Monday 27 April 2015

Surf, turf... a recent, er, birf. And feelings unearfed [sorry].

It's a bit weird now, hosting friends. It's how we started, I know but I have this whole cheffy schtick going - bonhomie, bon viveur, raconteur; generally being nice to people. That isn't going to work with friends is it!?

Sarah and Ted booked. Haven't seen them for ages. They were bringing Jeremy and Michelle who are old friends but moved away recently to have a baby; London property prices forcing the move. We used to host a huge cocktail party every year. Also coming were Deborah and Gary. Debs used to teach my boys in Hazelwood school. These are people who I've doubtless offended but have sprung back; who've been (very) drunk with me; consoled me; shared cares and scares with me.

There is a tension when hosting friends. Things work well in the restaurant with a slight formality and they might be uncomfortable with that. I don't have much time to chat during service. Will they feel I'm being aloof - at least, more aloof than normal? I'm not naturally disposed towards social grace. It's something I've had to learn and still struggle with. It's one of the reasons I don't drink at all during service. I can't afford a loose lip. I don't mean to offend... but that won't mean I don't. With friends, that irreverent, shouty, Welsh, flippant voice is so much the louder.

I think I've enjoyed keeping Mr Bombast in check though. It's good to play a role sometimes - to escape yourself. Who doesn't get fed up of themselves? Perhaps that's what professionalism means? Perhaps I should have realised that some time ago. This blog is always a tussle between inner and outer: the singalong innocence of daytime TV instructions and my own, often boundary pressing, humour. Cath Kidston cooks for Hemingway?

I think though, that a restaurateur (if I may be so bold)  like a doctor or a lawyer, has a certain bond of confidentiality with their guests. What happens in New River Restaurant stays in New River Restaurant. Mostly. I mean, it's been two years now I've not even mentioned the guest who was so drunk she threw up into her chocolate soufflé. 

Enough with the introspection.

Sarah wanted a smoked mackerel paté and then our beef shin. This allowed me to serve some of the sixteenth of a cow I'd bought. English Longhorn beef is prized. The shin had been portioned before delivery so I had to reduce cooking time to three hours. Seemed to work. Certainly my guests enjoyed it. I'm not sure I noticed a great flavour premium (bearing in mind I normally serve Angus anyway) but the texture was excellent. 

Smoked mackerel paté, sweet pickled fennel, focaccia toast and black garlic purée

Smoked mackerel paté is only as good as your smoked mackerel. Make an effort to source whole fish rather than those plastic wrapped fillets. Pat in Green Lanes Fisheries had run out so I made a trip to Purkis in Muswell Hill.

Smoked mackerel are lovely things; the skin is like gold foil. The only downside is the checking, rechecking and the 'bloody, bloody, bloody' final checking for bones. In mackerel some are hairlike; so easy to miss.

I keep my paté simple: two parts mackerel to one part cream cheese, invariably Philadelphia. To this add lemon zest and lemon juice, salt and pepper. Steady with the zest though, you want a citrus note not a lemon and fish paste.

The paté was served with a light salad, sweet pickled fennel, some riddled focaccia toast and finally, that dark smear: black garlic purée. I had a hunch it would work. Made simply, blending the peeled black cloves with rice bran oil for its completely neutral taste, seasoning and a little lemon juice. Belinda loved it. "Wow!" And she's not so easily impressed these days.

Less impressive was my ability to not photograph Michelle, mother of baby. I did try a few times, only to realise she was breastfeeding. A long lens is not necessarily welcome. I'm not so gauche. Not anymore.

Gary and Sarah
Jeremy and Sarah. He doesn't look tired at all does he?
And Eddie. Our youngest ever guest. Ssssh.

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