Wine (with a little bit of cheese) dinner at the Clifton Lido by Mr Testrote

Why do I do Lido? Let me count the ways.

Well firstly, of course, convenience. It is three minutes walk from my door. Secondly, where else in Bristol can you sit and watch others burn off the calories whilst selfishly indulging yourself, but ultimately because Freddy Bird is one of my favourite chefs.

The Lido kitchen is one of a rare type that exudes an energy, a palpable enthusiasm, whatever time you arrive there. Unlike the kitchens of my youth, with their strict hierarchy and impenetrable atmosphere, here is a real sense of a unified team clearly loving what they do. It is an odd occasion when I just manage to walk in, deliver and walk out of this place without being offered a taste of something the chefs are excited by that day. All this belies the fact that there is a steady hand on the tiller, a unifying force behind all the creativity, and what a force.

Every restaurant worth its PR plugs the seasonal and local message these days, but when Lido does a seasonal dinner it is as if a well known lager company has organised it, the day I first found out about the event was when Freddy said he could not stop to chat, he had to go and shoot the rabbits for the meal. Because this chef is not content to just talk the talk.

I too contributed in a small manner to the evolving menu, which was not released in advance, driving out to Sleight Farm the day before to collect goats cheeses from the renowned Mary Holbrook to feature in the first plate of the evening.

So when I arrived at 7pm on the evening of 21st May, it was with a high level of expectation. As a sad, lone diner I was lucky enough to get seated on perhaps the best table in the house, not only because it had direct views into the kitchen, but also because my dining companions were food and wine guru come Cheese School partner Fiona Beckett and her husband, wine merchant and sommelier Tim McLauglin-Green and a young wine maker who produced five out of seven of the pairings for the eve, Nicolas Choblet.

Before all this though, the rapidly growing group of fellow enthusiasts were offered a welcome drink and canapes. The aperitif was Grolleau Gris N. Choblet 2010, a grape I was totally unfamiliar with, and later learned is usually given little attention, mostly ending up in blended Vin du Tables. However with all the minerality of a Loire white but with less acidity than is classically the case, it was a great choice, particularly with Devon oysters and little fried mussels on a pine nut mixture wrapped in crisp lettuce leaves.

Upstairs and seated, and naturally given the company, agreeing to take the wine flight, we were served the first plate, wild and green asparagus, cherry tomatoes, oregano and Tymsboro’ the tomatoes slowly roasted to emphasise the sweetness, the asparagus al dente and grassy, and the ash coated fresh goats cheese adding sharpness & a creamy finish. With this we had the 09 Sauvignon Blanc, on paper possibly looking like a safe option, in reality a well balanced match. This was a good start to the evening, if only because of an unprompted admission that the Tymsboro was an excellent goat cheese. The comment came from Nicolas, not only French, but from the Loire.

The next two courses were served with Muscadet, again both made by Herve & Nicolas Choblet at Domaine du Haut Bourg, Bouaye, where son Nicolas is the 5th generation wine maker, but startlingly different.

Plaice,crab,lovage,shrimp, ground elder could have been a real mish-mash, plaice in particular being so delicate that a lesser skilled hand could have overwhelmed it. In truth it was possibly one of the best fish dishes I have ever had the pleasure to eat, a pillow of sweet plaice and crab meat, bitterness of wilted ground elder and an intense prawn bisque reduction lightly perfumed with lovage, the whole dish perfectly balanced. The Muscadet le Pavillon 09 we drank with this was crisp, but wonderfully aromatic on the nose, the herby notes adding to the ensemble.

Home made pasta at the Lido is never less than a joy, in any guise. Here it came as a cauliflower tortellini, toasted hazelnuts, capers, green olives. I would query the inclusion of some of those on a local or seasonal menu, I could not criticise the dish itself and even less the wine match, probably the best of the evening. Muscadet N. Choblet 01, a 10 year aged Muscadet, had none of the zingy top notes of the previous offering, but had retained all the crispness you would expect from the wine, whilst developing almost fino sherry qualities. I believe the adjective I used on Twitter at the time was “outrageous”, I do not demur from that.

The aforementioned rabbit now made its appearance, slowly cooked to a silky ragu with morcilla, rich and meaty, but then balanced with bright fresh peas and broad beans and given a final lift with fresh mint. To accompany this we drank Cabernet N. Choblet 09, a 50/50 blend of Cab Sauv and Cab Franc, a fine compromise to the contrasting elements involved here.

The last savoury dish involved kid, again from Sleight Farm, slow cooked kid, tomato, wild spinach, crispy potatoes.

I thoroughly approve of the inclusion of this dish, local, under rated meat, and a fitting use of the young billy goats that have no other use on a milking farm. Again it was wonderfully executed, but for me, after so many rich flavours, a dish too far. The elements were not dissimilar to some of the previous offerings, and I could not give the poor kid its due appreciation. It came with a Limited Edition Rioja 07 from Ramon Bilbao, though many other, possibly better, matches would work. I still feel that I would have liked something lighter at this point, and although I always prefer savoury dishes, so hesitate to say it, maybe even another pudding would have worked, or dare I say a cheese?

The pudding we did get was one of Freddie’s legendary ices, strawberry, elderflower yoghurt and meringue pieces served in a cornet. This comes with a few caveats & a later admission. I chose the lull in the proceedings to visit the lavatory, and when I returned was told none of the ice cream was left. A couple of minutes later I was presented with one. As stated earlier, I rarely eat puddings and have a particular horror of meringue, so I was surprised at how nice it seemed to be. We were served a not too sweet dessert wine, Brachetto d’acqui 09 and I was perfectly content.

The confession came two days later, when talking to Freddy Bird on the phone. All of the remaining ice cream had been rapidly consumed by the kitchen and waiting staff, so when I reappeared I was given some of the previous experimental batch, which he was not so happy with.

I owe you another ice cream next time I see you, he boomed in his amiable and generous fashion. Sometimes life just gets so tough.

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