Aulis

Walking through the bustling streets of central London, swivelling past tourists in building anticipation as I wonder where we could be going (hopefully for dinner)… MD kept it as a surprise but he has seemed quite pleased with himself so I am really curious.

I recognise the top-hatted man at the door as MD swings into the polished hotel, allowing me a moment to use the facilities to switch to heels and freshen up after sweaty tube travel. Never one to assume I know what MD is up to, I remained alert and sceptical… Fera’s spring menu was that the surprise? Is this a double bluff, do we have drinks here and then go somewhere else? I was further confused when the lovely Cassandra introduced herself as ‘with us all evening’. Clearly then this was a special kind of evening.

 

After a delicious, but expensive bergamot infused G&T we are led into the restaurant…and then through the main kitchen (?)… to two high seats at a private kitchen. This was Fera’s experimental kitchen chef’s table. I couldn’t help but compare this set-up to eating at Kitchen Table, the main differences being this is more intimate and encourages more informal dialogue with the chef. Being fair, MD lucked out on this one – usually they would seat up to six people however a party of four cancelled, meaning we had the place to ourselves. I also learned that initially they were not going to accommodate my nut allergy, but later said that they would be able to let me know the nut-containing dishes to skip. Rafael, our chef, explained that this was because on such a small scale he could not guarantee any contamination. Even more fortuitous then that it was just the two of us, and nuts could be wholly avoided.

 

The first course Rafael presented us with was an oyster from Cornwall with oyster mayonnaise wrapped in beautiful paper-thin squid. The squid had been flattened, and then sliced from frozen to achieve this translucent rice paper effect. I wonder if that’s how Azurmendi made their squid ribbons…The herbs, picked and delivered from the garden in Cumbrian, brought this dish together to produce a mouthful of fresh seafood salad.

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Rafael made an extra and sent it to the kitchen to be tasted by the other chefs. He explains to us that the freedom allowed in this kitchen offers the opportunity to experiment with ideas and ingredients that may make it into the main restaurant. Before that happens they must be approved by the head chef, the finance team (must watch those margins) and Simon Rogan himself. He described this encouragement of innovation fondly compared to other kitchens he had worked at in the past.

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The second dish certainly showed off this experimentation. If I understood correctly, Rafael took the roe of the scallop and turned it into a mousse that puffed up into this feather-light crispy black vessel that he pumped full of mousse and topped off with a fresh scallop, smoked roe and shiso – as tasty as it was pretty.

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As in their restaurant, Fera offers a wine-pairing here but MD and I chose to go with a bottle of wine throughout the meal. We have been trying to find more light red wines to our tastes and so opted for Beaujolais – Jean Foillard’s Morgon, ‘Cote du Py’ is a velvety light bodied wine but with deep flavour of ripe fruits, spices, soft tannins and delicate minerality that makes it very easy drinking, and a safe choice when you’re not sure what is on the menu.IMG_4984

 

Next we had this crunchy lettuce leaf topped with crispy chicken, mushrooms and radishes. The flavours were all there, but it was a bit over salty for myself.

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I started to get a sense of the chef’s style, which is something you miss sometimes in larger kitchens. He seemed influenced by French styles, with excellent lightness in his sauces and fresh flavours that may have come from his appreciation of Italian cuisine. The next course was half an onion that we had seen him cooking when we arrived, with whey, tunworth cheese (the same one they use in the duck hearts dish), and nasturtium. He gave us some tips on making the ash that you see in the photo. There is something I don’t like about onions with creamy sauces, sure shallots in the pan for a bit of flavour maybe but I think I once made something horrible for myself with onions and cream and can’t quite get over it. That aside, I still cleaned the plate, scraped the sauce clean in fact it was so tasty.

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Moving on, deer was served in little cubes wrapped in some sort of animal casing I don’t quite remember, with kohlrabi, lovage and green tomato. The tomato flavour was stunningly fresh and vibrant, but slightly took away from the meatiness of the deer. Another beautiful plate and you can see he considers every element.

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The next dish was perhaps my favourite beetroot dish ever. Here is Rafael preparing salted beetroot, almond, chicory and pear.

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Crab next with little jersey potatoes and horseradish served with peppery garnish leaves. The bed looks very creamy in this picture was actually exceptionally light again.

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The chef shows us our meat for the main course, and his secret hiding place for drying mackerel – the wine fridge. The mackerel was to be used along with seaweed in this coffee filter to create a miso broth.

 

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IMG_5045I was a bit awe struck by the smart kitchen design. It had everything imaginable but also managed to be quite compact. Inside and enclave of one of the walls was a barbeque, on this the chef cooked up some white asparagus, served with salsify, lemon balm and another light foamy sauce.

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The next dish of sea bass (with enviable crispy skin), abalone mushrooms, seaweeds and turnips was served with the miso broth that we watched develop in the coffee filter. It was a really beautiful Asian style dish that was perfectly seasoned and delicate. Almost as good as the next course.

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I am excited at just recalling the dry-aged lamb that was presented as our main course. I had only had this level dry-aged quality in steak before. It was served with stout barley, milk skin, ramsons and an umami laden reduction. Rafael is clear about Rogan’s cooking philosophy of choosing local ingredients where possible. They will occasionally import products from abroad if they can stay very fresh, but they will not for instance use olive oil – opting for grapeseed and rapeseed oil instead.

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Raspberries, yoghurt, chamomile and pickled roses was not overly sweet and I really enjoyed the green moss (sponge cake). Over dessert we had a dessert wine, but not just any dessert wine, for we found that the 1988 Banyuls Al Tragou was on the menu! The same Banyuls I fell in love with upon first sip in Provence.

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White chocolate, apple, cucumber and dill was clearly a winner as I have written before I do like dill in a dessert – the vegetal flavours really cut through the sugariness.

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And finally a mouthful of ‘reindeer moss’ with sea buckthorn to finish.IMG_5119

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