Posted: 07 June '12 by Niall and Kelly
If you’ve been living under a rock since 2006 you may not have heard of The Great British Menu – that’s the only possible excuse for not following this fantastic piece of foodie television.
Apart from the amazing dishes, the odd meltdown by an over-heated chef, and the (occasionally) scathing remarks from the judges, what makes the programme so compelling is that you really get to know the chefs – those mysterious, white-clad magicians who toil away behind the swing-doors for you, never seen but sometimes heard.
Chris Bell, head chef at The Galgorm Resort and Spa just outside Ballymena has been competing in the Northern Ireland regional heats for the past couple of years, and when we read that he was re-creating his menu from the TV show, we just had to try it.
Chris Bell’s Great British Menu
We’d been to a few weddings in The Galgorm before, but that didn’t really prepare us for The River Room restaurant. It’s an elegant, classically furnished restaurant and a very pleasant place to dine, particularly at night when the grounds outside are illuminated.
Chris started our evening off with a little amuse bouche of Asparagus with Parmesan Cream – simple, yes, but it had a lovely fresh and zingy quality that had our tastebuds tingling.
The Warm Salad of Rabbit with Rhubarb, Gracehill Black Pudding and Rabbit Tea came next and was simply delicious. The subtle gamey flavour of the rabbit was complemented by the local spicy black pudding – both of which were perfectly offset by the rhubarb spherifications that popped on your tongue, flooding your palate with a lovely fruity tartness. Although I’ve read about the process and seen it used on TV, this was the first time I’d tried these chef-made treats, and I’m now a huge fan. The fun and games didn’t end there though – like something out of The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, the beautiful china tea-pot and cups that had been placed on the table with the salad yielded a consomme of rabbit with more rhubarb spherifications, a nice bit of theatre and a delicious addition to what was my favourite dish in the menu.
Now, if you have been watching The Great British Menu, you’ll know that Chris fell foul of the judges for his Turbot poached in Red Wine with Bourguignon of Snails. A slight tweak was made for the restaurant, and one that I can only imagine the judges would have approved of. Poaching in red wine had been replaced by a lovely, buttery brown pan-fried turbot and a little light red wine jus – much more to my tastes too. I’ll admit, I was also dubious about the addition of the snails, but the garlic-infused escargo brought a whole steak-like element to the dish – a nice twist on Surf and Turf.
As soon as the waiter brought the Roast Lissara Duck with Bakewell Garnish I knew this was going to be Kelly’s favourite. The thick slices of duck were wonderfully pink and rich, the foie gras was creamy and decadent and the duck hearts were meaty and intense. The miniature Bakewell tart was a nice touch too – the almond pastry was stuffed with confit of duck and a cherry reduction – a bit of fun, maybe, but it also added new texture and flavour profiles to the dish. As good as the duck was – in all its forms – those spherifications almost stole the show again, delivering a jammy sweetness and a classic foil to the robust flavour of the duck.
Kelly and I have very different demands when it comes to desserts – it usually takes something very special to tempt me at all – but the Jasmine, Apricots and Pistachio ticked all the boxes for both of us. The jasmine pannacotta was delicate flavoured and satisfyingly creamy which, together with the ultra-sweet apricots, the nutty pistachio cake and a sticky, sweet pistachio crumble, made each mouthful one of incredibly contrasting textures and Eastern flavours.
|Great British Menu|
|Warm salad of rabbit, Gracehill black pudding and rabbit tea|
|Turbot pan-fried with red wine jus, bourguignon of snails and olive oil potatoes|
|Roast Lissara duck with Bakewell garnish|
|Jasmine, apricots and pistachio|
|Coffe and petit fours|
The River Room at The Galgorm is a very elegant restaurant, which has managed to avoid being stuffy or pretentious while still being a class act.
That’s due, in part, to the staff. The service really was second to none – polite, professional and attentive, but delivered with a light touch.
The quality of Chris Bell’s kitchen, though, is what it’s all about. His Great British Menu was full of intelligent cooking, well-chosen flavour and texture combinations, modern techniques and clever twists – from beginning to end, it was a joy to eat, a real dining experience.
And, if he’d been there, I think even Matthew Fort would’ve agreed!
Categories: Restaurant Reviews