ʽʽHi, I’m Benjamin Nunn – critic, gourmand and author of Ben Viveur. I like to eat and drink. And cook. And write.

You might have read me in an in-flight magazine, or a beer publication, but here on my own blog I'm liberated from the editorial shackles of others so anything goes.

I deal with real food and drink in the real world, aiming to create recipes that taste awesome, but which can be created by mere mortals without the need for tons of specialist equipment and a doctorate in food science. Likewise, I tend to review relaxed establishments that you might visit on a whim without having to sell your first-born, rather than hugely expensive restaurants and style bars in the middle of nowhere with a velvet rope barrier, a stringent dress code and a six-month waiting list!

There's plenty of robust opinion, commentary on the world of food and drink, and lots of swearing, so look away now if you're easily offended.

Otherwise, tuck your bib in, fill your glass and turbo-charge your tastebuds. We're going for a ride... Ben Appetit!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

My Big Fat Asian Wedding Food Tasting

I had anticipated eating rather well this past weekend, mainly because we were taking a friend out for a belated birthday dinner to a new contemporary English steakhouse in Newbury, and given my recent musings on the topic, I was eager to see how their fayre would, err, fare.

(if you’re wondering, the sirloin was admirably thick and juicy – though it could have been bluer – with a slightly smokey flavour, the vegetables were mismatched and plain, the so-called buffalo wings were a disappointing starter with little to no heat, and the crème brulee a perfectly acceptable sweet)

Anyway, in order to work up an appetite, I’d already decided I probably wouldn’t have a pie at the footie, and as it happened, I was completely stuffed as I watched Reading 'beating' us 0-0, and still not vastly hungry by the time we arrived at the restaurant.

The reason for my unexpected all-day satiety? Getting married next month! Not in the sense of romantic loss of appetite (which has never seemed to manifest itself in me, strangely enough) but because we had a ‘food tasting’ at a place we were looking at doing the catering for our reception. And, boy, what a tasting it was!

Blumenthall ain't the only Heston in town

I didn’t have a clue what to expect when we ventured gingerly into brunchtime Heston (yes, the place near Hounslow, known only for it's motorway service station), and the slightly scratty industrial estate where Premier Rouge are based.

Tikka taste test
All we knew is that my girlfriend had enjoyed the food at an event they had catered for a few years ago, and upon getting the name of the company from a friend of a friend, we realised that they were very competitively priced, which is a good start as we're hoping to get married as cheaply as possible, and ideally make a profit on the whole thing!

We opened their door, caught a glimpse of their kitchen, and wandered upstairs - the interior was far plusher than anywhere for miles around, with a dreamlike incongruity. One corner of the room was like a small office, another a bar area, another was like the waiting area in a massage parlour with big red sofas a wall-mounted TV (though not showing hardcore porn, admittedly) and the last was a mini restaurant with just one, elaborately decorated, table.

Out came the first of many, many courses, a big yoghurty plate of Dahi Aloo Papri Chat, bursting with different flavours and textures. Not knowing how much we were meant to take, or what was to come, we just took a couple of mouthfuls each, barely denting the dish. That turned out to be a wise strategy as the table was furnished with the mango chutney and mint sauce that heralded a range of starters to come.

There was well-executed chicken tikka and seekh kebabs, which is just what you need to kick off an Indian style banquet, and some of the veggie starters were to die for - potato pakora with chana massala, a perfectly cooked paneer tikka with a deep tandoori flavour, and the gloriously sweet and spicy chilli paneer.

They kept on bringing up plate after plate, then once the starters were done, they began to bring out plate after plate of main dishes, with a robust, classic Chicken curry, a lovely Rogan Josh full of tomatoes and really tender lamb pieces, and various other dishes I've lost track of. Rice, Naan and salad were all provided of course.

The only really unpleasant thing out of around 25 different starters, curries, bhajis and sweets, was the massala fried fish, which looked lovely, but the batter suffered from a really metallic taste, a bit like those low-sodium salt substitutes.

Personally, I hate peas and so the muttar paneer weren't things we'd be choosing, but the quality was generally exceptional throughout. I've also never particularly enjoyed Asian desserts, but did eat half of my gulab jamun, as it wasn't too sweet, and that's way more than I'd usually manage.

When we could eat no more, we wondered if we'd be presented with some kind of a bill, maybe deductable from our catering order, or at least some high-pressure sales pitch to ensure that we didn't take our business elsewhere.

But there was nothing. We actually had to ask one of the guys if we could discuss the business side of things. I guess they are confident enough in the quality of their food and reasonableness of their prices that most people who try the tasting will go with them anyway.

Their food is better than most restaurants I've dined in - and I've dined in a lot of Indian restaurants. Premier Rouge's owner explained how and why - banquetting menus are chosen way in advance, so they can properly prepare and marinate and get everything right, whereas restaurants have to respond to an unpredictable range of short orders in rapid succession.

You know it makes sense
It makes sense, so it does.

Free for all

Even now, a few days later, I can't get over the fact that this delicious multi-course tasting menu experience was free. Yes, we're going to book them, because they're very tasty and exceptional value to boot, but we never felt under obligation to do so.

How many other caterers are out there offering similar deals to people who say they are interested in booking catering for their wedding (or indeed any other event)? For years after we're married we can go around pretending to be newly-engaged just so we can get freebies from different caterers.

Don't take this as endorsement for blagging plate upon plate of free banquetting food, but it would be pretty easy to pull off this scam. Even if you only get away with it once, you'll save yourself the cost of a meal out. Not that I told you that. It's tempting though, isn't it? 

After eating so well on Saturday I needed to be brought back down to culinary reality on Sunday, and Mr. Wetherspoon duly obliged with a truly execrable turkey dinner. A karmic warning in the light of my scamtastic thoughts, perhaps. With peas.

1 comment:

  1. When I was young, Mother would treat Father and I to her special roast. It wasn't anything special, just a plate of her finest poo topped in cranberry sauce. I wouldn't mind, but the cranberry sauce was Tesco's own brand so it didn't compliment the poo due to it tasting like cardboard and sellotape. Also, Mother's house white, otherwise known as 'piss', was far too bitter to be quaffed heartily whilst enjoying succulent poo. So all in all, it was a massive fail.


Comments are always welcomed and encouraged, especially interesting, thought-provoking contributions and outrageous suggestions.