A couple of times recently I have mentioned The Crown, a pub we've taken to. Well one of the good bits about telling your friends about a place is that when they go, they chat to the management and the next thing you find yourself booked for promising-sounding rosé wine dinners.
We fronted up (slightly after the appointed time because traffic was a nightmare) to be told that everyone was "Out the back at the barbecue". Which sounded very promising. Seven other people were indeed out the back at the barbecue, well down their first glasses of champagne and surrounded by the debris of the first platter of canapes.
Rosie, the Innkeeper, quickly provided us with glasses of lovely André Roger Brut Rosé NV and topped up everyone else's glass. There was a lot of glass topping up over the course of the evening.
To go with the champagne were lovely little slices of ficelle, topped with grilled goats cheese with lavender and thyme oil. I may have to take back all the rude things I have said about lavender in food - the flavour was distinct but extremely pleasant. It was just what you would imagine a summer in Provence would taste like. There were also slices of cucumber topped with a smooth smoked mackerel pate, which was just lovely.
The chef, Mark Bristow, came out to have a chat about how he'd made the lavender and thyme oil, and to start cooking the fish skewers that we had as a first course. Which was pretty much our cue to move indoors.
We were all seated at a communal table, which was very nice. It just felt like a dinner party with people you don't know well. Although it turns out that the person sitting opposite me has read Foodycat (which made me blush profusely), so a big shout out to Fiona.
The fish skewers were OK - very moist but slightly overdone, so they collapsed a bit - but the sauce they were served with was amazing. A rich, slowly-cooked tomato and onion mixture, I would have happily had a plate of that with some pasta and left it at that.
The wines for this course were very pretty. I mean yes, of course they tasted good, but who really cares when faced with such lovely and different shades of pink? The one on the left was Les Olivades Rosé, Vin de Pays de la Méditerranée 2008, the one on the right was Château Unang Rosé, Cotes de Ventoux 2008.
Andrew, the wine rep, was very good value. He had clearly done the spiel more than once, but still managed to make it seamless and friendly. He ran us through glass- swirling and air-sucking and then left the poncery alone. I was having far too good a time to really pay much attention to the finer points of flavour and aroma, but I preferred the Les Olivades both with and without food.
The main course was a fabulous barbecued shoulder of lamb stuffed with tapenade, a fresh salad of red and gold tomatoes and some lovely little potatoes baked with peppers, garlic and rosemary. It was delicious. The lamb was just melt in the mouth, the tapenade wasn't too salty and there was a delicate flavour of cinnamon. There were too many potatoes and not enough peppers, but that would be my only quibble.
With the lamb we had Saint Andre de Figuiere Magali Rosé, Cotes de Provence 2007 (a magnum, which always looks fab) and Beaujolais Vieilles Vignes, Domain Boulon 2007. The rationale behind the Beaujolais was to show what other young, drink-now wines can be like. I didn't think either wine was a knock-out, but they were both pleasant enough and very well-matched to the food.
The cheese course was a nice Waterloo, with slices of barbecued peach, oatcakes and a Morgon. I like oatcakes, and the nutty flavour was good, but I think I would have preferred a thinner, crisper biscuit at this point in the meal. The Morgon is a more grown-up Beaujolais, with richer and more rounded flavours.
For dessert we had this beautiful creation. Not a cappucino - a rich, dark, bitter chocolate pot topped with smooth, unsweetened cream. Absolutely gorgeous. There was a slight roughness to the chocolate and my suspicion is that it was cocoa nibs. It certainly wasn't chopped nuts, which was my first guess, because the anaphylactic guest survived the experience. The shortbread was a revelation - not the slightest bit greasy but divinely buttery and perfectly short. The dessert wine was a Maury Mas Amiel 2005. I thought the wine worked very well - it had a bit of dryness but it was still sweeter than the bitter chocolate, so they supported each other nicely. It was a very nice way to finish a lovely evening. The hangover was thoroughly worth it.