What would you buy if you won the lottery? It’s a daydream everyone has had – generously awarding themselves millions to spend, and whiling away half an hour or so (perhaps on a train, when you’ve finished your book, or in those lovely lazy moments before you go to sleep) debating whether to buy the pied-a-terre in New York or the villa in Tuscany, and what colour to make your Lamborghini. For me, hiring a private chef has always been on my lottery-winning shopping list – to indulge me when I’m too lazy to cook and yes, to do the washing up – and recently I got a glimpse into what that might be like, when I reviewed the fabulous services provided by La Belle Assiette.
La Belle Assiette provide private chef services all over the country, but always work with brilliant local chefs, who create their own gorgeously individual menus for one-off dinner parties and celebrations. Our chef for the night was Gabor Halmai, a veteran private chef who’s worked all over the world and takes his culinary influences from a dozen different countries. Gee (to his friends) chatted to me beforehand about the sort of food we’d like, sent me plenty of different options to choose from (which was fabulous fun) and skilfully accommodated my husband’s slightly finicky tastes and the dietary requirements of our guests. On the night, he arrived a couple of hours early and shut himself away in my kitchen to summon up a sensational feast as if by magic, whilst we had a gin & tonic and watched TV – the evening was definitely off to a good start. As you’ve probably guessed, I absolutely love to cook, but I have to admit that sitting back and let someone else do all the work is always a pleasure…
|A stunningly pretty amuse-bouche, with homemade marshmallow and beetroot crisps|
Our guests arrived and we sat down to a little amuse-bouche before the main event: a homemade rosewater marshmallow with beetroot crisps and pistachios, which was absolutely stunning. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t quite sure beforehand about the combination of marshmallow and beetroot, but all I can say is that it absolutely worked, the marshmallow recalling beetroot’s own candied sweetness. We then got stuck into our first course, for which Chef Gee had offered us a choice of tempura soft shell crab or pork belly with black pudding – I went for the crab (pictured in top image), which was a lovely light starter, combining the delicate crispy crab with a wonderfully fresh and zingy salad of cucumber, mango and fermented radish. The mix of sweet, salty and sour was fabulous. I did try the pork belly too, which was naturally rather heavier as a starter (and a little more classic in terms of flavour combinations) but gloriously rich, indulgent and delicious.
|Pork belly starter with black pudding, apple & chestnut|
For the main event, I chose duck – duck breast, a duck leg croquette with five spice, Amarena cherries and Dauphinoise potatoes. I don’t mind telling you that I’ve been thinking about this dish ever since (and have heard from our guests that they’ve been doing the same) – it was absolutely outstanding. The duck breast was cooked to perfection (which can be very hard to do) and the combination with the dark, juicy amarena cherries, exploding with flavour as you bit into each one, was exquisite. And I’m not ashamed to say I could easily have eaten a whole plateful of the dauphinoise potatoes alone. The other main course, meanwhile, was also fantastic – lamb noisettes in a herb crust with pomme puree, perfectly cooked once again and a lovely indulgent dish for a chilly autumn evening – but it was the duck that really stole the show for me.
|Chef Gee in action plating up our mains|
To cleanse our palates, next we had a lovely little watermelon granita with chopped hazelnuts and popping candy – I’ve never had watermelon and hazelnut together before, but the combination was a delightful little surprise, working really well.
Finally, with our belts only slightly loosened, we were ready for the final course. I had chosen a white chocolate and coconut fondant, with raspberries and basil sorbet – and I’ll admit to you now, I’m such a fan of the classic dark chocolate fondant that I was sceptical about how good this would be. After that incredible main course, though, I should have known not to doubt Chef Gee – this is was a superb dessert. The fondant was light and yet gorgeously indulgent, and the basil sorbet was a real highlight, sweet and yet fresh. The other dessert course was also scrumptious, featuring a crème caramel with strawberry carpaccio and black pepper ice cream (Chef Gee is obviously a bit of a wizard when it comes to ice cream – another fabulously unusual flavour) but once again, I felt like I’d managed to pick the best dessert for myself.
|Creme caramel with strawberry carpaccio – and gold-dusted blackberries, natch|
Absolutely stuffed and feeling gloriously relaxed, we sat back with a brandy and chatted. We were all in raptures about the meal we’d just eaten, with our guests just as impressed as we were, but I have to admit that for me, one of the best bits of the evening was that at the end, we simply had to wave our guests off and climb into bed – the kitchen was sparkling, the washing-up had magically vanished, and we were left with nothing but the memory of a wonderful evening. If this is how the other half live, I really need to start buying a lottery ticket more often.
I’d have absolutely no hesitation in recommending La Belle Assiette generally, and Chef Gabor Halmai in particular. The dishes were not only delicious, creative and original, but beautifully presented. The preparation of every element was perfect – the difference, when you have a professional chef devoting all his attention to just four diners, is stunning. As you’d probably expect, the service doesn’t come terribly cheap – but depending on what you want the different packages are surprisingly accommodating, and once you factor in travel, parking, babysitters and all that extra expense of dining out, I don’t know if you’re really spending too much more (speaking of babysitters, this is also a brilliant option for anyone who wants to celebrate with a fancy meal but finds it harder to leave the house – perfect if you have a tiny baby sleeping upstairs). Frankly, it’s made me even more determined to win my millions – but until then, I’ll just be treating myself to a taste of the high life with La Belle Assiette.
All photos by Jeni Meade, a professional photographer provided by La Belle Assiette to cover the evening.