EATING OUT: Behind the scenes of stellar meals

I have watched Hollywood movies, where someone shuts down a busy restaurant for their love interest, and has the chef personally serve them a favourite dish. That’s probably never going to happen to me, but I’ve had a few chef’s table experiences, and that’s pretty darn close.

A chef’s table is a pretty intimate experience served up at the very heart of the restaurant, the kitchen, where a small group of diners get to see the chef and his team whipping up and plating dishes first hand, each course being personally brought to the table. I attended one at Hilton Nairobi last week; it’s even better that the chef here is attractive, because then it’s truly a feast for all senses.

There were only nine people present at the table with a customised menu of four courses, which were promptly served. First up, pan seared scallops with crispy black pudding as dark as my soul complete with almond flakes, which added an even more dynamic texture on a bed of creamy cauliflower puree and garnished with salmon roe. The black pudding was very rich and slightly spicy and was the most dominant taste, an instant favourite.

I, however, refused to know what’s in it, much like I enjoy smokies but will never look up their actual ingredients. This dish was paired with a chardonnay; those two courses were especially made for one another.

Next came a Pate de Campagne, which I once tried making using herbs, spices, white wine and all the meat I had left in the house, a mixture of liver, bacon, minced meat and chicken. It wasn’t as good as this. It came with freshly baked brioche and a sweet pear-mango-cinnamon based chutney. To accompany this was a chilled Leleshwa sauvignon blanc … I remember the chilled part, because it was starting to get warmer in the kitchen. How chefs work in the heat I will never understand.

I was also surprisingly starting to get full at this point.

The next course was a crispy beef that had been cooked for five hours and was paired with a light jus, and the meat was so tender the knife passed through it like butter or margarine if you prefer to clog your arteries with that. There was also a classic beef wellington which, admittedly, passed in a blur because of the fullness; but also because the dish had been paired with a merlot — my all-time favourite grape variety. Wait, was that a bone being used as a garnish? Did they have a supplier that brought in a special delivery of bones for this particular dish? Wow.

Finally came the dessert, and for that there will always be room. A delicious chocolate fondant, vanilla ice cream and cocoa macaroon cheekily called the sassy three, an apt name for how my lightweight self was starting to feel after all the wine. It was paired with a chocolate wine, which was too much sweetness for my palate so I ditched the wine and tried my best not to ask for seconds of that macaroon.

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