Musings (more like rambling thoughts) of a Cardiff based lawyer obsessed with food and wine
With the bars and restaurants still shut (there is, it appears, light at the end of the tunnel come the 13th July hopefully – it may be too little too late for some I fear), I was at a bit of a loss in terms of plans for my birthday (a few weeks back and inconveniently mid – week this year), with a lot of the higher end places unsurprisingly concentrating their takeaway efforts on the weekend.
I wanted a good meal and a decent bottle of wine or two to celebrate one more year closer to retirement.
In terms of the wine, this was not a problem as I have a few bottle in stock.
Food wise Mrs. SF is a dab hand in the kitchen, but it is nice on occasions like birthdays for someone else to do the hard work.
Formally of Paysan (sadly no more at Bloc) and many an esteemed establishment before, Grady Atkins came to my rescue with the announcement of a dine at home service – Chef Vous – which offers a bespoke 5 course menu for 2 for a very reasonable £75 all in (with the added advantage of me accessing my wine room for a bottle or two to go with the dinner, at no mark up).
I quickly fired off a DM to Mr. Atkins expressing serious interest and after a (very quick) refining process we (well he – he knows exactly what I like food wise) got to a rather fine sounding menu which was as follows:
Ticked an awful lot of my boxes this menu and the order was duly put in.
With Mr. Atkins you are never going to be given dolls house portions, but even I was taken aback at the massive box of goodies delivered (in a socially distanced way) to my door step.
That box doesn’t even include the dessert!!
Pretty much everything was cooked, with only a limited amount of reheating required for certain items.
Cooking instructions were clear and concise and nothing required more than 15 minutes (most a lot less) in the oven.
First up was an intriguing amuse bouche of padron peppers, date, parmesan and bacon
These were proper amuse bouche (eaten in one bite – take note Great British Menu) and were a lovely combination of sweet, salt and a touch of heat.
Bacon and date is a tried and trust formula (Devils on horseback), but I would never have thought of stuffing a padron pepper with a date.
It was inspired and with the padron pepper addition perhaps these should be called “Don Quixotes“.
Very generous portion of 6 of these each.
Next up was a beautifully flavoured crab dish, coming with a whole loaf of treacle bread
The crab concoction was perfect for spreading on the bread and was topped with lightly pickled cucumber and studded with fresh green peas (the latter worked really well as against the richness of the crab).
I fear my presentation skills (unceremoniously dolloped on) did this no justice.
The crab was a mix of brown (so much flavour and a good amount of it here) and white meat bound together by a sauce made using the crab shells, which bought a lovely richness to proceeding.
The treacle bread itself was a cracking loaf, with a hint to bitter black molasses in the background. It had a surprisingly light texture.
Great dish this – just jam packed full of flavour.
Course 3 was another doozy, with a hunk of prime dry aged beef, feather blades in a rich jus, a carmenbert dauphinoise (replacing the initially stated tartiflette as Mrs SF professed to be not keen on a too onion heavy dish) and a braised stuffed cabbage.
The featherblade (very underrated cut of beef) was butter knife tender and sat in an intense beef jus.
The main event beef was on point cooking wise and had a rich (almost gamey) flavour to it with a gorgeous cap of fat.
A relevation was the cabbage, which at first sight I worried would be tough (it looked quite stalky).
As it happens the stalkiness was deliberate as it was braised for an incredible 5 hours (requiring structure) which made it beautifully tender. It had also absorbed loads of flavour from the braising liqour – glorious elevation of the humble cabbage.
Inside were chunks of earthy beetroot and whole runner beans (the latter nicely el dente in texture). A fantastic veggie dish this.
The dauphinoise was lovely with lots of camembert in the mix and a slab of home cured bacon on the top, but perhaps lacked the wow factor of the cabbage.
I thought a golden top from putting it under the grill would have given it that extra visual impact, but that would have entailed decanting it into an oven proof dish.
All in all it made for a cracking main, with oodles of flavour.
Huge portions, with loads left over, with only half of the main course went on the plates ( the rest was consumed on another day).
Next up was a nice selection of British cheeses (I rather like the French way of cheese before dessert). I am a big fan of both Baron Bigot and Yorkshire blue (buying them regularly from Ty Caws here in Cardiff), but this was a first time for me regarding Worcester (Hereford) Hop. Lovely tangy cheese, with a hint of citrus and bitterness – will definitely buy it going forward
With Grady Atkins you know you will get sublime flavours, but I also love the attention to detail. No bought in crackers here – no siree. What we had were homemade oakcake that knocked shop bought ones out of the park.
Another example of the level of attention to detail here was the condiment of wild cherries (picked the day before) and PX (of which I am an avowed fan, be it from both the Sherry Triangle or Montilla Moriles).
Fantastic mix of sweet PX and tart cherry – just great with cheese.
Presentation wise the crowning glory of the meal was a stunning Paris – brest. So pretty I was tempted to frame in and hang it on the wall.
The choux was as light as a feather, with a generous topping of almonds. The filling was rich and nutty (a hazelnut praline I think).
It came with a decadently rich chocolate sauce, which was silky smooth and chocolatey to the max – not overly sweet though which I liked. We ate this over three days (it was as big as my head and I have a big head).
Fabulous food with just so much of flavour. This meal was so my sort of food.
Really good food deserves to be paired with really good booze.
The Chez Vous website uses a quote from French gourmand Jean Anthelme Brillat – Saravin that :
” The food must taste of what is it.”
A fine sentiment that I wholeheartedly agree with and which Chez Vous applies in spades.
Another quote from Brillat-Saravin is:
“A meal without wine is like a day without sunshine.”
A meal of this quality deserved good wine and I choose the following pairings:
Courses 1&2 – Tio Pepe en Rama 2020 – Gonzalas Byass;
Course 3 & 4 – Shadrach 1994 – Grant Burge;
Course 5 – Sauternes – Chateau Lafaurie-Peyraguey 2003.
I love the latest edition of Gonzalez Byass’ classic Tio Pepe en rama and it was great with the first two courses.
The almond and briney notes worked a treat with the heat and sweet of the padron amuse bouche and the fresh lemon peel and long citrus finish made it a perfect foil for the rich crab.
A rather good pairing I thought and cracking value at around £9 for a half bottle.
Next up was an Aussie Cabernet Sauvignon, in the form of a Shadrach 1994 from Grant Burge.
Lovely colour to this wine with a garnet core and a bricky colour to the periphery
Ripe blackcurrant wafted up from the glass, followed by classic cab. sauv. notes of cedar, pencil shavings and cigar box. On the palate there were lovely silky tannins, liquorice and spice (clove).
Great length to this wine, which lingered on the palate for an age.
Not sure how much this wine retails for these days (probably £50 plus if the price of the 2013 vintage is anything to go by). I bought it at auction as part of a wider lot so not sure exactly what I paid for it (a lot less than £50 that is for sure) .
Needed something with a bit of oomph with the rich flavours of the main (especially that stunning beef) and this delivered nicely on the brief.
The final course deserved a good wine and a Sauternes in the form of a Chateau Laferie-Peyraguet 2003 (my favourite from a Mystere Wine Club tasting earlier this year) worked a treat.
The trick with sweet wine and desserts is the dessert should not be sweeter than the wine. Here this was the case and zesty lemon, quince, orange peel/marmalade, barley sugar and spice from the wine worked really well with the Paris – brest.
A French classic paired with a French classic – both classics for good reason and a very fine match I thought.
A fantastic meal from start to finish, with everything pretty much flawless.
I love the fact that the menu is tailored to your taste, with lovely touches like the PX in the cheese condiment, making it really personal and special.
Looking at a very strong contender for best meal of the year here for my end of year round up and it is going to be hard to beat even if I eat like a king for the rest of this year.
The portions were huge and it fed Mrs. SF and I over a couple of day – making the £75 price tag very good value indeed.
Would I order again? Absolutely – I can’t recommend it highly enough. If you are looking to celebrate at home Grady Atkins and Chez Vous is well worth a look.
It was a meal that made me happy and these days something that does that is worth its weight in gold.
Twitter : @chezvousgrady
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