To celebrate the end of our project, a number of us decided to take the plunge and book in a dinner at Midsummer House. Located in the middle of Midsummer Commons’ park and right next to the river, I can imagine that it would be particularly lovely eating al fresco in the outdoors. Fortunately in winter when it’s much colder and particularly damp, the bright indoor eating area does just fine. We were one of the first tables to be seated at 7pm, although I think we were also one of the last remaining tables at the end of the night, obviously enjoying the food and wine that was soon to come.
When we arrived, they took our coats and led us to our table – a plain white table clothed round table right next to their bay windows where we could see fairy lights dotting their outdoor garden. We had an apertif to start (a number of gin and tonics and champagne for the table) where we then got a look at the menu. Midsummer House does do a number of dishes for vegetarians but their tasting menu is predominantly mixtures of meats and seafood that probably wouldn’t be that appealing. We ended up with the tasting menu (a number of courses for £85). Here’s a picture of Midsummer House from the outside before dinner:
To begin with, we had a number of small amuse bouche. I don’t remember exactly what this dish was, but it was some sort of foam dish with a light fruit. It was a nice way to start the palatte as it had sharp citrus flavours that stimulated the taste buds.
Whilst we perused the menu, we were then offered a number of other canapes including a whitebait fritter (the fried things in the left side of the picture below), and a bread puff filled with a savoury mixture. I remember both were light crisp and almost too easy on the way down.
After deciding on the tasting menu, a small cart arrived by the tableside, where they prepared a palette cleanser. With small round bowls that looked like mini balloons, they dispensed a canister including yet another type of foam.
It was a pink grapefruit and champagne foam! Hurrah. The flavours of the grapefruit were particularly sublime although you could taste the fizz from the champagne and was a lovely way to cut through the savoury tone of our canapes. I’m a little bit over the whole foam thing, but at least it was guaranteed to be a light way of starting.
Our first real course on the tasting menu was a White Onion, Apple and Scallion bisque. The apple was cut into small chunks, providing the texture to, an otherwise, monotonic but creamy soup. It was served in an impressive pleated bowl.
After being warmed up slightly by the soup, we then moved onto a Beetroot cannelloni, filled with small bits of goats cheese served with a horseradish sorbet, and a celery side salad. The cannelloni was really light and wasn’t too overpowering with the beetroot flavour. Its crispness as you cut into a small chunk then led you to a perfect pairing of salty goats cheese, without being overwhelming. Adding in the heat of the horseradish and surprising cold from the sorbet, was an amazing mouthfeel to last. I was a huge fan of this particular dish that was also vegetarian friendly.
Our next dish was definitely less vegetarian friendly, being Sautéed scallops topped with iberico ham, some fresh sage, and then a creme fraiche topped with green olives. The scallops were delightfully cooked – browned on the outside yet soft and perfectly cooked flesh. The iberico ham wasn’t overpowering, being shaved extremely thin and it worked really well with the other elements. Interestingly they didn’t actually describe all the elements on the plate when they put the dish down although we had great guess as a group picking all the remaining ingredients.
The next course soon arrived, Sweetbreads, pistachio, maple syrup and mouli. I remember thinking how the maple syrup could have dominated the lighter flavours of sweetbread, but was pleasantly surprised when you had the strange sweetness but not in the concentrated burst I’d feared. The mouli provided a nice contrast to the dish as well.
The next dish was Langoustine and Cuttlefish Risotto. As you can probably tell from the picture below, the risotto wasn’t a true risotto – instead made up of a cuttlefish cut into perfectly small cubes resembling the white firmness one would expect from a well made risotto. The langoustine was perfectly cooked, super sweet and went down almost too fast.
Our next dish was a “Pousse Cafe” meant to be drunk as a single shot. I remember it being fairly warm, and made up of a number of different savoury soups of different textures. It was brilliant how they layered the different flavours that when it was tipped into your mouth, then turned into a wonderful experience, further warming the belly as it made its way down. Yum!
After this enjoyable experience, we had the Pigeon, sweet potato and cocoa nibs. As you can the pigeon was pistachio-crusted which I thought was going to overpower the pigeon but simply added an interesting texture dimension to the dish. Pigeon, being slightly more gamey was much more tougher than what I was expecting but we still managed to have no problems cutting into it with a butter knife.
The cheese cart arrives – hurrah! With a huge selection of many different types of cheeses. It is actually an additional course (£5 for the small plate, and £12 for the large). Interestingly, the small plate ended up with four cheeses, the large five cheeses although I wasn’t sure if you could pick many many more for the large plate. The sizes of the cuts weren’t noticeably different.
After the cheese course, our desserts started arriving, the first being a Lemon grass topped with lady grey mousse. I thought it was a very interesting concoction and cleverly put together – the citrus tones working well to complement each other. It was a nice, light creamy dessert that was actually a pretty significant size.
Our next dessert was Warm kumquats served with lemon thyme ice cream that did well to continue the citrus-based themes of desserts. The kumquats looked like they had been caramelised with some sugar, being very potent on their own. I felt the pressure to down this one as the warmth from the fruits started to turn the ice cream to cream and it was definitely great to have that hot and cold contrast again with complementary flavours.
Our final “dessert” of the evening was this spectacular Tiramisu that was a much more deconstructed version of any tiramisu you’d likely ever see. You have the marscapone element as a cold ice cream, a dark chocolate truffle sitting to the side, and a chocolate tube containing the coffee cream with amazing cotton candy sitting on top. They brought each to the table before pouring the shot of espresso right through the cotton candy and in the middle of the tube that then spilled on to the rest of the plate. This was definitely one of the many desserts you wanted to keep lasting.
We then had some coffees and tea with the petite fours (which I didn’t try because I was so full and chocolate was definitely too rich after that series of desserts).
Amazingly that wasn’t the last of it when they brought out the final dish, Freshly sugared Beignets (AKA Donuts) with a lemon marmalade and freshly made creme anglaise (i.e. custard). Despite being particularly full I couldn’t stop myself from trying this. The custard was absolutely divine and the donuts light and not sickeningly sweet. A great surprise at the end of the meal.
Service was very good throughout the evening – not even noticing when they took plates away. One thing they could improve on is if their sommelier talked about the various wines as we went through the evening with the dish – rather than simply pouring them and then walking away. The wine tasting menu looked like this:
- Touraine Sauvignon Blanc, Francois Chidaine, Loire Valley, France, 2008
- Vin de Pays d’Oc, One Block Muscat, Domain de Treloar, Roussillon, France, 2006
- Chenin Blanc, Rudera, Stellenbosch, South Africa, 2008
- Albarino, Valminor, O Rosal, Rias Baixas, Spain, 2008
- Shiraz, Oliver’s Taranga Vineyard, McLaren Vale, South Australia, 2003
- Tokaji Aszu, 4 Puttonyos, Disnoko, Tokaji, Hungary, 2004
- Pedro Ximenes Viejo, Noe, Gonzales Byass, Jerez, Spain, NV