I found myself back at the wonderful L20 HotelSchool in Liverpool last Wednesday, to attend a very special dinner they were hosting with none other than the renowned chef Kenny Atkinson of House of Tides restaurant in Newcastle at the helm. I was honoured to be invited as I have long been an admirer of his style of cooking, famed for being classical with a modern flair. His career trajectory has been so impressive; with him achieving Michelin Stars at both St Martin’s on the Isle and at his restaurant Kenny Atkinson at The White Room within Seaham Hall. I was so excited to be a guest at the dinner, as I could not wait to experience his legendary cuisine.
I arrived unfashionably early, cue much lingering at the bar with my camera! I was immediately welcomed warmly by the attentive staff who are a credit to L20 and I was served a welcome glass of sparkling rosé champagne which I sipped in between taking some shots of the restaurant which was lavishly decorated with linen tablecloths, floral displays and sparkling glasses.
Before long, the guests arrived and we all had a lovely time chatting and mingling over the champagne and canapés before the wonderful dinner which lay ahead. We took our seats with anticipation and the first course arrived to gasps of awe. It looked like a work of art and we were stunned by the presentation of the pressed terrine of Pink Fir potatoes and goat’s cheese, which was served with beetroot salad and intriguingly, smoked eel. I had never tried eel before and I was eager to see exactly what it would taste like. I had never tried Pink Fir potatoes either, these are also referred to as Pink Fir Apple due to their red or pink colour. They are a greatly versatile ingredient as they are suitable for cooking in a variety of ways. They tasted delicious and nutty against the smooth and creamy goats cheese and the wonderful mini croquettes of smoked eel. The beetroot salad offset the dish with a delicious tang. This dish was served with an excellent 2013 Riesling of Mosel, Germany.
Next it was on to scorched cod’s cheek, honey glazed chicken wing, pickled celeriac, shimeji mushrooms, hazelnuts and nasturtiums. Again a work of art and it was delightful to see Kenny had used celeriac which has just come into season in March and is always a favourite of mine. I was pleased to see celeriac on the menu as it has been widely used since ancient times and is even mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey.
The cod’s cheeks were wonderfully delicate and tender it was great to see this often neglected part of the fish used as a key ingredient. Cod’s cheeks are frequently seen as a ‘waste’ product by fishermen and yet chefs regard them as a hidden gem. The honey glazed chicken wing was delightfully sweet and a perfect partner to the more subtle flavour of the cod. The mushrooms provided another beautiful element on the plate as well as a great crunch of texture. These are known for being difficult to cultivate but they perfectly complement seafood. Wine was flowing and the conversation around the table was so interesting and engaging, with key industry figures for company!
The main course arrived to further awe. This dish was again presented in a spectacular manner. It was a hearty combination of rump of lamb, ragout of shoulder, new season vegetables and wild garlic. This was served with ‘Galpin Peak’ Pinot Noir, of Walker bay South Africa. The lamb was cooked to mouth-watering perfection and the slight smokiness was offset perfectly by the puree of wild garlic. This also added a wonderful colour to the dish. There was a wonderful mousseline of potatoes on the plate, a personal favourite which added a wonderful creaminess to the dish. The new season vegetables were delicious, the broccoli and the broad beans went perfectly with the meat and the asparagus was cooked to crunchy yet delicate perfection. This was a dish of pure excellence which showed off Kenny’s style of classically British cooking with an exciting added finesse.
Lastly there was the added glory of the dessert to look forward to, an amazing sounding dark chocolate pave, served with toffee popcorn, popcorn ice cream and salted caramel. I was sold on this before I even tasted it, as any dessert which manages to combine popcorn, chocolate and salted caramel is fine by me! What a delight this dish was to see as it was set before us, the dark chocolate pave glistening as it nestled promisingly against the popcorn clusters. The rich chocolate was so darkly decadent and the sweet toffee offset the wonderful richness. There was further pleasure from the salted caramel which provided an explosion of sweet yet salty notes. The dish was made even more perfect by the genius addition of a red dessert wine. This caused a stir on the table as most of us were only familiar with white dessert wine. The maverick touch of a red dessert wine complimented the dish so well. Rich and sweet, almost like a Port, the aptly named Gourmandise from the Languedoc Roussillon region really was wonderful.
At the end of the meal it was a privilege to meet Kenny Atkinson himself and to chat to him about his amazing career. I always like to do my research about the chefs I encounter, and I had read up extensively about his career prior to dinner. I was eager to ask him about the pivotal role that social media played in the launch of House of Tides. He also explained his emphasis on providing a fine dining experience in a relaxed atmosphere and how he and his wife found the amazing premises for House of Tides, which is a Grade 1 listed 16th century former merchant's town house. The space boasts flagstone floors (something I am familiar with in my parents 400 year old Derbyshire farmhouse!) and original wooden beams. I also spoke to Kenny about the weeks he spent working for free at the start of his career, under Simon Radley at his restaurant within the Chester Grosvenor Hotel. I really admired his work ethic and ambition for having done this, as it is often the case that greatly successful people have in the past spent time working for free just to gain vital experience within their industry. It is something I have been more than willing to do myself, to gain experience and knowledge within the field of writing and photography, so it was encouraging to hear that somebody as renowned as Kenny Atkinson had also not been averse to doing this. The entire meal was a tour de force and every sublime flavour married together on the plate to create a wonderful synchronicity. The presentation of each dish was an artistic masterpiece and there was much time spent on photography before even a morsel was tasted!
Some of my engaging companions at the exquisite dinner. Hello to Owain, Stephen, Mike, Tom, David and of course Kenny who was taking a well earned rest from the kitchen at the end of the meal!
So that was another wonderful evening at L20, thank you so much to everybody involved in making it such a memorable occasion and of course to Kenny Atkinson and the students he worked with to create such a masterpiece! Also thank you to Mike Mounfield for inviting me along to share this occasion with the readers. It is a great privilege to have attended and to see the amazing work that L20 do with their young chefs and renowned guest chefs.
What do you think, do any of the dishes catch your eye? Remember I love to read your thoughts and thank you so much for reading this post!
Until next time,
I was kindly invited to this dinner as a guest of L20 Hotel School, therefore my meal was complimentary for review purposes.All opinions expressed are my own and honest.