A week in a city that never sleeps visiting customers, chefs and friends meant a week of serious eating and drinking. In the words of George Eliot, ‘one can say everything best over a meal’, so how better to do business?
In the first of four blogs on our trip, we have chosen three of our most memorable meals across the pond. These recommendations though are not just about places to dine, things to eat, books to buy – they are endorsements for the people behind these organisations, who all care deeply about what they do.
- DISTILLED, Tribeca
The idea of a ‘Chef’s Counter’ is a relatively new one to us. As the name might suggest, guests all but sit in the kitchen itself, comfortably on the side of the restaurant but close enough to talk to the chef, and, indeed, feel the heat of the kitchen. When our distributors, The Rogers Collection, said that Distilled wanted to feature Halen Môn as a hero product on their Chef’s Counter menu for a month, we were intrigued to find out more – about the place and the concept.
For two nights running we perched on the edge of all the action, chatted to journalists who joined us, and marvelled at Chef Shane Lyons’ creations. We feasted on the restaurant’s infamous magic popcorn, the sultry combination of duck and pineapple, expertly seared scallops. The foie gras was served with a miso caramel and finished with our vanilla salt, the heavenly sweet potato soup with a crunch of chilli garlic flakes. We drank one too many pure salted gimlet granitas, met some very interesting people, and left with our souls and bellies satisfied.
What Shane and Nick have got right at Distilled is the balance of relaxation and sophistication, something really rather tricky to pull off. Their website talks of redefining the ‘public house’ – a term as familiar to us this side of the pond as fish and chips. The restaurant takes the ease of the pub, the welcome, and the idea that it must have socializing at its core, and adds outstanding eats and a serious attention to detail, to lift it well above the ordinary.
You can catch the special Halen Môn menu at the Chef’s Counter until 21st November. Since there are only 4 spaces, booking is essential.
Where to start with Blue Hills? The beautiful pumpkin-studded farm, the unwavering dedication to the celebration of the seasons, the sheer variety and brilliance of the numerous courses we were treated to? Actually, it would probably be with the people. Rarely have we felt so well looked after so far from home.
In spring of 2004, Blue Hill at Stone Barns opened within the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Pocantico Hills, New York. Sourcing from the surrounding fields and pasture, as well as other local farms, Blue Hill at Stone Barns highlights the abundant resources of the Hudson Valley. There are no menus. Instead, guests are offered the multi-taste Grazing, Rooting, Pecking menu featuring the best offerings from the field and market.
Dan Barber and his team have been using our products for some time now, so we were honoured to be invited to experience their food for ourselves. But before we were treated to what was one of the most memorable meals we have ever had, we were invited to speak to the whole team during their family (staff) meal before service began.
We spoke about our business, how we started, what we do, where we come from. In return we received everyone’s undivided attention, numerous intelligent questions, and a stream of genuine thank you’s from a good chunk of the 150 people we spoke to throughout the evening. It was clear from the moment we stepped in the door that the people working at Stone Barns have the sincerest passion for everything they put their hands to, and a genuine respect for the ingredients they grow, buy and use.
Later, when we sat down to eat, we realised just how knowledgeable each of our servers was too – they knew the origins of each ingredient, from the cracked black pepper, to the giant puffball mushrooms. When asked about obscure vegetables, they brought whole ones to the table to show us how they are prepared. Each course came with its own stories – about the producers, the cooking process, why Dan Barber had it on his menu. At each of our places too, rested a tiny, exquisitely illustrated booklet, taking us through the four seasons of eating.
We feasted on the freshest product imaginable, presented playfully, beautifully and originally, on handcrafted ceramics, fresh moss, cloches. Red-yolked hen’s eggs, mushroom squares with the exact texture of a marshmallow. Crisp and sweet baby vegetables, smoked water smores, celeriac with our celery salt. Beautiful toasted beers, sweet white wines, biscuity champagne. Half way through our meal (some two and a half hours in), we were invited to dine at a high counter in the kitchen and watch the chefs at work. Forget a well-oiled machine, it was more impressive than that. We were quite literally in the midst of the cooking and enjoyed eating all the more because of it.
Our afternoon at Stone Barns was nothing short of incredible and will stay with us for very many years to come. Booking is essential, and there are also spaces at the bar if you’re looking for something more relaxed. Dan Barber also has a sister restaurant in NYC itself.
Good food photographs can do many things aside from make you hungry or inspire you to hotfoot it the kitchen. Indeed, Heidi Swanson’s images have a sincere soothing quality. White marble, clean wood and a pastel palette make for very calming viewing, especially when accompanied by her gentle recipe instructions and some really delicious looking dishes. When we heard Heidi was visiting Food 52 and NYC at the same time as us, along with one of our all time favourite chefs, Yottam Ottolenghi and his restaurant partner Ramael Scully, we knew we had to get there pronto.
Food 52 is a brilliant online magazine-shop-website, which is beautifully styled and informative. From achievable recipes to interviews with chefs, unusual gifts (brass pretzel necklace, anyone?) to ingredient advice, it has always been well-read here at HM HQ. Arriving at Food 52 HQ – a clean and modern space filled with a kitchen studio, vintage mismatched meeting room and a rather well-stocked bar, we felt like it was our kind of place. Lunch was from the two books being publicized – Nopi and Near & Far. We nibbled on fresh crunchy salads and perfect ginger nuts whilst we waited to meet the chefs in question.
It was a pleasure to have a chat with Heidi, who has been using our salt for several years (and has kindly mentioned it in one of her books) and get our books signed by her, Ottolenghi and Scully. If you are ever in need of food inspiration, we’d highly recommend checking out Food 52 and the 101 cookbooks blog,. If, for that matter, you are ever looking for a special meal in London, Ottolenghi’s restaurant Nopi will never disappoint.
Images: J Lea-Wilson