Helen recently treated us both to a tasting menu dinner at the Raby Hunt, near Darlington. It’s the only Michelin starred restaurant in the North East of England currently, although with Kenny Atkinson currently working on a Quayside restaurant in Newcastle, fingers crossed, we may get a second in the near future…
Luckily for me, it’s a very good restaurant. This was our second visit and once again, we pushed the boat out and went for the tasting menu. We stopped short of the wine pairing as last time I think we set sail completely, knocking back glasses as each new one arrived, rendering the last few courses a somewhat hazy blur.
So, with a little more sobriety this time, I can confirm that yes, the food is excellent. In fact, this was the first tasting menu I’ve tried where I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every course. The theme is big flavour and locally sourced produce, with a nod to French cooking.
Being a belated birthday treat, Helen phoned ahead and I was delighted that the Head Chef James Close spent some time with us to chat at the end of the meal.
The story is really quite extraordinary. The restaurant has only been established 5 years or so and yet he has held a Michelin star for the last two of them. Not so long ago, by his own admission, he was serving gastropub meals – steaks and mussels, that kind of thing – so his rise to fine dining has been exponential.
We talked about the meal and I explained the highlight, for me was a smoked eel and duck parfait dish with various forms of beetroot. It was packed with flavour and I had to restrain myself from licking the plate. He looked a little weary when I said that (that it was my favourite, not me wanting to lick the plate) which I was surprised at initially, but he went on to explain that this has become something of a signature dish. With that comes the expectation by returning guests that it will still be available but also, at this standard of cuisine, that it will vary slightly. This means he must try and come up something novel but strike a fine balance of keeping true to the original concept, but not straying too far. Very, very tricky.
I was delighted to hear he takes a reccy every now and again to other Michelin starred restaurants for inspiration as it’s something I do shamelessly on a regular basis (though generally not Michelin starred joints of course). I chatted to his Soux Chef Ryan after a brief visit to the tiny (soon to be extended) kitchen and he explained that other restaurants have teams of chefs, even development chefs, to work on new ideas. This makes the Raby team’s accomplishments even more remarkable.
And so, true to the spirit of reconnaissance dining, this dish is based squarely on Helen’s favourite course: (very) slow roasted suckling pig with artichoke puree.
I used pork belly from a local butcher and paired it up with a simple fennel and celeriac puree. I tried out a croquette of black pudding and apple, which was OK but the chicory addition was ‘acquired’ inspiration.
One of the reasons I made this was James explained that in preparing the pork, he leaves it to rest for a day, at which point it seems to gather up all the cooking liquor and flavour. I’d sort of discovered this by accident myself (I’d forgotten to take some out the oven after it had switched itself off and only remembered after work the next day), so it was great to hear this ‘qualified’ by him.
The pork was simply roasted in a hot oven in a deep tray with half and half stock and cider filled up halfway. Once the skin was crispy, foil was added tightly and left to slow cook for 4 hours at low temperature. After, I simply turned off the oven and left it alone, completely until the next evening.
I didn’t remove the foil, not even touch the oven door, so in theory, everything inside was ‘sterile’, but you may want to put the pork in the fridge to rest, once cool, if worried. I didn’t as I wanted it to be room temperature when I arrived home, and it was absolutely fine.
For the pork:
- 1 kg of good pork belly (with a decent layer of fat) – skin scored
- 400ml good dry cider
- 400ml pork stock
- Sea salt
For the puree:
- Half a celeriac
- 1 fennel bulb
- 30g butter
- About 200ml single cream (I find double cream a little too rich)
- 2 garlic bulbs
For the black pudding croquette:
- 100g black pudding
- 1 apple cored and peeled, chopped
- 1 egg beaten
- A few handfuls of breadcrumbs
Chichory, peashoots and more apple to serve.
Get the oven on hot – 220°C/430°F
Boil a kettle and with the pork in a clean sink, pour it over the skin to open it up. Dry thoroughly and rub the sea salt into the skin. Place it in a fairly tight fitting tray and fill with the cider and stock until it reaches the skin (don’t pour over the skin or submerge it)
Whack it in the oven until the skin crispens and reduce to 130°C/270°F. Top up the stock/cider and add the foil very tightly. Leave the pork to cook for 3-4 hours more (longer the better) then turn off the oven and leave it alone until ready to use the next day. If you want, put it in the fridge once cool.
Remove the pork and set on a clean board. Pour the cooking liquor into a saucepan and gently simmer to reduce and concentrate while you crack on with the rest. It’ll be delicious.
Neatly trim the pork into portion sized square and heat an oven proof pan. Fry each side to colour and turn onto the skin side. Put a heavy pan on top (like a iron skillet) to push it down to crisp it up better. Turn skin side up and leave in the oven at 80°C/180°F (or the lowest setting) to warm through.
Meanwhile, peel and dice the celeriac and simmer until done. Meanwhile, sautee the fennel gently in a little butter. Put the lot into a blender or food processor and blend with the cream (add a bit at a time, it shouldn’t be to runny) until very smooth. Season, return to a lidded pan and keep warm.
Blitz the black pudding and apple in a processor with half the egg. Season with salt and roll into croquette shapes. Dip them in the remaining egg, then the breadcrumbs and deep fry (or shallow fry) for a few minutes until crisp and cooked through – use a thermometer if unsure.
Taste the stock reduction and season if needed – it probably won’t – and stir in a small knob of butter for richness and shine. Strain it through a fine sieve or muslin cloth.
Serve it all up with some chicory leaves and freshly sliced apple at the last minute.
Rich and delicious – brilliant with a bit of Chenin Blanc too