If you watched the 2011 series of Masterchef: The Professionals, the chances are that you’ll remember Claire Hutchings. Claire Hutchings was the young finalist, fresh out of college, that steamed past chefs with many more years of experience, to take a coveted place in the final stage of the competition.
We got hooked on Masterchef: The Professionals during the second series and now watch it annually. Inevitably we often talk about trying out some of the finalists food, but until the other night, we’d never done so. As luck would have it Claire Hutchings is from Birmingham and has been hosting a number of pop up restaurant evenings in the premises of The Kitchen Garden, Kings Heath. As it was within a reasonable travelling distance for us, we couldn’t resist going along to try out Claire’s food.
First up was an amazing array of canapes. There was hay smoked lamb served up in small kilner jars. This was very tender, top quality lamb with a soft, smooth, smokey taste. Another side dish were the meaty mouthfuls of parmesan rice balls with aioli. On the main canapes platter (pictured above) we were spoilt for choice too. Sesame tortillas were served with salmon mousse (in a miniature flower-pot) to dip them in. Tiny beetroot macaroons were sandwiched together with horseradish cream. Moist crab meat was presented in razor clam shells. Then there were the innovative, crispy chicken skin pieces with truffle mousse which were so evocative of a roast chicken dinner.
Claire Hutchings’ next dish was described as Burnt Apple with Crispy Pork and Kohlrabi on the menu. This was to be the course where our party had the most widely differing views. To begin with we couldn’t quite work out where the pork was, but as you explore your plate, you realise that the crunchy crumbs are the pork. Some of our party found the crunchy pork (think of the best pork scratchings you’ve ever had) was too crunchy and hard on the teeth, but my husband liked this dish best of all.
Mackerel with Butternut, Vanilla & Sesame was Claire’s next creation. The mackerel was cooked in two different ways and melted away in the mouth. Shavings of crispy butternut squash provided a contrasting crunch and a sweeter flavour acting as a perfect foil to the hearty taste of mackerel. The vanilla came in the form of a blob of puree. I wouldn’t have thought of pairing vanilla with mackerel, but the combination worked well.
Venison with Turnips, Raisins and Black Pudding was the meaty heart of the meal. The venison was surprisingly mellow-tasting, without that harsh gameyness it can sometimes have. A delicious gravy was served separately, so you could add as much or as little as you liked. There was the softness of texture from the fondant turnip and the pureed black pudding with crispy bacon to add a robust crunch. I found the black pudding puree a revelation with pure, intense, meaty flavour.
Moving onto sweeter things we were served Pear with Muscovado and Ale. This was a sophisticated pear crumble with a strong, beery ale puree. The bitter beer was a fitting contrast to the sweet pear. I think we would all have happily eaten a big bowl of this.
The desserts continued with Coconut with Passion Fruit, Blackberry, Yoghurt and Lime. To me, this was a wonderfully clever dish with strong, bold, fresh flavours. The frozen lime yoghurt had a zesty, sharp taste which was the perfect complement to the creamy, mellow coconut ice cream. Chocolate powder provided a little bitterness and there were blackberries and passion fruit to add their robust flavours too.
To finish we had a lovely, soft, squishy, almost gooey Coffee Marquise with the bitter coffee taste to counteract the sweetness.
If you get the chance to attend one of Claire Hutchings’ Pop Up Restaurants I’d strongly encourage you to go along. At £45 a head it’s good value for this many courses of such high quality. If Claire Hutchings goes onto achieve the Michelin star or stars of which she is capable, then a taster menu will cost more that £45 per head.