If you were to come round to my house and find me sat in front of the TV, you would likely find me watching one of three things – true crime documentaries, Impractical Jokers, or a programme about food. True crime is totally my jam, IJ is the best comedy show on the box by far, and food shows are like a warm, cosy blanket – full on comfort.
Before we got together, Ben never used to watch any sort of cookery programmes, but now I’ve got him hooked too. Great British Bake Off is on our screens at the moment (I don’t know who I want to win yet), Great British Menu has given me a huge list of chefs whose restaurants I now want to visit, and Masterchef has been my TV addiction ever since it came back to our screens in its current format in 2005. Add to that the Hairy Bikers, Jimmy and Jamie, and Nigel Slater, and honestly, I could spend all day watching other people eating delicious food.+
As I said above, through my love of TV food shows I’ve garnered myself a list of chefs whose food I want to eat. I’ve ticked off Tom Kerridge at The Hand And Flowers in Marlow and Marcus Wareing at both The Gilbert Scott and Tredwells, but there’s a fair few more I plan to get through in the years to come.
The latest addition to my Done That list is a visit to Andi Walker’s pop-up restaurant situated on the first floor at The Riverside Inn in Chelmsford in Essex.
Having lived in Chelmsford for 3-years previously, I know The Riverside Inn well. A converted 17th Century mill it’s said to be haunted and is actually on my list of places I want to book a room and stay overnight as it’s such a quirky building and has so much history that I just want to soak it all up!
Last week we were lucky enough to be invited along to sample Andi’s menu. I was really excited about going as my encyclopaedic knowledge of Masterchef contestants over the years remembered Andi was in possession of some top quality cooking skills – you don’t get to the semi-finals based on your ability to boil an egg!
Leek Bhaji’s, Yoghurt, Roasted Artichokes, Mushroom Ketchup and Pork Crackling with Thyme Salt
If Andi has served me this for every dish that night I would have been happy, it was the perfect start to the meal and a sign of just how high-quality the food to come was going to be. The bhaji’s were unbelievably tasty and the pork crackling was ridiculously more-ish, being far from the consistency you would expect and more like a prawn cracker. Ben cannot stand crackling (all the more for me) but he wolfed this down (dammit).
Sourdough with Marmite Butter
I’ll admit, my hopes for this were low as I cannot stand marmite. Ben slathered the butter onto his bread while I lightly covered one corner, but upon tasting it my knife was straight back in that butter dish – it was delicious! I’m not quite sure how Andi managed it, but to take something I hate as much as I hate marmite and to make it taste so good is a real talent. I looked around and everyone seemed to be enjoying it as much as us, more’s the pity. I was hoping Haydy and her mum wouldn’t want theirs so that I could swoop in and steal it.
Salt baked celeriac, apple, mustard and pickled onions
This lasted all of about 30-seconds after being placed in front of me. Light yet packed full of flavour, the balance of the three powerful elements was perfect, with no one ingredient over-powering the others. I actually make a point of avoiding mustard like the plague usually, but it was perfect in this, giving a bit of heat against the coolness of the apple and the sweetness of the onions.
Free Range Chicken Breast, Kiev, Mushroom Puree, Baby Gem
This chicken. Let me tell you about this chicken. Oh. My. Word. Delicate, soft, melt-in-your mouth, moist… how many adjectives is acceptable to use when it’s impossible to form a coherent sentence that describes it well enough? Light and delicate, with the earthy mushroom underneath and the freshness of the baby gem adding a touch of crunch, it was an ideal combination and I could definitely have eaten about 15 of these served one after the other.
Chocolate Torte with Freeze-Dried Raspberries and Raspberry Sorbet
The actual dish on the standard menu was the chocolate torte with peanut butter ice cream and peanuts on top, but obviously, with my nut allergy, I had to side-step this. Despite the fact I was unable to eat what was stated on the set menu, Andi put together this raspberry and chocolate dish and it was so, so good. The chocolate torte was at that perfect level of being decadent and naughty without tipping over into the range of too sickly and sweet, something I sometimes struggle with when it comes to chocolate desserts. From the noises around the room and the silence that descended other than the sound of spoons against the plate, I got the impression that the nut version of this was just as good, and it made the ideal ending to an already perfect meal.
After the service was complete, Andi came out of the kitchen to say hello to us all and get some feedback, and, honestly, he was such a lovely fella. What struck me more than anything was how humble he was when we complimented him (“Ah, it’s really easy to make”) and how much he cared – you could tell he genuinely wanted us all to like what we had been served; he wasn’t just churning out food to make a few quid, he is 100% committed to creating good food that people enjoy.
Open Thursday-Saturday every week, Andi’s 6-course tasting menu is just £39.00 per person – an absolute bargain! Food starts being served from 6.30pm and the weeks’ menu is released on the Monday previous, with each week being different and focussing on using the best seasonal ingredients. (Bookings can be made by calling The Riverside Inn on 01245 266881). You can also take a look at Andi’s handiwork on his Twitter and Instagram.
I will definitely be popping back at some time in the future, perhaps I’ll make a night of it and book a room there too. Good food and ghosts, what more can a girl ask for?
* In Association with Brand *