Ever thought of private dining? La Belle Assiette is a company that has a number of chefs, and other catering professionals, on their books, that you can hire. To make sure that you get a good service, they vet their members. I attended the validation dinner for private chef Campbell Mickel a couple of weeks ago. Here are my impressions.
I enjoy having people for dinner. The part I like the most is the sitting down at table and eating and chatting. But I do also enjoy the process of planning and taking most of a day to shop and cook. Sometimes, though, it’s difficult to find the time for that bit. So, we go out with friends, to a restaurant, or a supper club, or we have take-away. The important thing is spending time together, after all. Now, with La Belle Assiette, there’s another option: get a chef in to do the cooking for you, in your own home. You want to know that the person you invite into your kitchen knows what they’re doing, so La Belle Assiette tests all their chefs at a validation dinner. The chef sets, preps and cooks a menu, a tasting panel turn up to taste it and if all goes well, La Bella Assiette has a new chef on their books. It’s no surprise that this time, it went well: if it hadn’t, I wouldn’t be writing about it.
Meeting the tasters
Finding someone to host a dinner can be tricky. We were lucky to have Anna, chef at Alright Treacle, the supper club, host for us. She has a welcoming dining room and a well laid out kitchen, a boon for any chef. We were a small but perfectly formed group: Anna, Patrick, and Lydia from Alright Treacle, Iain and Kate from Citylicious, and Harper who writes Crumbs and Petals. We got to know each other over bubbles and canapés (parsley pesto on black pepper shortbread and moist mouthfuls of chicken).
After introductions and mingling, we sat down to start our meal. The opener was an amuse bouche of asparagus veloute with a parmesan crisp. It was deliciously smooth and the parmesan crisp was crisp and tangy. I enjoyed the presentation – my bolw held a green imp with a rakish smile.
The starter was loin of salmon marinated in Macallan with a crab claw bonbon, a chili dressing and a sweet pepper spaghetti. I love salmon, but I’ve also had a lot of it, and always look forward to something that will lift the flavour and make me notice it again. The cnili dressing was perfect: it had a real kick and worked together with the sweet pepper to make the salmon something really special. The crab claw bonbon was delicious and fun.
For the main course, Campbell cooked rack of lamb with a herb crust, pea and spinach puree, fondant potato and jus. The lamb was tender and juicy, with delicate flavour. A little bit of mustard in the hearb crust added a note of picancy. The pea and spinach puree was lovely with the pink meat and the potato was just right.
I was very excited about dessert: rhubarb and custard. Rhubarb is one of my favourite flavours so I was really looking forward to it. Served in a very generous glass was a layer of rhubarb jelly and compote, topped with an aerated créme anglaise and honeycomb. Tangy rhubarb and sweet honecomb goes brilliantly together and the jelly and cream was lush.
We finished with Belgian chocolate truffles and raspberry meringue kisses. I would have expected to like the meringue the most but I really enjoyed the rum truffles. They were perfect for coffee. And with that, dinner came to a delicious close.
How does it work?
On the La Belle Assiette website, you can search for specific chefs, or enter your postcode, a date and a time to search for chefs in your area available for a given date. You chose a menu and book. Each chef will have his own way of working. Campbell told us that he likes to do a site visit to get an idea of the layout and equipment of the kitchen. As he said, a good chef doesn’t need a whole lot of specialist equipment, but must be well organised. Understanding where to plate up, where to prep, how much oven space there is and so on ensures that the menu is right for the kitchen.
The chef brings all the food, from bread to petit fours, and some plates and silverware. We used the host’s glasses and cups, but Campbell had brought vases for the table. He also brought a server who greeted us at the door and looked after us during dinner.
All this together, Campbell’s planning and prep, his server’s kind attentions and our relaxed and happy hosts, made for a wonderful evening. We had great food and lively conversation in good company. It’s a really nice way of sharing good food with friends: utterly relaxed and delicious.
Private dining and events.