Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Fenn's Quay: Chef du Jour
Fenn's Quay is one of my favourite lunch places in Cork City with a very talented chef. The menu changes regularly and goes with the seasons and Kate is a big supporter of local producers.
Kate had the fabulous idea of inviting amateur cooks to her kitchen - and the first Chef Du Jour took place last night. I was very honoured being asked by Kate to be one of the judges on the first night. My fellow judges were Billy Lyons and Evin O'Keeffe. Chef of the night was Paul Callaghan, a foodie from Co. Clare. We learned that Paul is a plasterer by trade but believe me, you wouldn't have guessed from the menu.
The night was designed as a set menu, with a cocktail at arrival and a bottle of wine during the meal. The menu was a four-course meal solely created by Paul.
We started the evening off with an amouse bouche of stuffed cherry tomatoes with Ardsallagh Goats cheese, basil pesto and a sea salt cracker. The balance between the goats cheese and the pesto was just perfect and a pretty plate of food to set the mood for the following courses.
The starter was a plate of mussels cooked with bacon and Stonewell Cider. I am not the biggest fan of mussels (I like them baked rather than cooked) but the fragrant sauce made well up for it. He used cream for the sauce which divided the judges (I love cream sauces). The cider could have been a bit more present and I thought the bacon took a bit away from the delicate flavour of the sauce.
The main course was Rosscarbery pork belly with potato & horseradish puree, braised red cabbage with the mulled red wine jus. The crowning of this dish was the crackling. It was superb - as crackling should be. It was cut in small strips and placed on top of the meat. the meat itself was a bit too fatty for me but the meat underneath was juicy. The puree was more of a mash and a bit lumpy but that didn't take away from the perfect balance of potato and horseradish. The red cabbage was finely shredded (I never have the patience of being so precise) and he braised it just enough so that the texture and colour was still perfect. Red cabbage for me is always a Christmas thing and therefore would have liked more spice in it (I cook mine with redcurrant jelly and cinnamon) but his version showed the best of the cabbage. The red wine jus wasn't strained but the flavour was rich and went so well with the mash.
But the highlight was the trio of desserts - what a revelation. Professional chefs can take a page out of Paul's book. Desserts are really Paul's strong point and he deserved the full 5-Star rating for the white chocolate cheese cake alone. The crumbly base was buttery without being soaked in it. The filling was so smooth and creamy and well balanced with the cheese and the white chocolate - I was green with envy. No lumps, no cracking of the top - the best cheese cake I have eaten in a long time if not ever. The mixed berry crumble came in a little ramekin dish (mine was square which looked extremely pretty) wasn't too sweet or sour - a perfect autumn/winter dish. The crumble had toasted flaked almonds in it which gave the crumble a lovely texture. A dollop of dark chocolate on the bottom of the dish was a nice surprise. The tower of meringue was constructed by small strips of meringue. If you ever made meringue yourself, you know how hard it is to make biggish pieces - but these small pieces were soft and chewy - just as I like my meringue. It was topped with strawberries and vanilla cream. This plate of desserts left everyone smiling.
Billy, Evin and myself then took our time to discuss the entire menu (as I said, for this plate of dessert we would have given him 5 stars) and we agreed on 3.5 stars. Well deserved and I think we haven't seen the last of Paul - at least I hope we do see more.
Tonight is the second night of the Chef du Jour and Jeni Pim from Co. Waterford will be taking over the reign in the kitchen. Make sure to book a table - it is such an enjoyable evening.