Passion and talent are also in abundance in another famous Dorset chef, Mat Follas, Masterchef winner 2009 and now the chef-owner of The Wild Garlic restaurant in Beaminster. Matthew Norman in The Guardian called Mat 'an exceedingly rare talent', which he is; a lively personality is equally matched with heart: Mat was the driving force behind the Kai We Care event earlier this year, raising money for New Zealand earthquake victims.
As Dorset's two leading culinary lights, Russell and Mat know each other well, have worked together before, and it was our absolute pleasure to host an entirely original collaboration between them for the last of the Chefs @CriticalCouple dinners. Themed 'a kind of Italian dinner', both chefs drew on Italian influences in their food but also heavily on local ingredients giving us 'a kind of Dorset dinner' also.
We also have to thank Russell's demi chef Alex and Mat's sous Dann who were invaluable in the kitchen and Russell's wife and FOH at Sienna, Eléna, together with Katy from The Wild Garlic, who looked after the front of house for the night. Thanks too to The Dorset Wine Company for supplying and shipping the wine to us.
With Prosecco in hand, our amuse for the evening was listed as 'pizza delivery' and true to the description, more than dozen pizza mini boxes (by @richardbudd) arrive bearing the inscription 'The Sienna, Wild Garlic Pizza Co' and contained within was an absolutely delicious spinach and chestnut mushroom pizza bianca. With a white sauce base with Parmesan and cheddar, we all could have happily eaten a full size version of this though with so many treats to come, we're glad we didn't.
Taking our seats at the table, the first course arrives on sharing boards and contains a slow cooked pork and apple terrine (served with onion relish) and smoked venison loin. A beautiful selection of breads also arrives at the table, containing ciabatta, tomato focaccia and bread sticks. Finally, there's a surprise, a plant pot. Those who have been to Noma will know how they serve a plant pot with radish and carrot and edible soil to guests as part of the pre menu finger food. With Mat having done a spell in Noma's kitchen as part of the Masterchef season, this was his take on the same, nicely done and continuing the serious food/playful theme. The sound of enjoyment surrounds us (apart from those who were brave/crazy enough to eat the chilli in the plant pot).
On the rock we have a raw oyster, a hot smoked oyster with an oyster cream sauce, and one oyster Rockefeller, cooked on spinach with a sabayon topping and Old Winchester cheese. Dressing the rock is British seaweeds rehydrated in beef stock and miso, together with lemon and Tabasco tapioca pearls and lumpfish caviar.
It sounds busy but in fact looks beautifully composed on the rock and brings together some wonderful variety while staying focussed. We're spoiled in knowing where to start, the fresh oyster seems a good choice, oyster cream sauce next and the decadent Rockefeller last; it's all superb. Our thanks to Sarah from Samways for getting the oysters to us.
The truffle was supplied at an excellent price direct to our door by James Painter who is new on Twitter (@Sybaritic2011), more details can be found on his website.
There's small pots too and with the lid lifted, the essence of smoked pine rises. The individual partridges are served up on plates and then sauced with button onions, lardons, together with quince and green salad. The partridge is beautiful, a real hit with the room and a personal favourite ever since we had it at The Waterside Inn around a year ago. The Waterside taught us how the very best partridge tasted and here today we were again enjoying the very best partridge. Superb.
Finally, it is the sharing chocolate bar, of which several arrive at the table whole inviting more participation, and someone to divide the bar up, something done with varying degrees of success, but it was fun. The bar is pistachio and milk chocolate ganache with a blackcurrant pate de fruit centre. The bar is then coated in 70% xoconusco chocolate and topped with gold powder and whole pistachios. Chocolate is from Chocovic, and supplied by Mediteria in Woking.
And cooking @CriticalCouple always provides the chefs with a discerning audience and tonight, we had the old Marcus Wareing crew round, Alyn (@chefalyn) and Giancarlo (@gcprinci) once again teamed at Alyn Williams at The Westbury, James (@JamesKnappett) now of The Ledbury and Sandia (@watermelonchang) of the fabulous Roganic. Their verdict: a huge success; praise indeed from these industry big hitters. We were also delighted to host a further mix of new and old friends including @mcmoop, @barrybevan, @workerbeep, @debbiegreeneyes, @eatingsoho, @fredsmith_, @burgerprincess and @andredang.
Russell and Mat were truly great, entering whole heartedly into the spirit of the evening and enjoying the additional challenge, having their restaurants in Dorset, of not having a London kitchen for prep as most of the other chefs have. They coped admirably. As Russell said, "what an opportunity! Cook your dream menu for 14 foodies and do it in collaboration with Mat and his team, two different food styles but a common purpose, to give the guests a great time. Bit of a logistical challenge but I think we got there.! A lot of credit goes to both our teams and I reckon our wives."
So there it is, the very last of the chefs' dinners @criticalcouple. What a wonderful way to end it, two great chefs, nine wonderful courses and fourteen very happy diners. Mat's Kiwi roots aside, Russ and Mat are two great British food talents right now, each very much doing his own thing in Dorset. So if you're in the area, do stop by Sienna or The Wild Garlic, the fourteen people round the table can testify that you'll have a lovely time with great food.
Jason Atherton, Johnnie Mountain, Alyn Williams, Ben Spalding, Brett Graham, Bruno Loubet, Simon Hulstone, Russell Brown and Mat Follas, our thanks go to all of these chefs for making 2011 special for us and almost 100 guests. Simply wow.
The Wild Garlic website
Chef Russell Brown website
Russell Brown on Twitter
Mat Follas on Twitter
CriticalCouple review of Sienna
Return to homepage