Organised by Guardian events and hosted by J Sheekey, this year’s female chef series promised to celebrate the talent of inspiring culinary goddesses. First in the series was Anna Tobias, the talented head chef at Rochelle Canteen who earned her stripes at Blueprint Café and River Café.
Upon receiving the invitation from the ever-so-generous Samphire and Salsify to attend what promised to be a special evening, the anticipation left me giddy.
Having lingered around Piccadilly Circus station, awaiting my host for the evening, we eventually took off into the late Spring evening. Soho is saturated with sophisticated watering holes in which one can wet ones whistle prior to an evening’s dining. We chose Swift bar, a cosy basement joint which serves well-made cocktails and other quality bevvies to boot.
Satiated, we wondered to J Sheekey and were met by a team of eager-to-please service staff who ushered us to our seats and fetched us more drink. Once settled, various speeches were made which outlined the event. Anna herself stood in front of her diners and explained some influences behind her menu – describing how she hoped to make simple, seasonal ingredients “sing” for us.
Excited by this announcement, my companion and I engaged in hunger-distracted conversation, eagerly awaiting the first wave of service.
First to arrive were a series of amuse-bouche, my favourite of which included smoked eel and fresh horseradish – the oiliness of the smoked fish was halted by the abrupt arrival of sinus tingling radish, the perfect cleanse to start. These bites only magnified our hunger, which was appeased by the arrival of Langoustines with Wild Garlic, the in-season allium, doused in an alarming quantity of butter smothered expertly cooked, fresh Scottish langoustines. Anna hit all the right notes in her delivery of this dish. She went on to demonstrate her perfect pitch with the next plate – Asparagus and grated Bottarga. For those unaware, Bottarga is the fermented, then dried roe of grey mullet. Doesn’t sound too appealing I know, but when grated generously onto my favourite British late-Springtime vegetable, trust me, all preconceptions are lost and the flavours marry.
For me, and any other sane being, the main event of any meal is the course which centres around large hunks of meat. Anna fed my carnivorous side well, delivering perfectly pink, tender lamb chops topped with a simple parsley and mint vinegarette. Typically I would scoff all but the bone, however, the fat was not well rendered and even I couldn’t chew through the rind – perhaps my only criticism from the evening.
Sir Samphire passed the majority of dessert onto me in exchange for more vino, a trade I am always happy to make. With good food in our stomachs and the atmosphere of an excellent evening behind us, the decision to indulge in a night-cap came naturally.
Once again, at the mercy of my host, he directed us to the wonderful Bar Termini. Clad in traditional white jackets and channelling famous Italian charm, the young, spunky waiters delivered incredibly delicious Negroni in delicate, petite Martini glasses. Drunk on both alcohol and euphoria, my host and I stumbled into the mild night, happily ignoring the responsibility the following day had in store.