For the last year, a group of friends and I have met every other month or so to have dinner. The catch is that each flat has to prepare a dish to show off and given there are three groups it splits neatly into a starter, main, and dessert. Naturally, this includes a matching drink as well. The cook-off idea was developed during a stroll through Borough Market by two of my friends and the first theme was local produce. Since that first one, the themes have ranged from vegetarian to foreign cuisines to seafood with the latest one being “surprise”.
I’ll eventually get around to posting up a summary of each night, but we’ll start with last night’s “surprise” feast. Starters were prepared by YGO & Emma, I handled the main solo (since my gf has fled the country), and the West London crew tackled dessert.
Starter: Ping’s Wonton Soup
YGO has a history of choosing recipes from Michelin starred chefs (Heston B is one of his go to guys) and MasterChef winners and this time was no different. He and Emma came up with a recreation of Ping’s MC Final starter – a special take on wonton soup. Since Ping hasn’t published a recipe, they had to watch the show numerous times to reverse engineer the dish. I can’t even begin to determine how they made everything but their technique was flawless and resulted in a perfectly executed dish.
The key elements were the wontons (a mix of crab and pork neatly wrapped in noodles), pickled enoki mushrooms, and crispy sesame fried pastry all served with a clear chicken broth. The presentation was spectacular and only topped by the rich taste of the tender wonton parcels balanced neatly by the tang of the pickled mushrooms.
For the drink pairing, they opted for a sweet white wine to match the sweetness of the crab which went down a treat. The wine was an Italian Don Carlo Bianco from Sicily.
Main: A Tasting of Ravioli
For me, the theme of surprise meant that the dish should be a mystery and you only learn what it is when you try it. So, throwing any logic I had to the wind, I opted to make ravioli from scratch and pack them with a variety of fillings. For those of you who have made ravioli by hand, you’ll realise what a time consuming task I had chosen – unfortunately I didn’t realise this until far too late.
Still, after a lot of one on one time with my pasta machine, I managed to put together three types of ravioli: 1) Ricotta, smoked salmon, and spinach, 2) Pulled pork and parmesan cream, and 3) Egg yolk. The prep went well and all the ravioli was placed in the fridge – this may have been my first mistake as after sitting for a few hours the ravioli got a bit soggy and stuck to the baking paper which was near impossible to detach without ripping open the pasta.
Luckily, Max discovered a brilliant pasta-hack – cut the around each ravioli and toss the whole thing into a pan of boiling water. Then after a few seconds, you can easily peel away the warmed wax paper leaving the ravioli in perfect condition. Hopefully, this didn’t result in a significant amount of wax or other dodgy things floating around but 24 hours later we’re all still alive so that’s a good sign. Given that I was on my own, Max stepped up as sous-chef and plated up the ravioli. A bit of crispy bacon and parsley for a garnish along with a shot glass of onion consommé and we were ready to go.
Overall, I was very pleased with how the dish turned out and discovered that while a runny egg yolk ravioli is cool, parmesan and pulled pork was by far the favourite when it came to flavours. Why don’t more people (or anyone for that matter) offer pulled pork in pasta? The onion consommé, while another time consuming item, was pretty simple to make and the sweet potent taste went really well with the pasta. We paired the dish with a dry Chapel Down champagne – a great choice with rich food as it cuts through the heaviness and leaves you satisfied but not bloated. It’s got a bit of a toasty nose and tastes a bit like red currant mixed with a light floral note.
Dessert: Breakfast at the Fat Duck
The dessert created by the West London Team was something I imagine Heston B could put on the Fat Duck menu (and if you’re reading this, we’ll trade you the idea for dining privileges at your restaurants).
We were served a shot glass full of something gold with a side of biscotti and a coffee-based cocktail. Then a carton of eggs was brought out and we were instructed to place an egg on the shot glass and crack away.
What these crafty devils had done was manage to bake a brownie inside each egg and you cracked the shell to get at it. The golden pudding was an apricot compote and the cocktail was a version of an Irish coffee made with peanut-butter washed bourbon and topped with brûleéd marshmallow crème. Even the biscotti had been made from scratch and it was some of the best I’ve ever had. It was definitely one of the most entertaining and interactive dishes I’ve had the pleasure of eating since Heston’s Sound of the Sea.
I’ll definitely be “borrowing” this idea for future dinners and maybe try to create a yolk effect – maybe a chocolate fondant style center or perhaps a core of salted caramel?
As YGO always says, the quality of food is easily at the level of many restaurants we’ve eaten and I’ve got to admit we’ve come a long way from the first cook-off. Each time, the standard gets a bit higher and it’s a challenging experience to come up with something new. While I may not be ready to take on MasterChef or switch careers, it’s been a fun time and I’m looking forward to the next one. The theme is budget and I’m going to try to make a starter for 6 people for less than £20. Feel free to drop any suggestions either in the comments or via email!