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Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Spice Time at Corrigans Mayfair

Richard Corrigan has long been one of my favourite chefs, his commitment to really good ingredients, treated well and served simply - but with class  - rings several of my bells.

Corrigan’s Mayfair – in the Grosvenor House Hotel – serves modern food based upon the principles outlined above. From Time to time the restaurant runs a special event, in addition to the usual menu, this time it was based around spice.

A few old favourites from the kitchen were combined with dishes from Atul Kochar – Michelin starred owner of Benares and an accompanying drinks selection to produce the Spice menu.

This was to be served in the Bar for just two weeks and would be highlighted by demonstrations from Atul and my old friend Arun Kapil of Green Saffron. Did I have to go? That is like asking questions about ursine, sylvan personal hygiene.

So onto the train, and off to that London place.

I had missed Atul’s demonstration but wanted to see Arun’s latest creations so I booked lunch, the demo would be at 6 but having dinner would mean a very late return to Wales.

Settled on a barstool I ordered a Manzanilla Sherry whilst perusing the menu, as I intended to have bias toward seafood the slight saltiness of the Manzanilla as opposed to a Fino would be complimentary.

The menu is served tapas style and Richard Corrigan is famed for his generosity of portion so initially I intended to try three dishes, but secretly hoped that I could manage more!

The menu varied slightly from the online version but did not diminish the potential for enjoyment.

Whilst waiting for my first dish I sampled the breads, tasty little rolls and brilliant wheaten bread.

Thus set up it was time for the first dish.

 Crab meat with a citrus salad combined segmented orange with thinly sliced blood orange, black cardamom and Rosewater. Rosewater and crab may not seem the most obvious flavour pairing but believe me this works!

Next up Lord Lurgan's Broth. This is based on an old recipe for Mulligatawny found in an antique book passed to Richard when he took over the premises. With a slight modern update this was a soup that really delivered. The oyster of a chicken was combined with Bhuna spices, coriander and a little basmati rice in a clear, clean consommé. The broth was of sparkling clarity and the tender shreds of chicken melted in the mouth.

My third dish was the Spiced Roast Lobster. Combined with a rich bisque, made from the shell not used in the presentation, three generous pieces of lobster, tail, claw and body made for a memorable taste sensation. Roasting in the shell made for some fun teasing the succulent morsels out but a thoughtfully provided finger bowl meant that every last shred could be extracted as my photo shows.

At this point I decided that Yes, I could manage another couple of dishes and the odyssey continued.

Potato Cakes combined light mashed potato with finely chopped herbs and came served on spiced chickpeas and with a tamarind chutney accompaniment. Each component delivered great taste and when combined opened up whole new horizons.

Finally I opted for the Prawns served with an almost satay sauce, but lighter and more subtle than any satay that I have ever had. So good that I forgot to take a photo until I had finished.

Though the dessert dishes looked inviting and were getting praise from fellow diners, a quick cleansing and invigorating espresso completed the meal, and I went for a walk to aid digestion and to think about the demo yet to come.

Returning to the restaurant I enjoyed another coffee whilst the group of tasters assembled.

Richard joined us, explained the concept of the special menus and demonstrations and introduced Arun, who not only supplies special spice blends to him but worked with Richard on the Channel 4 series Cookery School providing recipes for the semi-finalists to cook.

I have seen many chef demos and usually they are held in fair size rooms with a seated audience. This would be different. “We’ll go through to the kitchen and do the demo at the pass” said Richard and we all headed into the busy early evening kitchen.

As we assembled on the restaurant side of the pass, just in front of the Chef’s Table, head chef Chris McGowan – who had worked with Arun in developing the dishes which would go onto the restaurant menu – joined Arun.

Starting with an explanation of spicing and Arun’s philosophy of using only the freshest spices and using them as seasoning to bring out the ingredients, taking in examination of fresh spices such as Cubeb Pepper and really fresh Mace – it should be pink not brown – we got to grips with spicing.

One of Arun’s dishes was Crisp Spiced Grey Mullet with a Muhammara Red Pepper Relish. Crisp Panko crumbs are mixed with Shallots, soft and hard herbs Parmesan and Green Saffron’ s 1-2-1 Fish Spice Blend. This blend is probably one of Arun’s most complex, involving some 42! Spices. It’s the balance of base and high notes, light and dark aromats and astringents that give the blends the capacity to develop in your mouth giving different palate experiences as you eat. The Muhammara paste, easily blended in a food processor makes a great accompaniment and the finely diced Swiss Chard is a base for the fish.

“Let’s all move into the kitchen to see the dishes cooked, but it will be hot there so a cooling chilled champagne should help” Richard announced and the entire party moved in and huddled around one of the flattops whilst Arun cooked off the Mullet and Chris did the Roast Lobster that I had enjoyed previously. How many other chefs would open their kitchen to 15 or so demo attendees during service? Not many but it made the experience for many most of whom had never set foot in a working professional kitchen before, and certainly not one of this calibre.

Once the dishes had been cooked we retired back to the restaurant for questions and thanks and then those who had yet to try the menu took their seats whilst I headed for the station, but not before being given a selection of Green Saffron Spices and the recipes.

The use of the kitchen for the demo really set this apart from other demos and tastings that I have attended, Richard Corrigan will be doing other specialist menus and demos on a regular basis and I for one will be there for them.

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