WHAT’S a hungry banker with a bonus burning in his back pocket to do? Ostentatious displays of wealth just aren’t the done thing anymore, unless you want to risk attracting the attention of marauding bands of bitter taxpayers.
But just because a ten course blow-out at your favourite high-end restaurant might be off the menu in these banker-bashing times, that doesn’t mean you’ll be going hungry, thanks to French twins Alex and Igor Beaulieu. They’ve set up wecaterforyou.co.uk, which offers elegant, restaurant-quality private dinners. Catering for parties from two to one hundred and menus from just canapés to fully catered dinners, they allow you to indulge in luxury in the privacy of your own home.
I decided to put Alex and Igor – who have worked at top destinations including Claridge’s, the Connaught and Metropolitan before striking out on their own – to the test, with a group dinner for six. As an extra challenge to test their skills, one of the diners ate no seafood, peppers or mushrooms, while the rest are serious wine enthusiasts, keen to make sure the wines fit perfectly with every course.
Alex recommended a three-course menu as well as canapés and wine-matching of £55 a head. As host, my only role is to ensure I’m at home an hour and a half before Alex and Igor arrive, to reveal to them as an extra challenge my ancient and cantankerous cooker – and then leave them to work their magic.
With my one-year old to look after, it’s a relief, and I manage to relax and get ready at my leisure before my guests arrive, ensuring I meet them feeling refreshed rather than hot and flustered and worrying about what’s burning in the oven.
As it’s a warm evening we opt for cocktails and canapés in the garden. Igor, who specialised in bar and restaurant management at the College of Toulouse, greets each guest with a peach Bellini – the hand-pureed white peach beautifully offsetting the dryness of the Prosecco.
Then it’s onto our cocktail masterclasses – Cosmopolitans for the ladies and mojitos for the men. The gender split was perhaps unnecessary – I prefer mojitos to Cosmos – but the fun of getting to rub our own lime and shake our shakers with the citrus vodka offset any feminist uprising.
And we pick up some useful tips such as pouring the heaviest part of drink in first, and the next heaviest over the back of a spoon to ensure we get distinct layers. The king prawn mousse on lime blinis and chicken liver pate with bitter orange marmalade on toast we are offered as canapés to munch on as we drink prove the perfect accompaniments – tasty, but moorish rather than filling.
We decide to start on the main course around an hour-and-a-half in, but our one-year-old hearing all the excitement downstairs is refusing to go to sleep. With a flexibility unlikely in any Michelin-starred restaurant, Alex suggests we bring him downstairs and stick him in a discrete corner of the dining room to drift off, while we get on with the eating.
The starter – goat’s cheese and beetroot salad with acacia dressing – comes dressed with herbs picked fresh from the chefs’ own garden that morning, adding a zing you can taste, and is served with Denbies Surrey Gold – an English wine with a strong fruity taste that enhances the cheese. For each course, Alex, the chef, comes out to explain the food, including the origins of the dish – and his passion for both cooking and sourcing local, full-flavoured ingredients is self-evident. It’s an intimate touch that really enhances the meal and the sense of occasion. Before the main, he serves a consommé, an Asian-style dish with braised pork belly, Chinese spices, shiitake and tarragon – which was inspired by his time as a chef in Malaysia. The dish is cleansing between courses, and works particularly well in the heat.
And with baby finally snoozing in the corner, it’s time for the main: roasted pork fillet stuffed with apricots, figs and hazelnut, gratin Dauphinois and confit sherry tomatoes, served with a German red to fox the wine buffs.The sweetness of the figs and apricots contrasts nicely with the meaty savour of the pork, while the tomatoes lighten and freshen the dish. After a brief break to give our stomachs some respite, we are served dessert – chocolate moelleux, with homemade strawberry ice cream from Kent strawberries, and raspberry granite.
It’s perfect – oozing molten chocolate when you put the spoon in, and the fresh strawberry and raspberry offsetting the heaviness of the cake. Just as we thought we couldn’t possibly squeeze in anymore, we are served mint tea with tiny canneles – little spherical, brioche-like dumplings that mark the perfect end to the evening.
Alex insists that it would be possible for any of us, using a normal kitchen – even one like ours which is woefully old – to create any of the culinary delights he has just served us. But for me, the relaxation of simply being able to enjoy an evening with friends, without worrying if you’ve burnt the meal or indeed without any of the washing up, as all cutlery and plates were provided and magically whisked away at the end of the evening, was worth £55 a head – with or without a banker’s bonus to splurge. www.wecaterforyou.co.uk.