Recently, I was given the opportunity to photograph the food at The Belle Vue Royal Hotel, Aberystwyth. And my, what a treat ! Head Chef, Charlie Thompson cooked + presented 13 different dishes on Wednesday evening.
I’ve never officially photographed food before and all morning I was keeping an eye on the weather – hoping it would brighten up a little. To my luck, the rain stayed away. It was overcast, but there was enough natural light to work with (even in the evening) Thank you long, Summer days.
A prop table was set up, I set the ISO to as small a number as I could get away with, and we were good to go !
Dish Number 1 : Starter – Cured Salmon, SY23 Wild Garlic, Toasted Pine Nuts, Ricotta Cheese, Water Biscuits.
This is the dish that is still at the forefront of my mind, two days later. The flavours are so familiar – essentialy salmon and cream cheese. But it’s the presentation and the attention to detail that really holds power over this dish. Head Chef, Charlie Thompson, was keen to mention that his kitchen team (himself included) love to use local produce, and go as far as to forage their own ingredients. ‘Allium ursinem’ also known as wild garlic flowers, is one of those ingredients. Their respect for the food, which stems from foraging, does not go unmissed when tasting this dish. Delicately presented and reasonably priced.
Dish Number 2: Starter – Welsh Scallops, Granny Smiths, Caramelised Apple Purée, Sanbaizu
First off, I had to ask Charlie what ‘sanbaizu’ was. To which he kindly explained that it was a Japanese sauce, part vinegar/part dashi (which I know is a stock). Presented in a kidney-shaped, glazed ceramic dish, you find the scallops in their own little entities. Similar to tiny capsules of food. Slicing the scallop and ensuring every ingredient is included on the forkful, the flavours dance around. The most prominent flavour being the chargrilled scallop, bitter but not unpleasant. To which, is offset by the sweetness of the caramelised apple purée. An absolute dream of a combination.
Dish Number 3: Main – Pan Fried Sea Bream, Asparagus, Quail Egg, Herb Croquette, Sanbaizu Sauce
What a shock, when the pan-fried sea bream was brought to the table. Completely different in aesthetics to the previous two dishes, yet still the main ingredient is fish. Less delicate in the way you read it (it’s still delicately put together) and more flamboyant. Charlie obviously understands his basic colour wheel rules; the reddish-pink of the pickled onion against the greens of bottom layer. You almost miss the sea bream itself ! But not in taste. In taste, you cannot miss the sea bream. The technique used to cook the sea bream, results in a crispy texture of the skin, which is overwhelmed in taste by the quail egg. The delicacy lies in the flavours of this dish.
Dish Number 4: Main – SY23 Pan Fried Sea Bass, Pickled Onion, Potato Salad, Broccoli, Chargrilled Spring Onions.
Very similar to the previous dish, the same applies in aesthetics here. It’s flamboyant, yet surprisingly the flavours don’t have the intensity you might expect when the dish is popped in front of you. The key difference here is the potato salad. The creamy texture, much like the quail egg with the sea bream, complimenting the crispy texture of the fish.
Dish Number 5: Main – Roast Cornish Sole (On The Bone), Leek, Crab Bon Bon, Burnt Leek Mayonnaise.
The same rules apply, colour-wise, to this dish as to the previous two. But it has taken a back seat, and let the roast, cornish sole be the centre of attention. The fact that it is on the bone, is mentioned on the menu, And it’s also the first thing you notice when the plate is placed on the table. After you’ve succeeded in getting a forkful of the sole, you pick up the leek and burnt leek mayonnaise. The overriding taste is the gritty, bitterness of the burnt leek. Don’t forget to look for the hidden treasure, that is the crab bon bon, underneath the sole.
Dish Number 5: Main – Glazed Sweet and Sour 24-Hour Pork Belly, Pork Tenderloin, Pot Roast Carrot, Carrot Purée and Fondant Potato
One word would suffice here – genius. But I will do the dish justice, and try and replicate the feelings this dish conjures. For one, just look at it ! I wasn’t expecting something so vibrant when I read pork belly and carrots.