CASA’s Maria Broadbent looks at how the concept of sharing food has become more and more popular and has been adopted by some top end restaurants which she recently visited and reviewed
CASA started its journey as a café on St John’s Street, opening Monday through till Saturday during the day. We sold brunch, morning coffee with cakes, light lunches, tea and scones. As the business established, dinner service was introduced – the first few weeks was just tumbleweed blowing by. Our mix and match dishes along with the strong Mediterranean influence encouraged the route to tapas and meze. In the eight years of trading the concept of sharing is one most customers are now familiar with – this was, definitely, not the case in those first few years.
This concept of sharing is one now being embraced by all manner of restaurants. See my reviews for two other sharing experiences in the past month, locally at Pea Porridge and at The Londoner – the world’s first 5* boutique resort hotel smack bang in Leicester Square. Sharing is such a wonderful way to not only try new dishes but it fulfils the other aim of dining, which is the sociability of the event.
Occasionally, feedback is received saying that some of our dishes are not authentically Spanish – this is because not all of them are. Dishes are from Greece, Iran, Morocco, the Maghreb and Brazil to name but a few. I have always imported as many of the ingredients as possible to ensure authenticity. When we launch our new autumn menu we will continue with the dishes we are known for: Belly Pork, Feta and Pomegranate Salad, Halloumi, Chorizo in Red Wine, Falafel, etc. However, we will be sourcing, wherever possible, an equally good or superior product closer to home.
Chorizo will be coming from Dingley Dell Farm near Woodbridge in Suffolk, and we visited this farm on Tuesday this week having met the family at the Speciality and Fine Food Show at Olympia at the beginning of this month. Excellent animal welfare alongside stringent processes for ensuring top quality produce in Suffolk makes them the perfect example of what we are aiming for.
At our bar, where you are welcome to just pop in for a drink, you will find our Negronis being made with a fabulous Scottish rather than Italian vermouth. Our coffee also comes from a local roaster – for coffees or Espresso Martinis, which incidentally are a great brunch cocktail or try them as part of our new cocktail trees! We also offer a selection of gins from Suffolk, Cambridge and Norfolk – the latter being the now infamous Bullards which Red Bull are attempting to sue for using the word ‘Bull’!
So a family-owned business that started selling alcohol two centuries ago is apparently a threat to an internationally known energy drink. Really? Anyway I can categorically reassure those of you that like gin that Bullards’ range of gin, which includes the wonderful Coastal Gin with aromatics including sea fennel and samphire, is a far preferable beverage to that sweet Austrian fizzy stuff. Which, along with all other energy drinks is banned in this building as it creates a high and then a rapid low as your body counteracts the sugar and caffeine. What a load of old Bull!
Pea Porridge, Bury St Edmunds
This was our first visit since they had been awarded a Michelin star. We arrived and were seated in the ante-room at the rear with the original oven from the bakery and all the baker’s peels hanging from the ceiling, which makes a great conversation starter.
The current menu is strongly influenced with North African and Middle Eastern flavours, which work very well with Justin’s penchant for game. The main we selected was a lamb tagine with an aromatic tabbouleh (bulghur wheat and herbs) and charred apricots. The lamb had been marinated for two days, meaning the subtlety of the herbs and spices were powerful enough to come through this robust dish. The freshness of the tabbouleh provided the perfect counterbalance to the rich sauce.
Our choice of main influenced our starters in that we decided to share. We chose Grizzly quail, Grizzly is the name of Pea Porridge’s oven that has replaced the erstwhile Bertha. The sweetness of the Membrillo (a Spanish quince paste) balanced the saltiness ans very savoury aubergine accompaniment. I wished I had saved some of the complementary flatbread to scoop up all the flavours.
Jurga was excellent in her wine advice and once we had told her what we were eating and we wanted a glass of white followed by a bottle of red – she selected perfectly. The red was a South African blended wine which wasn’t too heavy as that would have weighed the tagine down, but had enough flavour to provide a match.
Dessert again beat me, however Andy always has room for dessert and chose Basque cheesecake with saffron poached pears. The flavours continued the feel of Southern Spain and North Africa, which brought the meal to a delicious finale.
Whitcomb’s at The Londoner
We visited here for its inaugural lunch as it had advertised a soft launch when we happened to be in London at a trade show. We arrived an hour early and popped in to drop off our bags before heading back into the bustle of Leicester Square. We were, instead, offered a pre-opening, personal guided tour, which we did not hesitate to accept. From the two full-size Odeon screens (part of the planning permission specs), 1,000 guest ballroom, yet to open rooftop Japanese restaurant and the whisky room with bottles costing up to £30,000 for guests to purchase through to the elegantly hand-painted games room for residents only – this place is phenomenal! Ten storeys above ground and six below – below ground is the aforementioned cinemas and ballroom, plus a tavern, a fully-equipped gym and full spa with a fabulous pool.
During the tour we met and were introduced to executive chef Shilesh Deshmukh, who I quizzed on what we should choose. He said all of it! I made the point that sadly I couldn’t do that at one sitting. He protested that asking a chef to choose a favourite dish was the same as asking a parent to select a favourite child. Having suggested to him that although you love all your children and all your culinary creations equally, it is still possible to express a preference on any given day – he acquiesced and recommended the Dover Sole.
Once we returned to the main bar area, aptly named The Stage, we were seated on deep plush velvet chairs with the caveat that we may not want to get up to move to the dining room. We sampled a couple of cocktails from a list that pays tribute to the London traditions of tea and Champagne. I chose a Martini which arrived complete with a spoon for the gold jelly at the base and Andy’s Manhatten had an ice cube worthy of sinking the Titanic.
We moved through to lunch in Whitcomb’s – the light and contemporary restaurant that is open to non-residents. The style of food is contemporary French with Mediterranean influences. The menu was set out as starters, pasta course, mains and desserts – the surprise was that the concept was sharing. It was the first time I had come across this in a formal restaurant setting, and it worked beautifully.
We chose a cheese tart with a blue cheese foam, garlic king prawns and a plate of bread. We followed this with an exquisite black truffle and mushroom risotto. We ended, of course, with the Dover Sole cooked to perfection and served with a take on a chip and green beans. All of this was washed down with an excellent Russian River Chardonnay.
Sadly, no room for dessert. . . so we will have to go back!
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We are closed from September 26 to October 4, we will be fine-tuning our new dishes in the early part of the week when we reopen on the 5th. We will launch the full new menu at the weekend (Friday and Saturday, October 8-9). To receive an invitation to test the new menu items at a discount, you will need to be on our VIP list. You can subscribe by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Maria Broadbent is owner of Mediterranean restaurant CASA in Risbygate Street, Bury St Edmunds
Tel 01284 701313