Wednesday, 24 June 2009

The Cliff House Hotel

If you want a quiet dinner at the Cliff House Hotel just make sure you dont go posting a photo or blog entry using the words "molecular gastronomy" anywhere near Martijn Kajuiter's name beforehand. The Irish Times got away with it but I certainly didnt. This telling off didnt affect my meal too much and I would definitely without any hesitation say that this is the best meal I have ever eaten, of course eating in the company of 18 confirmed foodies is also a big bonus!

Rather than call him anything with the words molecular in it I will refer to him as a food magician going forwards as given the quality and taste of his food creations the word chef just seems far too plain of a word for him. He did say that I am allowed say that he smoked a lot in his youth which may partly have influenced his fantastic food creations and pointed out that he was right to defend his honour as "only the paranoid survive".

Our night for dinner last week happened to coincide with fabulous weather and Martijns birthday. The Cliff House Hotel in Ardmore sits on a stunning part of the coastline which on that evening felt very like the Mediterranean and I would imagine even when the weather is awful is still a very fabulous place to spend a few days.

After a glass or two of prosecco on the terrace we went in for the full 8 course tasting menu which my words are far too inadequate to describe so hopefully the photos and some descriptions will give you an idea.

First off the following three dishes were brought as an Amuse Bouche:

This was a test tube of apple and tarragon gazpacho and a celeriac icecream with ham crumbs and coriander blossom. The bread it was served in wasnt for eating (although we did try).

Next a semi-dried cherry tomato with a pipette of tomato juice, gin and celery salt along with a crostini with broccoli puree and a black olive. Some amusement was to be had as to how exactly we were to ingest the pipette.

Then onto a Helvic Oyster and Guinness - an oyster meringue with gooseberry and hazelnut. Are you beginning to see why I call him a food magician yet? We are still only on the Amuse Bouche! This came with a lovely glass of Gruner Veltiner.

Next we had what was described as West Cork Scallops with Green Asparagus Textures and Mizuna. There were at least 4 textures of asparagus here between the deep fried with a scallop roe popcorn, jelly cubes, powder and raw shavings along with the most perfectly cooked scallops to have ever crossed my lips.

Then we had some "Local Suffolk Lamb with Apple Mint, Broad beans and Verjus 8 Brix". Fresh new peas and broad beans have been my absolute favourite veg over the last few months on an organic farm so this course had me beaming and wondering was everyone else drunk enough yet for me to be allowed lick the plate (the answer was no). From this stage on my photos get a bit blurrier due to it getting a bit darker outside and my hands getting a bit shakier.

The next course arrived like this to a very much stunned hush despite the fact that we had all seen the word smoke on the description in the menu (Organic Clare Island Salmon, Carrot, Marsh Samphire and Smoke)

Once the domes were removed there was a rush of smoke (unphotographable at this stage of the night) followed be a view of salmon presented in a number of different ways from a lollipop to an iced mouse and the most perfect eggs which werent eggs at all but salmon juice magically conjured into eggs using a calcium chloride bath. These little eggs had the whole table purring with delight.

As our final savoury course we had "Skeaghanore Duck with Beetroot, Sweet Potato and Amaranth Spinach". The meat once again was perfect along with the few different types of beetroot -gel, chip and boiled (and how lovely it is to see beetroot on menus when its in season). Surprisingly it was still too early in the night for me to be licking my plate despite the fact that at this stage we were onto Wine number 4 if not further along.

Next onto the Pre Dessert of a Lemon Verbena tea sorbet and a lovely white chocolate with lemon peel and pop rock which was so fantastic that there wasnt one left on the table by the time my camera was at the ready.

Should I ever get to chose a last meal then I will have at least a pre-dessert and 2 desserts to follow so these few remaining courses were very much my cup of tea. This "Strawberry Collection 2009" comprised of a sorbet, a strawberry dipped in caramel, a coulis, powder, a consomme infused with elderflower, an infusion with verjus and a honey custard made of soya milk (not pictured). To say that Martijn got every possible last bit out of the strawberries is a massive understatement.

Finally then we had what was described as "Dark Chocolate 70%, Coffee Ice, Olive Oil and Sea Salt" which comprised of a mousse in a chocolate curl, some white coffee ice cream, a white chocolate parfait with a popping mini malteaser and some olive oil dehydrated with tapioca flour.

The quality of the local produce (some even sourced from the hotel gardens) and the work that goes into putting this food together is well worth every penny you pay for this menu, even if the service, atmosphere and view were not all as impeccable as they are. Despite the fact that Martijn wont be giving me a job any time soon for my misuse of a certain term I really enjoyed my meal and am looking forward to his forthcoming book and hopefully another trip to visit!

PS. Thanks to the lovely Charlotte J who was wise enough to bring a pen and write down some of the descriptions of the foods!

Monday, 8 June 2009

Week 8 - the meat thing

Hello, so its been a while and I cant quite believe its week 8 already. To be honest I dont even know where my time goes these days. I had all these amazing intentions of coming to Cork and reading a book a week and visiting my cousin and friends in Cork and my weeks seem to fly by without so much as an update.

Week 6 I have an excuse for as we had two exams which was quite daunting (especially to those of us who havent done an exam in almost ten years). The first was a technique exam where at random we were given 4 techniques from a list of 25 to complete within 20 minutes. The second was a herb and salad recognition exam. For about ten whole minutes I qualified as the queen of herbs and salads but am pretty sure they have all but disappeared from my head now.

So now to sit down with my glass of red wine and fabulous smoked mackerel (Im a cookery student after all and need to make that palate of mine a bit more adventurous) to tell you how things have been going.

Up until now Ive pretty much been talking about all the positive side so let me tell you about what I find a little harder as it struck me earlier today when cooking. Until coming to this course I had almost completely avoided red meat where possible mainly due to a dislike for the taste but also a certain level of squeamishness (not that Id admit that to anyone on the course but there is something that turns my stomach of cutting into bloody meat that looked like the inside of my finger when I chopped it in week 3). I made a bargain with myself that if I was going to shell out €10k that I was going to try everything so I have eaten things I normally would completely turn my nose up at including sweetbreads, oxtail, kidneys, livers and an awful smelling mexican herb thats meant to stop you farting (Epazote).

I had expected these foods to have a bit more of an impact on my body, given that my body is not used to digesting red meat but so far its been fairly ok. This may have something to do with the quality of meats and how they have been cooked by my fabulous co-students. Indeed, Ive been quite surprised as previously when trying beef and lamb Ive ended up feeling fairly awful. I had also expected that my body might completely collapse under the weight of such a heavily buttered variety of foods but so far all is going well and while I cant advocate this diet to everyone (especially anyone with cholesterol problems) I certainly am not putting on the pounds that I had anticipated before doing the course.

Im enjoying the hours in the kitchen every morning a lot more than the demonstrations in the afternoon and have noticed a steady increase in the number and complexity of dishes that we are cooking (todays lime souffle was tasty but not worth the time spent building it or all the dishes that needed to be washed afterwards). The wine tasting is good although I almost feel at times that my palate is becoming less sophisticated as one day I can taste the chocolate, blackcurrant and smoked tractor tyre in the wine and the next it just tastes like alcoholic ribena.

Possibly the most fun day so far was our school tour of which I will post more later in the week. Now I have to get back to my wine and mackerel