Tuesday, 16 June 2015

A wedding reception... at New River Restaurant... for how many?

Hassan and Tevec (left) and family.
I know. Who'd have thought? Well, Tevec did. She Facebooked me after some hearty LYDS recommendations and asked nicely. She was marrying Hassan. None of the other restaurants they'd looked at really worked for them. On a Monday? Afternoon? Split menu - chicken and fish? For eleven? We don't do eleven. Oh... alright. I'd squeezed eleven around a table once before; it wasn't that awful.

And then on Saturday, the weekend before, a call... Tevec's sister had arrived from New York unannounced and unexpected. Surprise! Could she possibly be squeezed in too? Which of the stone hearted among you would have said no? Hang on what? "You're a vegetarian  A fish eating vegetarian?" No. A three way split menu then.

It was while they were all eating the starter that (I think) Hassan's father said "their first meal as husband and wife." And I realised why I'd said yes. I'm such a wuss.

If there was a tear in my eye, it was probably only relief that we'd fed everyone with no incidents. The week previously I managed to spill a litre of chicken stock all down me, Etien and the kitchen floor as I elbowed a jug off the fridge shelf. This happened just as I'd cut the lamb for serving. It is by far the most stressful thing I have endured during service: being faced with both fast cooling food and a flooding, foot sliding floor. Not to mention the waste of recently reduced and clarified chicken stock. Yup, here come the tears again.

Oh listen to me. I always start this determined to sound like Hemingway and within two paragraphs I have all the gravitas of a Daily Mail editorial. I'll be using double slammers next. (Never!!)

Back in Palmers Green and a dozen guests presented all kinds of new challenges:

Seating. Twelve diners (and a non-eating, two year old daughter) meant two tables, something we've attempted only once before. Garden furniture would have to be de-spidered and pressed into use once more. Still, lay on layers of starched white linen and it looks nice enough.

Plating up. A dozen guests also meant serving trouble. We don't have enough kitchen space to plate up twelve. I decided on three rapid shifts of four. The main protein being plated and guests adding sides. The plates had to be warm to ensure hot food but I didn't want anyone losing their fingerprints. I couldn't have too many people bumping around a central serving point. A dropped plate would mean a permanently lost dinner. There's no spares and no second chances in a supper club.
Roast poussin: little chicken

Menu. Certainly nothing I'd not done before. I wanted no surprises. I suggested the poussin/poisson combo with various aniseed/fennel accompaniments that work equally well with fish and chicken. What's handy also is the fish, which only needs 12 minutes in a 230°C oven, can be cooked while the poussins rest (essential for juiciness) so it's fairly easy to time. Deliver the fish first and follow with the poultry. 

Schedule. I'd have to build in much more time. The more the people, the longer they take (and the less they eat, bizarrely). I hoped we could do a champagne reception on the decking while I served... I'm trying desperately not to say 'nibbles, such an effete word... bread, cheese thins, shallot rings, tomato crisps and the glorious and much loved New River Restaurant nuts. I'd wait for acquaintances to be made and ices broken before starters were served. 

Something to eat with Champagne.

Strawberries are optional
Yeah, and the space had to look... better. This would be in the day. Damn, this in June. We might even have sunlight - just the thing for backlighting cobwebs and window crud. Fabian - grab a cloth!

Dessert was Hassan's thing apparently. I used to think of this as the simplest course but no longer. Many people don't eat dessert, some ask for bowls of berries or to skip it entirely (in that case, sweeter teeth prevailed). I have been asked for a dessert that contained no sugar at all. Er... Mind, my friend Bee was once asked to bake a selection of cakes containing no gluten, sugar or dairy. And she did it. 

To cater for the diverse dessert tastes of a dozen people, I went for a mix and match approach, you know, like in Pizza Hut. A simple, plated core of chocolate marquise with a chocolate tuile on a sablé biscuit to which guests added some or all of the following: apple crisps, mixed berries in a clove sauce, chantilly cream, butterscotch mousse and crystallised walnuts. This approach was well received and well eaten. 

I'm often mistrustful of people who speak of a sense of honour at their inclusion. Often it's mere self aggrandising puffery. But I did feel honoured to be asked to offer up my home here. We all want our food and hospitality to be well received and remembered. On this occasion at least, I know they will never forget it.

So would I do it again? Yes... with all the caveats of experience. I don't think I sat down for 12 hours but I have this sense of pride that I can't quite quell. It was wonderful. I have co-opted the happiness of others. But look, twelve is the maximum  For ever. No more. Call me. We can work something out.

A more solemn moment, which is why I didn't lean in and move that balloon.

So that's all the photos that I can claim are food related, the rest are a family thing and include dangerous levels of cuteness and 'hallmark moments'. The rest of the world may wish to look away now.

I tried to warn you.

Also food related. That's a parmesan thin.

The cake. Not one of mine. It looked better before small, inquisitive, unattended (two minutes!) fingers found it.

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