Monday, 28 May 2012

Birthday dinner at The Wild Garlic – returning to my Dorset roots

Mat's fizz - sparkling wine with elderflower

As a Dorset girl, I was rooting for Mat Follas throughout the 2009 season of Masterchef and was in awe of his natural talent for producing rustic dishes that appeared both hearty and elegant in equal measure. My parents and I had been eager to visit Mat’s restaurant The Wild Garlic ever since this former tollhouse was transformed by the Masterchef champion, especially as Beaminster is only an hour away from our home beside the seaside in Poole.

The perfect excuse for us to take a little drive into the countryside and check out Mat’s culinary skills for ourselves finally arrived last weekend, in the guise of my twenty-seventh birthday. Whilst we perused the menu in the intimate dining room I decided to kickstart the celebrations by relaxing my normal alcohol ban and treating myself to a glass of sparkling wine with a sweet note of delicate elderflower known as Mat’s Fizz.

pesto popcorn

Once we had ordered our meals, we were presented with a pre-starter of deconstructed pesto popcorn…light and fluffy kernels coated in parmesan oil and sprinkled with crunchy mixed nuts and shredded basil

Scallops with black pudding crumble

I can’t resist choosing scallops whenever they are on the menu, and this special starter was sold out by 8pm so clearly a number of other diners felt the same way! The pork belly crackling and black pudding crumble were an excellent accompaniment to the succulent scallops, and contrasted well with the salty caper dressing.

Ham hock terrine with candied apple crisps  Pigeon breast with pear puree and parsnip crisps

Both my boyfriend and my mum opted for the ham hock and wild garlic terrine, and were impressed with the depth of flavour packed within the chunks of meat. This was served with candied apple crisps, which were far sweeter than the baked version I make as a healthy snack thanks to a light coating of honey (or possibly maple syrup), and made a satisfying snap as you bit into a slice.

We all agreed that the star of the starters was my dad’s pigeon breast, served on a pear puree and topped with parsnip crisps. The bird’s gamey richness blended perfectly with the sweet sauce as it hit your palate to give a wonderfully rounded finish.

Fillet of beef with smoked mash and bearnaise sauce  Lamb loin with wild garlic pesto

A tiny coffee cup of velvety goats cheese and potato veloute appeared before the main courses as an extra amuse bouche. I love a slab of top-quality steak but for some reason never feel confident enough to cook it in our little London flat, so I’d selected the 28 day aged fillet of beef with béarnaise sauce and Mat’s infamous smoked mash. The seared hunk of meat didn’t disappoint, and whilst the woody scent of the creamed potato shocked me at first it was also strangely addictive!

I’d been torn between the beef fillet and the lamb loin, but was nervous that the quenelle of wild garlic pesto would overpower the young meat. My mum kindly allowed me a generous sampling from her order, which was beautifully pink and tasted as delicious as it looked, with the garlic paste providing a surprisingly subtle background tone.

triple cooked pork belly with sweet potato and crackle  IMG_3090

Everyone had serious "food envy" for my boyfriend's 12 hour triple-cooked pork…we had no idea which 3 techniques Mat had used, but they were clearly beneficial as it melted in the mouth instantly. The texture of the long strip of crackling alongside it was the total opposite of the tender meat, although thankfully it was just chewy enough that you could enjoy it without any fear of breaking a tooth.

My dad and I rank very highly on the carnivore stakes and therefore like our dark meat to be as bloody as possible without it leaping back out of the pan, so we would have preferred his venison steak to have been slightly more juicy (though this shade of maroon was ideal for my more squeamish mum). The black pudding croquettes were an ingenious twist on the classic “meat and potato” format, particularly when coupled with the intriguing chocolate and espresso sauce.

Dessert tasting platter

After so much outstanding food we were all starting to feel rather stuffed, but as dessert is my favourite part of any meal there was no chance I would pass up the opportunity to try the sweet treats on offer. I’ve written previously about my weakness for coarse dark chocolate, so I suffered a brief moment of panic when the waitress handed me the menu where the predominant ingredient in two of the three puddings was white chocolate…

…but disaster was quickly averted when we enquired into the component parts of the “tasting platter”. An incredible array of desserts and confectionary was brought out to us on a plate so large that it was practically a tray, so I quickly captured a photo of the entire selection for my #project366 challenge before my dad and I dove our spoons into the feast from either end. Given that I’m not as eloquent as the charming Nigel Slater I don’t have the words to do justice to the beauty of this sugary banquet, so I hope the close-up photos will speak for themselves…

Chocolate brownie, popcorn icecream and lavender pannecotta  Orange creme brulee, shortbread, milk chocolate peanut brittle and dark chocolate salted caramel

Dark chocolate brownie with raspberry compote, popcorn icecream, lavender pannacotta (or possibly the lavender mousse that was the finale to Mat’s Masterchef-winning meal), homemade milk chocolate peanut brittle and dark chocolate salted caramel, crumbly shortbread and orange crème brulee…well worth a little over-indulgence!

Lemon pavlova with peanut butter dust  peanut butter dust

Had the tasting platter not been an option, I would have copied my mum and picked the lemon pavlova with peanut butter dust. We loved the balance of flavours and textures in this refreshing dish – light crispy meringue, sharp creamy lemon and caramelised crunchy nuts.

White chocolate and lemon fondant before  White chocolate and lemon fondant after

Chocolate fondants are notoriously difficult to cook, no matter how masterful the chef. After an unfortunate hiccup with the initial batch, my boyfriend was presented with this exquisite white chocolate version, with a molten centre that tasted almost like a sweet lemon curd and oozed across the plate as soon as it was released from its spongey cell.

This heavenly end to our meal was made even sweeter when Mat Follas exited the hot kitchen and made a beeline for our table! I’d become a borderline internet stalker in the week preceding my birthday with regular tweets to the chef about our booking, so it was a lovely surprise that the chef was able to spare the time in his busy dinner service to met his customers. Mat was always very modest whilst competing in Masterchef and was just as unassuming now, despite The Wild Garlic recently being awarded a second AA rosette. It was a real pleasure to learn about his foraging course, hear how he runs his kitchen and to witness his passion for proper produce first-hand.

Dining at the picturesque Wild Garlic reminded me how much I love Dorset. Going back to my coastal roots brought on memories of birthday celebrations from throughout my childhood, so I can’t think of anyone better to experience this impressive meal with than my parents…I’m just hoping we can return for another special occasion soon!


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  2. What a lovely looking meal! Hope you had a great birthday :)

  3. Great review Katy and love the photos! This has made me hungry...

  4. Thanks so much for the birthday wishes - it was a delicious meal and I'd certainly be keen to return and check out the rest of the menu!

  5. Fantastic. Would love to go myself now!

  6. Goodness me you did have a great meal there! Looks ever so good!

  7. Sounds absolutely brilliant amazing wonderful...! You now have us pining to go... Great write up, Katy, sending you a little of our recent sampling via Facebook, (though nothing so grand as here..)... L and D x