Choosing a personal top five is fraught business at the best of times. Headache inducing in fact and whenever anyone asks me to fulfill that brief, it really can be quite agonising. Sometimes, the only route is to simply lock yourself into a room, pull the curtains shut and to get your head down; hoping to emerge with your marbles intact, several days later.
Well folks, I’ve done it. After a week of solitude, surviving on sixty litres of coffee and a packet of Jaffa Cakes, I have finally come up with my Top Five Dishes from Meatopia .
Now, a couple of provisos must be included here. I was only in attendance at this celebration of meat, fire and smoke at Tobacco Dock on the Sunday. Of course, this means that I missed a whole raft of tempting morsels that were on offer during the Friday and Saturday. And even on the day that I did rock up, it saddens me to say that I didn’t get as much food in as I thought I might. As it was Carnival time, I also brought my family along and as such, I would say that the children had the lion’s share of my meat bucks and the food that was bought with them.
For instance, after queueing for 30 minutes to get my hands on a clinched Tomahawk steak by Mr Turner’s crew, the delightful beers I had drunk during the afternoon started to work their magic; in more ways than one.
‘Right, I finally got one. Now hold this,’ I said to my daughter, handing the behemoth chop over and off I went, in search of the toilets. When I returned, it was gone. All bar the remnants of a gleaming bone with tiny teeth marks on it.
‘You should have gone to the loo before queuing,’ was the only sympathy that my wife was willing to offer (who also had some tell-tale grease marks on her lips). So, I really wish that I had eaten more on the day.
The one that really worries me though, is that this list of five is going to upset the apple cart and maybe put some noses out of joint. Chefs do tend to harbour grudges and sharp knives after all. But thankfully, their memories can also be short and they are often very forgiving, once you pour them a shot or two.
Next year, I will up the ante and try a lot more dishes over the WHOLE weekend. Not forgetting to leave the kids at home and remembering to sport a special pair of elasticated jeans.
Don’t ask me a for another list though. I don’t think I can do another week in the chokey. Worrying in the dark, about chefs who are going to want to chop my delicate opinions off.
That’s the thing that really keeps you awake when writing these 'top fives' up.
Gill Meller - Cheek, blood, squid and skin
This was always going to be an intriguing offering, a combination of pigs cheek and blood to make a rich decadent black pudding, topped with delicate squid and seasoned with dehydrated chicken skin. With a base of thickened butter beans and a healthy sprinkling of fennel, it was spankingly good. It also took some guts and imagination to pull this one off and this was one of the dishes that I returned to for second helpings.
Nathan Outlaw - Mackerel and pickled vegetables
Outlaw by name, outlaw by nature, the statuesque chef caused quite a ripple when his name first appeared on the programme. Fish? At Meatopia? But of course with Nathan, you do have a rather safe pair of hands and his simple approach of grilled and lightly smoked mackerel went down a storm. Paired with thin slices of pickled carrot and shallot and served with a jalapeno mayonnaise, the dish sold out early in the afternoon.
Niall Davidson & Iain Mackay - Torloisk Highland beef
This beef came on quite a journey, all the way down from the Isle of Mull. Bred by Iain Mackay and given the three way treatment by chef, Niall Davidson, served with dripping toast and beer sauce, the dish was rather special. Given that there was plenty of cow on display at Meatopia, all cooked and treated in a variety of different ways, it takes something to stand out from the crowd.
Romy Gill & Cabrito - Goat Tandoori, papaya, naan and apple mint chutney
Running a tandoori oven is no mean feat, considering just how volcanically hot they get. And yet Romy Gill and James Whetlor wielded their goat kebabs in and out of the furnace with great aplomb. Keeping up (just about) with the queues that were forming. The seared goat, after being marinated in a selection of spices, still delivered that sweet flavour and the dressing of apple and mint chutney was particularly good.
Yotam Ottolenghi - Koh Moo Yang with Blythburgh pork neck
Delivering the fresh, vibrant flavours that are synonymous with his style of cooking, Yotam Ottolenghi's grilled Thai pork, using an underrated cut in pork neck, was quite simply delicious. Delivering tender and crisp textures that worked in unison, the main star was probably the tangy, fiery sauce that accompanied everything. It was beautiful, with a capital B.
For the record, James was also a big fan of the Torloisk beef and Mat was full of praise for the Siggi Gunnlaugsson's Black Jack burger. By all accounts he had that twice! (3 times if you include the tasting...)