Have you ever noticed that in every group of friends, people have assigned roles? One person may fulfil more than one role, but there will usually be a Rebel who initiates all fun/silly/drunk/downright bad ideas; the Mediator who always makes peace when group members don't see eye to eye; the Mom who makes sure everybody takes enough warm clothes and gets home safely; the Archivist who photographs all the antics and remembers that embarrassing thing you did for about ten years after it might otherwise have been forgotten; and the Organiser who makes the plans, books the tickets and makes sure everybody shows up on time.
Most people that know me will see a little bit of all these roles in me, I suspect – but mostly I am known as the Organiser. I will search for the accommodation and flights for a trip; I will make sure a date gets into the diary for a long-awaited reunion; and I will send out invitations and collate responses. I'd like to think I am quite good at it. But every now and again I meet somebody that puts my efforts totally to shame. I already had an inkling that Luiz was a good organiser when we went to his house for a spectacular Brazilian dinner last year – there were dozens of people and he fed us as if he were a professional caterer. But even more impressive was the feat he pulled off just before Christmas together with the lovely Gail: organising a fantastic blogger Christmas lunch for 50 food bloggers at The Ship in Wandsworth. Organising bloggers can be a little lke herding cats, but Luiz managed to get all 50 of us there at the appointed time for a 4-course lunch at only £25 per head AND raise money for charity. Impressive is not the word!
I'm afraid I didn't mingle that much – I stayed pretty close to the toasty fire all afternoon – but I did chat to the lovely Sarah, Kavey, May and Kay who were seated at the table behind me. I was lucky enough to find space at a table with Euwen, Brie & Jordi who proved to be not only excellent lunch companions but Euwen, Brie and I proved to be surprisingly good at singing Christmas carols in harmony ;o) Euwen is in fact one of the few people who likes bursting into song in public places as much as I do and that's no mean feat. Roll on the blogger karaoke event!
So what do you feed a horde of hungry food bloggers?? Oisin Rogers, The Ship's manager had outdone himself. The amuse bouche consisted of a mini crab cake with quail eggs and hollandaise sauce, on crushed peas – a delicious little morsel studded with capers and properly crabby. My starter was foie gras terrine rolled in pistachios with apple and pear chutney, celery salt and toasted brioche. I have had foie gras on gastropub menus before, and often you get a disappointing nugget of the stuff – but this was a generous portion, marvellously paired with the spiced fruit chutney. And I loved the crunch that the pistachios added! Other starters included roast butternut squash soup with goats cheese tortellini and white truffle oil which I also tasted and which was an indulgent, headily truffle-scented affair.
Main courses proved to be equally delightful. I opted for honey-glazed duck breast, pasty of confit duck leg, creamed spinach, root vegetable fondants and port jus. What can possibly be better than duck? duck two ways! The breast was perfectly pink and succulent, while the featherlight pasty was filled with gooey ducky goodness that only long, slow cooking can produce. The vegetable fondants were a treat in themselves – properly caramelised and the perfect foil for the duck meat. Nick, on the other hand chose the roast haunch of venison with a herb crust, red wine risotto, shallot puree and thyme sauce, which was another winner. The meat had a deep and earthy flavour and the red wine risotto provided a wonderful counterpoint.
Mains were followed by a cheese course and I must confess that by now, I was having too much of a good time to take notes so I can tell you very little about the cheeses, other than that they included a very good fresh goat cheese; two aged Comte-like hard cheeses (my favourites), a blue and a soft Camambert-like cheese. The chutney was absolutely outstanding (presumably home-made) and I would have been happy with a bowl of chutney and a spoon at this point! To accompany the cheese we were also treated to a choice of two dessert wines - which I once again did not note down – mea culpa! The darker of the two smelt of dates and Christmas while the lighter of the two was all honey and apricots – both were delicious.
For my dessert, it was a no brainer – obviously I would choose sticky toffee pudding with vanilla ice cream! But homemade Christmas pudding with prune & Armagnac ice cream was also on offer in keeping with the festive theme.
Astonishingly, for our £25 we also had wines matched to each course. I had the 2009 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc by Mission Estate Winery, and a marvellous 2001 Rioja Reserva by Coto de Imaz.
I have to say that the staff coped admirably with 50 picky food bloggers on their premises, all snapping pictures of their food and getting progressively louder as the afternoon wore on! They were relaxed, good-humoured and apparently unflappable (and gave us free bits and pieces, like spare orders!). The quality of the food is outstanding and offers fantastic value for money, and the outdoor terrace on the banks of the River Thames would be a wonderful place for a meal or a few drinks in the summer – I'll be back. Thanks Luiz, Gail and Oisin!
41 Jew's Row
And in other news… dont forget to check out the series of posts we are running on the Plate to Page workshop blog this week featuring a review of 2010 and plans for 2011 from our four workshop instructors. So far we have heard from Ilva, Jeanne and Meeta – Jamie follows on Friday!