I am a bit of a “bah humbug” when it comes to Christmas. As far as I am concerned there are 12 days of Christmas and that is it. Outside of that (in December/ January) it is just like any other day in any other month.
I refuse to do secret Santa in work (why spend £10 on a piece of tat no one wants and which will undoubtedly go in the bin as soon as the giver is out of sight – for some reason, I can’t understand why, they call me a miserable sod in work🤔) and believe it should be illegal to mention the C-word before the 1st of December (punishable by death if uttered at any time before the start of November – large fine otherwise). Decorations would, as part of my ideal world, be manufactured so that they self-destruct if hung before the 1st day of Christmas (in theory Christmas Day, although I would allow Christmas Eve – as it is a bit of a faff to put them up on the day itself – and if pushed would even permit them to be up over the advent period) or if they are still up post 12th Night (6th January).
As such it is fair to say that I don’t buy into the Christmas spirit as much as some (most) do.
When some friends mentioned going out somewhere in December I feared a pre-hash of Christmas dinner, with the dreaded “Christmas party menu”.
Whilst some play fair in December, many bump up their prices, remove all offers and slap on some pretty bog standard stuff dressed up as a “Christmas menu” (which last all of December). Commercially I get the first two, as it is to catch the office Christmas party buck and restaurants rely on the “extended” Christmas trade (God knows they need it at the moment), but there are ways of doing this well and ways of not. Quality and value for money should still be maintained.
I had a very nice Christmas meal at the Classroom recently
which offered good food at a reasonable price (£19.95 for 2 courses/£23.95 for 3 courses). This shows it can be done.
Some (by no means all), however, seem to base their Christmas offering on people not caring as much about something they aren’t generally paying for (unless your employer is exceptionally tight) and on said people being too inebriated to notice if what they are eating is good, bad or indifferent (my experience of the office party Christmas meals, over a painfully long working life to date, is the food is usually mediocre at best – granted we never seem to go to the places I would personally choose).
As a result a meal out (yes, I am getting to it) in December can be a bit dispiriting, but in this case the meal was a Supper Club event by Leyli Joon & Co and this more than peeked my interest.
I had the pleasure of eating some of Leyli Joon & Co’s food at a house party they catered in the summer and to say I was impressed by it is an understatement. Fantastic food, full of flavour, was my view – as I stuffed my face.
You know you are on to a winner (with dinner) when the person cooking is the choice of caterer for Asador 44 in terms of their staff parties.
The theme of the event was a Italian style Christmas feast and readers of the blog will know I am a big fan of Italian food. With its simplicity and reliance on just a few exemplary ingredients in most dishes, it is one of the world’s truly great cuisines.
As such I jumped at the chance to go especially as the price (bearing in mind it was December) was a very fair (at least to my mind) £40 a head for 4 courses (and not a dried out turkey breast in sight).
The Supper Club/Feast was held in the Academy Espresso Bar in Barry – not the most convenient of locations for our Llandaff based party.
Not been before, but very nice venue I thought.
We arrived a little early (I hate being late, so always build in a bit of leeway) and had a aperitivo. I went for a rather nice vermouth and tonic number.
Plenty of other interesting options, such as various G&Ts
and more exotic stuff.
The menu looked like a medley of many of my favourite Italian things, with the likes of antipasto, porchetta, arancini and tiramisu.
A potentially fabulous feast indeed, although I would argue it is more pan-Italian than bedded in cuisine of the Veneto region.
First up was antipasto, in the form of salmon cured (gravalax style rather than smoked) with pink peppercorns, lemon, fennel and oregano.
Lovely delicate cure to the salmon, which sat on a nicely crunchy crostini
Adding to the decadence was some caviar and a beautifully cooked quail egg with a runny yolk.
Lovely stuff with capers and a really punchy green sauce adding more layers of flavour and assorted seeds providing a nice additional crunch. Lovely balance of flavours and textures.
The prima of arancini was a nice fusion of the South (Sicily and arancini) and North (Chianti braised beef) of Italy,
with a crisp exterior, lovely rich (melt in the mouth tender) beef and creamy saffron risotto rice.
It sat on what I think was an Italian styled romesco sauce – a sort of toned down version of Crema di pepperocino (with more standard bell pepper than chilli in the mix). Atop the arancini it was a punchy gremalata and an aioli.
I thought the flavour combinations here worked beautifully, with some pleasing textural contrasts. One of best arancini I have had in many a long year.
Next up was porchetta, a dish linked to the regions in the centre of Italy (Lazio, Umbria and Abruzzo) and generally seen as one of Italy’s quintessential street foods. When Mrs. SF and I were last in Rome (many years ago) we got the train out to Frascati and feasted on porchetta sandwiches whilst glugging wine.
Here the dish had been take up a few notches from its street food origins. With a stuffing of cured meats chestnuts and assorted herbs, it was quite a decadent version of this classic street food dish.
The sides included lardo roasted new potatoes,
spiced squash (in the form of a beautifully smooth puree), cavelo nero (a Tuscan staple) and a lovely rissole type affair with more pork (shoulder I think) in it.
The meat was beautifully tender and the stuffing (rich with herbs) really elevated the flavour of the meat. It also had the bonus of a nicely crisp skin and plentiful fat (and we all know where there is fat there is flavour).
The killer element of the dish was the sauce – which was jam packed full of piggie flavours. I surreptitiously deployed the finger (whilst Mrs. SF wasn’t watching) to get up as much of this lovely stuff as possible. Flavour wise it was just wow.
For pudding, we moved firmly back to Veneto with a tiramisu and a bit of theatre, with scented dry ice. We were instructed not to touch the bowls, which planted a worm in my mind of what would happen if I touched my tongue to the side of the dish. Despite the masochistic urge to do just that, I fought off the insane temptation and left well alone.
Back to the food this was not just any tiramisu, but one laden to the gunnels with booze (particularly amaretto).
To this was added a hazelnut praline, pomegranate and fruit pavlova (laden with berries, pomegranite and fig), with a shot of limocello (from Campania) on the side
I tend to find lemoncillo too sweet for my tastes, but here there was a nice balance with the acidity of the lemon not being overpowered by sweetness.
There were also some bacci (is that baci as in Italian for kisses I wonder?) – ricotta doughnuts, which were delightfully light (a blessing given the size of the dessert – each huge platter was for only two people).
I loved it, but felt a bit cheated that, after the previous 3 course and booze, I couldn’t quite finish it without going full on Mr. Creosote.
Whilst there appeared to be a reasonable selection of Italian wines on offer for the evening
I enquired as to the possibity of bringing our own booze (if you don’t ask ….) to pair with the food on offer.
Braised beef and rissoto (even with the twist of it being in arancini form) is classically paired with Amarone (a Piedmont red would also work very well) and with porchetta you could go with a white (a Vermentino perhaps) or (my preference) a Tuscan red. With the Tiramisu the obvious pair (for me) would be a Vin Santo or a Recioto della Valpolicella.
The BYO request was accepted for a small £10 per bottle charge (very reasonable I thought).
I asked the twitterverse for wine recommendations with the salmon and got various options including the other Italian fizz in tbe form of Franciacorta (far better than prosecco in my opinion, but I couldn’t get hold of one in short time frame I had) and various whites in the form of a Vermintino (from Sardinia – a friend’s suggestion, couldn’t source a Sardinia one locally), Grillo from Sicily (suggested by the Bottle Shop in Roath and Penarth – with them stocking one for around the £14- £15 mark) and a Verdicchio di Matelica from the Marche region (recommended by Al Ponte in Pontcanna – £13.30). What I love about wine merchants is you get someone who knows their wine and will offer really good options (usually more than one) – something online retailers and supermarkets just can’t do. Both suggestions from the Bottle Shop and Al Ponte were excellent ones and (more perhaps due to it being my side of town) I eventually went with the Al Ponte recommendation of the Verdicchio.
It has robust aroma of citrus, herbaceous notes and then crisp green apples. On the palate, it had a nice level of acidity to it that made it very refreshing, with nice fruit and a slake of minerality. More than enough oomph to it to handle the cured salmon dish.
We then moved on to a Piedmont wine in the form of a Barbera d’Asti Braida “Bricco della Bigotta” 2003 from one of the master of Barbera in the form of the late great Giacomo Bologna.
This wine is a firm favourite of Mrs. SF and I and is the last bottle of a case I bought at auction a fair few years ago. A bit hitter at a whopping 15.5%
Unfortunately there was a fault with this wine- as it was oxidised. May also have been a bit over the hill. Shame as it was the last of the case and all the others have been lovely (you win some, you lose some).
The next wine we bought was a super Tuscan in the form of Ornellaia’s baby brother – a Le Serre Nuove dell’Ornellaia 2008 (budget didn’t stretch – by some margin- to the big brother).
This wine is made from a Bordeaux blend of grapes with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot all in the mix.
Gorgeous stuff this, with a beguiling bouquet of spice, cigar box, cassis, blackcurrant, blackberry and a touch of leather. On the palate, there was a touch of mocha, smokeiness, cedar, and black fruits. Great with the porchetta.
I thought the food at this pop up was top notch. Really interesting and well balanced flavours and for the £40 price tag (especially at this time of the year) excellent value.
As I understand it, Leyli Joon & Co have taken up premise in Caerphilly and come the New Year they will be ramping up both the pop up/supper club and catering sides of the business. My advice is if you see one of their pop ups/supper clubs advertised book a ticket ASAP – details are posted on their website and their Twitter and Instagram feeds. Also if you need an event caterer, from my experience of their food and catering of an event for friends, these people will do you proud.
This is a chef and catering company to definately watch out for in the New Year in Cardiff and surrounds.
Would also add that the Academy Espresso Bar is an excellent venue and it seems they have a rather fine rooster of pop ups.
Website: click here
Tel: 07572 746 462