Friday, 23rd November 2018/Friday, 25th January 2019 – Weston Hall Supper Club, Weston
Weston Hall is a somewhat crumbling small stately “pile” in the wilds of Northamptonshire (it’s a bugger to find, let me tell you, as it doesn’t seem to show up on any SatNav in any meaningful way – putting the postcode in dumps you in the middle of nowhere with no gate to be seen!) that belongs these days to the food critic William Sitwell. Because it’s a crumbling pile, and because he has a lot of contacts in the restaurant world, in an effort to keep the roof on, and currently to actually install working central heating, these says he throws regular supper clubs, seating around 60 people for a cost in the region of £85 a head including wine, and invites chefs from some of London’s best restaurants to come and cook. There had been over a dozen events by the time we got to hear of it, but we did manage to get in for the November session, where the chefs were Lucy Pedder and Natasha Cooke, owners of Lupins restaurant. They would be cooking a set menu, and wines would be supplied by Red Squirrel.
The instructions say “Drinks are served from 7pm, for seating promptly at 7.30pm and the dinner ends at 10.30pm. The dress code is: smart casual.” We arrived as promptly as we could only to find the door wasn’t open! Everyone was queuing up outside to get in. It turned out this was not normal, and it had happened because the chefs had been caught in traffic, arrived around 18:30 instead of three hours previous to that, and were presumably running round like headless chickens trying to pull things back together in time to feed 60 hungry people!
Eventually we made it indoors and, after a pre-dinner glass of fizz in the library, were seated at a table in the dining room, sharing with a blogger from London and two of his friends, Sitwell himself, his best friend who lives in the Hall at weekends, and a couple of people who pretty much didn’t speak to anyone apart from each other the whole evening. We started off with some very tasty canapes, a cavolo nero and gruyere tart with Romesco each, and smoked cods roe on a squid ink cracker. We drank Frédéric Guilbaud Les Perles de Folie Vin Mousseux with the canapes.
We then moved on to venison faggots, with celeriac and crispy kale. Very nice, very meaty, and the faggots went well with the vegetable choices. With it was an interesting red wine, a Vinteloper “If Life Gives You Lagrein” 2017,“a unique Red Squirrel collaboration from the Adelaide Hills, only made once and only available in the UK. It is created from an unexpected parcel of top-notch Lagrein grapes that the winemaker David had no use for” until the wine merchants stepped in.
Next we got confit salmon, with charred lettuce and an oyster vichyssoise, and I have to say that I no longer think that I don’t like oysters. I used to say I couldn’t see the point of them, but in the last couple of years I’ve had them in several ways that have rendered them interesting. So, dear oysters, I take it all back!
Next up was a glazed chicken dish, with accompanying soft, pillowy gnocchi and braised leek, the whole in a creamy sauce that soaked into the gnocchi and that went well with all of the elements, bringing it together nicely.
The final wine was a generous serving of La Bonne Franquette Blanc 2016, a wine from Gascony, which is always going to get my vote. This one was a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Colombard and Petit Manseng, with a hint of sweetness as you might expect, but not overwhelmingly so. It accompanied the chocolate ganache, sesame and caramel dessert, which I failed to get a photo of. It was an enjoyable evening, though I don’t think the chefs really got to show off their top game, given the lateness and having to play catch up. We decided we would definitely go again, though if it was in winter we’d be making sure we wore thermals. It was very clear why a new heating system was needed; it was positively glacial in the dining room, even with a fire going. When the resident Italian greyhound decided she would like to sit in Lynne’s lap she made a very welcome leg-warmer.
We returned in January for a Burns’ Night Supper, when Boisdale’s Executive Chef, Andy Rose would cook for us. Again we had drinks in the library prior to the start of dinner, this time being seated in a different room, with some interesting people (and one very irritating man who seemed to be unable to speak civilly to anyone including his own partner). Luckily he was on the other side of the table so it was possible to ignore him most of the time, though even at that distance I was mightily tired of the words “When I was in Dubai…” as well as of his dismissive attitude to almost anything anyone else said.
The starter on this occasion was a pair of delightful little bites, a wild venison fritter with pecorino, the strands of grated cheese festooning a small, crisp ball of loveliness, and a tiny but superb portion of crab on toast drizzled with brown crab butter. This was a fine way to start a meal, and went with the second glass of Les Perles de Folie Vin Mousseux very nicely.
Bowmore whisky-cured smoked salmon, which was described as having been cold smooked and infused with a 16 year old single malt whisky for the Isle of Islay. It was a little too cold for the best of the flavour to come through, but then it was a January night in what is not a warm place. It was still pretty good, even if it was chilled. With it we drank a white Laventura Rioja Blanco 2014, Spanish as you would expect but made by a South African, Bryan MacRobert. This was a very floral, citrussy, fruity wine, with just the right amount of dryness. I must admit I nearly went for the 25% off for new customers order offer there and then, but then I thought I might be better checking how much space I have for storage at present.
We were now requested to make our way into the hall, where the haggis would be piped in. After some ceremonial, and some use of alarmingly pointy swords, the piper did his duty, the haggis was whisked back to the kitchen, and we all sat back down to wait for it to appear on plates in front of us.
When it did it was in the guise of a ball of roast Dumfriesshire Blackface haggis, with the traditional bashed neeps and tatties and a deep, rich sauce. It was also with a glass of The Glenrothes ‘Whisky Maker’s Cut’ Single Malt Scotch Whisky. From Speyside, this was a smooth enough whisky to be drinkable without anything more than the slightest splash of water.
These days, to my slight disappointment, the haggis was just a taster portion, where I would quite happily eat a whole plateful of haggis with no hesitation at all. I wasn’t going to complain though, not when the next course was quite as fabulous as what followed. The simple menu description of “roast Scottish fillet of dry aged Buccleuch Beef, with Oxtail pithivier, winter greens and a claret and shallot sauce” does not do justice to just how good it was. It looks very simple, and in fact was very simple, but the beef was melt-in-the-mouth tender and you might possibly have been able to cut it with a spoon. I didn’t try; I was too busy eating it! However the real triumph on the plate was the pithivier, full of a tangle of slow cooked oxtail, and packed full of flavour. With it there was red wine, also from Bryan MacRobert, this one the Laventura Rioja Tinto 2014, a light, silky offering that again went well with the food.
Dessert was cranachan with Scottish shortbread, a wholly appropriate way to end a Burns’ Night supper. It’s an uncomplicated dish, but delicious. What’s not to like between cream, raspberries, shortbread, oats and alcohol? It was rounded off with another Glenrothes Speyside whisky, this one a 12 year old single malt.
Shortly after we pitched out into the night and spent some time trying to find our way back home!