Hot foot it to Humphry’s

Published on BespokeRSVP on 19th July 2012:

A short train and taxi ride takes you, within the hour, to the charmingly secluded Buckinghamshire country club Stoke Park. Part luxury country hotel and spa and part golf club, the exclusive property is probably more well known than you realise. As well as being the set for numerous blockbuster films such as James Bond and Bridget Jones’ Diary, it’s also the host of the annual Boodles tennis tournament. With London bursting at the seams under the weight of Olympics visitors, it’s the perfect time to visit.

The Country Club opened its doors to non-members for the first time and the award winning food alone is worthy of a visit.

Humphry’s, headed up by Executive Chef Chris Wheeler, is Stoke Park’s main restaurant and the holder of two AA Rosettes. For somewhere which only catered to members and their guests in the past, you might think that the food is stuck somewhere in history. Not quite so. Though there is a hint of the classics running through the menu (consommé and tian both make an appearance for example, as does a burgeoning cheese trolley), beautifully arranged modern British fare is served up.

The pan-fried scallops with celeriac puree and crispy pancetta was the ideal starter for me. The well prepared scallops, topped with a little caviar and adorned with jewels of port reduction, struck a balance between sweet and savoury when paired with the celeriac and pancetta. It’s a perfectly executed dish which was light but bold enough in flavour to titillate the taste buds for what’s to come next.

Unusually for me, I opted for a fishy main. It was partly inspired by the surprisingly fish heavy menu and partly because I was intrigued by the accompaniments. Indeed, for me, the violet potatoes which accompanied my oven-baked red mullet is rarely seen on restaurant menus. The main also offered char-grilled peppers, crab ravioli and lobster foam to vie for attention.

What really impressed me though, had to be the desserts. I know I’m a dessert fanatic but the stunning presentation really showed off a seriously skilled pastry section, no doubt down to the hundreds of weddings and events catered for at Stoke Park each year.

The Humphry’s Snickers is the signature dessert to go for and Taste of Apple sounds the most intriguing but I really found my fancy with the raspberry mousse and white chocolate ganache. The raspberry dessert appeared in mousse, sorbet, gel, crumble and fruit form in a delicate line on a black plate. Light, refreshingly fruity and striking in presentation, there’s really nothing not to like.

A tea or coffee is definitely recommended after dessert, if only so you can spend a little while longer staring dreamily out of the window. The view, by the way, is watercolour picturesque. With great food, wonderful views and perfect tranquillity, why would you ever leave?

World cuisine in books

Published on BespokeRSVP on 16th July 2012:

As London braces itself for the incoming Olympic crowd, the rest of the world waits in anticipation to see who will win the most medals and in what sport. Our writer, Sarah Kemp, has curated some great recipes and tales about food from around the world on her website “Eat the Olympics”. But if you prefer something more tangible, here are three great cookbooks for global eats.

Dock Kitchen Cookbook by Stevie Parle

You have probably seen Stevie Parle’s words in print in his Telegraph food column but he is also the head chef at Dock Kitchen. The Notting Hill restaurant is a pop-up idea turned permanent site, hosting global cuisine in a home cooked style. Trained at Petersham Nurseries, Moro and The River Café, Parle has also travelled extensively looking for new flavours and recipes. The Dock Kitchen Cookbook is a collection of easy and accessible recipes from the restaurant and from his travels, capturing a taste of the world.

Bought, Borrowed & Stolen by Allegra McEvedy

Allegra McEvedy really needs no introduction in the culinary world having cooked professionally for over 20 years and written prolifically about food for much of that. Bought, Borrowed & Stolen is a collection of recipes, photographs and words based on her travels around the world and the knives which she’s collected along the way. Uniquely in here, you will learn about a country’s cuisine according to the knife that’s indigenous to the region. What better way to approach food than through a chef’s most important tool?

Coco: 10 World-leading Masters Choose 100 Contemporary Chefs

Coco is definitely a modern classic. Published back in 2010, it promised to reveal 100 up-and-coming chefs from around the world according to 10 “world-leading masters”. And indeed since it’s been published, many of the chefs featured in the book have achieved high accolades and some have made it into the World’s 50 Best list. The book is a beautiful collection of recipes from the restaurants of the contemporary chefs as well as the chef masters themselves. Expect nothing less than Michelin dining if you recreate its content at home.

South for Soif

Published on BespokeRSVP on 9th July 2012:

In South West London, we enjoy a slower sort of life. Not quite on Caribbean time but certainly noticeably less hurried than anywhere else in London. This translates to our restaurants too – more laid back, less formal. And that’s perhaps why it’s the perfect location for a delightful wine-centric restaurant by the name of Soif.

I chose a funny sort of day to visit Soif; inadvertently, I had booked in for lunch when I already had a long-standing reservation for dinner at The Waterside Inn. In the back of my mind, I was thinking how they were a world apart; where one had maintained 25 years of three Michelin stars, the other was still in its relative infancy. Having visited its sister restaurant in Covent Garden, Terroirs, I was expecting some very good things though.

And I wasn’t disappointed.

Their handful of dishes were loosely split into starters, mains and desserts. Not quite tapas but certainly great for sharing over a glass of wine, or indeed several bottles if the mood takes you. And that’s really what Soif is all about, their wines.

The list, extending to six pages plus sweet/fortified and digestifs, offers some very affordable and, more importantly, interesting natural wine options. Indeed, when I later showed the list to a grape geneticist friend, he was very tempted by the varietals on show and even more intrigued by the mock offer of an ’82 Petrus at £1m.

But back to the food.

Duck rillette with toast and buffalo mozzarella, broad beans and savoury made contrasting starters where one said comforting winter and the other colourful summer. A sparkling something seemed apt and glasses of Camillo Donati Malvasia Rosa Rosato Frizzante and Benoit Courault Le P’tit Chemin Pet Nat were sunk. Needing some contrast in texture too, half a dozen well-shucked Maldon rocks followed as a palate cleanser.

Slightly more heavy set mains of turbot with samphire and Jersey Royals and loin of pork with roasted potatoes buttered cabbage and apple sauce arrived accompanied by Adegas Sameiras Blanco 2010 and AA Denavolvo Dinavolino Bianco 2010. There is a sense of Sunday brunch about the lunch. Perhaps much of it is down to the fact that the lunch rush seem to start from about 2pm with families and groups of friends.

A rather seasonal strawberries and cream was on the menu though I took on the bitter chocolate mousse and hazelnut sablé instead, keen to sample their pastry offering. Its intensity on the palate begged something even sweeter to tame. Happily, the staff recommended something mysterious that did the trick.

Satisfyingly filled with wine and food, I leave reflective. How interesting was the assault on my palate from the wine where, for once, the food took more of a back seat. How well adapted this little gem was to South West London living without being in any way inefficient. And how perfect a place it would be for long discussions late into the night. There aren’t many places that will tempt North Londoners south of the river. Soif is surely one.