Monday, 19th August 2019 – Sauce Supper Club at House Restaurant, The National Theatre, London
This had been hovering on our radar for some time, after a number of events elsewhere in the country on dates we couldn’t do, but finally we managed to find a date we could do, and we duly booked in along with our friend A. Why were we so excited? Well, we’re keen watchers of MasterChef: The Professionals and at the end of the 2018 version we’d been heard muttering about being happy to eat whatever any of the final three chefs wanted to cook, anywhere, anytime. And now we could, because this event had been set up. That meant we would be fed by 2018 winner Laurence Henry, and finalists Oli Martin and Matthew Ryle. We arrived a bit too early to be let in, so we sidled out to the riverside and drank a glass of Three Choirs sparkling white wine from the Wine Box while we waited for the clock to tick round to 18:30.
We headed back indoors just before the appointed time and were shown to a table in the corner near the kitchen, with a view out over the Thames. A quick consultation with the staff led us to conclude that we’d go with the matching wine flight because if they’d gone to the trouble of figuring out what would go with the food, we could save ourselves the effort and go with the flow. We were consequently handed almost immediately a glass of Schloss Vaux Cuvee Vaux NV Sekt, a lively shade and with a punchy, citrussy fruitiness. It went very well with the amuse bouches that appeared before us. We had a pulled ham hock croquette with a pea puree and some arancini with a mayonnaise blob holding it on the board and providing some extra creaminess. We all three figured we could have happily eaten a bowl full or one or other of them (or even both).
The delicious morsels destroyed, next up was the bread. There was a brief horror-stricken moment when it looked like it was going to be one roll between three of us, but it turned out the waitress had got it wrong and it was one each. To say A was relieved is understating it! What we had was a cheesy, almost scone-like outer crust and a soft, yielding inside that lent itself beautifully to being slathered in butter, especially butter as good as the one we’d been supplied. It melted into the bread and was superb. We were in food heaven before we’d even got started on the first of the six-courses.
The first course, created by Oli, when it arrived, was described as chalk stream trout, buckthorn, elderflower and had a whole series of fresh elements from the sea buckthorn berries to the fish itself, and the creamy, elderflower-inflected creamy topping. It was sharp and refreshing, the fish just the right side of oiliness, which was offset by the berries, and that went very well with the lovely, crunchy crumb scattered across the bottom of the bowl.
The second course, by Laurence Henry, contained one of my favourite ingredients, smoked eel, alongside one of my least favourite ones, chicken, the two combined in a very light terrine. Much as I mostly find chicken dry and dull, this was a triumph, the meat soft, moist and tender, with herbs running through it. It was served with tiny, pickled Scottish girolles, another of my favourite things. It was served alongside a delicate but intensely umami jalapeno miso, which we’d expected to be fierce. It wasn’t; it was warming, but without the ferociously unpleasant heat you can end up with when you use jalapenos. It was accompanied by a rather fine Croatian wine, a Riesling, Bolfan 2017, a biodynamic offering that was probably our favourite of the white wines, and that would have gone very well with the next course as well.
I now have to confess that I was so distracted by how good the food was that I completely failed to take a photo of the first of Matthew Ryke’s dishes, a perfectly executed piece of wild sea bass, with an accompaniment of oysters and apple, a glorious dish that I thoroughly enjoyed. The wine was not as interesting as I expected, given it was a natural wine, and should perhaps have been far more characterful than it was. It was a rather underpowered Rontonio Microcosmico Macabeo, Valdejalon, Spain 2017. Maybe it was just too young. Maybe it was too cold. Whatever the reason, it wasn’t a thrilling wine, which was a shame because it was meant to go with what was a thrilling dish.
We moved from fish to the second of Oli Martin’s dishes, a fabulous Cumbrian lamb dish, with a black garlic puree, and grilled courgettes. The lamb came as a piece of pan-fried or roasted rump, and as a cooked till it was falling apart piece of shoulder that was so tender as to be unbelievably gorgeous in the mouth. I don’t know if it’s the effect of three of them being together that spurs them on to greatness, or not, but this was turning into a seriously good and seriously memorable meal. There was nothing wrong with the red wine either, a biodynamic Rutherford Ranch Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley 2015, that was smooth and plummy and really rather fabulous.
The shoulder was served in a separate bowl, with green beans sliced thinly across the meat. It was amazing.
The desserts started with a pineapple, citrus, basil dish fro Matthew, this a series of thin slices of fruit, with a basil and lime sorbet, basil oil and a gorgeous juice that combined all the flavours and meant I had to drink what was left from the bowl, table manners be damned. I wasn’t sending any back. A reckons she never wants to eat pineapple without basil every again, it was that good. The white port served with it was lovely too and went very well, having that fruit forward note you find in young white ports. If anyone wants to find it, you’re looking for Vieira de Sousa Fine White Port and seems to be available, in the UK at least, at a very sensible price.
The final course was from Laurence, and again was a triumph. It was described very simply as strawberry, clotted cream parfait, pollen, and it was brilliant, packed with strawberry flavours and with a fabulously rich, creamy parfait that coated the inside of your mouth and gummed up your teeth in the best possible way. It was a great finishing touch. The 2014 Chateau Simon Sauternes didn’t hurt either!
We were done, but not before we had quite a long rambling conversation with the representative of Studio William Cutlery. They gave us a spork each, to my considerable amusement, as well a pleasure; it’s a beautiful and practical thing, and a lot of the other cutlery they have is also stunningly attractive as well as clearly useful too. There was a suggestion that you could win a set, and you could certainly buy a set should you have a need. I was particularly taken with the sensory textured spoons as well as the leaf spoons which come in four designs including the gingko leaf version.