Tuesday, 27th March 2018 – Elsie’s Cafe, The Lane Restaurant, Northampton
I’ve been following Elsie’s Cafe for a while now on social media. Elsie’s Cafe was started as part of a response to The Real Junk Food Project, which led to a group of people who had set up Fruitful Abundance in Northamptonshire to decide to take the concept and run with it. Their aim is “to stop food waste” and so they have opened a number of outlets in and around the county town. The cafe now opens “six days of the week, serving delicious snacks and meals made with edible food intercepted from going to food waste”, most often using food donated from supermarkets. In addition they have a stall where the excess edible food that they have rescued but cannot use in the cafe can be bought for what you want to pay, and they run pop-ups, such as the event we went to.
The “Binner” was advertised well in advance, and with tickets priced at £15 a head for a three course dinner cooked by local chefs it seemed to good an opportunity to miss to support a good cause. We duly arrived on time at The Lane , which is part of Northampton College, and trains students to work in the hospitality sector. We’ve been there before and had some excellent meals cooked and served by the students, but this would be slightly different with three professional chefs running the service, helped out by the students, and volunteers from the cafe working with the students front of house.
The room was nicely set out, and lit, with tables of 10 ranged across the room, and a tombola set to one side with a multitude of prizes at £1 for three goes. I won a box of M&S chocolate truffles and was more than happy that it took me several attempts to hit a winning ticket, knowing the money was going to a good cause. I was pleased also to find myself sitting next to one of the cooks, Barbara, who volunteers at the project because it gave me a chance to ask lots of questions about how it all works.
Anyway, to the food. I was interested to see what we would be served, as the menu would be dictated by what was available in donated supplies. I would say that it was all a success, though with varying levels of sophistication. The stand out for me was the starter. This was created by Arthur Dzerins, one of the chefs at The Hopping Hare, somewhere we’ve not been yet (but will now), who came up with a fabulous chicken dish. This was a very lovely chicken press (breast of chicken pressed into a solid shape and cut into neat little blocks), with a curried onion puree, burnt cauliflower and pickled carrots. The carrots really made the dish, with a sharp, clean pickle flavour that cut through the richness of the puree and the chicken to just the right level. It was very well executed and very, very tasty.
Next up was a main of beef, cooked by one of the chefs from Burnt Lemon Catering. Again, it was a beautifully executed dish, this time pairing beef (served nicely pink), with horseradish, sauteed greens, and a lovely root vegetable dauphinoise. The only criticism I can make is that the horseradish was a little too mild for my liking, but I can see why you wouldn’t make it too fierce when catering for 80 people.
Personally, there were elements of the dessert that I didn’t find as successful, though I could have happily eaten a bucket of the mango and ginger ice cream, which was rich, warming from the ginger and shot through with turmeric to give it both an intense yellow colour and a beneficial effect on any arthritis sufferers. What’s not to like, especially when it’s served with slices of mango too? This was all produced by The Loving Chef, TLC for your Soul though I have to say I didn’t find the tofu tiramisu especially interesting (I’m not really a fan of tiramisu anyway), and the raw cacao and blueberry torte seemed like more of a block of flapjack like material than a torte, but as I say, for me the ice cream was an absolute triumph.
And so we finished of the #Binquet with coffee (not for me at that time of night) and chocolates and petit fours.
The team came out for a well deserved round of applause, the collection buckets were rattled once more, and we eventually finished off our wine (sold at very low prices, the college wine list is a very sensible thing and is clearly not meant to make a massive profit, which is nice). The company was good (fellow foodies are always fun) and the food and wine were good too. We’ll certainly go again and I must pop over to Northampton and try the cafe some time soon.