A heart-stopping moment
It’s the moment a chef fears but also aches for… Jay Rayner walking into the restaurant.
We’re not a big place so there was nowhere to hide when he rocked up at the Raby Hunt on a quiet Tuesday lunchtime. Booked under another name, there is nonetheless no mistaking the Observer’s wild-haired restaurant critic, especially not in our small restaurant. One of those heart-stopping moments. I welcomed him and shook his hand, managing to keep mine steady. I headed to kitchen, heart hammering.
God, this has to be good. No hiding places. He’s a man who knows his stuff, says what he thinks then tells his how-many-thousand readers. But he’s just another customer I tell myself. Albeit one who doesn’t come North very often, so he’s made an effort of a journey to be here.
He eats from the five-course lunch menu; damn, have the nine-course I think. I pop over at the end, not asking anything as corny as ‘how was it’ but instead, was there anything he didn’t like. Not much comment there but I still have to wait an agonising couple of weeks to see if any candid dislikes make it into a review.
Fortunately life is busy so the stomach-lurch that I get when I think of his public review is mostly kept at bay. But the days before the Sunday when the review appears are painful and the night before, sleepless. Rising early, we steel ourselves for a glance at the review. Almost the first line is… ‘tiny but miraculous first restaurant’. Heart can beat a bit longer.
‘It’s damned clever’ is something nice to see in print too but beyond that I also like that he mentions one of the newest additions to a menu that I’ve been slaving over: “Best of these snacks… is a buttery piece of still-warm toast, laid with thin slices of lardo, the cured back fat of the pig, in turn loaded with a dollop of caviar. If you were brought a plate of these you’d snaffle the lot in seconds.”
It’s easy to enjoy a good review, of course it is, but the hard work is maintaining that benchmark for the diners who follow in its wake. Read the full review theguardian.com
Meanwhile, in the kitchen it’s a time of new seasons, ideas and a change of menu, something that absorbed me over much of February. We get a taste of spring with lighter dishes and fresh new produce. I’ve got a few raw dishes on the tasting menu, raw scallop served with avocado and a fermented dressing. There’s also a raw fillet of beef which is served at room temperature. It is beer-fed beef, really tender and tasty, a bit like Wagyu. That’s served inside the marrowbone with a basil and anchovy dressing and some of our own made pickles.
Rock and pop-up
In July we’re having something called a mad loud music ‘pop up’ here at Raby Hunt. You might have heard of crazy rock chef Michael O’Hare from the bonkers, The Man Behind the Curtain in Leeds, a true eccentric and devotee of rock music as well as an inspiration in the kitchen. We’re going to cook up four dishes each for a tasting menu accompanied by loud music! His is likely to encompass Bowie and Thin Lizzy, mine Nirvana and the Stone Roses.
In the City
My London lunching adventures continued with a visit to a favourite, Hedone, and my mate Miguel Jonson. He’s also a self-taught chef and we got our stars at the same time, so we have a lot in common and I love going there. You sit at a counter watching the kitchen and the food and atmosphere are great. My standout dishes: signature ravioli with parmesan and horseradish, asparagus with pistachio and warm chocolate mousse with Madagascar. After my last disappointing trip to Gordon Ramsay, I really recommend Hedone if you’re off to London, a definite 8/10.
Razor clams are a favourite this time of year – my go-to dish is to serve them with fresh peas and morels.
At the time of writing, we’ve had a dining room full of well-known actors in the region for the stage production of Birdsong. The company came last year and 12 were back today for a lively lunch. Among them Peter Duncan from Blue Peter, who we (especially front of house Craig) all remember from our childhood telly-watching days. He’s with a group of fellow actors including the lovely Selma Brooke from The Tudors…
A highlight of the year was the Obsession food festival with Nigel Haworth at Northcote. I went over to eat a 12-course tasting menu prepared by Jacob Jan Boerma, 3-star chef at De Leest in Vaassen in the Netherlands, which was spectacular. Stand-out ideas like an ice cream ‘cone’ with beef tartare and oyster an scallops with flavours of pumpkin. Really impressive. I spent a while talking to him afterwards and it was really inspiring chatting about how he got to be at the level he’s at.
I was invited into the kitchen by Nigel the next night to meet the Italian brothers Enrico and Roberto Cerea of DaVittorio in Brusaporto, Italy who have a three star Michelin restaurant. At 2am they cooked up a saffron risotto that was easily one of the best things I have tasted in my life. I could have put my face in it! It was just the perfect balance of saffron with butter added at exactly the right moment, the rice al dente and right amount of parmesan. Sensational.
My next food trip is to Sweden. We’ll be staying at The Grand which I hear has a good cocktail bar… These are where I’ll be eating: The Flying Elk, an up-and-coming place with a Brit pub vibe, in a good way.
A gastropub in Gamla Stan (Old Town) inspired by a blend of Swedish culinary tradition and British pub culture. Eskadet, a high-level barbecue concept restaurant Frantzen, been looking forward to going here for a long time! Named 23 in the world’s best restaurants last year.
Bib Gourmand with Harriett Close
Salmon is my new favourite thing on a plate.
We stayed at Slaley Hall which we all loved, Daddy because he likes to play golf and me because I like splashing about in the pool.
We ate in the brasserie and as you can see as well as nice salmon I am eating up my green trees.