A Superb Dining Experience From Incognito DiningPublished On Thursday 13 Dec 2018 by Sticky Beak
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When we were first informed about Incognito Dining and its plans, His Nibs and I were incredibly excited by such a fantastic concept, so when we were invited to their inaugural evening we were bouncing off the walls!
Shamefully, I have to admit that it’s been *ahem*3 years (!) since The Man Bird and I were last at the Samuel Fox Country Inn at Bradwell, but its charm came back to me instantly as I stepped inside. Beautiful pink Lilies were arranged in a vase on the bar and their heady fragrance filled the room, announcing their presence.
The Samuel Fox Country Inn manages to be elegantly refined and comfortingly country simultaneously, thanks to careful consideration to the colour scheme and art work on the walls. One feature that we made full use of was the roaring log burner; the heat it was kicking out was most welcome on the winter night.
Perhaps it’s the self-assured, independent nature of the Inn’s Owner and Chef Patron, James Duckett, which drew him to kindred spirits Joe Wood and Dan Laycock and their vision of “anti-restaurant” dining; who knows? Whatever the reason, James had provided the Samuel Fox Country Inn’s kitchen and restaurant for Incognito Dining to hold their first event, and all the guests were champing at the bit to get started.
When our invite details came through, I squealed with delight; 6 courses and 2 Chefs, and no menu details was going to be interesting to say the least! What tickled me though was the no-nonsense “no vegetarians, no vegans, no fussy eaters” approach: the menu was down to the chefs and there was no negotiating. Pregnancy was the one exception – the reason for which became clear as we sat at our table and opened the menu.
Snacks, said the menu (such as it was, in anti-restaurant style).Simply that; snacks. A white bowl filled with uncooked white rice had two dark chocolate blocks sat upon it; blocks with stunning red, white, and green marbling on them. Oooooh yummy, I thought, choc-choc to kick things off; this is my kind of meal! Nothing that Joe or Dan do is ever straight-forward; simple and skilful, yes, but not straightforward. Why I thought it would be just chocolate I do not know – rookie mistake, I guess! Within the slightly bitter chocolate lay a duck liver pate: glass smooth and incredibly rich in taste. As we bit into the shell, our eyes widened and the fusion of tastes hit our taste buds. This was going to be some wondrous kind of night, for sure.
The first flash of stealth rebel, anti-restaurant ethos came next as we were invited into the belly of the alchemical cave, aka the kitchen, to watch the beef course being made. This also was where the machinations of a chef’s mind began to be revealed; to mere mortals like me, the genius creations that chefs conjure up are bewildering and I don’t know where they begin. Not that this course helped me understand things any clearer – who would even think to use a cow’s Achilles Tendon in a dish for example? Joe and Dan, obviously!
Velvety soft Beef Tartare dressed with rendered beef fat was carefully arranged in the deep-fried, prawn cracker-esque tendon and strewn with delicate dots of Caper Jam and Mustard. A delicate scattering of baby herbs added to the colour palate and provided the final flourish to this half of the course.
A spherical pair of Oxtail Croquettes was placed in opposition to the Beef Tartare on the platter, fixed by circles of Miso and topped with sweet Carrot purée. The deep beef taste came shining through marvellously, and the contrast of sweet vegetable and salty Miso was delicious. Both of us loved the chunky texture of the croquettes too.
The Man Bird and I were being served a little ahead of the other guests as we’d arrived earlier and we could see curious gazes and necks straining to catch a glimpse of the treasures we held as we‘d gone back to our seats. Patience fellow diners – as Incognito quote:” The quieter you are, the more you hear”, or in this case, see. Observe and discover.
Now, I’ve eaten many strange things in my life including Termites and Scorpions, but never a Book. “Book” was the entire clue we were given as to our next nibble! As it turns out, the book in question was the vessel upon which a small loaf of homemade bread, a pat of 72-hour cultured butter, and a jar of Bacon Jam all serenely sat. Incognito’s philosophy is if you’re going to do it, do it well and this applies even to the humble loaf. The wholegrain loaf was incredibly satisfying and topped with a multitude of grains to add taste and texture. The 72 hour cultured butter was amazing in my opinion – you got a definite twang of cheese coming through on the palate, and partnered with the deep, rounded smoky taste of the Bacon Jam, made an interesting course-between- courses.
Next up was BBQ Lamb, with Cherry, Parmesan and Basil. A thick, pink piece of Lamb had been coated in ultra-fine charcoal to impart that “charred on the Barbie” taste to the surprisingly mild, sweet tasting meat; just superb. The trinity of the Parmesan, Basil and Cherry worked brilliantly too, making this a really stunning dish.
The unassuming Chicken wing was given the Incognito zhuzh too, having its crisped skin adorned with a fine Hazelnut crumb. Many people turn their noses up at Chicken Wings, but it is a very tasty, moist part of the bird if treated right; the trick is not to faff with it too much. Joe and Dan aren’t faffers. Swirls of earthy Truffle tangoed with lightly smoked Duck yolk dots, and for a bit of table theatre (c’mon, everyone loves table theatre!) the Jerusalem artichoke came as a veloute and was poured from a small jug with a flourish, by the lovely Stace (Chef Dan’s partner as it turns out).
Having traversed through meat, and poultry, it was the turn of fish to take centre stage on the next course. A beautiful fillet of Trout was decorated subtly with tiny piped rounds of Hens’ egg yolk (whose richness was just astounding to be honest), accompanied by bijoux slices of lightly charred baby leek. Slices of pickled Cucumber and young fronds of Coriander also perched elegantly on the Trout’s glossy flesh, cutting through the richness of the fish with their piquancy.
Game was represented by a trio of Venison (Deer) steaks; there were two different cuts of the deer on offer, contrasting in both taste and texture. Not to be outdone by the deep venison taste, the Raisin purée gave the palate a pure, unadulterated wallop of fruity flavour! Pine Nuts that had been braised in a toasted Pine Nut stock gave some wonderful texture and taste too, and the crunch of the individual Sprout leaves was gorgeous.
More theatrics were yet to come, can you guess in what form? I absolutely love me a bit of dry ice, especially when it’s activated right before your very eyes! A bowl of the dry ice crystals sat unassumingly between a pair of spherical flacons holding the most verdant liquid known to man, which was Rocket Elixir apparently. The lovely Stace obliged yet again as she poured a citrus and ginger concoction over the crystals, and smoke billowed forth across the table in a most dramatic effect. The Rocket Elixir was the perfect palate cleanser with its clean, fresh flavours of warming Ginger, clean Citrus notes of Lemon, and peppery Rocket.
Other than “treats”- another ambiguous teaser - all that remained for us to try was the Chocolate delice with Mead, and Goats’ Cheese. I must admit, I thought that the Man Bird would baulk at the Goats’ Cheese; cheese as a whole isn’t really his forte, but fair play he gave it a go – and was totally blown away by it! The chocolate delice was incredible, full stop. Similarly, the goats’ cheese was amazing with its pungent creaminess that epitomises the unique eau-de- goat muskiness these gorgeous animals have. Marvellous by my reckoning, I could’ve just eaten this by its self! Anyhow, when His Nibs took his first mouthful of the chocolate and cheese combo, he was in absolute raptures! You seriously could’ve knocked me over with a feather.
The Man Birds’ reaction, to me, summed up what this experience is trying to communicate, perfectly. You get pushed out of your comfort zone, and into a whole other sphere of dining; because it isn’t so much about the setting per se, the food seems to be intensified, and you embrace it more. Horizons get expanded and pre-conceptions get blown out of the water. That the food is seasonal should go without saying, and local where possible, but Joe and Dan make no apology for going further afield if needs be to assure the quality of their dishes.
Cubes of Whisky jelly on pine sprig skewers and miniature Chocolate delices with unctuous Caramel centres provided a duo of delicious treats, and we savoured them as we sipped our after dinner coffees.
Throughout the evening there had been a palpable buzz in the room, and the hum of conversation could be heard as guests dissected the details of each course. My beady eyes spotted a certain Chef Chris Parry on a table at the other end of the room, and between him and the other members on his table (6 in total, the maximum table number allowed) there wasn’t much food going begging at the end of each course. Testament I think to the skill of Joe and Dan, and also to the variety of dishes on offer.
Chefs Joe and Dan have worked their socks off over the years bless them, honing their craft; grafting long, unsociable hours and sacrificing time with friends and family along the way. Why? Passion for their art, desire to push boundaries, and a love of bringing good quality food to every person they cook for, that’s why.
Don’t let the Incognito philosophy of simplicity fool you though; every single item that went onto our plate had been put there with pin-point precision. Nothing was there that shouldn’t have been and everything had been placed to maximise the appearance of another item on the plate. Attention to detail is crucial when food is the star of the show, and Joe and Dan excelled themselves on each and every course. Respect to you both, sirs.
Thanks also need to be given to the two other servers for the evening, Jack and Matt; along with Stace, they ensured that all guests had a fabulous experience. Incognito had used Anthony Andrews from Duffield as their butcher, and, without exception, all the meats had been glorious – especially the Venison which he’d dry-aged for an extra 3 weeks to intensify its flavour.
As well as the Incognito “ pop-up” Dining Experience (priced at £55 per person), Incognito offer Private Dining packages at your home, Cook your own Supper master classes and Cocktail/Drinks master classes – perfect for Hen and Stag functions. To enquire about these events contact the chaps on IncognitoDining@gmail.com
Sticky Beak is proud to announce that The Loft at Belper will host the next pop-up dining experience on January 10th, 2019. I can’t think of a better way to kick off the New Year, personally! To book your place call The Loft team on 01773 827188; a mandatory deposit of £10 per person is needed at the time of booking or your table cannot be secured due to the strict numbers allowed at each event.
I hardly think I need to say “Hot Wings”, but I have done! We had an incredible, mind-blowing experience, and I’m sure you will too.