Saturday, 29 October 2011
Great Start to the Festival
A large crowd was growing outside Newport’s Market Hall as we arrived and, smack on 7pm the doors opened and we streamed in.
A welcome glass of champagne or a soft drink was happily consumed as we studied the seating plan, noting that we were on Table 3. This turned out to be the Top Table and I had the pleasure of sitting next to the Mayor of Newport Margaret Cornelius.
The upstairs area of the Hall had been transformed into a dining area and decorated with the trademark Forks, some at ground level and others hanging from the ceiling.
Each table had three bottles of wine for 10 people and we were advised that soft drinks or coffee were available for people who did not want alcohol or wished to limit their consumption. In the meantime a refill of champagne was dispensed.
After a brief welcome during which it was stressed that the waiting staff had never done this before and that they were all unemployed. Two weeks of training had given them a skill which would hopefully convert into a job.
Then the starters arrived, cooked by the Bell at Caerleon.
Janet’s Grilled Flat Mushroom with Melted Perl Las cheese and a Walnut and Raspberry Salad was epic. A moist plump mushroom set off by the slight acidity of the cheese and with warm, crunchy but yielding walnuts and a sweet/sour raspberry coulis.
I had opted for the Scotch Egg in a cider infused crust and accompanied by a shot of Hallets Real Cider. The egg was simply the best I have ever had. A tasty sausage meat and an egg cooked to perfection, the yolk thick warm and runny – considering they had to produce around 60 of these to get them cooked to perfection was a triumph. Crispy bruschetta came with the egg and a salad with chef’s salad crème. Or at least it should. I didn’t actually get any crème and the salads were inconsistent, mine was 100% frisee, whilst the Mayor had 100% radicchio. That minor quibble did not, however, detract from this being one of the best starters that I have ever had and by far and away the best egg.
The Waterloo Hotel provided the main courses.
Janet had the Venison Wellington with a whinberry and port wine jus, celeriac and potato dauphinoise and honey carrots. Tender venison with a good pastry surround, a rich sauce and great vegetables made this a strong dish. The potato and celeriac dauphinoise was smooth creamy and unctuous whilst the honey glazed carrot delivered a big burst of warm earthy goodness.
Baked Gower Cod, with Laver Bread and a mussel, clam and vegetable Cawl was a description which did not do justice to the actual dish. A large pave of perfectly cooked Cod sat in a delicate light veloute with baby cockles in their shells and a couple of mussels removed from theirs and Laver Bread cooked into a crisp thin shard. Again the Cod was well up with the best ever, the flesh firm and dazzlingly white, the sauce creamy and the shell fish tender and toothsome. If there is a criticism it was the description of the dish as a Cawl. For a number on the table this had indicated a thin soup with lots of vegetables and a few bit of cod in the style of a traditional Lamb Cawl. The jealousy factor as they saw my dish went off the scale!!
Finally Gemelli produced their desserts. I can only comment on the one as both Janet and I had opted for it.
Specially created for the meal layers of delicate sponge soaked in Limoncello and with the lightest of Chantilly creams and a Limoncello top were surmounted by a stunning chocolate crown. To the side sat a wonderful Pannacotta and a small wild berry compote protected buy an art deco chocolate cage. Light delicate and packed full of taste this little gem provided a perfect finale to the meal. Gemelli is certainly a destination for me in the near future.
Three local restaurants showing what they did and did very well set the Food Festival off to a great start and possibly best of all some of the waiting staff had already found employment as a result of their training whilst others had obtained further training opportunities.
A great success.
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