Validating Eleanor – A Belle Assiette Dinner:
I’ve known about La Belle Assiette almost since they first appeared in the UK. They do offer a service which I can’t recommend too strongly and I’m always happy when I get a call suggesting I might try another of their chefs. Part of the reason I have every faith in their service is the validation process, where aspiring new Belle Assiette chefs try their hand at providing a dinner party, just like the ones that you can book on the site.
Even if I wasn’t doing a validation dinner, I’d use La Belle Assiette, as a way to entertain at home, with good food but without the hassle of actually having to be in the kitchen rather than spending time with my guests. They offer some of the top private chefs in London and menus start at under £40 per person, which is less than many of us would spend on a night in a good restaurant.
Eleanor Smith offers a number of menus on La Belle Assiette, including vegetarian, Italian and Israeli inspired menus and she called me beforehand to discuss what we would like to eat. My guests were all hearty meat eaters so, although it was really tempting to try the vegetarian menu we opted for a lamb main course. She has a strong focus on seasonal and locally sourced ingredients so I anticipate her menus changing fairly rapidly. And, she really does like to make everything from scratch – our menu included homemade gravadlax and homemade ricotta (which I REALLY want the recipe for).
She turned up a couple of hours before the guests were due, complete with a huge smile and a pot of honey roast nuts for us to nibble on.
And, while she set to in the kitchen I went upstairs to lay the table and make myself look as glamorous as possible. It was one of the hotter days this summer but I am lucky to have a basement kitchen which is actually cool all the year round!
Once everyone had arrived and enjoyed a glass of Pimms, we sat down to enjoy a starter of homemade gravadlax with chargrilled artichoke. Perfectly cured, delicate and soft gravadlax sat on top of a bed of the sweet, smoky artichoke – lovely flavour combinations that made a great start to the meal.
We’d opened a bottle of Clos du Gaimont 2015 Vouvray to accompany the first two courses. The biscuity dry wine with light honey notes worked exceptionally well with the fish, cutting through any oily notes. It retails at £12.99 a bottle from Virgin wines and is 100% chenin blanc .
Next, homemade ricotta with a seasonal vegetable salad that included blanched asparagus, peas, baby broad beans and a mixture of seasonal leaves. Eaten with a hunk of the softest focaccia, I’d have been happy to stop here and just have seconds, thirds or maybe fourths!
By now we’d moved on to our red wine pairing, a bottle of La Croix de Chaintres Saumur Champigny 2015, 100% Cabernet Franc from 30-year-old vines with lovely red fruits and herbal hints. Served slightly chilled (at 12c) this was a perfect summer red to enjoy with our main course. A light to medium bodied wine this retails from Waitrose Cellar at £12.79 a bottle.
Loin of lamb was served with a perfectly executed Parmesan risotto, spinach and a selection of wild mushrooms. The lamb was soft and carefully cooked. Once again the flavour pairings of the slightly salty risotto contrasting with the sweet lamb and earthy mushrooms made for a lovely dish.
Vanilla panna cotta was served with seasonal rhubarb as a compote, poached and as a jelly topping for the panna cotta itself. There was a lovely ginger crumb too, just adding that bit of texture.
For more about La Belle Assiette, check their website.