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I'm getting the topic kicked off although my time so far has been spent in the kitchen so I have experienced much of the weekend. Chris Hennes and Misstenacity showed up almost at the same time last night. I scurried them off to the tamale/tortilla workshop while I kept prepping for the tasting dinner tonight. I heard many pics were taken so I'll let them talk about the workshop. They'll be off for the Chile Fest in just a bit. Many, many more details to com.
Content advisory: this is going to come across as an unalloyed rave, so let me say at the outset that I have no connection with Pen-y-bryn other than having stayed there.
Now we have that out of the way - we visited Oamaru for the annual steampunk festival at the end of May this year. Oamaru, a small (pop. 13,500) town in the South Island, 250-odd kilometres south of Christchurch, is home to one of the best-preserved Victorian precincts in the country. The Victorian heritage has been embraced by the community, first with Victorian re-enactments and now with the steampunk. Oamaru calls itself the steampunk capital of New Zealand and the annual Queen's Birthday weekend festival is quite an event. I could go on at length about it, but this is not the place.
Pen-y-bryn (Welsh for 'top of the hill' was built as a private residence in 1889 and is said to be the largest single-level residential building in New Zealand or Australia. Here's the house:
I met one of the owners, James Glucksman, through eGullet a couple of years ago, and this seemed a good opportunity to meet my first eG member in person. James and his partner James Boussy (collectively: the Jameses) are of US origin and have travelled extensively. The lodge is filled with period furniture, some of it made for the original owner, and decorated with items the Jameses have collected in their travels. There's a full-sized billiard table (one of three originally made for the New Zealand Parliament; only two would fit so the remaining one came south to Oamaru), a fantastic original Florentine ceiling in the dining room and any number of comfortable places to sit with a book and a drink. James G is the chef and morning guy (how does that work?); James B is the gardener and evening guy.
Breakfasts are splendid affairs. As well as (lodge-made) fruit compotes and wonderful jams, muesli and granola, there's always a freshly-made baked selection. I can thoroughly recommend the croissants, although it's hardly fair to single them out, and I have now been introduced to the famous biscuits and gravy - not something often seen in this country:
Rather good, I must say, and I'd certainly have them again. I think James said we were the first guests he'd tried them out on. Sausage gravy, for those of you who are wondering, with just the right level of cayenne. After that, if you have room, you can have your choice of eggs with bacon, tomato and mushrooms.
For the first few days of our stay we were deeply involved in festival affairs and weren't able to have much more than bed and breakfast at the lodge. Not that that's anything to be sneezed at, and it was very pleasant to return exhausted in the evening and be met at the door by a James, then ushered into the drawing room for a nightcap - a cocktail, or perhaps a glass of James G's excellent nocino.
On the final day, though, we thought we'd be having a free day and arranged to have two of our friends who had travelled with us from Wellington join us for afternoon tea, to be followed by a proper dinner. As it turned out we got involved in a photo session in the morning followed by helping pack out of the hall much of the festival had been in, and ended up with only minutes to spare to dress accordingly (one must!) before we were due for tea. But we made it:
(Photo courtesy Pen-y-bryn)
What a splendid group of people, don't you think? That's Mrs Hudson (the younger) on the left, then Professor Carwardine, myself (Colonel Hawthorne) and Captain Smollett. A very distinguished gathering indeed - you may note we had abandoned most of our steampunk accoutrements in favour of a more pure Victorian look (save for my cravat pin, but you can't see that). Our host was no less splendid:
OK, he didn't dress like that all the time - he cuts a decent figure in chefs' whites as well - but this is what eGullet members can look like when they put their minds to it.
We'd neglected to warn James until the day before of the gluten-free needs of one of the party, but he came through magnificently. Coronation Chicken and radish/poppy seed/cream cheese sandwiches, feijoa/orange tea cakes, English Royalty currant scones with clotted cream and more of James's jam, along with rosewater/pistachio meringues. All except the tea cakes were gluten-free, and everything was delicious. I haven't experienced much gluten-free food, but if it's all like this (I believe it isn't!) I think I could cope. This was accompanied by our choice from an extensive tea list. The Jameses have lived in China and their knowledge of teas is vast - they can even do a full tea ceremony at the lodge if you wish.
A very nice touch at afternoon tea was a discreet printed menu so we knew what we were having. This was also offered later at dinner, to which we now come.
Having dressed appropriately (again - we're getting quite good at it), Mrs Hudson (the younger) and myself descended to the drawing room. James G had unfortunately been forced to take to his bed after our afternoon tea (we wore him out?), but his young sous-chef Ashley and James B between them gave us a memorable evening. We began with cocktails and canapés. For the former we introduced James to the Tolkien. He's not big on mixed drinks, but allowed that this one was acceptable. Ashley presented this offering:
Chorizo, mozzarella and cherry tomato with a balsamic reduction, and crostini with stracchino and saltwater pearls. The chorizo and both cheeses were - again - made at Pen-y-bryn.
After a suitable interval we repaired to the dining room:
James offered a short but thoughtful wine list, and we went with this:
When one is in Otago, one must drink Otago, don't you think? It was a good choice; warm and fruity and a good match for what followed.
First, cocoa-nib rubbed North Otago venison carpaccio, served with confit cherry tomatoes, sumac-sesame-pinenut soil and balsamic caviar:
This was a beautiful dish in every way. Although our first meeting on eG was in the chamber sealer topic, I hadn't been aware quite how modernist James's cooking was (he told me later he likes to include modernist elements, but may dial it back depending on his audience. He didn't have to hold back with us). Ashley was able to chat happily about maltodextrin and spherification - I flatter myself she enjoyed having people there who knew what she was talking about! But as the eG modernist community knows, it's not all about appearance; the food has to taste good. And this certainly did. If you're wondering, the white thing is a coconut sphere.
Then, after a lovely mixed fruit sorbet with triple sec, the main course. Sous vide confit Canterbury duck leg with crumbed quenelle of pommes sarladais, sorrel gel, baby bok choy and haricots verts, and port wine sauce. And look at the plate:
This was another lovely dish. The duck was just as tender as you'd hope, with just the lightest crisping of the skin. The potato quenelle was possibly the best of its type I've had, and the dots of sorrel gel provided a nice bitter note.
We had to finish eventually and it was in fine style, with passionfruit-lemon tart with crème Chantilly and vanilla-poached tamarillos (the photo was taken before the tamarillos went on):
Again, delicious. A shortcake-style base with delicious thick cream, complemented beautifully by the berry (I think) sauce and tamarillos. After this it only remained to return to beside the fire in the drawing room to join some new friends we'd made on this trip. A very lovely evening. I can thoroughly recommend Pen-y-bryn for a luxury stay if you get to this part of the world. I have only one criticism - it's completely ruined me for staying anywhere else. Thanks, guys. We'll be back.
By Kerry Beal
And so it begins...
I arrived in Las Vegas at 10:30 or so this morning, picked up my rental car and hastened over the the Tuscany Suites to meet up with Chocolot. After a brief cruise through all the loot that she had accumulated for the workshop we headed out to do a few errands. We checked in with Melissa and Jean Marie to check that all was well for later in the week and to enjoy a little look around the facility. I also had to deliver several bottles of wonderful looking paté that Alleguede had made for Jean Marie (I kept one bottle here for snacking purposes this week). There was serious drooling going on over all the equipment they have available for us to play with.
What was to be a quick stop at Chef Rubber took a little longer than expected - there is a lot to look at there! And to buy!
We investigated a couple of thrift stores - notably the Habitat for Humanity Reuse to grab a couple of items that will show their usefulness later this week.
And for dinner we hit Lotus of Siam. We know that we are going back there this week - but it is a place I've wanted to check out since FG wrote about it a few years ago. And you can never eat too much Thai can you?
Jasmine tea for me.
Khao soi - noodles with a red thai sauce. And the condiments to go with them - some sort of pickled green (perhaps mustard), onion and of course lime.
Pepper garlic shrimp - didn't see a table without this one!
And fried rice with veg and egg.
Right now Ruth is cruising the internet reviews to see what we should order when we return there on Thursday.
By Kerry Beal
Today we started out with a trip to the college to start getting ourselves set up for tomorrow. Then at 10 am we met at ChocolateFX and started our tour. Of course hair nets are obligatory if you are going to go into a food manufacturing facility!
Wilma and Art had the small pan set up so that we could pan some raisins.
Here's Pat (psantucc), with beard appropriately netted, applying some chocolate to the raisins.
Ava (FrogPrincesse's little one) preparing to add more chocolate, Kyle helping and FrogPrincesse awaiting her turn.
The fancy packing machine.
Listening with rapt attention to Wilma explaining the making of ganache truffles in the round silicone molds.
Gravetye Manor is a magnificent country house hotel that has been tucked away just south of East Grinstead in Sussex for over 400 years. William Robinson, who bought the property in the late 19th century, created the magnificent gardens, including the walled vegetable garden that used to supply much of the restaurants fruit and vegetables in times gone by when we actually used to have a summer.
Peter Herbert bought the house in 1958 and created one of the first and still considered amongst the best country house hotels in England. It is still privately owned, now by retired fund manager Jeremy Hosking - a founder of Marathon AM, a $46bn investment fund, who bought the hotel out of administration in 2010. Perhaps its proximity to the Bluebell Railway was a deciding factor. Mr Hosking has what might be described as a healthy love of trains, owning a not insignificant amount of steam locomotives which are loaned out to various heritage railways throughout the UK.
The house itself is in the middle of the rolling sussex hills, down a mile-long driveway which takes you through some of the 1000 acres of gardens. Inside its just what one would expect and want to find in such an establishment...faultless classical English upper-class style.
A very friendly welcome from the maitre-d introduced us to our surroundings and swaddled us in the inglenook luxury of one of the 3 drawing rooms, where we took an aperitif. Some canape's were brought along with the drinks - a perfect cylinder of duck pate with little spheres of orange balanced atop; a smoked salmon and cream cheese lasagne and a very rich camembert with some brittle pastry dippers. All very nice.
Three menu's were presented - a set 4-course table d'hote menu at £40; the a la carte and a 7-course tasting menu priced at £85.
It was my birthday.
We had the tasting menu.
Provenance and and locality are obviously very important to the chef. The 5 or 6 main suppliers are listed on a front page of the menu and all were within a 25 mile radius of the hotel.
Bread was a choice between sweet onion rolls, sourdough and focaccia, all homemade. I took rather a liking to the sweet onion rolls and took slight advantage of the generosity of the bread waitress who seemed to appear every few minutes offering more.
I thought the room itself very attractive. Perhaps 10 tables, well-spaced in the main room, and a smaller room with 4 tables adjoins this.
Longhorn Beef, jerusalen artichoke and spring truffle. Upon completing the dish I asked how the beef had been prepared and was told by a rather too enthusiastic waiter that the chef dusts the beef in icing sugar before searing. There was a slight sweetness that I had put down to the wonderful tender beef itself, and I was a little disappointed to be told the chef dusts it in bloody sugar first. Anyway, a pleasing start to the meal, the artichoke and slivers of truffle being very happy bedfellows to the beef.
Hebridean Langoustine, Carpaccio of Middle White pork brawn and parsnip. This came as a thin rectangle of brawn upon which sat a single langoustine cut in half with a frothed shellfish sauce with parsnip crisps and slivers of parsnip that had been poached in butter. The sauce was extremely rich and strikingly pink, the buttered parsnips having fantastic sweet flavour.
Spiced Rougie Fois Gras, pain d'epice and prune. A thumb-sized cycliner of fois gras parfait with some bread crisps, prune emulsion and prunes. Nice fois gras and combination of flavours. Simple dish, nicely constructed but did little to show me what they can do in the kitchen.
Ash Cured Line Caught Haddock, slow poached Gravetye egg and granola. A fantastic dish of very strong flavours. Now, I have never had a slow-cooked egg before so am not sure if the white was in fact just egg white, or had been replaced by something. It had a wonderful texture of fluffy yoghurt. The granola gave a nice crunch and sweetness to the dish, which was required to counter the incredibly strong, salty flavours of the fish, presented again as as a cyliner. Taken together, this was a fabulous plate of food.
Milk Fed Lamb, tomato, polenta and garlic. A waitress brought a gleaming miniature copper pan of fantastic...I'm going to call it gravy. Another great dish, the lamb came with a small twist of kidney, a rich and sticky garlic clove and a breadcrumbed cheesey-potato thing (is there a name for these?). Rich and satisfying, this was up there with the haddock for pure eating pleasure.
Artisan cheeses in miniature, frozen grapes and walnuts. Very nicely presented on a slate with a small glass cloche, the four cheeses were tiny slivers. I could definitely have eaten more. The frozen grapes were a nice touch. despite the punctuation on the menu, the walnuts were not frozen!
White Chocolate and Green Olives, lemon curd. A cracking desert. Another cylinder, this time of white chocolate ice cream, was held off the plate by two pyramid wafers with bits of green olive and drops of lemon curd. Another first for me, the slightly salty olives with the sweet ice cream was a great flavour combination.
Coffee & Petit Fours. Top quality coffee. A huge box of chocolates was brought to the table with a selection of truffles, white and dark chocolates.
Overall a very good meal in beautiful surroundings. Service was very good throughout. A bottle of £35 wine (as you can imagine very much at the cheaper end of the list) and the bill was £250 for the two of us.
I would return. I am not sure I would opt for the tasting menu again though. This was my first tasting menu and I do like the format. My only reservations are that for £85 I am not convinced these dishes offer great value for money. There was not a great deal of luxury ingredients included nor was I wowed by the effort involved in most of these dishes. That said, it was a very enjoyable meal.
I'm still pondering on this. I feel that I need another tasting menu or two, perhaps at the Ledbury, for comparison. Purely for educational purposes, of course.
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