Previously, we attended the Beverly Hills’ 50th Anniversary luncheon. As an extension of that, we were invited to a mid-week lunch celebrating and showcasing classics, from the 60s and 70s that were served in the Bev’s restaurant kitchens, and approaching them with a modern interpretation. I loved the idea, and a lot of us still enjoy the so-called kitsch classics (just not the jelly salads of the day, noooo, there is never a time in history when a jelly salad is a good idea). It was setup as a fun exercise, not just a meal, encouraging us to discuss which versions we preferred of each dish.
The lunch took place at the Sugar Club, the Bev’s fine dining restaurant. I’ve only ever dined downstairs, in their airy Elements Café so I was looking forward to the posher nosh upstairs. I really enjoyed the sea view and wrap balcony at Sugar Club, of which I stupidly didn’t take a pic. In fact, if you are looking for any photos of the surrounds, they won’t be here because apparently when food is coming, my brain vacates, stomach takes over and my lens is only aimed at plates.
So, speaking of plates, first ones served were the starters. Avocado prawns with a marie rose sauce, the archetypal prawn cocktail. On the dish to the left was the more retro version, a tiger prawn drizzled with the pink sauce, resting on an avo slice. Marie rose, or 1000 island as the Americans called it, is typically mayonnaise and tomato sauce. The original, more delicate and arguably flavourful version is (home made) mayonnaise blended with tomatoes, worcestershire sauce, lemon juice and pepper. On the right was avocado ice cream, tomato pearls (which were more like mini recreated tomatoes), prawns, microherbs and garlic aioli jellies crowned with foam (which the menu described as “tears” but the flavour made me happy, not sad!). I LOVED this. It basically took the pedestrian marie rose sauce and deconstructed it. The aioli things were wonderful. The only problem is that on the new version, the accoutrements stole the show from the prawns entirely. What a fun plate. We were encouraged to discuss which we preferred, the old or the new. My palate definitely applauded the new. There’s nothing wrong with a classic but this elevated it to a whole new experience.
Next up was crayfish thermidor. I didn’t really have much high hopes for this one, frankly. A few years back, my one and only experience with crayfish thermidor was a cheese-choked disappointment. We went to a fine dining restaurant while on holiday in the Cape and decided to indulge in this old-school dish. The crayfish was drowned, smothered and entirely disguised, both in flavour and appearance, by a strong cheddar and if I had wanted to waste R200 on a block of cheese, it would have been easier to do so back home at the supermarket. Fortunately this wasn’t the case here. There was cheese involved, as that is half the ingredients, but it enhanced the crayfish flavour, and the meat was succulent and cheese was creamy, playing the supporting act instead of undermining the starring role. I’m hard pressed to determine which was better, the traditional execution or the reinterpretation.
The new version involved crayfish tail in three pieces, wrapped in bacon, giving it an appearance of scallops. This was accompanied by brandy-flambéd mushrooms, a subtly-flavoured mustard beurre blanc and parmesan foam. Surprisingly, the bacon did not overpower the crayfish, both flavours clearly came through. I enjoyed the beurre blanc mopped up with the scallop-like pieces. But I also found the simplicity of the original appealing. Although the classic version did not look as pretty, it tasted wonderful. I’d say this one was a tie.
Beef wellington came next. To the left was the quintessential Beef welly, fillet rolled in mushrooms, baked in a pastry casing and served with a rich béarnaise, a signature dish of the likes of Gordon Ramsay. To the right was something that I would say was more inspired by the welly, rather than the modern version. Fillet of local Midland-sourced moo (I approve, yay for local, our beef rocks), with little pastry, er, poofs for lack of a better descriptor. Mushroom sauce accompanied the medallion, and a little tarragon-infused jelly sat audience to the side until I ruthlessly smushed it. Both slices of beef were served rare and well rested, as they should be. The meat was tender, oh so tender. If you have to chew your fillet more than twice, you’re cooking it (or ordering it) wrong. I loved the “new” version. Im not a fan of the wellington, so this is more personal bias than an accurate report. Pastry just interrupts my savouring every morsel of fillet, so I prefer my moo undressed. Head chef Tony came to chat with us at that point. We enjoyed letting our tummies, hearts and heads battle it out over which versions of each dish we all preferred. It was also time to lubricate the way for dessert, so wine was poured. The general consensus seemed to be that each person has their favourite classic, so they leaned towards it when having to choose, regardless how excellently prepared its modern counterpart was. The classics are imbued with nostalgia, the only missing ingredient in the newer versions. As stand alone dishes, the reinterpretations were a gastronomic deligh and I wish I could enjoy them again.
And speaking of nostalgic favourites, the dessert coming up was very much mine. I adore crepes suzette. What’s not to love about a showy dessert that you get drunk on just the fumes with? A caramelised citrus spectacle, drenched in liquor, where the heat and decadent sweetness from the flambéed pancakes is contrasted with a scoop of humble vanilla ice cream. It’s perfect. How do you top perfection?
Well, pastry chef Jody Gillespie certainly gave it a good try. Her reimagination of this most revered of desserts in my world was nothing short of adventurous. A suzette mousse with brittle was served in a pancake cone, flanked by bitter orange jelly and vanilla pod ice cream drops. I call it the Cornucopia of Citrus Awesome. The only detraction was its size, which was not insignificant, and after putting away an entire meal and dessert already, we were as hard pressed as our waistbands to put away another.
This was a great idea and the resultant dishes even more so. Experiences like these usually happen outside of our province, so its a delight to enjoy something like this on home shores. It’s wonderful to have a concept to a meal that extends beyond just a regular a la carte experience, that has an inspiring theme as a point of departure, making it as much a talking point as a meal. Well done to the team involved, the results were memorable and imaginative.