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Vaudeville’s July Menu

Oscar Foulkes June 30, 2010 Tags: Restaurants 1 comment

Lobster and linefish with a mild and fragrant curry sauce on basmati rice and greens

It is sensible, when feeding many people off a set menu that offers only three main course options (meat, fish or vegetarian), to stick to the safe, middle-of-the-road options. Any menu items that deviate from the broadest base of acceptance run the risk of creating problems due to the limited number of diners that would find them acceptable. There is a reason why airlines serve “chicken or beef?”

Before getting to some background detail on Vaudeville’s July menu, I need to ask: is it sensible to dangle upside-down several metres above the ground, supported only by some fabric wrapped around one’s ankles? Is it sensible to juggle eggs? And who in their right mind does the hula hoop with a flaming hoop while semi-naked?

In the light of what happens on the Vaudeville stage, the risks we have taken with Vaudeville’s July menu are probably not at all risque.

The first of these is the inclusion of lobster in the fish main course – Lobster and linefish with a mild and fragrant curry sauce on basmati rice and greens. We make the curry sauce without any shellfish stock, and we’re happy to serve the dish without the lobster, but guests that order the full monty can look forward to a delicious combination of flavours. The curry is more fragrant than ‘chilli hot’, which complements the lobster and fish extremely well.

Slow-roasted Springbok shank with roast garlic mash, roasted beetroot & butternut and blanched greens

The meat main course is Springbok shank (one of my all-time favourites, and a dish that is extremely well-suited to Inkspot, the house red), that we serve with roast garlic mashed potato, roasted butternut and beetroot and blanched greens. Being venison, springbok has a very low fat content, and is raised completely organically. This makes it an extremely healthy red meat choice. Springbok shanks are little smaller than lamb shanks, which are sometimes a dauntingly large mound of meat on the plate. Some types of venison have stronger flavour, but springbok is almost as mild as Karoo lamb.

Springbok meat is not Halaal. Upon request, we have Halaal meat available as an alternative.

Vegetarians can look forward to homemade gnocchi, which we toss with wood-roasted rosa tomatoes, sauteed mushrooms, pine nuts, parmesan and rocket.

Probably the only sensible things we’ve done relate to the two desserts. Due to popular request, the decadent chocolate torte makes a return. The pavlova with vanilla mascarpone crème and fresh seasonal fruits or berries is not only a light dessert option, but also suitable for wheat intolerant guests.

Inside Vaudeville’s red-draped walls and ceiling, where performers do outrageous things, and guests are invited to escape their day-to-day experiences for a few hours, you may be asked “springbok or lobster?” The waiter who asks this question may be a fishnetted woman, a glitter-lipsticked man, or perhaps even the top-hatted and corsetted Jennifer-trix. Under the circumstances, “chicken or beef?” would just be wrong. We don’t have anything against bovines or birds (even if they have breasts), but the occasion does call on something a bit more adventurous.

You may even find yourself having a jolly good time while not behaving at all sensibly!

A Night of Vaudevillian Pleasure

Oscar Foulkes May 30, 2010 Tags: Restaurants No comments

Before Vaudeville opened, one of the management team was doing a quick mental calculation of the number of people involved in making each evening’s performance happen. I seem to recall a tally in the vicinity of 60 or 70, covering everything from performers to kitchen staff and waiters.

As I have so indulgently reported, my focus has been on the food, which is necessary, because that’s our area of responsibility. However, I’ve never got around to experiencing Vaudeville as a guest, an omission I finally rectified two nights ago.

Over the months I’ve got to know the soundtrack, mostly because of the musical cues, and have become quite Pavlovian in my response to the track that signals five minutes to main course service, but there is a huge difference between a stark stainless steel kitchen and the plush, cocooned escape of the theatre area.

I loved every minute of the experience. It was fabulous; far better than I could have imagined from my post in the kitchen (the food was good, too!). Monsieur Albert, the host, was wonderfully entertaining, and really good in the way that he held together a succession of extraordinary performers.

The show girls offered plenty of eye candy, which makes me think that I’ve spent all my time in the wrong part of the backstage area!

I thought it would be funny, hilarious actually, to make a ridiculous enquiry of our waiter (obviously in on the joke, because I wasn’t exactly incognito) for a main course suitable for a garlic and mushroom allergic vegan who doesn’t eat rice (the vegetarian main course is a mushroom risotto that contains not only cheese, but garlic as well). The Dish head chef, Arno, was running the kitchen, and it was intended as a harmless tease. However, by the time word got back to the kitchen, Arno had already rolled out gnocchi that he’d made on-the-fly.

My main course was delivered with a side order of cold, burnt sausage roll, which continued the culinary banter. Then, to my amazement and enormous admiration, the kitchen also sent out a beautiful (looking and tasting) plate of gnocchi with pea puree, butternut puree and marinated ribbons of courgette. I know how many expletives Arno must have muttered under his breath, or perhaps even more loudly Gordon Ramsay-style, but he nevertheless pulled an amazing meal together. I’m in awe of what he did in the midst of all else that was happening in the kitchen. Respect!

I’m not attempting to deflect attention from the food, so that there is less pressure on us to put delicious food on guests’ plates, but the point of Vaudeville is the show. As I sat there, soaking up the amazing experience, I was struck by the cumulative effort on the part of the performers. They put so much of themselves into every night’s performance that one cannot fail to be swept away.

That observation also left me feeling more than a little guilty about our somewhat self-important attention to the food, which is such a tiny part of the night’s human effort. Relative to the phenomenal feats of trapeze, balance, strength and more, a couple of hundred grams of roast lamb is really quite insignificant.

Arno’s vegan-friendly meal, on the other hand, was on a par with any acrobatic feat performed on (or above) the stage. The difference, of course, is that there are diners who would have sent the impromptu vegan meal back to the kitchen for a variety of reasons related to personal taste.

Vaudeville represents a huge investment of capital on the part of its shareholders, matched by a great deal of skill and passion on the part of the all the people who make the evening happen. It was wonderful, if only for one night, to be on the receiving end of it.

Well done guys, and gals!

Vaudeville’s June Menu

Oscar Foulkes May 18, 2010 Tags: Restaurants 4 comments

It’s hard to believe that more than five months have whizzed by since the opening of Vaudeville. This equates to the service of nearly 25 000 meals, a rather startling realisation (more startling, perhaps, is how long it took me to get there as a guest. Read about my evening here). The total has been arrived at in increments of a few hundred at a time, which is testament to the power of small steps.

Another month, of course, means another menu. The June menu launches on Wednesday 26 May. Thereafter, the new menu will launch on the first Tuesday of every month (or thereabouts).

Mushroom and pea risotto

The vegetarian option – taking into special consideration that we’re now officially in winter – is a mushroom risotto. It seems a shame that this dish should be playing the ‘quota’ role, because its deliciousness cuts across all dietary preferences. OK, perhaps not vegan, because it’s a dish that really does need a generous grating of Parmesan. We also like to fry the onions, garlic and rice in butter at the beginning, so dairy (and, God forbid, garlic) are essential components. Upon request, preferably at the time of booking, we happily cook this dish without the offending components. Our preference is for a drier style of risotto, rather than a more ‘soupy’ consistency.

Salmon-gratinated fish of the day with basmati rice, greens and a dill sauce

We always struggle a little with the fish dish. The main issue is one of consistent availability. Last month we were able to put tuna onto the menu for one week, but its preparation required a temporary change to the menu. Our stop-gap has been Blue Wahoo, a Pacific game fish with delicately-flavoured white flesh. This month we’re doing it with a salmon-impregnated, gratinated crust. Put simply, we blitz salmon, bread crumbs, Parmesan, dill and butter. We roll this out into a thin sheet that we put on top of the fish. We roast the fish at 220-degrees, which releases the flavour from the crust and browns it. I’ve been aching to test the response to Hake (probably our most underrated fish), but have been concerned about public response to a fish that has the perception of belonging in a fish and chips shop. Vast quantities of hake are flown to Spain every week, which says a lot for its desirability. What is it they say about a prophet in his own country?

The salmon-gratinated fish is served with rice, greens and an intensely-flavoured dill sauce. Wheat- and/or lactose-intolerant guests are welcome to order this dish without either crust or sauce.

Old-fashioned individual lamb roast with caramelised potatoes, mushy peas and hearty gravy

The meat dish is also something that requires a great deal of thought and investigation. Everyone has a different idea of how pink (or not) a steak should be, which makes simultaneous preparation of 200 steaks quite challenging. Stews don’t have that problem, but it’s almost impossible to make them look nice on a plate. For the June menu we’ve got our butcher to make up individual lamb roasts. These are taken from the ‘breast’, effectively the forequarter ribs. The meat is then deboned and rolled, with a minced lamb and rosemary stuffing. The rolls are gently braised until tender, and are quite delicious. We serve them with caramelised potatoes, mushy peas and a hearty, reduced jus. The end result is another dish perfectly suited – we believe – to winter eating.

We have a feeling that deboning and rolling several thousand lamb breasts is likely to end what until now has been a good relationship with our butcher, but we think it’s worth the risk.

For dessert, we offer two options. The totally decadent chocolate and orange ganache tart remains (even the shortcrust pastry is sensational). The ‘fruit slot’ is being taken over by a caramelised apple puff tart with crème Anglaise.

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Vaudeville’s May Menu

Oscar Foulkes April 24, 2010 Tags: Restaurants 4 comments
  • Namibian free-range sirloin steak with mustard mash, greens and a mushroom & green peppercorn sauce

  • Oven-baked fish with lemony hollandaise, crispy potato wedges and greens

  • Lightly-spiced roasted vegetables with wild rice pilaf and tomato relish

  • Lemon-infused poached pears on a cinnamon crumble, with vanilla bean crème anglaise & a crisp brandy snap shard

  • Chocolate and orange ganache tart with berry coulis

We have an delicious new line-up for the new Vaudeville menu, which runs until the end of May.

Based upon the track record to date, the overwhelming favourite is going to be the meat option. We really can’t blame diners for following the herd on this one. Namibian free-range beef is one of the prize ingredients used in the Dish kitchen. Not only is it fabulously flavourful, but it is also tender and juicy. From a health and environmental perspective, it’s good to know that the antibiotic and hormone-free cattle are free to roam the endless Namibian plains as they forage for grass. Since discovering Namibian free-range we haven’t been able to enjoy any other beef quite the way we used to!

We serve the sirloin steaks with a hearty mushroom and green peppercorn sauce, mustard mash and greens. While the meat is served medium to medium-rare we are happy to also do rare or well-done.

The fish is served with lemony hollandaise, which is one of my favourite accompaniments for fish. The plate also has crispy potato wedges and greens. Yummy!

The vegetarian dish has, once again, received special attention. We add toasted almonds, diced dried apricots and chopped parsley to the rice. To this we add lightly-spiced roasted vegetables and round it all off with an intense tomato relish.

The popular poached pears remain on the menu, and the chocolate slot is taken up by a totally decadent chocolate and orange ganache tart.

The Ghosts of Meals Past

Oscar Foulkes April 1, 2010 Tags: Restaurants 7 comments

I’ve been mulling my Vaudeville kitchen experiences for quite a while, trying to reach a point of semi-objectively drawing some conclusions.

During ‘service’, kitchens can be very stressful places. There’s enough on one’s mind getting the food on the menu out, without also having to deal with last-minute likes, dislikes, intolerances or allergies. When there are 300 people in the house I can’t guarantee that I’ll be entirely gracious about re-making a risotto without garlic (for one person). Or, not jeer about the vegetarians who request ice cream for dessert, instead of chocolate torte, because they don’t eat eggs (in case you didn’t know, ice cream contains eggs).

It’s not that I don’t want people to have a good experience, but sending out 300 main courses in 15 to 20 minutes does limit the amount of diversity one can offer on-the-fly.

There is also the issue of how much meat people want to eat. A vegetarian will tell you they’re vegetarian, which enables one to plan accordingly. I eat meat, but I’m not a real meat-eater; I’m more than satisfied with 200g of red meat (or fish for that matter). However, a meat-eater feels cheated with a piece of meat that size. The problem is this – you don’t know that person is a meat-eater until they complain afterwards about how little food they’ve been served.

More than anything, though, food is at the coalface of human interaction. It can represent deeply-held religious beliefs, or be the repository of memories, both happy and traumatic. Our food likes and dislikes are subjective on the most intimate of levels.

All of which ensures that rationality is not necessarily present when people express their dissatisfaction. Judgements or condemnations fly thick and fast, seldom with any reference to a tangible issue (for example, pointing out that the hollandaise has split). Food is sent back to the kitchen with nothing more than a “terrible”. Well, thank you, but could you please point out what exactly was not to your taste?

I’m not saying that we’re always perfect in every respect (I can think of one night in particular when the wheels came off really, really badly). As much as we in the kitchen need to allow room for our culinary fallibility, we would prefer diners to acknowledge – first and foremost – that they’re expressing their own taste, which is not nearly as empirical a judgement as people believe.

Eventually, what helped the penny to drop on my understanding of the Vaudeville experience has been something that happens on the street outside our back door.

You see, while Vaudeville’s front door is on the two-way Mechau street, the kitchen door is on the very much narrower, one-way, Prestwich street. Across the road is the entrance to the parking garage of the office building above. My view (which is only my subjective thought on the matter, and not based in any technical expertise) is that the design of the entrance did not take into account the narrowness of the street. Hence, it makes for a very tight turn. Compact vehicles seem to manage without any problems, but SUVs and luxury German sedans need the full width of the street to cope with the turn.

I will admit that once, for about five minutes, I was parked (legitimately, in my view) directly opposite the parking entrance. Unfortunately, one of those luxury German sedans was trying to get into the parking, and couldn’t. The driver – a man – instantly became very abusive.

What has happened since then is that they (i.e. those who inhabit the office block and use the parking) have taken to putting traffic cones into the demarcated loading zone, which means that we no longer have the use of a public resource. Because it gets in the way of a luxury vehicle’s turning circle.

I can see a battle being waged over this territory, and it’s one no less emotional than the response of a diner to a dish that isn’t quite the way he/she likes it. In the case of the loading zone the territory is tangible. When it comes to food one is in ethereal, emotional space, where rationality is difficult.

While I’m at it, I need to admit that I have probably not been my own model diner for most of my life. I’m sure there are times that restaurateurs were suppressing a very strong desire to throw me out onto the street by the scruff of my neck. I can’t promise that I’ll never again send food back, but if I do, I’ll be sure to stick to tangible issues rather than gratuitous judgements.

My kitchen experiences do have a lot to do with other people’s ‘stuff’, but I suspect that what’s really happening is that I’m getting introduced to ghosts of meals past. Over and over again.

OK, Universe, I admit it, there are times that I have been insufferably judgemental and arrogant. I’ve learnt my lesson. Now, please will you make sure that wheat intolerant, garlic allergic vegans, who don’t eat mange tout or tomatoes, let us know when making the booking that they require some special attention?

I don’t have any stats on ‘special needs’ diners, but here are some numbers I can share. For every group of 90, the breakdown of main course orders will be based upon the ratio of 60 meat: 20 fish: 10 vegetarian. On certain nights there may be a bias towards meat or fish, but seldom towards vegetarian. The ‘time-budget’ for assembling each plate is 15 seconds (i.e. plating the starch, the veg, the fish/meat, sauce and garnish).

Click here for the background to the June menu, or here for some niche diets that would put the kitchen under more than just a little pressure.

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