The butchery assistant was not confident I’d made the right choice when I was out shopping last Wednesday. Wearing her “Meat expert” apron, she was clearly the best person to advise and yet, I couldn’t help but ignore her warning and buy the piece of “top rump” for Friday evening’s supper. We were expecting friends for the weekend to celebrate my Hero’s birthday and knowing the temperatures were likely to soar, I wasn’t considering a meat-and-gravy meal, that’s for sure. But the beef was clearly labelled “for roasting” and it was with a slight shake of the head that she packaged the piece up for me.
Nigella’s “Scandi Supper” was the plan. Vodka marinated beef flavoured with peppercorns and garlic, cooked quickly and served in thin-thin slices with dill potatoes and a green salad. As the gas man arrived to sort out our (over) heating issue, I was squidging the beef around in the ziploc bag, making sure that all was evenly distributed. I’d already got the Margarita ice cream in the freezer, ready.
For two days I worried that I’d been silly to ignore the advice of the meat expert.
On Friday evening, I cooked the beef exactly as the recipe, three and a half minutes each side and fifteen minutes left in foil to rest.
The end result was absolutely delicious (what a relief) and kick started a great weekend, much of which was focused around a table with knives, forks and glasses in hand. A picnic at Compton Verney (having had the place almost to ourselves during the tennis) and then, my Hero’s birthday supper at Casamia on Saturday evening, which will rank amongst the most memorable of meals. Though our menu was different from the one in this review our experience was much the same and we were similarly overwhelmed from start to finish. Our exceptional dish was “lemon, ricotta and pea” – a few peas, shoots and puree scattered on top of a spoonful of ricotta cheese which had been cleverly placed over a dollop of lemon curd. Totally inspired and possibly the star of the show (until the next dish arrived, that is). We were sitting at the Chef’s Table, so had the benefit of expert input from Jonray himself and as the evening progressed, we learned so much about how these clever dishes are created. Who knew that, since we taste the flavour of softer textures before the crunchy ones, a chef can manipulate our experience by adjusting these textures? So, the tarragon which accompanies the strawberry dish is included in small shards of meringue and the flavour arrives on the palate sometime after the strawberries from the jelly. Fascinating!
I might add that the wines were pretty spectacular too, including the surprise of the evening, a liqueur made from 72 varieties of tomato which accompanied a tomato and mozzarella dish. Yes, ever so slightly odd, probably one of those bottles which would lurk in the cupboard having sampled it once, but on this occasion, at this moment and in these knowledgeable hands, it was the perfect accompaniment to an extraordinary plate of food.
We talked non stop about it afterwards!
The conversation continued for the remainder of the weekend, throughout the birthday lunch in the garden and on into the evening. It lasted as we worked our way through almost all of the slow roast pork which had been in the oven all morning alongside the olive-oil drizzled summer vegetables. The chatter turned into slight mutterings of protest when the tiramisu and the strawberry pavlova arrived on the table but resistance proved futile and we all succumbed in the end. When a birthday falls on a weekend, when the sun shines and the day is filled with sweet calls and good wishes from family and friends, how special it is to be able to sit back, relax and savour the moment, not to mention whatever appears on a plate in front of you!