Cold wet September evening…tick….cosy candle lit bistro….tick….Scottish Chef of the year Mr Neil Forbes cooking my dinner….tick….and Mr Innis & Gunn pouring me a beer…..tick.  Anything else?? Urm yes, it’s a school night!!  Zut alors, the Monkfish is out on the town, eating and drinking the finest that Scotland has to offer as part of the Scottish Food Fortnight AND it’s a Tuesday, rock and roll.
Let’s rewind.  A few weeks back in the midst of Summer (commonly known as ‘August’ in Scotland as the term ‘Summer’ is maybe a bit optimistic this side of the Borders) I had the absolute pleasure of accompanying ‘CHEF’ around Edinburgh Farmer’s Market.  We did a bit of shopping, had a bit of a chat with the local suppliers, discussed ‘local’ produce and the concept of ‘slow food’, and as a trooper to the Monkfish cause I made sure I dropped in the odd ‘do you like Monkfish?’ question…

Following the shopping and the banter the Scottish Chef of the Year (who has worked alongside Raymond Blanc and Michel Roux) showed off his culinary talents to the good people of Edinburgh with one pan, an induction hob and a few paper plates to his name.  He did very well!  Producing around 12 dishes in a couple of hours he kept the punters very happy.  Plenty of extremely tasty samples were given out, showing off the best that Edinburgh Farmer’s Market has to offer and Neil’s talent to boot.

Fast-forward a few weeks….and it’s Autumn (almost).  Neil is hosting a Harvest Supper at Café St Honore in conjunction with Innis & Gunn as part of the Scottish Food Fortnight 2011.  The SFF runs from 3rd-18th September celebrating Scottish produce and encouraging us all to think and eat ‘local’.  The Fortnight is run by Sophie Fraser and the Harvest Supper was just one event on offer during the fortnight.

Now let me see, I like Neil (done deal), I like food (urm yes, silly) and I like beer (particularly Innis & Gunn). This was going to be my idea of heaven.  At this point I suppose I should mention Mr Predictable, you’d be upset if I didn’t, no?  Partial to the odd Innis & Gunn he was like a bull at a gate when I asked if he’d like to come along, picture the scene.  The funny thing is bloggers that it only takes two bottles of said amber nectar to get him snoring like a trooper so this was going to be a very interesting evening as a sneaky peak at the menu for the supper indicated that FOUR different Innis & Gunn beers were going to be on offer…god help me later.

Anyway, back to the evening in question.  Arriving early to go and see ‘CHEF’ Mr Predictable accompanied me to the kitchen so we could chat to Neil and take some photos.

For those who have never seen the kitchen at Café St Honore imagine the smallest space possible that 4 grown men could work together without getting ‘over friendly’ and you’re just about there, it’s TINY!  Everything was in full flow when we arrived and Neil talked us through the menu in detail.

Neil was super excited at the prospect of delivering his Harvest Supper menu and the house was full so it was going to be a busy night for the kitchen.  The matching of the Innis & Gunn beers to the menu had been carefully researched and thought through with Dougal Sharp (MR Innis & Gunn!) and several ‘tasting sessions’ had taken place….

Tartare of Peelham Farm organic grass-fed Rose Veal

Innis & Gunn Original 6.6% ABV

West Coast hand dived scallops, Café St Honore home cured bacon
Innis & Gunn Highland Cask 7.1% ABV

Saddle of Borders Roe Deer, Stornoway black pudding and potato cake, hedgerow berry sauce
Innis & Gunn Rum Cask 7.4% ABV

Bramley Apple custard crumble tart, Cuddybridge apple sorbet
Innis & Gunn Winter Beer 2011 7.4% ABV

Artisan Roast coffee and tablet

Before the first course Neil welcomed all to the event then the dining commenced.  I’ve never tasted tartare of anything so I was really excited to try the first dish.  Wow, so refreshing on the palate, the veal was delicious, the balance of flavours just right and needless to say the I&G Original went down nicely.

Good start to the evening.  Dougal Sharp then delighted us with some Innis & Gunn tales and we were on to the fish course. More about Dougal later.  The scallops were cooked to perfection and served with Neil’s own home cured bacon that he makes regularly for the restaurant.   The flavour combination was a classic.  A very good choice of I&G Highland Cask was served with the fish.  This particular beer isn’t available until October so it was a pleasure to be able to ‘taste it here first’.

A swift glance over to Mr Predictable and he was holding his own, phew, the food must be soaking up the nectar…

Main course next.  Saddle of Borders Roe Deer, wow, awesome flavour and so tender.  I loved the black pudding and potato cake, a great concept using Stornoway black pudding of course, nothing but the best.  Curly kale was the accompaniment which is such a lovely cosy veg it was just perfect with this dish.  Question: can a vegetable be cosy?  Well kale can for me!  The hedgerow berry sauce had a sneaky addition of chocolate to it that set it off a treat.  Chef was on form tonight, this was delectable and topped off nicely with a lovely smooth I&G Rum Cask.

So, not much room for dessert….yeah right 😉  After a wee chat from Graham Stoddart – Mr Cuddybridge Apples himself – the pud arrived. Whoop whoop!  A joy.  Served with the I&G Winter Beer it was positively Autumnal, just as a Harvest Supper pud should be.  And the apple sorbet was a delight, fantastic apple flavours coming through.

And that was dinner.  Belts loosened we ordered coffee and had a chat with Dougal and Neil.

The Innis & Gunn story is a heart warming one to me.  Papa Monkfish was the Master Brewer at Ansells Brewery, Aston Cross in the Midlands (which sadly closed in 1981) and he studied brewing at Birmingham University (although he had the option to study in Edinburgh…).  His father was also a brewer. In a past life the Monkfish (that’s me!) worked at Bass Brewery in the Midlands and Sister Monkfish worked for Allied Domecq.  Now then, this may lead you to believe that we like a drink in our family?!  Granted, that is true, but you should remember that brewing is an art form as well as a science and one that Papa Monkfish was extremely passionate about as is Dougal.

I love a good yarn and the Innis & Gunn story is a classic one and it goes a bit like this….. Dougal was head brewer at Caledonian when he was approached by a whisky distiller who wanted to produce an ale-finished whisky.  There began the process of Dougal creating a special recipe and technique to produce a smooth, beery character to the oak barrels that were to be used for the whisky.  Thousands of gallons of beer later (all thrown away) not only were the seasoned barrels created but there was a light bulb moment!  The discarded beer was tasted and it tasted absolutely delicious.  The time it had spent in the special barrels had given it an incredible flavour, Dougal’s life was about to change for the better!  Following a tasting by the brewery tasting panel who awarded it top marks Dougal quit his job at Caledonian to concentrate on his new discovery and there began Innis & Gunn.

The first beer (I&G Original) was launched a year later.  Fast forward 8 years and here we were tonight at Café St Honore having the pleasure of tasting 4 different beers lovingly matched to our food and hearing Dougal’s stories about driving around Canada with a crate of I&G beer in the boot ready to sell to the Canadian beer retailers, brilliant.

So that was my school night on Tuesday.  The BEST FOOD in Scotland cooked by the Scottish Chef of the year, the BEST BEER in Scotland brewed by Mr Innis & Gunn and all enjoyed during the Scottish Food Fortnight 2011, the bees knees.  I awoke the next day bright and breezy and Mr Predictable was a little bit worse for wear…  did I mention he was a lightweight?

This was the first in a planned series of monkfish ‘tails’ brought to you  ‘through the eye of the Monkfish’.  Monkfish Towers will take you ‘back stage’ to where the real action is…..keep it peeled for the next in the series.

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2 responses to “THE CHEF

  1. Pingback: Create:Eat a collaborative dining event in Edinburgh | mymonkfish - Scottish food - Edinburgh restaurants

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