I recently had a very enjoyable and informative evening at Mount Falcon in Ballina. The head chef, Philippe Farineau has started a series of dinners where he cooks each course in front of all the guests and meanwhile the main kitchen is preparing the same items for serving just as he finishes the talk and demonstration. I was not sure how this would work in reality; however, I can now say that it was an experience worth recommending to everyone who likes good food. Philippe has a great passion for cooking and the dishes he chooses are well within the capability of any amateur cook. There was a champagne reception and I really have to compliment Mount Falcon as it is one of the very few “champagne receptions” that I have attended where they actually serve champagne, nicely chilled bottles of Tattinger were awaiting us as we arrived for the meal.
The format for the evening is that there is a u shaped table in that part of the dining room which was the original house kitchen. Philippe has a table at the top with portable cookers (thereby showing that even the most modestly equipped kitchen can prepare good food ). There is a menu sheet with all the ingredients so you can make a few notes to help later.
The items we had were fresh beetroot prepared in four different ways. Fabulous wild seatrout with a broad bean risotto, both the seatrout and the risotto were mouth wateringly good. Pan fried duck breasts, sautéed duck livers, confit potato cooked in duck fat, York cabbage cooked in cream and a cherry sauce. Each course had a carefully selected wine to accompany it and they were generous in the pouring of same. The most remarkable part of the experience for me was that just as Philippe finished each demo the waiting staff arrived to serve us the same dish, I don’t know if they had a camera but the timing was perfect.
Questions are welcomed and it is all a really friendly experience. The evening started at 7pm and we were still chatting after 11. The cost for the dinner and wines is €55 per person and when you consider the quality of the wines alone it is great value. If you want to stay overnight then bed and breakfast plus the dinner is € 125 per person. The dates for the future are the first Wednesday in each month i.e August 4, September 1.
Contact details are telephone 096 74472.
Whatever happened to dinner parties?
Is it my imagination or are fewer people entertaining friends in their houses than 15/20 years ago? Maybe you are thinking of having your first dinner party and are too nervous to do anything about it. Maybe there are a few people you would like to invite and have been threatening to do so for ever. If so why not ‘grab the bull by the horns’ and write down the names, prioritize, and set a date or two in your diary. Don’t worry if some of the people are real foodies or even chefs, as all will be delighted with the fact that you thought enough of them to ask. I have often asked chefs about this question and they all say that they would be happy to eat scrambled eggs at a dinner party as long as someone else cooked on the night.
The secret to success is to:-
1. Plan everything
2. Be realistic about your culinary abilities, far better to do a fantastic roast chicken than make a mess of a lobster thermidor.
Planning: The first thing to do is agree who to invite, don’t invite more than you can comfortably fit at the dining table and if that means just inviting two friends that is OK, you can always invite more later. Make sure you give plenty of notice, 10-14 days is good. Next plan the menu, it is a good idea to enquire if any of the guests have major likes, dislikes or allergies. As I said previously do not be over ambitious, a soup starter can be excellent and you can make it the day before or even buy a really good homemade one from a deli and put in a lovely serving tureen. A simple starter could be rocket salad and smoked duck or smoked chicken. Many people are afraid of cooking fish for guests so why not source a really good item like a free range organic chicken from The Friendly Farmer now available at McCambridges and Mc Geogh’s or from Mc Geogh’s farm in Athenry. Your guests will be amazed by the taste, or why not buy a roast of beef or leg of lamb served with fresh summer vegetables and new season potatoes. We have some great butchers all over the city and county and many of them have oven ready dishes that will wow your guests. Make sure you have some good horseradish sauce for the beef and if serving lamb make your own mint sauce from chopped mint, vinegar and sugar all boiled together and left to cool.
Dessert can be made a day or two before, eg tiramisu, sherry trifle, summer berry crumble served with fresh cream or ice cream. Do not forget to plan the atmosphere also, white table cloth and napkins or perhaps a themed setting, smoked salmon, rose wine, similar coloured table cloth etc. Unless you are into wine, I recommend you visit your favourite off licence and tell the owner/manager what you are serving and your budget. Ask for recommendations and you will usually be pleased with the results. Do not forget to have something for the non-drinker, perhaps non alcoholic beer, coke, or 7UP. If you are worried about not having enough wine then ask your off licence if you can return bottles that are not needed on the night. Places like ‘Cases’ and Harvest will certainly let you do that.
One last thing that is worth doing is to clarify with everyone what the dress code is, there is nothing worse than arriving in a new suit and tie when everyone else is in a jeans and T-shirt, or vice versa.
To sum up, pick a date and make the invites, plan the menu, prepare as much as possible in advance. Do not be too adventurous and have a great party.