When the ex-head Chef of Winchesters only Michelin Starred restaurant tweeted revealing he’d be doing a one night pop-up at Forte Kitchen, I nearly wet myself with excitement. Not having been to The Black Rat whilst Chef Ollie Moore was in charge I wasn’t going to miss this opportunity, going so far as taking a days holiday to ensure I wasn’t working. The menu was released a week or two prior to the event, the days and weeks dragged by and finally the day in question arrived.
The first of what would turn out to be a 7 course extravaganza was named ‘Snack Time’. This course intrigued us as the title gave us no indication as to what we would be eating. To start the evening a collection of 3 different appertisers was delivered to our table. Owing to the confines of the room, couples were sat down opposite each other on a table, with each table allowing for 4 couples. It was cosy it has to be said, however, due to a couple who didn’t materialise, it was more spacious for us than it first appeared. The opening dish was presented with enough of each appertiser for 1 each per person, but because there was a couple missing from the table, inevitably there was some left over.
First up, a Feta and Chilli tart. In the mouth, the familiar taste of soft Feta Cheese was met by a beautifully gentle warmth coming from the chilli. The tart casing carried an ever so slight sweetness, making for a rather delicious start to the evening. Next up, the Mushroom Tart. The filling was housed in the same pastry casing as before, this time it helping even more to balance the tart from the hit of Umami coming from the mushrooms. The last of the snacks was Ollie’s take on traditional Indian finger food – the vegetable Pakora. Light and crisp batter was followed by a healthy mix of vegetables, each of which bringing their own unique flavour to the party going on inside my mouth.
As I’ve noted on many, many, many previous occasions for me, the sign of a great meal comes in the form of freshly baked bread and an accompanying butter (usually with a flavouring), and sure enough, this was no different. A smoked butter was the choice to partner the bread, my better half noting it had a taste not too dissimilar from that of SMOKED Salmon. Yeah I know, properly on the ball isn’t she?
A Dal Makhani with raw Cauliflower was the first of the main courses. Curried Lentils, Red Kidney Beans, an intense buttery sauce accompanied by some torched Cauliflower florets for texture. At this point, our attention was drawn away from the dish and onto the news that my other half had been offered a place on her post-graduate teacher training course. By the time we’d got over the news, the Makhini had been demolished and it was onto the next course.
The fish course centred on a fillet of cured Mackerel. I have to say, Mackerel is a long way from being my favourite fish, probably due to its intense flavour and aroma and for this reason, this was the course I was least looking forward to. I however, had nothing to worry about – although the Mackerel did indeed carry the characteristics I least enjoy about fish, it was all kept in check by slices of frozen cucumber, the softer flavour of which helping enormously to take the edge off.
When the menu was first released, I was immediately drawn to the second of the main courses. Beef, Hay Mash Potato, Cooked Weeds and Blackberry and Elderberry Dressing. This was the course I was most looking forward to and it went down a treat. The Beef, was a beautiful, even shade of pink all the way through. However I will have to admit, it did take a touch more effort to get through the outer edge than I had anticipated, but definitely didn’t require a steak knife as a certain lady a couple of seats down from me remarked to the waitress! Once you were in though, it was a delight. Sat elegantly on a bed of silky smooth mash potato, surrounded by a blackberry and elderberry dressing that allowed for the tiniest hint of acidity to cut through the creamy mash.
A dark chocolate, avocado and maple syrup mousse was the first of the two desserts to draw the evening to a close. The mousse was indulgently rich, the avocado’s rich, buttery and creamy qualities making the dessert utterly opulent. Hundreds and thousands sprinkled over the top added texture. The annoying lady come apparent Michelin inspector, not seeing the point, commented that we weren’t at school anymore and left.
The final dessert and dish of the evening consisted of Sencha Wakame Panna Cotta, Lychee and black Sesame Seeds. What a delightfully refreshing end to the evening. The light Panna Cotta and the sweetness of the Lychee balanced wonderfully. Scattered throughout the dish were broken pieces of shortbread adding a light crunch to the finale.
Over the course of 150 minutes we were served 7 completely different dishes, the vast majority containing at least one element I was yet to try. All 7 dishes were a complete and utter delight, contrary to what others may have thought and I for one will be among the first in line should Ollie return to Winchester in the future.