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Food review: Lavender Dining
FOR many people, eating out isn’t quite as easy as it used to be – as parents of a two-year old child, for instance, the days of a spontaneous trip to the restaurant are long gone.
There are sleeping routines to contend with, the risk of mealtime tantrums, not to mention the hassle of finding somewhere child-friendly to eat. Otherwise it’s a matter of finding a babysitter, which can also be a bit of a headache.
So the idea of a ‘restaurant’ actually visiting your home to cook and serve its meal was pretty appealing – and one of the key concepts behind Lavender Dining.
The business was set up in 2010 by Ben Freeman, who began his career in the food industry 17 years ago. After starting his career at a The Belfry, near Thame, he then joined a contract catering firm, working on with a wide variety of culinary challenges in the process.
But after years of corporate catering, he hit upon the idea of bringing the experience into people’s homes, and struck out alone.
So one Autumn Friday night, Ben, who lives in Stone, near Aylesbury, took a trip to High Wycombe to show exactly what his business had to offer.
But while we were eager to sample Lavender Dining’s service, there was a hint of trepidation too.
After all, wouldn’t it be a bit awkward to have a stranger milling around the kitchen, while my wife, our two friends and I enjoyed dinner in our adjoining diner (with not even a door to separate the two rooms)? And then there was our kitchen – it’s hardly a bomb site, but it could do with a refit and probably a bit below the standard of kitchen he was used to. How would Ben cope with its (many) quirks and failings?
The answer was - surprisingly well, actually.
In fact, our worries were needless. Ben arrived promptly, ahead of our guests, to get cracking on the food - which he brought partially prepared in cool boxes. Professional and efficient, but friendly and personable, he immediately put us at ease, settling comfortably into our kitchen, despite any shortcomings it may have. By the time our friends arrived we just had time to sit and catch up for a few minutes (and make sure the pesky child was settled in his bed), before taking our seats for what would prove to be a thoroughly enjoyable meal.
For our sample menu we picked bubble and squeak cake with smoked bacon, a poached egg and a hollandaise sauce, and we eagerly cleaned our plates. It was a nice balance of flavours – the strong, salty bacon sitting nicely alongside the more subtle cake - and made for a very satisfying way to start the meal.
For the main we enjoyed Ben’s take on a familiar favourite – seared fillet of beef with goose fat chips, a large field mushroom, crispy shallot rings roasted tomatoes and dressed watercress.
It was elegantly presented as a neat stack on our plates which we soon demolished. And again, not a scrap was left on our plates. The beef was cooked beautifully and was full of flavour, while the chips were perfect – melt in the mouth soft, with a crispy coating. To end the meal was a lemon and lime crème brulee with seasonal berry compote, served with lemon and poppy seed shortbread biscuits. This was a great way to finish– light and easy on our increasingly full stomachs, but full of beautifully complementary flavours. Sweet, but not cloying, and sharp without being too tart, it was a real treat.
And overall the portions were perfect – not the finicky, tiny morsels that sometimes seem to go hand-in-hand with fine dining, but certainly not a indigestion inducing plateful – instead we were all left feeling pleasantly full.
But for all we enjoyed the food, it was the experience that was the important thing with this one, and that, too, was a resounding success.
After the final course was served Ben finished the washing up – which he had been doing during the evening while we tucked in. He then crept stealthily out to allow us to enjoy the rest of the evening.
And throughout the night he was completely unobtrusive, to the point where we forgot he was even there.
So in all, we thoroughly enjoyed Lavender Dining’s service – there was no slaving over a stove, no tricky timings to manage, no dashing between cooker and meal table, and no piles of post-meal washing up to contend with. Instead it was simply a relaxed, enjoyable evening with some great food to enjoy – and none of the hosting headaches.
For more information go to www.lavenderdining.com Pricing is as follows: Based on a party of 4 people - £60 per head Based on a party of 6 people - £50 per head Based on a party of 8-12 people - £45 per head