On Saturday 13th April, the date was set for a lovely lunch by the Thames in Marlow, Buckinghamshire. Sitting in the bar awaiting our friends, I enjoyed a nicely chilled Tio Pepe Fino as an aperitif, while Mr Purple Teeth when for his usual G&T. It's so gratifying to find at least one place in the region that knows how to serve a sherry.
The gastronomic delights were kicked off with an extremely tasty amuse-bouche of Leek and Potato Soup topped off with a Garlic Foam. It was served in a shot glass and certainly awakened the palate ready for the meal ahead. It's also provided plenty of guessing game failures on my Facebook page!
Our main course dish was a Roast Loin of Venison served with Cocoa Nib, Dark Chocolate Ganache, Red Cabbage, Parsnip & Venison Jus.
Oh Venison, how I love thee! I love thee as slow cooked haunch, in pasta and in stew, but especially as rarely cooked loin, paired with sweet trimmings such as chocolate or red berries. Sorry Bambi!
It's perhaps a surprising menu choice for a spring menu, but I was glad of it's hearty warming flavours given the downpour which met us for most of April. I decided to pair this with Amarone della Valpolicella, a 2005 Riserva Le Viole by Accordini. My guests expressed a preference for this wine, and who am I to deny them? After all, I realised I'd already blown the £40 a head wine budget we'd have spent on the matched wines. This is a wine I'd always choose to put with a red meat dish served with sweet sides such as red cabbage and parsnip, but in this case, the addition of chocolate made it a real winner. Why? Because it's made from semi dried grapes and has some residual sweetness. The sommelier's suggestion was a Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon from the Colchagua Valley. I can't imagine how a dry tannic cabernet would match this dish, but I've never tasted this one, and the critics' descriptions are rather alluring, so perhaps it works. We also added a cheese course, and Amarone is a red which can cope with the extra-strong cheeses I love. The Cheese Course is an optional £10 supplement, a lot on top of a £55 meal. We cannot see past a good strong cheese, however, so we opted just to have cheese for two and share it between 4, which the restaurant were happy with. Again, the cheeseboard felt like it had been designed around us with an amazing selection of pungent dairy produce such as Brie de Meaux, Epoisses and Comté from France and a more local Barkham Blue. The cheeses were served with crackers, bread, grapes and truffle or saffron honey as well as quince paste. Why does cheese have to be so fattening? I would eat a plate like that every day for breakfast if my arteries wouldn't harden within the week.
I love Jurançon dessert wines, and this one "Clos Thou - Supreme de Thou 2010" was just as pleasing as I'd anticipated, and a great match for both the pre-dessert, and the actual dessert on the menu.
In a strange kind of symmetry, the wine is a blend of Gros Manseng (our second wine) and Petit Manseng (a grape which is thought to be related to Albariño.
The pre-dessert (which isn't listed on the menu) was, from what I can recall under alcohol soaked conditions, some kind of lychee sorbet. There is a foam and a jelly but memories are sketchy aside from the fact that it was refreshing and got the palate ready for the ultimate in desserts, the Passion Fruit Soufflé served with a delicious creamy White Chocolate Ice Cream. Heaven on a plate.
I simply can't imagine a better match for the wine, or a better dish to finish off a menu that could have been made just for me. As for value, at £55 for 5 courses plus the amuse bouche and pre dessert, I think it's well worth the money. I spent a little more than the sommelier would have on the wines, but from the feedback of my dining companions, it seems to have been appreciated. I've had 3 tasting menus at The Compleat Angler now, and this one was my favourite, and I much preferred these wines to the ones they've recommended before. Maybe I got lucky, or maybe, I actually do know a thing or two.
Remember folks, drinking this much with lunch, is not recommended on a regular basis, but for occasional splurges, just make sure you enjoy it as much as I did.