The Michelin Experience “Chefs Table” L’Ortolan Style

It’s my last night in Padstow after attending the Rick Stein Cookery School for two days on a Fish and Shellfish course, and eating my way through 5 restaurants, the last being Paul Ainsworth at No.6, which is happening later. To say I have eaten well is a complete and utter understatement, and a bit surprising considering the horror stories of supply chain, availability of ingredients etc. When you hear the difficulties faced by restaurants it a miracle any of them are open, but evidence of the passion and effort they put into making it happen and cooking fine fare available at a price that enables them to pay staff and contribute towards our economy.

Following our recent trip to L’Ortolan in Shinfield near Reading recently we received a thank-you note, and an offer for a discounted “Chefs Table” at a future date, well, why not, none of us had done a Chefs Table, we understood the principle and had loved the previous visit so an ‘intimate’ insight into the workings of a Michelin starred restaurant seemed too good to miss, so we booked a date.

We arrived on-time and were ushered into the conservatory for a glass of Champagne, and very nice it was too. the premise of being invited into the kitchen during a live service was playing on my mind, what would we see, what would we hear! what was going to happen, how long etc. After 15 minutes relaxing we were escorted into the kitchen area, a large historic wooden table that was so robust it would seem equally fitting in a castle awaited us, directly opposite the pass, by a gap of about 3.5 feet, enough for the waiting staff to pass by as they collected dishes to be taken to the diners!

James Greatorex, the Head Chef walked around the pass to say hello, describe the evenings events, and then gave us an introduction to each member of the team and their role in the kitchen, then returning to start service and call out the orders as they arrived from the dinning room, it was utterly fascinating, seeing how each section jumped into gear with each call, ‘oui chef”, well it is a French restaurant!

The Chef’s Table uses the Tasting Menu with the odd subtle change so some dishes were familiar (but still delicious), and others new and exciting to try. Throughout the evening James would prepare dishes for us, and serve us personally explaining the composition, the provenance of the components, why particular ingredients were chosen, which made for a brilliant foray into the life of a kitchen and how particular dishes are constructed, even Justin our 15 year old and my better half of 32 years found the whole experience really interesting, and the food of course was probably the best we have ever eaten, and James could have been my son nearly twice over, he is just brilliant.

I love the above picture, when we arrived at the Chef’s table there was only one ‘Check On’, an order on the way so to speak, and now it was like, oh my god, what is what, who, which table, jeez. Not at all, the skill by which James ran the pass and managed the orders just has to be experienced, especially as there were a combination of people ordering ‘a la carte’ and the tasting menu which requires impeccable timing to start dishes at the right time, assuming how long someone might eat a particular course, or an awkward git like me that often says ‘can we have a 10 minute break between course 3 and 4 please’, it was an example of superb organisation, timing, control and management of a team of chefs and waiters in perfect unison…….. And only to think that if a Michelin inspector is in the restaurant on a ‘bad’ night, you could so easily loose that precious star!

So, we had another fantastic evening, it was a worthwhile investment, it was entertaining, educational, interesting (no fascinating) trying to get your head around what really happens in a high end eatery, we were able to ask James questions all evening about restaurant life today, and he was very open in explaining the highs, lows, challenges in obtaining ingredients, staff etc. The food was amazing (again).

I would thoroughly recommend anyone with the slightest interest in good food, to save for another week or two, or however long it takes and and go for a Chef’s table. It’s a intimate insight into the working of a high end restaurant with, personal chef, waiter and educator, comedian and entertainer all in one and I would like to think that it’s an experience we will continue to repeat as time (and budget) allows, its worth every single penny.

Thanks James and the L’Ortolan team for our best ever eating our night………… ever……

Next time I will be focussing on the Rick Stein Seafood Cookery School I attended for two days, and start on the 5 restaurants I tried whilst on my mini ‘foodcation’ to Padstow.

……………………………………………………..Until Next Time……………………………L8ers……………………………..

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