Last night I ran my first food night in my new home of Woodbridge.
I happened to have moved in between a restaurant and a pub and managed to get chatting to the person who ran them both, Vernon, courtesy of an introduction by my next-door neighbours. I have been running a successful bread-for-eggs barter scheme with these neighbours for the last few months (they keep chickens).
Following a few runs with Vernon (and the neighbour) we hatched a plan (no pun intended, I promise) to run a Turkish/Levant inspired night at The Table restaurant. I would devise the menu and he would put on the staff and run the bookings.
And so we did. That style of food has always been one of my favourites and it was really exciting and inspiring to work on some mainstays and to innovate some new ideas for a large crowd. I’m particularly proud of the spinach, pine nut and feta kibbeh that I developed from scratch for the night. Crunchy bulgur around spinach and pine nuts with a hint of cinnamon and sumac and a centre of gooey feta. Centrepieces were slow-braised spiced shoulders of Suffolk lamb and anise-braised squid. There were breads, flatbreads, yoghurt, dips, pickles and vegetables throughout.
A quick forage on the Saturday before, by Woodbridge’s River Deben, yielded a new-to-me sea vegetable, arrow grass, to dress the charred asparagus and labneh. A fascinating plant: looking like a grass but with tender lower stems that taste of sweet coriander and the upper stems being salty and slightly bitter. I want to make more use of that.
In terms of ingredients, it was a gentle poke into what was available locally, but I intend to fully plunder the Suffolk larder for more events. The night itself was exciting and amazingly supportive in the kitchen. Vernon runs a great team and everyone was extremely enthusiastic and capable, able to pick up new recipes and adapt throughout the packed service. We even managed to deal instantly with the fact that I had expected supper club style, all big tables, but they were all ready for a normal restaurant service.
The diners seemed really happy and we got some amazing feedback on how much the dishes were enjoyed. I was particularly pleased that by far the simplest dish – rhubarb and sea salt – was recognised as a great accompaniment by some. It’s essentially like an instant pickle – powerful, sharp and palate-cleansing.
An hour before the event I had the inevitable queasiness, the self doubt and the questioning, ‘Why am I doing this?’ But now, as ever, I am really looking forward to the next one.