Saturday 26 October 2013

The Bricklayers Arms - 10th Anniversary Dinner

I couldn't get a good picture of the centrepiece
CAMRA, the Campaign for Real Ale, reckon that 26 pubs a week are closing in the UK. I'll be honest with you: as a general principle, I'm not that bothered. Yes, of course it is sad in this economy to see employers going under. Yes, it is sad to see boarded-up buildings on street corners. But I haven't actually noticed that we are under-supplied with pubs and as far as I can tell, the good ones survive.

The Bricklayers Arms, in the wonderfully-named Hogpits Bottom, is by far the best of our local pubs. Despite the fact that I find the drive, through single-lane country roads bounded by high hedges, utterly terrifying, I am always happy for Paul to suggest a lunch at the Bricklayers. They smoke their own fish and meat and everything they serve is just that bit better. It's a little more expensive than some of the other pubs, but the fact that they are full up every day of the week does sort of suggest that it isn't a bad thing to charge a little more and serve better food.
The menu writer has a novel approach to capitalisation and spelling
This month, the Bricklayers has been celebrating its 10th anniversary under the current management. They've had a series of events, but the one that drew my eye was the anniversary dinner - champagne & canapes followed by four courses, with wines, for £49 a head. Bargain.

My camera's limitations with low light were a serious disadvantage, because it meant I couldn't capture the beautiful flickering candles outside, or the chrysanthemum-wreathed silver candelabra centrepieces. It also meant I had to resort to the flash for the food.
As Paul is working down near Croydon at the moment, I made a pretty late booking. Well, pretty late by my stomach's standards. The canapes were very, very welcome. A sauteed mushroom topped with lurid orange carrot puree was a light and unexpectedly delicious combination. The goats cheese balls with onion marmalade and the blini with smoked salmon were predictably good, although the blinis I had for my birthday have spoilt me for anyone else's. My favourite of them was the puff-pastry puff, split and filled with a beautiful chicken liver parfait.
The canapes were substantial enough to tide me over until the starters arrived. I was 95% sure that "Lobster and pear avocado Tian" meant lobster and avocado pear tian, but the 5% doubt that they may have put pieces of pear in with the lobster and avocado put me off ordering it. I was apprehensive about ordering asparagus so far out of season too, but what arrived was so fresh and succulent that I would be prepared to bet that it was Wye Valley Autumn asparagus. The broccoli, ham and hollandaise were all very good, but I thought that tying the stalks into a bundle like that was an old-school affectation too far.
The lobster and avocado fortunately contained no pear. What it did contain was perfectly ripe avocado and generous chunks of tail meat, topped with lobster claw meat. I've almost given up on lobster because it is so often stringy, watery and bland - and of course British crab is so delicious that it is hard to go past - but from the bite I got of this dish, I might have to seek it out again.
Paul felt obliged to order the fish, because the rest of us had beef. He's been on a big fish jag lately anyway, so I didn't feel like sacrificing myself so that he could have the beef. Apparently that dark ring around it was some sort of band of vegetable, sort of holding the halibut fillet together. He liked the dish but felt there were way too many flavours on the plate fighting for dominance. You'll notice the threads of saffron in the sauce - they really were pulling all the stops out with the luxury ingredients.
With the beef, I think I was expecting a little block of foie gras parfait on top. I was certainly not anticipating this gorgeous, quivering slab of luscious livery joy. The piece of foie gras was about the same size as the beef. Utterly luxurious. The gratin dauphinois that came with it was gorgeous and I wouldn't have missed a bite, but probably overkill on the whole rich, fatty thing.
I was less impressed with the creme brulee. The white chocolate and almond "callet" (which, according to the dictionary, is an old Scottish word for prostitute) was having a bit of a hard time with the warm room but the toffee topping was beautifully crisp. My problem was with the custard itself - it had the faint grainy quality that suggests that it was thickened with cornflour that hadn't cooked out properly instead of being made with just eggs. I can see why you'd take the more reliable option when you were making so many, but the texture was a bit disappointing and had no discernable amaretto flavour.

Apparently I didn't take a picture of the cheese course, but you know what cheese looks like. Very nice cheese, with crackers, grapes and celery sticks. I can't say I did it justice, having been busy converting creme brulee, steak and hollandaise into gras on my own foie. Not a bad Thursday night supper.


Angie's Recipes said...

What's the purple sauce served with lobster appetizer? Beet?
The beef looks awesome! Sorry that you didn't enjoy the dessert..I am not sure I would serve creme brulee with a white chocolate callet...and grainy cornstarch custard...that's cheating.

Joanne said...

That's how I feel about restaurants in NY! The good ones stay open and the rest..why waste your money?

grace said...

i'm impressed with the colorful presentations! i'm rarely satisfied by creme brulee, so your disappointment doesn't necessarily surprise me. so many things can go wrong!

mscrankypants said...

Gee, they like tying vegetables into little bundles but I'd give a queen's ransom for some of those goat cheese balls right now.

Alicia Foodycat said...

Angie - I didn't taste the pink puree, but it looks like beetroot to me!

Jo - survival of the fittest!

Grace - my mum's creme brulee is so good I find it hard to go past.

Cranky - those were very tasty!


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