Young Mick has been watching his waist his a bit. He has really taken a back seat recently and laid off everything that is really good for him - booze, animal fats, fun. It's been all gym, gym, gym, Smartwater and fruits. He's getting married, you see and wants to look his best.
I was dead pleased when he said he was going to do a 'special one-off' pre-wedding blow out. The menu looked grand. Heirloom tomato soup, pasta with Gorgonzola and rocket, pork loin with sage and pumpkin bread pudding, followed by fig clafoutis. I had to applaud Mike for an excellent seasonal menu.
On the night, he phoned me downstairs asking to borrow some martini glasses. Up the wooden hills then to Mike's place clutching a fistful of glass and some vodka as a gift.
I knew we were in for a boozy night, and I was amused when he presented us with our first drink of the evening, a bacon martini. Oh my Christ! Bacon?? He said he'd heard of them before and wanted to try his hand. I did admire his willingness to explore the edge. It was presented beautifully, shaken with some crisp lardons to get the flavour into the vodka and garnished with a ruler-straight length of rendered bacon fat, seasoned lovingly with some black pepper. I could hear Adam muttering under his breath, "I can't believe this is happening." I'm not sure what I made of the bacon flavour to be honest, but I liked the fact that there was a rectangle of pig in my glass and I could suck porcine essence from it whenever I wanted. The black pepper really did add an extra strange dimension which I rather liked. I guess these bacon-laced drinks are an acquired taste, and one which I will attempt to acquire over the forthcoming months. (I invented a new cocktail last Friday, but that's the subject of a forthcoming post, when I've mastered the recipe.)
Suitably lubricated, we sat down to eat. The soup came dressed with aromatic dill and while it was steaming in the bowl of my spoon, I inhaled deeply before my first mouthful. It was full of summer tomato flavour and very rich. To make matters even richer, he'd made some brilliant Gruyere grilled cheese sandwiches to pack a cheesy crunch between mouthfuls of soup. I don't rate grilled cheese sandwiches to be honest (I tend to see them made with American cheese) but the liberal use of melting Gruyere and a deft sprinkling of Parmesan really made these babies a cut above. Adam , Legion D'Or of Grilled Cheese, declared them magnificent.
Before I'd had chance to discuss the floral virtues of an excellent 'Crios' Torrontes from Argentina, Mike came whirring round the dining room again with our next plate. We were each granted a decent dollop of rotella pasta oozing with mouldy and metallic Gorgonzola and fresh peppery rocket. Mike had a very Italian upbringing and I had the feint feeling this was one straight from his family's recipe book. Old school Piedmont cookin' for sure. I couldn't get enough of it truthfully, even scraping up bits from the other lad's plates without even asking. I knew I had to save some room for the next two miracles.
My belly was in for some serious exercise.
With a few minutes between the last and next course, I was able to focus my mind and clean my palate with a fabulously ruby (Ruffino) Riserva Ducale, 2001. Bloody marvellous it was, all big bollocks and black cherry notes. With this in hand I wandered round the kitchen counter to chat to our chef. He was busy poking temperature probes into 2 thick forearm-sized pork loins, so I thought I'd leave the man alone to his devices. I think pork is a difficult meat to cook correctly, but Mike on the other hand, is a natural with the stuff. He just thrust it into the oven, set a timer, and got to grips with his pumpkin and sage pudding. The results were mightily moist and meaty, luscious dripping slivers of porky goodness strewn over a delightful savoury pudding. He'd forgotten his portion control measures too, and I was faced with a big bowl of it all, glistening with his reduced pork jus. I was a good man if I finished this lot off. Despite a full belly I was able to do Mike justice and practically licked the bowl clean. That pudding was the perfect accompaniment to the pork. Sage and pumpkin. Need I say more? I remember when I was a nipper in the UK and I ate and ate treacle sponge pudding with custard until I was sick. If I find something delicious, I can't stop. A bit like being in love? I wouldn't go that far, but it was intrepid pork and very memorable.
We were literally finished off with a cunningly made fig clafoutis. Chef Mike had the batter consistency just spot on, and in the oven it rose up through the nuggets of sun-filled fig to produce an evenly golden sugary surface, studded with fruit. I was ordered downstairs to collect some homemade strawberry ice cream, and the pudding was complete. You've got to have some fat to go with a dessert like that. My oh my, that was a great dessert.
Well done Mike, a much anticipated and passionate return to the fold, and a memorable evening in great company.