Greece Is The Word
I will get back to the culinary joys of Haute Savoie and charming French markets and bread with bits of bacon in it (further proof that pig can improve all manner of foodstuffs). Indeed, I have a lot to catch up on (bad blogger, naughty blogger) and will get around to them all, honest guv.
First though, while the iron's still hot, so to speak, a quick post on the joys of last night's dinner. One of the joys of this job - or "job" as rather too many of my friends would see it - is the travel and I'm writing this in the rather charming Sani Resort near Thessaloniki. With its pastel coloured stone and on-site amenities, you could see this "faked" village as something slightly Prisoner like but that's cynical even for me. And even if my access to the beach was blocked by a large bouncing ball, I'd forgive them quite a lot for hosting the annual Sani Gourmet Festival.
Now in its fourth year, the Gourmet Festival has seen many great names cooking at the various restaurants dotted around the resort. This year's event though is the first to focus on female chefs from around the globe. Tonight, it's Maria Elia's turn to cater. Last night saw Clare Smyth taking the reins.
The low-key jewel in Ramsay's crown, Clare has held down three Michelin stars at Gordon's flagship Chelsea restaurant for the last couple of years. On last night's showing, it's easy to see why and dinner was a mix of the simple, the involved, the playful, the skillful and the downright delicious.
Things kicked off with a tomato consomme that, according to my notes, was "insanely good". That was one of the more legible comments, to be honest, as the wines - and what wines - flowed a little. Accordingly, latter courses are annotated by weird scrawls and the occasional "wibble". Still, even with the brain cells addled with the delights of Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt Riesling and Nuits Saint George, I can remember each course now.
The consomme was deceptively light, and bolstered by a poached langoustine and oscietra caviar (sorry, Mrs L). How you instil that sort of tomato hit in such a light broth is a mystery to me, but I'm glad Ms Smyth has it sussed. The hint of basil - presumably taken from one of the many, highly perfumed plants dotted around the resort - was also joyously intense.
The second course may just have been my stand out course of the night. Pressed foie gras with peppered Madeira jelly (served in a slice atop the foie gras), with a sliver of smoked duck and a peach and almond crumble. The textures of each component melded together, the sweetness of the peach kicked the foie gras into orbit, the Madeira balanced the richness, the smoked duck gave a salty hint. Spectacular stuff.
A close runner-up to my unofficial prize giving would be the fish course: pan fried scallops, broad beans, peas, crispy bacon, quail's egg and baby gem lettuce. Pig and scallop may be a little bit of a cliche now (hell, even I've cooked a variation, it must be passe) but the fleshy scallops and the crunch and saltiness of the bacon are a charming marriage. With the addition of the achingly fresh vegetable support act - who'd have thought a delicate pea shoot could hold its own in that combo? - this was textbook stuff.
Roasted poussin followed which was pleasant but overshadowed, I thought, by the morels and, particularly, the tarragon-rich confit leg. That almost bitter, almost aniseed hit of tarragon is one of my favourite flavours and it shone through here. The accompanying Nuits Saint George also had me in raptures.
Melon and champagne soup arrived next, a delightful spin on the palate cleanser, with a lovely, refreshing undercurrent of basil and, in a lovely surprise move that left me giggling like a 9-year old, salt and brown sugar mixed to a "space dust" effect. The only downside of this was my camera and my photographic abilities didn't combine to make it look particularly photogenic so apologies. You'll just have to take my word for it. And that word, somewhat inevitably, is "wibble".
And so to the end, and fromage frais, red berries, elderflower and lemon balm. Simplicity itself, but the sort of light, fresh dessert that closes a meal and sends the spirits soaring. Such fruit, such sharpness... divine.
Clare Smyth ducked in later to take her applause but it was clear the move was to keep us happy rather than milk some glory from the evening. The retiring Ms Smyth rapidly ducked out, leaving her cooking to do the talking, and it was quite the conversationalist, I can tell you.