La Belle Assiette – My Favourite Way to Entertain at Home:
While I really love cooking, I enjoy entertaining even more. And, as a single person, it can be challenging to combine both. You only have to watch Come Dine With Me to start to appreciate just how tricky it can be to coordinate a menu, keep the drinks flowing AND manage to entertain your guests at the same time. Did you know you can have a top private chef in your home!
Of course, we all have our own tricks. Mine is to produce hearty stews which don’t run the risk of spoiling if they are pre-cooked and heated up. And, to start and end the dinner with something that can be made in advance and served cold. When I’m looking to serve up a more glamorous dinner, I look to the likes of La Belle Assiette to come along and help. Starting at £39 per person, you get a private chef in your own home who cooks up and serves a menu you’ve agreed with them in advance – and then clears up afterwards!
Every so often the lovely people at La Belle Assiette send me a new chef to try. Their policy is that when a chef is starting out each one cooks what is called a ‘validation dinner’. It’s just like the real thing, except that we don’t have to pay for it – just to review and feedback. And, the idea is that any nuances can be ironed out easily.
My home isn’t the easiest for the chefs. The kitchen is in the basement while the dining room is upstairs. And, that means everything has to be carried up. While I love the look of the marble-topped work surfaces, I’ve only got three powerpoints in the kitchen. And, that planning triangle (from sink to hob to fridge) which kitchen designers aim for is closer to a wobbling line in my home. Add to that the challenge of coming into a new kitchen and having to quickly get to grips with the nuances of a stranger’s oven and hob I am always amazed at the food the chefs manage to produce.
Thereagain, we’ve had MasterChef finalists in the kitchen – and most of the people who are sent along by La Belle Assiette are top private chefs who come with various mysterious ingredients pre-prepared and packaged up in vacuum sealed bags or Tupperware. Alpay Katipogullari from Turkey was no exception, although I did watch with some astonishment as he made his own Baklava and Borek – dishes I’d always assumed came pre-made from the bakery.
We gave him an additional challenge this time, in the form of one guest who needed a gluten-free diet and one who was vegetarian. Alpay’s validation dinner survived our dietary nuances admirably though I do wonder if perhaps the somewhat simple dishes were the result of having to make two dishes at each stage of the meal.
Those of us who could eat pastry had Borek to start with – Anatolian baked filled pastries with spinach and feta cheese. Freshly baked, these were delicious and light, though perhaps not the prettiest starter I’ve had from a La Belle Assiette chef. Our gluten free guest enjoyed grilled halloumi on a bed of salad leaves, which I thought looked wonderful and was tempted to reach across and steal.
The main course was chicken shish – marinated chicken thighs served with bulgar rice and grilled tomato or with salad leaves for our gluten-free guest. The vegetarian option was Imam Bayaldi – Stuffed aubergine with onion dill and tomato which literally translates as ‘the Imam fainted’ – so wonderful was the first serving of this dish. Again, this was served with bulgar rice and grilled tomato. We were ALL jealous and suggest that next time Alpay makes more of this – it would have made a great vegetable accompaniment for the chicken.
Dessert was a freshly baked dish of baklava served with pistachio dust and vanilla ice cream for most of us, while our gluten free guest enjoyed a chocolate brownie with fresh fruits.
The purpose of the La Belle Assiette validation dinner is for us to feedback and advise the chef – here, relative to some of the other meals we’ve enjoyed, we all felt the food was unsophisticated though perfectly cooked. Perhaps we’ve been spoilt in the past? Our feedback means that Alpay will be asked to work on his menus and presentation.
Here’s one of my favourite validation dinners with Eleanor Smith. And, Alpay did have the challenge of having to produce special menus.
I still believe La Belle Assiette offers an excellent way to entertain at home. For around £40 a person – less than the cost of a restaurant meal – you get excellent quality food in the comfort of your own house. And, because you provide your own wine and spirits, the final bill should be considerably lower than your share of a restaurant meal. For the lazy hostess like me, it’s the perfect solution. You can pick your cuisine – and you can pick your price point.
So why not treat yourself or a friend for that special occasion. Check out the La Belle Assiette website for more information