After learning valuable lessons from our gluttonous escapades at New Year’s, we were more moderated, if no less full, when it came to Love Day (our name for Valentine’s Day, as it’s our anniversary too). The creation of a three-course menu courtesy of Jason Atherton (Berner’s Tavern Jason Atherton) via Lake District Famers was the centrepiece of a weekend of LOVEly activities, namely origami, building Lego Roses and sculpting clay gnomes.
When the kit arrived (the day before, though it could be refrigerated for two days before using), it was suddenly quite unnerving to see the volume of ingredients, individually apportioned in tubs and ramekins, not-so-subtly hinting that there was going to be some serious schlep in putting this all together. Nevertheless, day of, we cracked open a bottle of bubbly and got to work. There was a sheet of thorough instructions, and a sheet which numbered and organised each sealed ingredient. This greatly appeared to the Lego kid side of me.
The menu was a very British affair of Orkney scallops with roe butter risotto, followed by beef filet, ox cheek, horseradish mash and veg, concluding with bitter chocolate and hazelnut delice with blood organ cream and marmalade. There was also a generous loaf of Hedone sourdough and petit fours. Thankfully, creating this masterpiece only required patches of what I would deem as cookery ‘from scratch’. Ingredients such as the risotto and the mash just needed finishing off, whereas the scallops and the beef were scarily raw. The instructions held our hands tightly, clearly inferring timings and intervals to allow us to bring each course together at the right time.
The experience was just as satisfying as seeing or completed sushi weeks before. I got a huge rush out of synchronous moments such as turning around with my finished risotto to find The European serving up the scallops or carving the rested beef, discovering it to be perfectly medium rare, as my better half plates up the mash while finishing off greens in a pan with butter and chilli. Two pairs of hands were most certainly needed – there was a lot to do – but it was all surprisingly manageable and a lovely thing to do as a couple.
If we ate with our eyes closed, we could have most certainly been at one of Atherton’s restaurants (we fell down a little with presentation and having a mad cat charging around). The risotto was perfectly cooked and tinged with both sea and citrus. The European – admittedly, my personal barometer for what is a good risotto or not – deemed it excellent. As she ate the filet, her eyes rolled.
“Best steak I have had in a long time”.
It was, indeed. The meat – despite being cooked by a guy who was removed from the broiler section at T.G.I. Fridays in Guildford for destroying cut after cut of meat – was tender, juicy, and clearly from an exceptionally fine cow. The ox cheeks melted in our mouths. The sauce was deep, luscious, and rich. The mash accented this silky plate of goodness, and contrasted expertly with crunchy, green veg.
We were full – maybe, again, overfull – as we finished our mains, but this was probably down to us not being able to manage huge chunks of red meat like we once could, rather than over-ordering. We relaxed in front of the telly with Maker’s Mark and A’Bunadh. The dessert did not need much work – just ten minutes’ resting at room temperature and some whipping of the cream – and we ate that an hour later with the petits fours.
An unexpected success then, and all the better for feeling like we worked for our meal. The issues were mostly mere flecks, but one which stood out was the mountain of plastic involved in storing and shipping the meal. It would also be hard to ignore the sheer volume of washing up. There were some cooking terms in the instructions which could be perceived as a little ambiguous, but nothing that a little swift Googling would not sort out. It certainly helped us that we have a decent amount of cooking skill between us, but I guess if someone didn’t, they probably wouldn’t be doing this for Valentine’s Day. Finally, The European did find the sourdough a little too sour. Not knowing where to start with responding to this, and it being the season of love, I swallowed my pride and replied, “yes, I suppose it is”.