Food: Catering for your every need
I've reached that time of life when my offspring have started to marry. Last year my daughter Isabella was wed, and this year my son Rocco is planning his marriage. Curiously, Isabella lives in Italy and decided she wanted to get married in Ireland, while Rocco, who lives in Ireland, wants to get married in Italy.
Not only are my children doing it, but my partner Marian's daughter Gemma is getting married later this year as well.
What that means on a practical level is that much thought has gone into catering. The wedding feast is the focal point of the day, and getting it right is a big part of making everything a success.
So as part of my research I organised two dinners, one of them catered by Stephen O'Donoghue of the Right Catering Company and the other by Ali Davis of Ali Davis Food.
Both dinners took place in my house and I left the choice of dishes to the caterers, letting them choose the dishes that would best show off their skills.
Stephen and Ali chose the same format for the dinner; that's to say we had canapes and pre-dinner drinks in the drawing room, then moved to the dining room for the main and dessert.
The first of the two dinners was catered by Stephen and we were 10 diners — Chris de Burgh and his wife Diane, Gemma Kenny and Gavin Cullen, Sophie Kenny and David Uda, Rocco Tullio and Ruby Slevin and Marian Kenny and me.
It began with what the menu described as “gourmet canapes”, and in truth that was exactly what they were.
As we sat sipping our rosé Cava we were regaled with pastry tubes of marinated beef and wasabi; queen scallops with black pudding, pea puree and serrano crisps; brochettes of tomato, mozzarella and basil (think Caprese on a stick); and char-grilled king prawn with a chilli lime dipping sauce.
We adjourned to the dining room and the first thing to arrive at the table was an amuse bouche, described as “newage coddle” with pancetta, shallot, sweet potato broth and a quail egg. It was a dish that set the tone for the meal — elegant, skillful, tasty and visually appealing.
Next came a starter course of quail breast, pickled red cabbage and a parsnip puree, followed by a fish course of pan-fried red snapper with braised baby fennel and tomato topped with a beurre blanc.
The meat course was next — slow-cooked shoulder of lamb with confit potato and roasted baby vegetables. My appetite at this point was flagging, but the slowcooked lamb was seriously good and impossible to resist.
Finally, we finished the meal with a dessert of lemon custard tart served with a limoncello sorbet topped with pulled sugar.
I supplied the wines for the dinner — a rosé cava as an aperitif, Meursault for the white, Gevrey Chambertin for the red, and lastly Tokaj for dessert.
We'd had what can best be described as a top-end tasting menu, as skillful as any you could eat in the best restaurants. It came to just over €80 a head.
The following week we were 11 for Ali Davis's dinner — Rocco and Ruby Slevin, Gemma Kenny and Gavin Cullen, Mark Reynolds and Arabella Annesley, my editors Bairbre Power and Katie Byrne, Lainey Keogh, Marian Kenny and me. Like Stephen, Ali had decided on canapes served in the drawing room followed by the rest of the meal in the dining room.
In this case the canapes were plentiful, as they were to act as both amuse bouche and starter for the meal.
The other difference was that the wines were supplied by Ali: a Montepulciano for the red and a Trebbiano for the white. The aperitif was freshlysqueezed pomegranate with Campari and prosecco.
A seemingly endless array of goodies came to the drawing room: cider pork sausages with artisan apple puree served in puff pastry with sweet mustard; shrimp cocktail pots with soft avocado lemon zest and gem lettuce; chicken and spring onion dumplings with ponzu dipping sauce; Vietnamese spring rolls with carrot, cucumber, pickled ginger and mint; a fresh tuna tartar with wasabi, avocado puree and a sweet sesame soy dressing; and to finish off, a crisp green apple sorbet.
All delicious, but for me the stars were the sausages, the tuna and the Vietnamese rolls.
We moved to the dining room to find ourselves presented with slow-cooked lamb, this time served on a bed of braised barley with glazed heritage carrots and parsnip crisps. This was a fine winter dish and the red Montepulciano matched it very well.
This meal finished with an espresso and hazelnut chocolate cake, served with vanilla bean creme fraiche. The cost was €56.50 per head. If you're considering this kind of catering, bear in mind that the more people you cater for, the cheaper it becomes per head. That's because there are fixed costs.
In both cases, not only did the food arrive at my house, but also the chefs and waiters. The caterers did all the setting up — including setting the table — but also all the clearing up, so my kitchen was left spotless on both occasions.
Although I have loads of crockery and cutlery, both caterers brought crockery, cutlery and glassware, so as host, you have to worry about nothing. You are in the hands of professionals.
Both Stephen O'Donoghue and Ali Davis offer a wide range of menus, from fairly simple to high-end gastronomy, as well as catering for large numbers or small, intimate dinners such as I've described.
- The Right Catering Company: call 087 262 0240 or see therightcateringcompany.com
- Ali Davis Food: call 086 841 5939 or see alidavisfood.com
WHISPERS FROM THE GASTRONOMICON
I was delighted to see that Le Bon Crubeen was able to get up and running again before Christmas despite the effects of an electrical fire which hit the restaurant kitchen in early December. Quite a recovery.
Ever since Ouzos popularised lobster and steak in Ranelagh some years ago, I've thought it was a great concept. Now Niall Sabongi has run with the idea and Rock Lobster has opened in Harvey Nichols in Dundrum.
The menu specialises in dry-aged steaks and lobster and the prices are very much at the affordable end of the spectrum.