THE DISAPPEARING DINING CLUB
The Disappearing Dining Club. Where do I begin? We had been looking forward to it for such a long time. I had even considered making a countdown caterpillar…but then I remembered that I wasn’t 10 anymore. But the weekend finally arrived and, despite the fact that all of us friends had had our office Christmas parties the night before (OMG, head hurty and still slightly drunk) we were like small children at the train station and raring to go! The journey down way waylaid with gossip from the night before and chattering presumptions of what lay before us – we were excited to say the very least. And when Jeremy messaged, asking us if it was ok to go ahead with the starters, my heckles came up at once, for I didn’t want to miss a thing…He was joking of course, but it’s amazing how irrational one can be when the carpet is ripped from beneath your feet!
It was raining. Heavily. But as we got in the taxi, we breathed a sigh of relief. Of happiness and contentment. We were almost there. And we were in the countryside! Oh what bliss already. It was only to get better. We got a little lost. We saw an owl – our very own Devonshire safari – excellent sighting! And then we arrived. It was dark, very very dark, and in a funny way I am glad we arrived at that time, because the magical view that greeted us in the morning was something quite spectacular!
We were welcomed by Johnny and Alan…and Ralph, the energetic bundle of dog who was somewhat quite endearing! Kate and Jeremy had already arrived and were on the cocktails already. We walked into the warm kitchen, dimly lit, AGA clad and adorned with a branch-Christmas tree that was beautiful indeed. We were handed Kir Royales, which at this stage were welcomed rather than dreaded, as they might have been an hour or two earlier! In Champagne saucers, the mood was set, and late as it was, we hungry bunnies sat down to eat.
Menu for the first night
Walnut, Beetroot and mixed leaf salad with goats cheese
Venison Stew with Baked Potatoes and Brussel Sprouts
Well. As a lover of all things nuts, goats cheese, and as a die hard beetroot fan (can the term ‘die hard’ be used to describe the love of a root vegetable rather than a rock star?..who cares, I like it..) this was my kinda salad. The dressing was made with walnut oil and the nuttiness really reigned through. The flavours were outrageously good and here was the first of the few silences that ensued in our otherwise pretty raucous weekend! The Venison Stew came next. It. Was. Amazing. Venison is a huge favourite of mine anyway, but this was cooked to perfection; such wonderful flavours and so warming on a blustery winter’s night. There was juniper and wine (which wasn’t winey at all, but in a good way) and not one of us didn’t go in for more. The baked potatoes had been cooked differently to how I would usually do it. Johhny had rubbed them in extra Virgin Olive oil and sea salt, and then baked them. As a result, the skins were much darker in colour but still had that deliciously crispy-on the outside-fluffy-on-the-inside (just how a baked potato ought to be) texture. Johnny suggested that, rather than putting butter on our potatoes, we drizzle them with olive oil, and in actual fact, this worked a dream. And then the sprouts. Thank goodness we were all sprout lovers. They were yummy and the perfect accompaniment to our already incredibly spoiling supper. We were full. Yes we were. But there was more to come. The Chocolate Tart. It definitely looked as though it was good enough to be sold in a shop (Johnny, did you really make something so aesthetically perfect?!) The tart base was a thin pastry and the chocolate filling had a dense, almost moussey feel. It was rich and velvety and, being a total chocaholic, it was right up my street! That, paired with a good, full bodied red wine, and we were fully prepped for a good night’s sleep (step away the snorers!!)
As we woke the next day, the sun shone into our bedroom and there before us were two small birds feeding off the table that Alan had set out for them. A bird haven it was. I looked out of the window, and now I understood the view that Jeremy had been talking about. A vast valley, with trees ensconced in its midst. Sheep and overgrowth and a river and in the V on the horizon..the SEA! What more could anyone want? Everything that could be in any view that is wonderful was here! We sat around the kitchen, musing over the night before and drinking freshly ground coffee. We then sat down to a scrumptious breakfast of muesli, and then perfectly runny boiled eggs with toasted sourdough – the ideal breakfast to precede a long and much needed walk!
We finally pulled ourselves together and went for our amble with Jonny and Ralph. It was stunning and fresh and so lovely to be able to breathe clean air. And buzzards everywhere, the bird life really quite diverse. There were ups and downs, and running on the beach and getting wet…the previous determination to swim in the sea IN DECEMBER(!!) had rapidly diminished. The sea was choppy to say the least. But we loved it and finally arrived at the small and proper, Devonshire pub, The Fountainhead. We had all sorts, mussels with chips (great combo), sandwiches and more with, let’s not forget, a good pint o’ cider! Being me, I managed to polish off my food and more, so whilst the others opted for the lazy route home by car, Annabel and I walked back with Alan and Ralph, in order to ‘earn’ our supper..And back to a log fire and scrabble…I won (Well. I didn’t. But I reckon I had the best words!)
Oh supper. Oh supper…how I could have you every day! This was the pièce de résistance. In fact, everything was sensational in this meal, but to me, the starter and main were really the pinnacle of this gastronomic weekend.
Menu for the second night
Duck Confit and Boulangere Potatoes
with Roasted Artichokes and Braised red cabbage
A selection of Cheeses with cheese biscuits
The Ceviche took me back to when I was in Mexico (oh sooo cliché!) but really, it did. The chilli and coriander and lime, which to me are in essence three of the most vibrant flavours to be in your mouth at one time, were the best accompaniment to the sea bream and it was like a party in my mouth, so good. Then the duck. This was utterly gorgeous. The crispy skin was so full of flavour and the jus that went with it added verve to the succulent confit. The red cabbage was a dream and the artichokes full of that hearty, earthy flavour that they harbour. Johnny did warn us that the (f)artichokes would play havoc and indeed they, paired with the red cabbage, did provide some entertainment (that later turned into room confinement) later on! Ach well, at least by saying out loud, the ice was broken and there was no need for embarrassment. Anyway, I digress. Then onto the Baked Alaska. I hadn’t had this since school, where is was a firm favourite among us, and for a second I did wonder if Johnny’s would live up to it. It did. It was great. I had seconds. Standard. It couldn’t be saved after all, so that was my excuse! Then the games began and we all got highly competitive….something to take our minds off the cheese board (as if we needed to eat any more!) It was an epic evening, full of laughter and fun, and food and intense debates….and not understanding how to play games, and acting like the silly fools that we are! But isn’t that what a memorable evening is all about? Coming together with food and merriment – my idea of living the dream.
Breakfast was an awesome explosion of all things English and cooked. And my favourite bit? The sour dough. Johnny had shown us how to make it the night before, and subsequently gave Char the starter, which she shall feed to us! So simple it seemed when he made it, I’m sure we can do it just as well!! But it was just so good! Warm and comforting, the best bread I’ve ever, ever tasted! That with an egg….And then another slice with Johnny’s marmalade…oooooh, I can practically taste it, even now.
It was then time to say goodbye. We were all sad. It had been a wonderful weekend. Johnny and Alan made us feel so welcome, and there was never a minute where we didn’t feel at home. We ate well, we slept well and walked well. We saw beautiful things and we sampled the delights of some culinary genius! All in all, a weekend that may have disappeared, faster that we hoped for, but that will remain dear in our memories forever.