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Off Menu - your perfect 3 course meal

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James Acaster and Ed Gamble have quite a good podcast called Off Menu in which they ask their guests what their ideal three course menu would be at their magical perfect restaurant.  There are no rules about sticking to a particular cuisine for all three courses, and it's very much a no-consequences imaginary restaurant; Chef Tom Kerridge opted for 24 cans of Stella as his chosen drink because in his youth that's what he used to "neck, and see where the evening took me".  It's not necessarily what you think the most refined or 'best' food would be, either - Jay Raynor opted for oysters, ribs, and eclairs, because he loves the experience of eating tasty stuff with his hands, and it brings back happy childhood memories.


What would yours be, and why?  To stick with the format of the podcast:


  1. Still or sparkling water?
  2. Bread or poppadoms?
  3. Starter?
  4. Main?
  5. Side?
  6. ...and to drink?
  7. Very good, and for dessert?


I think mine are:


1. Sparkling, because it's more interesting, and it feels like you're getting the motor going.  It also feels like you're getting something for free that you should be paying for. 


2. Bread.  Lovely, warm, freshly baked bread, in a variety of softness and crustiness, with some freshly churned butter.  There's a restaurant in Folkestone called Rocksalt which churns its own butter and I could happily, if their rules of engagement allowed, just eat that and their locally-sourced bread for an entire 2-hour visit.


3. Starter: Crostini Al Tonno.  There's an ASK Italian over the road from our family home, and because we never really had that much money we'd always go there for any sort of big occasion; birthdays, GCSE results, my brother and I getting our first jobs etc.  Every time we went I'd order Crostini Al Tonno, which on their menu is just really good tuna mayonnaise on toast, but I've since discovered that the original dish is actually a mixture of tuna, ricotta, capers and a sardine, on a good thick half of ciabatta smothered in garlic & olive oil and toasted.  It reminds me of meals with my parents, who're both gone now, and it's fucking delicious, so it's basically the perfect starter.




4. Main: Fish & chips.  Spectacularly good fish & chips. A massive piece of haddock, with a salty, golden, lightly crispy batter (with the occasional area which hasn't quite properly crisped up, to give it some variety in texture).  I'd want the chips from a place in East Dulwich called Rose's Fish Bar where they cook them in peanut oil, which makes them ridiculously delicious.  Loads of salt, no vinegar, a small jug of tartare sauce on the side.  Just the most warming, satisfying dish ever.




5. Side:  Tarka Daal.  A really, really good one, which has been cooked for about four hours so it's basically a soup.  Primarily for dipping the chips into.  Ideally from Everest Spice in Brockley.




6. To Drink:  A bottle of Rockstar Pineapple Grenade Overproof Spiced Rum and a bottle of Coke.  Like drinking a gorgeous, outrageously boozy cake.




7. Dessert: I'm torn because I love a really good cheeseboard, but there's some controversy about it on the podcast because it's technically "just shopping", in Jay Raynor's words.  I think if a cheeseboard is off the cards then I would go for sticky toffee pudding, with a hot vanilla custard, which I only ever had at primary school because neither of my parents could bake.  The gorgeous marriage of the inside of the pudding and the custard about 1 minute in is just divine.




What would be yours?

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1: Sparkling. I do like a bit of fizzy water.

2: Bread, without a shadow of a doubt. A nice rustic sourdough would be ideal, but anything super tasty and well-made would be ace.

3: Onion bhajis. Done well, a thing of beauty.

4: The best Margherita pizza on the planet, wherever that is to be found.

5: Dal makhani, or a saag paneer. Today the dal makhani, I think.

6: It won't work with any of the food, but a really good Bloody Mary. It's one of those drinks I occasionally crave, and just typing this makes me fancy one.

7: I *would* go for a cheeseboard given the choice, but I'll assume it's a no-no here. So I'd go for sorbet. I'd want a bitchingly tart lemon one for starters. If I can have a combo, then an added scoop each of gooseberry, pear, and rhubarb if such things can be found would make me a very happy bunny. I'm not a dessert person, and I haven't got a sweet tooth, but I could eat sorbet until my face goes numb.

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Good thread

  1. Still - I will never understand why they take this perfect drinking fluid and ruin it with a metallic taste and artificial bubbles
  2. Bread - hard to go wrong with anything properly homebaked (as long as not covered in seeds) but I have a soft spot for those little South American cheese bread balls they used to serve in the Gaucho steakhouses - pao de queijo.
  3. Pate/Terrine (meat not offal) - I love a good rich terrine or pate, served with lightly toasted slices of sourdough
  4. Fish & Chips - this is my default answer for dinner out, but it has to be good, found a place called Rockfish in Dartmouth recently and it was close to F&C perfection, light crispy batter, proper fresh cod fillets (you can always tell the little frozen neatly shaped bits of compressed cod chipboard in lesser establishments) and they gave you a nice amount of chips but offered free refills (they want you to always have hot not cold chips). Agree with @PK the choice of cooking oil/beef dripping is important, it's such a simple dish there is no place to hide any shortcuts or cheap ingredients. Also I want a nice rough cut tartare and some good mushy peas. 
  5. Battered Pickled Onion Rings - didn't even know these were a thing or how good these could be til I visited Rockfish.
  6. G&T - I'm not much of a boozer but like a G&T with a meal, a nice light citrusy gin like Sacred or Tanq10 and none of that awful Fever Tree tonic which shouts all over the gin and demands to be tasted, nice Schweppes slimline please to sit in the background and complement, not dominate.
  7. Ice Cream - I do like a good dessert but find they are so often teeth curlingly sweet or disappointing - a good high cream content ice cream rarely disappoints though, something classic like a clotted cream vanilla or rum and raisin.

What this got me thinking is how my tastes have changed, 10-15y ago I loved the high end 'experience' restaurants with the Michelin stars like The Fat Duck and my list would have looked quite different. Now as I've cooked a lot more eating out is frequently disappointing and something we do increasingly less, what I crave is good simple homemade food, making something with care and good ingredients is so satisfying, and my ageing digestion system enjoys it far more. 

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Love this podcast, although as with anything the quality varies depending on the guest. The more James Acaster gets enraged by the guest's choices, the happier I am (Victoria Coren Mitchell's Ploughmans springs to mind).


As to my choices:


1. Still - Sparkling water is revolting, as Gotters so eloquently explains

2. Bread - I do not understand Poppadoms before a meal. As a standalone snack, sure. But they are essentially crisps. Why would I want to eat a big bag of crisps before a three course meal? Whereas bread, lovely warm bread, butter melting into it - that's something special in a restaurant, and something I don't often allow myself at home. In particular I'd want the freshly baked mini loaves from a (sadly now closed) restaurant in Whitstable called the East Coast Dining Room

3. Bao Buns. A selection. Sticky Pork Belly. Duck. All the trimmings. Flesh and Buns

4. Cote de Boeuf from Sophie's in Covent Garden (also closed, sadly). Chips. Bearnaise Sauce. Easily the best steak I've ever eaten.

5. Creamed Spinach. Just goes so well with the above.

6. Bottle of Amarone di Valpolicella. My favourite red wine at the moment

7. A dessert of my own invention. Large croissant, warmed in the oven. Split open and spread with Biscoff Crunchy spread. Vanilla Ice Cream


Thread needs pix:






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8 minutes ago, PK said:

Good lord, battered pickled onion rings sound incredible.


they take something already great and make them even better -  you need the stringy outer onion skin removed so they bite thru and a light crispy, not breaded batter, then they lightly pickle the big onion rings so you get in essence a salt and vinegar tang off them


we stayed for a week in Dartmouth and ate in Rockfish 3 times - the desserts were ropey but didn't matter, the main event was superb.

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Excellent choices @Davros sock drawer.  Creamed spinach is a thing of joy, especially if it's at Hawksmoor.  The tiniest hint of nutmeg in there, scooped up with half a roast potato.  Phwoar.  And Valpolicella is banging, like a bottle of black forest gateau.  


God, I'm so hungry.

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12 hours ago, MarkN said:

So I'd go for sorbet. I'd want a bitchingly tart lemon one for starters. If I can have a combo, then an added scoop each of gooseberry, pear, and rhubarb if such things can be found would make me a very happy bunny. I'm not a dessert person, and I haven't got a sweet tooth, but I could eat sorbet until my face goes numb.


Blood orange sorbet is one of the nicest things I've every tasted

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I don't do podcasts often (I can't listen to people talk and do something else at the same time - it's a real weakness), but I had a crack at the Victoria Coren Mitchell episode since it was mentioned (I'd pay good money to listen to her read the phone book, quite frankly). Really funny. James Acaster is fantastic, and there's a great dynamic between him and Ed Gamble. Will try to listen to more when I have the time.

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