I had the pleasure of sitting with the contributing members of the Hampshire Fayre, Taste of Wight, Taste of Sussex and Surrey Food Links as well as Sylvette, who is the sustainable fisheries development officer. This was much to Oli's (my boyfriend) delight as he finally had someone to talk 'fish' with who could equal, if not out-do, his enthusiasm, knowledge and passion for angling. Luckily, the starter had been served which I was happy with for company - a Kent crab risotto with roasted butter-glazed seafood with crab bisque. The aroma swimming off the plate took me back to the coast and although the salmon and bass may not have, been the ideal choice of Sylvette, with regards to seasonality, none were in denial that the succulent morsels of aquatic life were cooked to perfection.
Each of the courses incorporated ingredients donated by various, regional suppliers and the main course was no exception - Hogsback
Brewery in Surrey gave their fine ale in which feather-blade of beef was braised and served with horseradish and thyme dumplings, mash and carrot. Never to let a large portion get the better of me, I dived in. The meat gave way with less than gentle persuasion to reveal a tenderly caressed piece of beef. The dumpling (a firm childhood memory-evoking favourite) rang true with the subtle flavours of thyme being set off by the caramelised onion chutney that was in place as it's throne. The carrots, delicate and sweet, the mash, buttery and cloud-like. Some complained of volume and density, I relished in it.
The finish-line was unfortunately in sight but I knew that the largest hurdle was still to come and was looking forward to attacking it with all my might. James Martin has a distinct aversion to small portions as well as a full set of sweet teeth. This combination, as I had anticipated, was to provide an architecturally stunning delight in the form of vanilla and ginger cheesecake with cider-spiced pink Champagne rhubarb and a take-on two forms of home-made honeycomb. Now, time for an admission, there are some flavours (which I loathe to confess) that I am not overly keen on. My reluctance to make this public comes from the feeling that a dislike for a taste automatically equates to ignorance and a firmly closed-mind. However, in my defence, it is not for the want of trying that I have tried to overcome this, just a stubbornness that I can only blame on...ummm, well, nothing. That's just the problem. There is no excuse, it's just a fact. No-one's perfect and this, I must say is what I consider one of my flavoursome flaws. My 'list' is comprised of parsley, coriander, celery, ginger and cheesecake. Any one of these I find hard to stomach but the latter two found their way to be key characters in the spectacle that was being performed in front of me on the plate. Despite my well-honed dislike of said protagonists, the abyss which I expected to appear, actually stayed firmly in my head and I, more surprised than anyone else making mmmmmm noises, tucked in. The rhubarb generously complimented his leading lady, Senorita Cheesecake, superbly and the textural difference captured by the honeycomb added a satisfying crunch.
The evening was deliciously fantastic and the South East Food and Drink Group should be proud. You can find more information at http://www.sefgp.co.uk/. It's initiatives like these that pave the way for our much needed and much loved small producers.