At the beginning of each year various websites, papers and magazines publish the ‘food trends’ that they assume we will all want to consume for the next twelve months. The 2012 predictions included such delights as ceviche, ‘gourmet’ scotch eggs, gelatina, molecular cooking and affordable home sous vide.
One trend continuing to gain momentum is the ‘grill’. Last year more and more chefs seemed to be acquiring Japanese Kamado style ‘Big Green Eggs’. Whereas restaurants serious about grilling equipped their kitchens with equally serious pieces of kit, such as Inka charcoal ovens (see here).
In the North West, one celebrated chef leading the way in the grilling renaissance is Aiden Byrne. A favourite on Great British Menu, of course Aiden is no newcomer to such cuisine - after becoming the youngest chef to be bestowed a Michelin star and working at the likes of Pied à Terre and Tom Aikens, he famously headed up ‘The Grill’ at the prestigious Dorchester Hotel on Park Lane.
After the recent success of their ‘British Grill’ at the Macdonald Hotel in Craxton Wood (see here) Aiden and his partner Sarah have gone on to refurbish and re-launch their flagship Church Green in Lymm with an Inka grill at the heart of the kitchen and menu.
In addition to Aiden’s non-grilled favourites: ‘homely classics’ ‘fish mains’ and the ‘vegetarian’ and ‘tasting menus’ – the new menu now showcases a wonderful array of quality British reared meats, including sirloin, rib eye and fillet steaks; Asian style pork belly; rump of Texel lamb and sharing dishes like spatchcock chicken and a grilled wing rib of beef - all cooked to perfection on the Inka.
So what is this Inka I have been banging on about, and what makes it so good? Firstly, along with benefits to restaurateurs regarding efficiency, they have great eco credentials; the ability to burn fuel made from waste ‘husks’ of 100% natural coconut makes them friendlier to the environment than grills solely burning charcoal made from felled trees.
Secondly, and more importantly for the diner, the food cooked on them has that delicious ‘barbequed’ flavour typically associated with ‘outdoor’ cooking.
Before we get to the grilled goodies, I chose to kick things off with some Crisp ciabatta croutons and a couple of dips from the several flavours offered - my choices being a Green olive, orange and cardamom tapenade and Pickled white beans with baby squid - the salty olive tapenade with its subtle hints of citrus and cardamom tasted great; as did the vinegary white beans with baby squid.
To start, I selected the Mussels from the Inka grill cooked in tomato, chilli and coriander - the ‘sauce of the day’. Served alongside a wedge of ciabatta complete with appetising char marks the mussels had been cooked and presented in a wonderful cast iron Le Creuset casserole dish. The tomato and coriander sauce was rich with a gentle hint of chilli – very tasty.
Having heard a great deal about Aiden’s burgers, and how on a recent trip to New York, he sought out, tasted and took inspiration from the finest the city had to offer, I knew before ordering that I had to try one. After weighing up whether to plump for the 5oz. or go the all out for the 10oz. behemoth, I then had to consider toppings.
Alongside classics such as cheese, bacon, gherkins and jalapenos, many places that serve burgers these days offer a whole host of weird and wonderful garnishes. Those faddish monstrosities complete with giant towers of toppings, held together with wooden sticks may look the part but they are nigh on impossible to eat and the bread to filling to meat ratio can be all wrong.
Conversely, the Church Green menu listed the simple, appetising and imaginative sounding combinations of ‘Maple cured bacon and fried egg’ ‘Chilli, avocado and coriander’ and, the one that almost swayed me, ‘Blue cheese and crisp onion.’
The way I see it however is, if you had a Rolls Royce you probably wouldn’t want to pimp it with alloy wheels, fluffy dice and a spoiler. Being cooked in the charcoal oven and made from 85% chuck steak with 15% bone marrow, for me, Aiden’s is the Rolls Royce of the burger world and, as such, is best enjoyed ‘naked’; between a simple homemade bun (with a side of perfectly cooked beef dripping chips) in all its juicy-marrow chin-dribbling majesty.
When presented with the dessert menu I realised that I really should have opted for the 5oz. burger – making room for the Triple chocolate mousse, gingerbread and poached pear was going to be a struggle. The fact though that Aiden’s gingerbread made it onto my Hungry Hoss Best of 2011 post (see here) meant I couldn’t say no - it was every bit as good as I remember (made even better by the accompanying Wiese & Krohn 1978 Colheita).
Of all the food trends predicted for 2012, it’s unquestionably the ‘grill’ that has made the most impact within the North West’s restaurants. I for one am looking forward to more Inka grills appearing in more and more kitchens and am certainly looking forward to eating more of Aiden Byrne’s exquisite food.