There are so many things about this meal that I could start with. The fact our dessert looked like a load of mushrooms and was, indeed, made from mushrooms. Or that this was the night I think I found the key to enjoying a few glasses of wine without throwing up the next day (yes, it happens quite regularly). Or that we enjoyed the rare experience of not only dining at a Michelin-starred restaurant, but dining at one that we both love and then the privilege of a casual chat with its head chef.
But there’s something else that made The Mushroom Evening at The Cross in Kenilworth super special. You may or may not know, but Mr M and I had a cat. Not just any cat – a super fluffy, super grumpy Maine Coon called Massimo, with one helluva character. We got Massimo just a few months after getting together and made a gazillion happy memories in the time since.
Sadly, the day after we got back from the Fat Fox, Massimo became very ill, very suddenly (like, in a matter of hours) and we had to make the heartbreaking decision to have him put to sleep. It turns out he’d been fighting cancer, probably for some time, and just couldn’t carry on. Cue a heartbroken Manning household and when I say that, I don’t say it glibly. I never realised how much pain the death of a pet can cause, so my heart goes out to anyone else who has been through the same thing.
Why am I telling you all this? Well, because the Mushroom Dinner at The Cross was just four days after we said goodbye to Massimo. The last thing either of us wanted to do was to put our gladrags on and go out but we decided that it would a) be incredibly rude to stand up our kind hosts for the evening and, more importantly, b) perhaps give us an opportunity to celebrate the little fluff ball rather than mourn him.
And so, brave faces on, we tootled off to Kenilworth to see how top chefs make seven fabulous courses, all from mushrooms. I’ve told you about The Cross at Kenilworth before, when we went for our friend’s birthday dinner and again when I visited for the Jaboulet wine lunch, so you’ll know I like the restaurant itself. It’s smart yet relaxed, with a huge terrace and fabulous service, and somewhere I would happily return to again and again.
For the Mushroom Dinner, we started with ‘Hens Egg’, a delicate egg-shell filled with three types of mushroom including Pied de Mouton and Chanterelles (sorry, I’m rubbish, can’t remember the third) and egg yolk, with hints of tarragon. It was served with brioche soldiers – think a dippy egg but a million times posher.
The second course on the list was Wild Mushroom Broth. Another visually impressive course, we were presented with delicate pieces of Pied de Mouton, partridge, fennel, wild cranberries. On top was poured a crystalline broth, as clear as glacial water and the stuff you see so many chefs aspiring to on TV. The two together created a perfect autumn picture, all browns, reds and rich woodland flavours.
Third up was Tartar of Cornish Lamb. As rather shameless meat-lovers we’ve had steak tartare a fair few times, but never lamb. It was tender in texture and complex in flavour, with a slight gamey hint. The chunks of lamb were bigger than I’ve had in a traditional beef tartare, and piled up with pickled Shimeji and Pied Bleu mushrooms.
Mushrooms are known as being quite high in glutamate – the source of that fifth taste ‘umami’ – so I’m not sure whether having some pickled mushrooms with this dish helped add an extra dimension but it certainly felt like it had a great depth of flavour.
A great addition was the Violette mustard (Jamie’s fave), a traditional French condiment that added the right level of sweet and spice to emphasise the flavour of the lamb. The toasted sourdough was made on site, I’m told, and could easily rival any bakery.
Truffled Hand Dived Scallop
You see scallops on menus all over the place, but if there’s one way to pimp up a tried and tested dish it’s to fill it full of truffle then scatter a bit more on top for good measure. Another ingenious move by Adam Bennett (head chef, and a bit of a genius, obvs).
The scallop was one of the fattest I’ve ever seen and an entirely different texture to most I’ve tried. None of that squidgy watery-ness you get sometimes, and far more dense. A bit like crabmeat actually which, according to Adam, is down to the sheer quality and a sign that they are genuinely hand-dived.
Inside this voluptuous beauty was a seam of rich truffle, and the whole indulgent treat encased in crispy panko breadcrumbs, hiding the riches inside. It was served with cabbage and a delicate sauce of Charbonnier mushrooms, quinoa and parsley. A bit of a spring-like dish but a great fish course and a refreshing contrast to some of the more autumnal dishes on the menu.
It’s normal with tasting menus – for me anyway – that some of the courses you’ll love more than others. And often, there’s no particular order to this. You might love the first course, not like the second so much, then come back and think the fourth is your fave. What I loved about this menu was that each course seemed to outdo the last, forming a kind of crescendo throughout the meal leading to a climax.
That climax, boys and girls, was the Fillet and Cheek of Hereford Beef. I guess some might say it was one of the more traditional dishes on the menu, but it was just epic. A cacophony of colours and flavours, all rich, indulgent and autumnal and packed with flavour.
The fillet was pink and wonderfully tender, while the cheek was impossibly fall-apart under the most delicate of pressure from a knife and fork. And the roast cep, Jerusalem artichoke and lettuce provided the perfect combination of additional elements to make up a kind of woodland wonder. The bordelaise sauce, another French classic, was the perfect complimentary mix of red wine, bone marrow, butter, and shallots.
By the side was an autumnal pan of potato and cep gratin, all rustic and sticky from the top and an intricate construction of carefully-stacked layers within. I could probably have eaten this as a course in its own right, and would LOVE to recreate it at home.
We ooh’d and aah’d over every mouthful of this part of the meal, declaring that this would have sat just as well as the sole main course of a meal, let alone as an impressive pinnacle in an already magnificent dining experience.
Blown away by the savouries, we were intrigued to see how The Cross would incorporate mushrooms into its sweet courses. I mean, I love mushrooms, but for pudding?
For dessert we were served ‘Meringue, Chestnut and Truffle’ which appeared as a charming woodland scene and one of those courses where a kitchen really shows its intelligence and wit. Meringues made to look like Alice in Wonderland-style toadstools, gorgeous green pistachio sponge, an elegant hazelnut tuille, fat juice blueberries, and a scoop of chestnut ice cream were just a few of the items on the busy-but-beautiful plate.
As we’ve ascertained, why I’m happy to experiment I think I’m a bit of a traditionalist at heart, and while this course ‘wowed’ me with its intricate detail and artistic beauty, it fell more into the bracket of ‘interesting’ than ‘delicious’.
It was certainly one of those moments where your preconceptions and tastebuds are challenged – one of the reasons you go to something like the Mushroom Dinner in the first place – and I would always advocate trying these things. But I think I might just have too much of a sweet tooth and could happily have gone for something a bit more classic.
The meal closed with some ‘Choco-cep truffles’ and our lovely chat with Adam, hearing all about what went into the meal, why he likes doing stuff like this, and what’s going on for him next.
At the start of this blog I mentioned that we had found the key to me enjoying wine without it having the adverse effect it usually does, so I can’t leave this without mentioning the wonderful advice we had from the sommelier at The Cross and their great selection of organic wines.
For years I have battled with the struggle between my love of wine and the fact that something in certain wines just doesn’t agree with me and causes an epic reaction – not in a good way – leading to the most horrific of horrific hangovers. I’ve spent years ignoring it, or just crossing my fingers and hoping I’ve accidentally landed on a particular wine that doesn’t do that, but decided on this night to seek a bit of advice.
It turns out there is a possibility that it’s the sulphites added to many wines that could be the issue, so we decided to try one of the bottles from the organic list, under the advice from the fabulous sommelier. Not only was it delicious but we managed to quaff two bottles (give us a break, we were in mourning) and there wasn’t a hint of sickness in the morning. Another winner.
It was with that lovely wine, midway through a showstopping meal that was made by some of the best service I’ve seen in a while, that we raised a glass to our poor departed Massimo and declared that meal our celebration of him and the fab little fluffball he was. Cheesy, I know, and anyone who loves food and hates animals probably left this post a long time ago, but it was this meal that brought us some smiles again.
There are some places that have it just right, and I’m firmly of the belief that The Cross has got that. With Andreas Antonas, father of Simpsons, and Adam Bennett at the helm, I don’t think there’s any surprise at that. I’m just lucky it’s right on my doorstep 😉
We were invited to the Mushroom Evening as guests of The Cross and our meal was complimentary. I wasn’t asked to write a positive review, just what I thought of it, and I even told all these thoughts to Adam when we spoke to him. The Cross do plenty of other evenings like this, so keep a look out. You’ll probably find us there with a bottle or two of organic wine!
Pin this for reference later