweet potato puree and fish jus. I’d never have dared try combining sea bass with figs and ham, let alone sweet potato. But, it worked brilliantly, a symphony of flavours and textures that was perfectly presented. We thought the portion size was quite generous – a largish fillet of sea bass with plenty of parma ham, warm figs and soft, earthy porcini mushrooms. We even had a generous cheffy smear of fish jus;)
Rabbit, spinach and mushrooms was the most ambitious of the dishes. Of the rabbit three ways, I loved the confit braised legs and the stuffed loin, but the rack, roasted in an unfamiliar oven, was a little too rare even for me. We were all amazed by the super-smooth potato mousseline and I would have happily eaten the spinach crisps on their own as a nibble.
Dessert of course, had a real wow factor. Pretty, ombre pears tinged with red wine and a delicious chocolate cup filled with mousse, ice-cream and chocolate soil. A beautiful and delicate dessert that disappeared in a trice.
One of the nicest things about this kind of dinner is that as the host you are left free to be with your guests. But, it’s still a private event, where you can take things at your own pace, make as little or as much noise as you want and just relax and tweet away to your friends…
No one else controls the sound system or the heating, you don’t have to worry about how long you have your table for or what time the restaurant is closing. It has all the intimacy of cooking your own dinner with none of the effort and with rather better food on the table than most of us would be able to serve.
I’m particularly impressed to find that La Belle Assiette have introduced an option to book an event and then invite guests to pay their own bill. It’s the same concept as going out with a group of friends in a restaurant where you split the bill. Only, someone does have to provide the venue. On that basis, it becomes quite a cost effective deal.
Restaurant quality food, without the mark-up for the wine and without any transport costs, at least for the hosts. Dinners start at £39 per person for a group of six. Most of the chefs offer a range of menus with different price points and you can choose from a variety of cuisines. There’s always a vegetarian option and it’s usually possible to tweak a menu to accommodate particular needs.
With many thanks to Tony, Luke and the team at La Belle Assiette for the chance to experience this very special validation dinner. And, if you use my link, you will get £30 off your first booking from La Belle Assiette!
PS: Tony also has a supper club – the next one will be in the splendid ‘Salon Verte’ at L’Escargot on Wednesday 18 November. If there’s any space left you can book through Tabl.com