Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Ember Yard - a set menu done right

Just the words "set menu" are enough to send chills up my spine. Too many meals where normally good restaurants send out lukewarm tomato soup or over-chilled pâté followed by woolly salmon or woody chicken, I suppose. But on Saturday we celebrated a friend's Big Birthday with a dinner at Ember Yard, which was so good I may have to change my mind about set menus. Or whinge twice as loud the next time I have one that doesn't match up...

I was having a lovely time, so I didn't get pictures of everything and the pictures I did get are not my finest work. And I didn't manage to taste everything; there was just so much!
I didn't get any pictures of the starters, I was too busy eating them. The grilled flatbread with honey, thyme and smoked butter was so warm and comfortingly pillowy I was tempted to curl up on it for a nap. Our lovely waitress informed me that the bread is baked daily for them, and then they grill and top it for each order. My lovely husband informed me that I need to up my flatbread game to compete.

The seafood and vegetable tapas came out next. As a person who sees little point in kohlrabi I was impressed by how delicious it was in the tomato salad.
Smoke flavours were quite prominent through the meal - so it's a good thing I like smoked food. The apple-smoked bream carpaccio had a lovely, delicate sweet-smoked flavour and slightly chewy texture. I can see shavings of bottarga in the picture, but I couldn't identify it as a flavour at the time.
 The arancini were apparently made of smoked ricotta, but the main flavour was the sweet piquillo pepper. They had the perfect soft but not mushy texture in the middle, surrounded by the crisp shell. My palate may have been dulled by too much (very good, no idea what it was) white wine, because I also couldn't taste any fennel in the aioli on top.
I adore a stuffed and fried courgette flower, and these were particularly good. Paul was less delighted with them because of the drizzle of honey, which he thinks doesn't go with cheese. He is wrong, it does, so remind me not to waste any of my precious jar of truffle honey on him.
This buttermilk fried squid with squid ink alioli was the best fried squid I have had in ages. Years probably. It set Paul reminiscing about the deeply crisp fried squid legs we used to get at Toriciya in Sydney, which have always been our benchmark. I don't know what the difference between aioli, as served with the arancini, and alioli, as here, is, but this was a beautifully black, salty, garlicky sauce.
The next wave of dishes were the meaty ones. Quite clever really; there was enough of the starters and cheaper bits for everyone to fill up on, and then slightly smaller portions of the more expensive meat dishes. At the same time it never felt remotely mean or stingy: there was plenty to go around, particularly since the birthday girl doesn't eat pork. I loved the ibérico pork fat chips - I didn't notice any chorizo ketchup (which sounds like an amazing idea and I must figure out how to make some) but they were topped with what amounted to crushed pork scratchings. Divine.
It's pretty common for some cuts of Ibérico pork to be served a bit pink, and it was the perfect treatment for the grilled presa (a cut from the shoulder at the head of the loin). The whipped jamón butter was divine with it - I couldn't help thinking how good it would be on toast, but better not think about how calorific it is.
Chargrilled beef underblade with cauliflower purée was similarly pink, delicious, and calorific. I can see dollops of jamón vinaigrette across the dish, but I don't remember tasting them. I think I'll have to go back and try it again.
The desserts came out in yet smaller portions, but again there was plenty to go around. If you were one of those people who likes their own plate of food you might have been a bit thrown, but generally it worked well with people passing the dishes around for a taste.
The strawberry sorbet that came with the lemon and buttermilk cake was absolutely sublime, but I didn't taste the cake itself. I had definitely passed the point where I could manage cake.
I loved the white chocolate mousse with pickled nectarines, but completely failed to get a picture of it, while somehow managing to record 16 minutes of video of the inside of my handbag. The chocolate and turrón cake was also a bit cake-y for me at that stage of the evening. Very chocolatey, with a texture similar to a good brownie.
My favourite dessert of the evening was the muscovado panna cotta with thyme shortbread and milk sorbet. A thinnish layer of the caramelly, brown sugar panna cotta, topped with just the right amount of crumbled shortbread and a beautifully light sorbet. The perfect way to end an extremely good meal, and definitely one to try to replicate myself.

There was, apparently, birthday cake to follow, but we had to scuttle for the last train home. And with the best will in the world I don't think I could have fit in another bite.

ETA I found out today that the head chef at Ember Yard is called Jacques Fourie. He is no relation, unto the third generation, so this is honestly as unbiased as a lot of lovely alcohol can make me.

6 comments:

Kavey said...

Looks rather marvellous and yes, honey totally rocks on cheese! :-)

Suelle said...

That looks a fantastic meal, but I don't like the idea of passing desserts around much. I'd want to make everyone choose one!

Pam said...

Nice, looks good!

The Cat's Mother said...

what a great meal. Good way to celebrate a birthday.

Alicia Foodycat said...

Kavey - it does! Fried goats cheese drizzled with honey is heaven!

Suelle - there weren't enough for one each even if you did make a decision. I think it probably worked out as 1 between 2, so you'd still have to share!

Pam - it was!

Mother - the surprise worked so well! Penny didn't have a clue.

grace said...

to me, for some reason, nothing makes a dish look more pretty and elegant than a sprinkle of pomegranate arils. :)

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