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James Close: Create your own Michelin-standard 'tasting menu'

Celebrated Raby Hunt chef James Close shares his recipe for lamb rack with anchovy and greens

Lamb rack with anchovy and greens by James Close
Lamb rack with anchovy and greens by James Close

The phrase ‘Tasting menu’ is becoming quite a trend amongst restaurants these days but I have to say it’s something I have actually been championing for several years now.

Firstly, it lets me give customers the experience I hope they have come to the Raby Hunt to enjoy; and secondly, it lets me showcase what I think is the perfect balance of flavours and sensations.

Don’t get me wrong. There is a place for a three-course meal and there are lots of very good restaurants up and down the land serving amazing food.

When I visit a restaurant I have been waiting eagerly to eat at for months, I want to the chef to showcase the best dishes he has.

I have to assume that being in their hands I’m going to be eating the best dishes and benefiting from best balance of food.

Tasting menus have been around since the early 2000s and in France they are referred to as ‘degustation’.

Much has been written about tasting menus over the years and it ranges from the sublime to the ridiculous.

I understand that people like choice and don’t want to feel pinned down while I feed them nine different courses. Tasting menus are not meant to be a tyranny or us chefs trying to become almighty – in our case, we simply want to demonstrate how far we have come as chefs at a small restaurant in the North East of England.

Some of the best ingredients the UK has to offer are not available in bulk so offering smaller portions but more courses has given us licence to create some wonderful show-stopping dishes.

We often get fellow chefs and industry people coming to try our food and I end up sending them plate upon plate of food just to see what they think. Well, I thought, why shouldn’t every customer get that option?

Here at the Raby Hunt we serve two tasting menus. There’s a five-course short menu and a large summer tasting menu consisting of nine courses. This allows me to serve the best seasonal ingredients and showcase exactly what my team can produce.

We have recently launched our new lunchtime tasting menu priced at £35 per person, so you can dine out for lunch having a Michelin-starred experience but without breaking the bank.

It’s not difficult to create this kind of event at home. All you need to do is understand the basic structure. I’d like to help you to recreate this by detailing the process and delivery of such a menu.

Start with a mouthful of food, something tiny but packed with flavour that will hold your guests’ attention for a short time. You might have heard this referred to as an amuse bouche – simply meaning to amuse the mouth.

Next bring out a light, fresh dish such as a salad or velouté (a thickened soup). Then come to the staples of the menu – fish, meat and pudding.

This recipe is for the meat course – a lamb dish that we serve here at the Raby. It is cooked for two people so simply double the portions if you want to serve more diners.

  • James Close is head chef at Raby Hunt Restaurant, Summerhouse, Darlington, 01325 374 237.

LAMB RACK WITH ANCHOVY AND GREENS

Ingredients
300-350g lamb rack (French-trimmed – best end. Ask for a good bit of fat to be left on the top)

1 small tin of good anchovies

Handful of fresh green veg such as runner beans, kale or chard

Handful of mint

Sprig of rosemary

Method

Render the lamb rack in a very hot frying pan for three or four minutes before seasoning with salt.

Place in an oven tray on the highest setting for about 16-18 minutes.

The lamb will emerge quite rare and will need a considerable time to rest.

During this period cook the vegetables.

Put the pan and oven tray juices in a saucepan, add a few sprigs of rosemary and reduce to make a sauce.

Chop the mint very finely and place in the centre of the plate where the lamb will lie.

Cut the lamb rack into four, season lightly again and arrange on the plate.

Place one anchovy over each lamb cutlet and arrange the veg.

You can always serve this with some roast veg or potatoes – and definitely a very big-flavoured glass of wine (I favour an Italian Barolo with this dish).

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