Cookery course review: Fish in a Day

Published on Blue Tomato on 5th December 2011:

Ann Colquhoun at Food Safari's Fish in a Day

Fish in a Day is the first of Food Safari’s London-based courses, which brings the Suffolk seaside to the city table.

Polly Robinson, the director of Food Safari, began the project as a way of bringing field to fork experiences in Suffolk to people who really care about their food. The London version of Food Safari, run in conjunction with culinary anthropologist Ann Colquhoun, works in much the same way except instead of visiting the producers, they are brought to the course.

The fish and seafood were all, with the exception of the Cornish crabs, from Maximus Sustainable Fish and were brought up by Robinson on the train on the day. There’s a big focus on sustainability and Robinson and Colquhoun happily discuss how to select and cook your fish over fresh coffee and biscuits. Then it was on to the practical aspect.

During the course of Fish in a Day, you learn how to prepare (gut, fillet, skin) round and flat fish, separate squid, pick crabs, and sort mussels individually. After all the “dirty work”, it was on to the cooking. In groups, you’re assigned recipes to cook with the ingredients that you’ve prepared, including bouillabaisse and goujons. After finishing off some six fish and seafood dishes, you’re finally allowed the chance to enjoy the fruits of your labour with a well deserved glass of wine or two, selected by Telegraph wine columnist Victoria Moore.

Fish in a Day is not only educational in the culinary sense but also leaves you culturally and environmentally sound. The course is great as a gift or for team building alike, and perfect if you want to brush up on some fish and seafood skills, learn to make classic recipes and accompaniments and have some fun along the way.

Patara, Greek Street

Published on Blue Tomato on 5th November 2011:

Patara, Greek Street, London

Thai restaurant Patara is full of Eastern promises. With four venues around London and more across the globe, it certainly has a good reputation and we were expecting a good feed. Food made with fresh ingredients and plenty of lemongrass and galangal was definitely top of that list, along with excellent service. Thais are known for their polite hospitality after all.

Oysters were in season so a selection of their finest Maldon rocks was an obvious starter. The raw huîtres arrived perfectly shucked and ready to be doused with a refreshing mint, coriander and lemongrass liquor or, if you prefer, lemon or Thai vinaigrette. Their tender soda-battered counterparts have a more spicy edge with an accompaniment of chilli dip. Of course we couldn’t neglect their signature dish miang guaytiew either, which was a delicate selection of rice paper rolls with prawn, crabmeat and five spiced duck.

For main, a grilled rack of lamb with sweet rice rolls and grilled black cod with ginger and pickled yellow bean sauce were richly accompanied by broccoli spears, pak choy leaves and shiitake mushrooms. It was a small banquet but a very healthy spread. From the selection of mostly European wines, we chose the Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Domain du Grand Tinel 2006 to wash it all down but their cocktails are equally excellent.

And there’s nothing quite like pulling out all the stops for the final course with floral additions to both the crêpe pollamai and the tart sangkaya. Under the spot lighting, we weren’t sure whether it was the desserts or the flowers that looked more delicious. So we had both.

Patara offered a pleasing supper but we were also surprised by the modernity of their menu. The meticulous presentation of the dishes demonstrated a very Western approach but some things, like bowed greeting from the staff, was undeniably Thai. Go and expect to be sumptuously fed, even late at night.

Fifteen, Cornwall

Published on Blue Tomato on 16th August 2011:

View out to sea at Fifteen, Cornwall

Although a subsidiary of Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen Foundation, the Fifteen restaurant in Cornwall is actually owned by the Cornwall Foundation of Promise. This means that while the restaurant is influenced by Oliver’s passion for fresh produce and Italian cuisine, it should have its own identity. Given Oliver’s influence, we expected simple rustic food with a tonne of good quality olive oil and fresh salads.

Fifteen Cornwall, has been blessed with a stunning view that its counterparts could only dream of. We sat on the balcony – front row seats to the keen surfers’ twilight wave-riding, framed by the setting sun shimmering over the bashing waves. Below, dog walkers pat along the beach before it’s engulfed by the incoming tide.

The food on offer was set out on a tasting menu but with room for choice and optional matching wine alongside. Before we got down to the choosing, our waitress explained what the different ingredients were, where they were sourced and how they were cooked. For seasoned diners, this was a little over explained although for the less gastronomically experienced, it proves to be a good insight.

To start was the obligatory nibble of bread with olive oil but also Puglian olives and courgette flowers. As we opted to skip the insalata, the first set of mains to arrive were the raviolo of Lee Carter’s lobster and aged carnaroli risotto. While the fairly small portions were nice, they didn’t do too much to impress. That said, the raviolo seemed more ‘cheffy’ than the usual Oliver style.

What arrived next was the pan fried fillet of John dory and hand dived Cornish scallops. The scallops, though perfectly cooked, didn’t excite our taste buds. At least not like the panzanella which came with the John dory – the perfect tart side to the fish and the hot weather. We certainly wouldn’t object to another portion of those.

An Amedei chocolate cake and the Amalfi lemon tart made a rewarding finish to the meal, whether shared or savoured individually.

It’s interesting to see the fine amalgamation of Cornish and Italian ingredients together on a plate. Though the delicious food wasn’t extraordinary, the quality of the ingredients and the care in preparation was certainly impressive. Added to that mix is the fabulous view and excellent and knowledgeable service. The tasting menu makes it hard to have a simple meal but we would definitely go back when there’s good weather and buoyant appetites.