Monday, 26 October 2015

Martell France 300 - Dinner @ Club Gascon

To mark the Martell 300 celebrations Pascal Aussignac of Club Gascon created a special tasting menu incorporating Martell Cognac into every dish. Each course was carefully paired with an alcoholic beverage and around forty people were invited to taste this spectacular menu.

On arrival we were greeted with a cocktail reception hosted by Clotilde Lataille. There were two cocktails on offer and she was available to chat through her creations:

5 O'clock in Charente
Martell V.S. Cognac, Red Ruby tea, Scezuan syrup, blackberries, lemon juice and Perrier-Jouet Champagne

Can-Can 300
Martell Cordon Bleu Cognac, Byrrh, IPA syrup

The cocktails were delicious. My favourite was surprisingly the Can-Can 300, which was strong and warming on a cold and dark October evening.

After the drinks reception we were seated ready for the feast. We started with an amuse bouche of bone marrow, Martell Cognac, seaweed and caviar d'aquitaine. This wasn't my favourite dish on the menu, it was actually surprisingly tasty but I couldn't get the bone marrow concept from my mind, which marred my enjoyment slightly. The texture was like a smooth pate, which went very well with the home made bread selection (sourdough, brioche and white roll) served with pine nut and basil butters.

The next course was one of the best. It was a warm soup like dish. Cappuccino of foie gras, chicory and Martell Cognac. The soup flavour was strong and the foie gras perfectly smooth. I savoured every last mouthful. The starter was complemented with a crisp and cold glass of Perrier-Jouet Grand Brut.

It would always have been difficult to beat the last course but Pascal created another sublime dish. We had an eclade of lobster and mussels with pine smoked Sabayon, which was mouth wateringly delicious. This was served with a white wine: Limoux, Toques & Clochers Fut 92, Cuvee Jacques 2009.

Finally we came across the best dish of the night. The feedback was so positive that Pascal has incorporated this into his main restaurant menu. "Tipsy" white goldfish, autumn truffle, pumpkin pulp and toasted seeds. The fish was cooked to perfection and the incorporation of pumpkin and truffle worked tremendously. It was insanely delicious! This was paired with a cocktail of Martell X.O. Cognac, apricot, passion fruit, Rose vermouth and lemon myrtle tea. The cocktail was great but maybe a little strong to be paired with the fish.


The next delight was a twist on a cheese course. We tried Roquefort macaroon, Martell Cognac and pickled cobnuts. The macaroons were perfect and sandwiched the cheese. It was a strange sensation as you automatically associate macaroons as being sweet tasting so to find the flavour of savoury strong cheese is quite a challenge on the taste buds. However, I loved the idea, it worked really well and would recommend others to try it. The cheese was paired with a dessert wine: Rancio, Domaine des Schistes, Ambre.

Finally we were treated to a Gascon Mess, which was filled with whipped cream, meringue and deliciously sweet red fruits. It was a great final course and really complemented the rest of the meal.

After dessert came the digestif and our chance to have a Martell Cognac tasting. We tried the Cordon Bleu and the X.O. After a small sample of each we could choose our favourite to have with coffee, which was a great little touch .

All in all this menu was amazing and the evening was fabulous. It cannot have been easy to incorporate Martell Cognac into every dish but Pascal did an incredible job and produced a truly fantastic experience. All of the courses were delicious and exceptionally different from one another. The drinks pairings on the whole worked very well with the dishes. Everyone was smiling and laughing but most importantly mind boggled by the food. This certainly was a celebration of ingredients and culinary imagination.

Martell France 300

I was invited to attend and cover the Martell France 300 celebration dinner at Club Gascon, which can be found on my next blog post. However, I thought I would provide a little background information to help you understand the purpose of the event.

The Martell Cognac House was founded in 1715 at the height of the French Art de Vivre movement, which was a period of time when gastronomy and craftsmanship were enjoyed with style. Louis XIV cemented the movement when he gathered the nations most talented artists, craftsmen and culinary figures at the court of Versailles.

Three hundred years later Martell has embarked on a project to identify the modern equivalent as part of their three hundred year anniversary celebrations. They have sought out three hundred influential figures that epitomise Art de Vivre in the 21st Century hence the name Martell 300.

Michelin starred chef Pascal Aussignac was chosen and he celebrated with a Martell inspired menu at his restaurant Club Gascon. Mixologist Clotilde Lataille, another nominee was invited to serve Martell cocktails and illustrator Malika Favre used her designs throughout the experience.

Clotilde was born in France and has lived in London for nearly five years. She has worked in a number of prestigious bars in London and in Paris as well as winning several awards for her work in mixology. She can currently be found behind the bar at Hawksmoor, Spitalfields. She has been identified on the Martell France 300 list hence creating Martell based cocktails for the celebration evening.

Pascal Aussignac was born in Toulouse and trained with several respected chefs in France before moving to the UK bringing southwest French cuisine to London. He opened Club Gascon in 1998 with a focus on informal, traditional and regional food. His restaurant was awarded a Michelin star in 2002. Pascal was nominated for the France 300 list and to celebrate designed a menu inspired by the Charente region of France and incorporating Martell Cognac into the cooking.

Finally Malika Favre, a French artist based in London used her nomination to create several designs shown throughout the evening. Her creations included the invitations and the menu's as well as prints each guest could take home at the end of the meal.

 Now you have the background, please read my next post to learn all about this fantastic evening.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Pumpkin Carving

Last night was a miserable rainy, cold and dark evening so the hubby and I decided to nip to Tesco and buy two large pumpkins for £3 as part of their Halloween offers. We then decided to have a healthy husband and wife competition to determine who could create the best pumpkin! It was actually really hard work chopping off the top, scooping out all of the insides and carving something that looked remotely like a face. It made a lot of mess in the kitchen but was a pretty fun hour!

The hubby managed to create the below menacing and spooky face:

The final pumpkins have been placed in pride of place on our living room mantelpiece.

Mine looked a little more smiley and less intimidating!

We decided to be a little extravagant and fill our pumpkins with some White Company Cassis flavoured tea lights, which smell absolutely delicious when lit.

The lit versions are a great Halloween addition to our home and will be the perfect backdrop to scary movie night on the 31st!

We love Autumn nights in so pumpkin carving seemed like a perfect activity! Look out for next years competition!

Monday, 19 October 2015

Date Night

Last weekend we decided to enjoy a Saturday night at home, which is something we haven't managed to do in a while! We made such a delicious but really simple dinner so I thought I would share. We picked up a bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape and tried out our brand new Le Creuset Wine Fountain.

For our starter we picked up a packet of four Orkney Mini Dressed Crabs in shells for £3.99 in Waitrose, which we served with mini white rolls. Two shells is enough per person and is a mixture of brown and white crab meat pre-mixed in a mayonnaise dressing, that is simply delicious with some crusty bread.

For our main course the hubby chose to stink out the flat by making triple cooked chips, I do suggest opening all windows in your house when making these as the chip fat smell does travel. We do not own a deep fat fryer so instead use cooking oil in a saucepan and really heat it up, it has the same effect. Allow the oil to cool before disposing though. We bought some creamed spinach and red cabbage as we were being a little lazy with the sides.

For the triple cooked chips peel the potatoes (we used three) and cut them into chip size pieces. Then run the chips under cold water to wash off the starch. Simmer the chips in a pan for twenty minutes, then dry out and place in the freezer for one hour. Then fry the chips in your half filled saucepan of oil, placing in carefully with tongs (otherwise the oil will splash) for five minutes. Remove the chips, dry off with kitchen roll and then place again in the freezer for one hour. Repeat the frying process for the second time until chips are golden brown (around seven minutes) and then serve.

With our chips, spinach and red cabbage we chose three thinly cut pieces of filet steak from the Waitrose meat counter between the two of us and finished this off with peppercorn sauce, which will be enough for two. Usually we would home make our spinach, red cabbage and sauce but on this occasion we wanted a lazy and relaxing meal and the Waitrose pre-made alternatives are excellent.

Whilst these aren't the cheapest of ingredients the food was delicious and far less expensive than the equivalent of going to a restaurant. To impress a date at home I can thoroughly recommend giving this a go! Happy cooking.

Interview with Michelin Starred Chef - Pascal Aussignac

This week I have been lucky enough to interview Michelin starred chef Pascal Aussignac, owner of Club Gascon, a small and beautiful French restaurant in Smithfield's market, London. Pascal is such a friendly and approachable guy, I could have chatted to him for hours but here are my favourite questions and answers:

If you could cook for anyone, who would it be?

The Queen!

You are making dinner for one tonight, what would you make?
Foie Gras, I love Foie Gras so would eat that by myself!

What is the most unusual thing you have ever eaten?
Jelly Fish in Singapore but it was actually quite nice!

What is your favourite spice?
Piment d'Espelette - a chili pepper originating from the Basque region of France

What dish are you most proud of?

Marmite Royale - it won me an award!

What are your top two ingredients?

Mussels and French Fries

Give me one cooking tip.
If you burn your fingers, immediately pinch your ear lobe, the heat will travel through your fingers into your ear and away thus preventing your finger from burning. It's a Japanese cooking tip and Pascal swears by it!

When you were five, what did you want to be?
A stonecutter

What has been your biggest kitchen disaster?

One of my chefs lost a tooth during a busy evening, we delivered the worst service because every time he smiled we saw the gap and couldn't control the laughter or concentrate on the service!

Pascal can almost always be found in the kitchen cooking away at Club Gascon, the food here is sensational and the service personal yet non-intrusive. Add this to such a lovely chef, I cannot help but seriously recommend a dining experience here!

The Swan

After our lovely tour and wine tasting experience at Chapel Down Winery we went for a late 3pm lunch at the restaurant on site The Swan. Again, reservations should be made as the restaurant was completely full on arrival. They have indoor and outdoor seating as well as a really cosy bar with sofa's and a fireplace for a pre-dinner drink.

On a Sunday they do a three course lunch for £24.50 per person, which is very reasonable in comparison with some of the a la carte prices. As you can see everything looked delicious so it was very difficult to choose a dish! Also the salt came in a little pot, I couldn't resist taking a photo and the bread and butter was soft and crusty at the same time and plentiful too!


For starter we chose the prawn and crayfish salad as well as the mushroom spelt risotto. Both were really tasty and a generous portion.

For main course we chose a roast beef and a roast lamb, both are served pink unless otherwise requested. The roasts come with carrots, kale, cauliflower cheese, parsnips, roast potatoes, extra gravy and best of all a giant Yorkshire pudding to share between two! The beef was served with mustard and the lamb with traditional mint sauce.

For dessert we tried a rice pudding with caramelised pineapple and a chocolate brownie with crushed shortbread. Both were great and neither of us left even a crumb on the plate.

After three courses we were satisfyingly stuffed! Tap water was unlimited and we added two cokes and a glass of rose (£5.50 per glass) along with 12.5% service charge making the bill £67 for two people. We thought for the quality of food this was a reasonable price for a three course Sunday lunch with no washing up. The toilets were spotless and the staff friendly and helpful, if not a little rushed off their feet.

All in all we would both recommend a trip to Chapel Down Winery finished off with a lunch at The Swan, it made for a really lovely and relaxing Kent countryside day out.


Chapel Down Winery

On Sunday afternoon my husband and I decided to head to the Kent countryside for some fresh air. We chose the scenic drive through the fields and villages to Tenterden where we spent a few hours at Chapel Down Winery. Chapel Down is one of the biggest and most famous English wine producers. They offer a self guided walk through the vineyards, which on a sunny Sunday was a really lovely hour. They also offer private and group tours. You must book ahead but we chose the 1pm group tour, which was fully booked with around twenty five guests.

We were incredibly lucky with the weather and thoroughly enjoyed hearing about the different grapes and vines grown at Chapel Down by our lovely tour guide. We were then shown into the pressing room, storage tanks and bottling facilities and learnt all about the wine making process as well as the off site centres for the vineyard.

The tour takes around 45 minutes and they provide umbrellas if it is raining, although some parts are indoors. It's then into the lovely cosy Chapel Down store for some wine tasting. You can try up to three wines free of charge at the winery or can join a tour where you will taste six. We tried two white wines, a white and rose sparkling, a red wine and a dessert wine. I didn't love the English wines as much as others I have tried from around the world, however, it was great to taste what England can produce and it was a really lovely couple of hours in a picturesque environment.

The wines we got to try were:

  • Rose Brut - £24.99 per bottle - Pinot Noir grape
  • Blanc de Blancs 2010 vintage - £26.99 per bottle - Chardonnay grape
  • Bacchus 2014 vintage - £11.99 per bottle - Bacchus grape
  • Chardonnay 2011 vintage - £13.99 per bottle - Chardonnay grape
  • Union Red 2014 vintage - £11.99 per bottle - Pinot Noir, Rondo and Dornfelder grapes
  • Nectar Dessert Wine - £15.48 per bottle - Siegerrebe grape

The tour ends in the beautiful shop selling wines, beers, ciders, flavoured gin, vodka and lots of farm house foods such as pate's and different biscuits and chocolates. We stocked up on plenty of treats at reasonable prices.

The group wine tours cost £10 per person and last around 1 hour and 45 minutes in groups of less than thirty people. There is plenty of car parking on site as well as clean toilets. In the summer there are picnic benches to consume goodies post purchase and also a little herb garden to wander in. The winery takes cash and all major credit cards too.