Belazu Foundation Charity Dinner – The French Table:
Like anyone who enjoys cooking, I know and love quite a few Belazu products; their Rose Harrisa paste is a fabulous and unique ingredient that I’ve used for years to add a little kick to a variety of dishes. If you haven’t already discovered, the preserved lemons are rather special too, Moroccan lemons that make an impressive Lemon Chicken Tagine, though it took me years to discover that they are nothing like fresh lemons. They have a flavour and texture that you can’t even reproduce by making your own preserved lemons. The Belazu Foundation though, is something I’d never heard of until my recent visit to The French Table.
I was very keen to accept the invitation to the dinner, partly because the French Table has an outstanding reputation. It won the Good Food Guide Best London Restaurant in 2010 but, because it’s not in Central London, I’d never ventured there. It turned out that the relationship between Eric Guignard of the French Table, and George Bennell, founder of Belazu goes back years to when they were both working in a restaurant in Paris before either had their own business. Eric went on to open the French Table with his wife Sarah in 2001 and George Bennell founded the Fresh Olive Company with his friend Adam Wells.
Having successfully infiltrated most of the top restaurants in London with their products, George and Adam continued by creating the consumer brand ‘Belazu’ which sells Olives, Harrissa and a whole range of Mediterranean products through delicatessens and supermarkets. And, to create the Belazu Foundation, to help provide schools in Morocco. Over the last ten years, the Foundation has raised enough money to educate around 350 women and children, teaching them French Arabic and Berber as well as maths. The idea, as George explained, is to give the people they help a choice. Enough of a start so that they can decide whether or not to continue farming. If the choice is to explore other options, to provide enough basic education to enable them to make their own way. One of the ways the Foundation raises money is by running Charity dinners with top restaurants in London, the same restaurants they supply.
Our supper began with an introductory glass of Vouvray Pettillant Natural Mousillant, Loire Valley, 2010 served with tiny cornets filled with foie gras or cream cheese.
We sat down to a Marmite of lobster with haddock, leeks, tomato confit and vanilla sauce. There’s something quite dramatic about breaking into the pastry shell of the marmite to reveal the rich mixture below, somewhere between a soup and a fish stew and it’s an excellent way to ensure every dining guest gets the full aroma of the dish. This was accompanied by a glass of Gaillac Blanc-Sec, Clement Termes, South-West, 2011
The main course was a saddle of Scottish venison, with parsnip puree, beetroot and potato gratin and sauce ‘Grand Veneur’ ( a kind of pepper sauce with added game stock and redcurrant jelly). This was spectacular, every portion of venison that I could see perfectly rare. We drank ‘Dignite’ Syrah, Eric Monnin, Languedoc, 2009 which Eric cheerfully poured from Magnum bottles, telling us that this helped the wine to age better and improving the depth of flavour. Whether it was the bottle or not, I thoroughly enjoyed this wine.
Dessert, a beautifully presented passion fruit mousse with raspberry cream on a coconut biscuit, was accompanied by a Muscat de Beames de Venise, Domaine des Bernadins, Rhone, 2010.
I thoroughly enjoyed the meal and the company. More significant though is the format of the dinners which are a smart concept. I understand the last one at Quo Vadis raised over £2,000 for the foundation and the next one at Duck Soup is already sold out. It’s not surprising since the evening is an enjoyable way to make a contribution to something worthwhile.
With many thanks to the team at Belazu and to Eric and Sarah Guignard for an excellent meal .
There’s more about the Belazu foundation here.
The French Table
85 Maple Road
Surrey KT6 4AW