Sunday, 27 July 2014

Flora dinner by Dan Doherty

A few months ago we dined at a pop up by Chateau Marmot, hosted in our local area. Despite loving the food, we thought it was kind of overpriced and thought we'd not go to another one of their events. Yet when I saw a tweet advertising a two-days pop up special hosted once again in Waterloo by Dan Doherty, I immediately bought two tickets. I couldn't resist as Dan is one of my favourite chefs, and well, it doesn't happen often that chefs like him cook within walking distance from our house.

The event theme sounded also interesting enough: Flora, the name of the dinner, part of a Super Nature string of similar dining experiences. Flora in particular, would be focused on British flowers and herbs. It was once again a pricey thing, this time however matching wines would be included on "full eight courses, a journey of specially selected matched wines and spirits is included in the ticket price of just £95."
full eight courses, a journey of specially selected matched wines and spirits is included in the ticket price of just £95. - See more at:
full eight courses, a journey of specially selected matched wines and spirits is included in the ticket price of just £95. - See more at:
full eight courses, a journey of specially selected matched wines and spirits is included in the ticket price of just £95. - See more at:
full eight courses, a journey of specially selected matched wines and spirits is included in the ticket price of just £95. - See more at:
full eight courses, a journey of specially selected matched wines and spirits is included in the ticket price of just £95. - See more at:
full eight courses, a journey of specially selected matched wines and spirits is included in the ticket price of just £95. - See more at:

We picked the first slot of the second day for 18.30, while the second was going to be 9pm. I did not think much of the time limit when I booked and mainly worried about the dog at home alone, hence booking the first sitting. 

The venue was an architects' practice in a side street really a stone's throw from ours. On the hottest weekend of the year so far, I am sure it was pretty challenging for Dan and his chefs, as it was challenging enough for us diners! 
Two tables, each supposedly hosting only 8 diners (supposedly as this was what was advertised, but there were more than 8 people at the table behind us), were laid out pretty spaciously (although the chairs were incredibly uncomfortable). 

Our first dish was a very enjoyable amuse bouche made of a radish, malt granola and yogurt. This was served with an equally refreshing cocktail of Calem white port, jade dragon infusion, butter almond and tonic. It was delightful. 

The first course Dan created was Charred Leek, squid ink and fermented garlic mayo, Scottish lobster, sea buck thorn, fennel pollen. it looked beautiful, and was a great opener, the lobster so delicate, and I loved the contrast with the bright buck thorn. Paired with this, a white Le Close Saint-Pierre Caon Charnay. @bmcboy wasn't convinced, but I quite enjoyed it. 

The second course was Smoked eel, sea vegetable, horseradish & malt vinegar jelly, creme fraiche. Dan introduced it very personally mentioning his dad used to eat jellied eel, a traditional (and a bit slimey!) London's staple. I am used to eel too, as they are eaten at Xmas on Neapolitan tables. Dan's version was so delicate, it reminded me of mackerel. Small pieces of smoked fish, paired with strong vinegar jelly which broke off the fattiness of the flesh. This came paired with a champagne, small grower Jean Comyn Harmonie. 

Next we had Hens egg, broad beans and their flowers, bottarga, Cornish caviar, meadowsweet. The bottarga was well balanced and added texture and saltiness to a fairly substantial dish, where the egg was slow cooked and retained all its intensity.
A Juan Gil Moscatel Seco from Spain was the wine chosen for this dish.

Yet the best course for me was probably the Duroc pork, artichokes, kentish hops, English peas, corn shoots. The pork had been cooked for 15 hours, it was so tender and delicate, not at all fatty as pork can often be; the artichokes (from Rome) were a great complement to the meat, it was fantastic. A red from Italy, really nice, was the wine paired : Basile Comandante.

Dessert time! my favourite was the first one - not only it was visually beautiful, but an interesting mix of flavours, from the chewy, chocolatey brownie to the sour goats curd, and the striking pink merengue slices:  Chocolate, Essex beetroot, violets, welsh goats curd was delicious. 

The following dessert was just as lovely: Lemon curd, London elderflower wine, shortbread, sorrel. The only problem I had is that I am into a freaky fitness mode now and I could not eat it all, as it had a fair amount of cream in the curd, yet it had a subtle lemon flavour and the elderflower wine was such an aromatic, flowery addition. For the desserts, we had a glass of Francois Voyer Pineau des Charentes. 

By the time we had finished the curd, we were pretty much asked to leave - it was nearly 9pm and there was already a bunch of people for the second sitting waiting outside. Of course, this wasn't ideal as we barely had a chance to say goodbye to our fellow diners and we were ushered out.

I thought the food Dan produced was fantastic. I loved the creativity of it and some of the very unusual ingredients and flavours' combination. Dan introduced each single dish individually which was a good opportunity to hear more about the thought process behind each dish directly from him. The dishes were unusual and in my opinion quite different from what he produces at Duck & Waffle.

My problems with the Flora dinner are, as per my previous Chateau Marmot experience, related to the logistics and the price. The chairs were incredibly uncomfortable; the meal had been sold as 'full 8 courses' which in fact, were 6 + 1. I was also offered a substantial discount via twitter on the ticket price a week prior to the event, but of course I had already bought the tickets, so I felt quite stupid at that point. I do not criticise for a second the quality of the food which was of very high standard (as it was on the previous dinner I attended), but I cannot help feeling short changed.

It is a shame because Chateau Marmot surely has a lot of passion for the food they create with some really good chefs indeed. I did pass my feedback directly to them but in the end we 'agreed to disagree' on various points; I was told for example, that there were 8 courses but they were 'plated up' together. No idea when/where, though. 

Unless they engage another one of my favourite chefs, I doubt I will be returning to one of their events, sadly.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

A meal at Il Mosaico, Ischia (NA)

When I visit Ischia (usually over a May bank holiday), I tend to mostly eat at local, typical restaurants to savour my childhood flavours and dishes I so seldom eat otherwise. Yet this year, my family treated me to one of the islands’s top restaurant and indeed, one of Italy’s best food destinations: il Mosaico, two Michelin stars venue within the uber posh Hotel Manzi, in Casamicciola Terme town. 

Il Mosaico, Ischia

It was my first time here, but my family have been here a couple of times before, hence they had reserved one of the two chef’s tables the restaurant offers. Once past the frankly pretty kitch hotel’s reception area (but oh, so opulent), we walked right through the dining area and into the kitchen, only stopping short of the pass where a table for three had been set up for us. This was a first for me, so much more used I am to British chefs. I did not know much about Nino Di Costanzo, a local chef who has trained with major names (Arzak, Marchesi) and has returned here, his home island, to create an incredible place where traditional flavours are developed and transformed into technically perfect creations. 
But I am getting ahead of myself. The first menu we were given was that of the waters (yes, water, around 15 choices); then we were given the wine list (massive tome) and the actual menus where a number of tasting options are available. We chose a la carte, and we were then given the choice of.. olive oil! 

Again a first for me, a trolley full of hand picked extra virgin olive oils from all over Italy for tasting. We each picked two oils, individually poured into tasting dishes (dark blue, of course) and offered some freshly baked focaccia bread. A fabulous and original opening to the meal. And at this point, an unbelievable eating journey began. Under the watchful eyes of Nino himself, we were served a number of amuse-bouche, out of which my favourite was probably the tiny but perfectly formed ‘buffalo milk and caviar’, launched a few weeks earlier at the Strade della Mozzarella festival.

Il Mosaico, Ischia
Buffalo milk & caviar
Also visually stunning was the chef’s smile’, a number of small and intense morcels, which included a ‘liquid parmigiana di melanzane’. After the amouse bouche we thought we would get the starter. Oh no – Nino started sending us dishes from the various tasting menus, served in between actual courses we had ordered. My official starter was a delicate dish made with buffalo meat, buffalo mozzarella and anchovies, while one of the dishes that Nino sent us was probably my absolute favourite of the whole meal: Blackened cod, spices, cooked in an olive oil bath at 65c, with a soft mousse of potatoes and buffalo milk. Incredibly delicate but intense at the same time, laid out on a vivid blue ceramic dish, it will be in my memory for years to come.

Il Mosaico, Ischia
Blackened cod
My main too – I had ordered the traditionally sounding ‘Paste e patate’. What arrived on my plate was a painting, or maybe a sculpture. Colours, textures, flavours, blended together to give me the obvious memory of my childhood dish but in a completely upside down presentation, which included purple potatoes and 25 types of pasta, all cooked to the same al dente point. A feat and a feast, for sure. 

Il Mosaico, Ischia
Paste e patate

A treat for the eye and the palate. I cannot even begin to describe the other dishes we had, or I would be writing a novel. They were all visually incredible and delightful to eat. Nino was introducing the dishes personally and was so friendly and fun, telling us that the more we asked him to stop, the more he would send more food to us. Busy kitchen but he took the time to joke and chat, which was great and confirms my view that 2* chefs are extremely nice.
Il Mosaico, Ischia
No smoking

Finally, he confirmed dessert was the only dish left to order, and he recommended one of us ordered Napul’e’, which I did.
He then escorted us downstairs, where there is another large kitchen completely dedicated to pastry and desserts. We were served the pre dessert (tiny tiny ice creams and sorbets shaped like vegetables in a miniveggie box) and then the dessert proper. Echoes of the Fat Duck landed on our table: for the smoker in the family, Nino had sent the ‘No Smoking’, ice creams and ganache shaped like ciggies and fag packets, complete with ‘smoking kills’ header; for the man of the family he had recommended a dessert dedicated to Campania’s most famous apple, Mela Annurca, served on an ipad where a clip on the apple’s history and characteristic, played. 
And for me, a shuffle to listen to the eponymous Pino Daniele’s song, and pieces of Napoli’s past and present, served over postcards of the city itself. For a Neapolitan who emigrated 20 years ago, this was a delight. Gorgeous flavours, textures of desserts and playful allusions. Yet it was when Nino invited us to watch a video he made, dedicated, to Napoli, in the next door cinema room that it really hit home and it was pure emotion. 

Il Mosaico, Ischia
Napul'e': Toto', Maradona, la cuccuma and coffee, munnezza, San Gennaro, spaghetti.

We took ours seats back at the table for the table side cabinet of petit fours (I could have eaten all, I limited myself to a delicious mini madeleine) and finally, we were accompanied back upstairs to the lounge where the chocolate cabinet was opened for us: damn, there were so many chocolates of so many flavours’ combinations, I could have spent hours there, but after such a meal I could only sadly manage one. 

We paid our bill (which came to around 120Euro each inc. wine), we thanked Nino, and we walked back to the fresh air of May, full of food and full of memories. Il Mosaico in an amazing place, run by a passionate and very welcoming chef. I cannot wait for next year’s bank holiday!

Sustainable? I asked about fish provenance, and it's all locally sourced via day boats (although no info on fishing methods). Most of the other ingredients are sourced regionally from Campania.

Dog friendly? Who knows!

Il Mosaico, Ischia
Matisse? Or raw shrimp, mandarin, passion fruit, ricotta.
Il Mosaico, Ischia
Chef assembling Il Coniglio dish
Il Mosaico, Ischia
Bufalo, Bufala, Alici - my starter
Il Mosaico, Ischia
Semolina risotto, carbonara, squid fettuccine