It is the measure of a good chef when he can assess just how to pitch each dish in a multi course menu. Each plate should pique the interest of the palate so that it eagerly anticipates the next offering. Wow the tastebuds too early in the meal and it can make subsequent courses seem like the dowdy wallflowers at a ball filled with beautiful debutantes. Fail to grab the diner’s attention early on and they may simply lose interest in the entire experience (or is that just jaded restaurant reviewers?).
One of the joys of dining at Terre à Terre in Brighton is the playful words used to describe each dish on the menu. I take great pleasure in the often confounding descriptions not always entirely sure of what I will be served but secure in the knowledge that it will be good. Chef Matty Bowling sets the bar very high particularly if you are taking over his domain for an evening as part of the International Chef Exchange. This pleasure fell to Felix Zhou of The Parker in Vancouver during National Vegetarian Week. By contrast the language of his menu was pared back although his dishes were far from simple.
Shortly after a dangerous drinkable Blackdown BlackCherry Sour we received an amuse bouche of radish and olives. I’m not a fan of radishes but these delicate peppery slices served with olive ‘soil’ were very pleasant (this lack lustre description reflects my antipathy to this particular vegetable rather than the skill of Chef Zhou). The following roasted cauliflower served with a ketchup-sweet, red pepper puree was much more to my liking. Char grilling is one the finest treatments for fresh asparagus and Felix served his with the classic poached egg enveloped in a velvety mustard emulsion scattered with edible flowers. A true picture on a plate where the vibrancy in colour was equalled in taste. So good was the sauce our table requested some bread to mop up the remnants.
So far, so good. Each course had superseded the last in terms of expectation and delivered on the flavour front. Next up was the succinct Gnocchi with Broccoli, the former being another of my rare food foes. My initial fear of stodgy lumps was thankfully not realised. Served with a broccoli puree as well a florets the seared gnocchi were feather light pillows scattered with fresh peas and purple fronds (micro basil perhaps). Chef Zhou called on his far eastern heritage for his final savoury course of Aubergine Dumplings with Spring Onion and Pine Nut Thai Curry. Like the gnocchi the dumplings were far from heavy. Airy pockets filled with a light mousse considerately doused in a carefully spiced, fragrant green curry sauce with just the right amount of heat. Billy said it was one of the best things he has ever eaten (high praise indeed coming from a confirmed carnivore). Frankly, I could have eaten it again for dessert and the following morning for breakfast.
And so on to dessert. The dumplings were a hard act to follow. Despite the lightly whipped not too sweet quenelle of soft cheese, the melt in the mouth soft crumb of the shortbread and the surprisingly good endive jam with it’s pleasant bitter undertones, dessert just couldn’t top the previous course. Those dumplings will stay with me for a long time. Hopefully, long enough to lure me to Vancouver and search out Chef Zhou at The Parker.
Terre à Terre was participating in the return visit of International Chef Exchange, an on-going initiative delivered by the Brighton & Hove Food and Drink Festival team and supported by Travel Bag to promote gastronomic tourism, share best practice between chefs and create a platform for the export of artisan food and drink. The meal was accompanied by artisan silver birch gin cocktails from Blackdown Sussex Spirits, the distinctive Okanagan style BC wines from Summerhill Pyramid Winery and also acclaimed organic English wine from Davenport Winery.