A Taste of Slow with Ferguson Henderson and Trevor Gulliver

September 11, 2006 - "It would be disingenuous to the animal not to use the whole of the beast; there is a set of delights, textural and flavoursome, which lie beyond the fillet." That is the philosophy of Fergus Henderson of London’s St John restaurant and author of Nose to Tail Eating, a book which transforms the inner organs of beast and fowl into rough delicacies.

And that was the philosophy that guided Henderson in producing a meal for Slow Food enthusiasts in Melbourne on September 8 as part of the city’s Taste of Slow festival.

The setting was Ian Curley’s The Point restaurant beside the lake in Albert Park. Henderson prepared the six-course menu in the manner of St John and Trevor Gulliver who joined the Henderson in setting up St John in 1994, selected the wine list.

Some Pol Roger NV was offered to guests as they arrived and then it was into the dining room for the serious business of eating.

Tripe is a challenging dish for many. Others have never tasted and probably don’t plan to. I’ve made tripe dishes for my own personal consumption but never included them in the family diet. So the first dish, Deep-fried tripe and malt vinegar held no particular fears for me. The little tripe morsels were coated in crisp crunchy crumbs and the malt vinegar, a traditional accompaniment, provided a good contrast. Soon those around me were happily tucking in and the little bowls of tripe were soon empty. The NV Wirra Wirra Anthem sparkling shiraz from McLaren Vale in South Australia was a perfect choice of wine, given the assertiveness of the malt vinegar.

Roast bone marrow and parsley salad followed.  Tall hollow bones were served piping hot with grilled bread and a nicely dressed salad of flat parsley leaves. My main exposure to bone marrow has been that which is part of osso buco and I am not a fan. However, this lot was not part of a stew but rather served as a dry bone and we were soon delving into the bone hollow with our marrow spoons and scraping out the creamy marrow. The grilled bread was an ideal vehicle and the salad cut the fattiness and enthusiasm was growing around me. A 1999 Robert Arnoux Nuit St George Burgundy from France was the wine of choice. It grew smoother with each morsel of marrow.

From bones to bugs. Henderson explained his next dish was traditionally made at St John with Morcombe Bay shrimps but Moreton Bay bugs sounded similar enough to substitute. They were served with a finely shredded cabbage salad that was soft, succinctly seasoned and flecked with little chervil leaves. For me, this was the highlight of the menu. The bugs, too, were finely shredded and it was an elegant little dish.  [Trevor Gulliver lately kindly gave me the recipe to put on this site.] Two wines were served here – a 2002 Hugel Pinot Gris from Alsace in France and the 2001 Pewsey Vale Contours Riesling from Eden Valley in South Australia.

Fergus Henderson discusses the dish while Ian Curley (right) prepares to carve the suckling pig

They prepared us nicely for the dramatic entrance of a suckling pig carried in on a tray, its skin glowing golden brown.

It was carved while waiters delivered already disassembled portions to diners.

The pork under the inevitable fat was soft and tender and served with a farce which certainly contained other parts of the little piglet [oh, yes, I subsequently obtained the recipe]. This was served with watercress and, so we could be assured of what we were eating, the head was presented in a bowl. A 2003 Pinot Noir from Victoria’s Yarra Valley and a 2002 Fromm La Strada Pinot Noir from Marlborough in New Zealand were chosen for this dish.

"This little piggy..." - no, let's not get sentimental. It was delicious.

Eccles cakes are a specialty of the St John restaurant. Flakey pastry encases a filling of flavoured currants. These were served warm with a wedge of Lancashire cheese. Finally a small portion of rich chocolate ice cream completed the meal. The sweet offerings were accompanied by Lustau Pedro Ximinez San Emilio from Spain.

It was definitely a night for abandoning any consideration of calories and cholesterol. We did eat some greens, after all…




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