My feet, up.
Howdie! I’m back! I keep telling people that book number two is done, which isn’t entirely true – there’s still the small matter of the editing, the photography, the index… and a few other minor details to tie up, but I’ve run out of excuses not to go to the gym, and I even glimpsed the back of the fridge yesterday, much to my housemates’ relief.
As part of my rehabilitation into normal life (disclaimer, the normal life of a freelancer is not, I suspect, typical for many other people), I even went out to lunch today. And, it was so very good that I decided to break my lazy silence, and tell the world about it.
(I feel even luckier to have eaten this lunch because I wasn’t actually invited – my lovely, generous, hard-working Guardian editor was. But this morning, she realised she had far too much proper editor-type stuff to do to waste time on something as frivolous as lunch; and her soggy canteen sandwich was my gain. She did get her revenge, by telling me the wrong time, but I still had the last laugh.)
Lunch was at The Cube, which bills itself a “unique opportunity to watch some of Britain’s top chefs cook for just 18 guests high above the hustle and bustle, against a backdrop of the River Thames, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament”. Basically, Electrolux, the kitchen people, have plonked a great big white box on top of the Royal Festival Hall, and invited some of Britain’s best chefs to cater it for four months. It’s done at a long table, so you get to mingle with your fellow guests, and the chef concerned (who cooks at an open kitchen) which makes it all rather special.
Because I was an hour late, I didn’t get much of a chance to admire the cube itself – I was too busy worrying that I’d missed some food to take photos – but I can assure you the views are absolutely stunning. Who knew there were flowerbeds on top of the Hayward Gallery? (Probably anyone who’s left the kitchen in the last six months, thinking about it.)
They’ve got Claude Bosi of Hibiscus, Nottingham’s Sat Bains, Daniel Clifford of Cambridge’s Midsummer House and Bristol’s Jonray and Peter Sanchez, but I was blessed with Tom Kitchin. Which is exciting because, although my sister lives in Edinburgh, I’ve never made it to The Kitchin – going up to visit and then buggering off eat elsewhere would leave a bad taste in my mouth. (Actually, after today’s experience, I’m pretty sure it would leave a delicious taste in my mouth, but I couldn’t tell my sister that.)
Anyway, on to the food. First up, an amuse bouche of chilled fennel soup, which I neglected to snap out of deference to my fellow diners, who were already finishing their starter. It was, however, delightfully cool and soothing after my mad cycle across London. Then came the Shellfish Rockpool (above), a selection of West Coast seafood served with samphire and seaweed, with a shellfish consommé. The plump oyster, lurking beneath the mussel here, was particularly heavenly, but I ate this in such a hurry, I can’t say much more. Except it was definitely delicious.
Next up were spoots – better known as razor clams to us English. Tom explained the fine art of catching the slippery little so-and-sos, and made it sound much easier than, from my experience, it actually is. One of the other diners got to assemble them under Tom’s direction, but I was staying well out of the kitchen – the clam was chopped and mixed with a rich, winey carrot-studded sauce as far as I could tell, and it was stupendous. Sweet, tender, and not in the least rubbery.
This was probably my favourite dish: ridiculously unctuous and savoury rolled pig cheeks, served with a langoustine tail, a tangy sort of gribiche-ish lettuce boat, and crispy pigs ears. Frankly, I could have eaten a lot of those cheeks. They were very, very rich, and very, very good. The sensible person in me says they were offset beautifully by the freshness of the lettuce and the sweetness of the shellfish, but still, I wouldn’t have minded eating them on their own.
Back to seafood, slightly surprisingly, with the next course, a clever baked scallop in a white wine sauce. The presentation was the star of this dish: the scallop (hand-dived in Orkney by a chap called Robert, apparently) was enormous, and nuttily sweet, and the herby cooking liquor classically elegant, but the thrill of levering open the shell was the best bit.
The meat course, which Tom brought round in a casserole before plating up. It’s a rack of lamb browned then smoked in hay (“the kind you’d buy for your guinea pig”), and served on a bed of the first Scottish girolles. (Not mentioned, but not to be overlooked is the crisp, fatty nugget of neck drenched in jus at the front of the plate.) The smoky flavour was cunningly subtle complement to the earthiness of the mushrooms although, if I was going to quibble, I would have liked the skin to have been a little crisper (enviously looking across the table, I noticed others were, so perhaps I just got a duff bit for being late).
Pudding. Gooey, yet not cloying lemon tart, with a lemon macaron, a sharp creme fraiche sorbet, and glorious Scottish raspberries. Not being an enormous lemon pudding fan, I would have been very happy to eat a big bowl of the sorbet and fruit, topped with the malty crunchy stuff you can see to the left of the plate, but even so, I polished the lot off. Which says much about Tom’s skills in the kitchen. Nominative determinism indeed.
There was also some sort of petit four waiting in the wings, but I had to rush off to a meeting, powered by Sauternes and a strong desire to return in less of a rush. Ok, so the Cube isn’t cheap, (£175 for six courses, including matched wines and a champagne reception), but then finding yourself at Tom Kitchin’s dinner party, with views like that, is a pretty rare treat. And there are those pig cheeks…