On the first date with my partner he asked me why I had drunk a shot of rattlesnake’s blood 20 years earlier in Acapulco. My defence was that I had been drinking tequila with some Canadian policewomen all night, so common sense and inhibitions were long gone for this foolish holiday anecdote.
Since then I’ve stuck to more traditional aspects of Mexican cuisine. Mainly guided by former Masterchef winner and restauranteur Thomasina Miers who is doing a great job in expanding my knowledge of Mexican ingredients and dishes at Wahaca.
It wasn’t until this week though that I was truly able to appreciate how much more the cuisine has to offer. As a guest of Mallory Court I was lucky enough to join a select group of diners on Friday 25 September to experience a special dinner as part of the Mexican UK 2015 Restaurant Festival.
This chef cultural exchange programme has been running since April as part of a collaboration between the UK government and Mexican Tourism Board, to showcase the country’s very talented chefs and to encourage an exchange of culinary skill and knowledge about ingredients.
From just six UK chefs, Paul Foster, head chef at The Dining Room at Mallory Court, was deeply honoured to be approached by the Mexican Tourist Board to take part in celebrating ‘The Year of Mexico in the United Kingdom’.
He visited Mexico in May, with chef Alfredo Villanueva from Romero y Azahar restaurant (Monterrey) as his guide to local markets, cantinas and restaurants where he tried ants eggs, a cactus fruit called tuna and pigs liver amongst other local delicacies.
In an exciting exchange of flavours, Mallory Court hosted Alfredo to jointly prepare a six course dinner with Paul, with each chef creating three courses each of their own unique culinary styles.
The first dish of the evening was Alfredo’s ‘Chicarron en salsa verde’ of crispy pork cheek with tomatillo, cured pork belly, jaapeno pepper, courgette, epazote, corn and a raw green sauce which had a vivid zesty colour.
Paul followed this with a hand-dived scallop, black garlic, charred leeks and onion ketchup, where the garlic had been roasted almost to a caramel.
‘Mar y cacao’ was Alfredo’s fish course of cured mackerel, adobo pepper ash, mashed beans in cacao butter, radish and fermented turnip. This was my first taste of adobo ash and fermented turnips and I was a fan of both.
Paul’s meat dish was grouse breast and ragu, with parsnip and elderberries which had a lovely seasonal warmth.
The first of two desserts followed with Alfredo’s ‘Campechana de dulce de leche’ of caramalized goat’s milk and Mezcal mousse, puff pastry and spiced chocolate sauce with the tang of the goat’s milk offset by the sweeter ingredients.
Our dinner concluded with Paul’s whipped pumpkin, vanilla poached chicory and muscavado ice cream, where Paul adeptly demonstrated that you can use vegetables in desserts to give a sweet taste without the sugar content.
Paul and Alfredo chatted to guests after service about how much they had enjoyed the experience and what they had learnt from each other in this exchange. This is always my favourite part of the evening when you get a chance to talk to the chefs, discover what inspires them and be able to thank them in person for an amazing evening.
Our dishes were paired with organic Chablis Brocard, Pinor Noir and Moscato d’Asti, which were all included in the £95 cost of the meal, along with cocktails and canapés upon arrival and petit fours with our coffee.
Like all great meals, the company makes an extra special and we were fortunate enough to be seated with a couple who were about to get married at the hotel and their friends. The bride and groom to be turned out to be Reg Keys and his partner Jenny.
Reg is a founder member of the campaign group Milltary Families Against War. His son Lance Corporal Tom Keys, was a Royal Military policeman and one of six red Caps killed in Iraq in June 2003. He stood against Tony Blair for the Sedgwick seat and is commentator for national media. He has a fascinating and emotional life story, which is currently being filmed by Willy McGovern, with Tim Roth playing the part of Reg. The programme will be broadcast by BBC1 in the New Year.
I can’t guarantee that you will be dining with such interesting company, but If you have enjoyed reading my review and would like to experience Mallory Court for yourself, the next dinner event will be on Saturday 17 October for The Battle of Eden – 70s Style. Read all about out it on the October events page.
Mallory Court is a stunning 31 bedroom manor house set in 10 acres of grounds, just outside of Leamington Spa. I had pegged this luxury hotel as a venue for weddings, but not necessarily dining, so even though it is very local to me I hadn’t visited before last week’s dinner. I don’t intend to wait too long though to return and enjoy Paul Foster’s cooking and the hotel’s faultless service again.