Butlers Pantry at Home.
Paolo Tullio's Review
Sharing a meal with friends and family has a pedigree as long as the human race - it’s elemental and atavistic. It’s a major part of how we bond with one another. Breaking bread and sharing it is at the very heart of Christianity, and indeed of all the major religions. Communal meals bind families, celebrate weddings and mark major occasions. Eating together is an integral part of human society.
These days the celebratory feast takes many forms: sometimes it’s prepared at home, sometimes it’s outdoors and sometimes it’s in a restaurant. The choice of whether to gather at home or at a restaurant is governed by how many are invited, how much we can spend and of course, by personal tastes. If you have a major event to mark, should it be at home or should we place the event in the hands of professionals?
This week I had no major event to celebrate, but instead of going to a restaurant I ate at home. For once though, it wasn’t me who had done the cooking, it was chef Niall Hill from the Butler’s Pantry. No doubt you know of the Butler’s Pantry. They have a number of outlets and it’s where you go to buy ready-made meals of a high standard, something many busy people do who don’t have time to cook, but who want something better than a microwaved pizza.
In a way, ‘Dream Dinners’ is a natural progression of what they already do. ‘Dream Dinners’ works like this: first you meet Niall and discuss what sort of dinner you want - things like dietary preferences, how many courses you want or you can plan a particular dish that takes your fancy. I met up with Niall and having no particular dietary constraints of my own, gave him this brief - ‘Do something that shows off your skills.’ A couple of days later he emailed me the menu and I began the enjoyable task of matching the wines for each course.
Having all the wines available in Ireland as possible candidates gives you a wonderfully free hand in the choice, one that no restaurant wine list could ever give you. I spent a happy afternoon tasting wines and imagining the pairings that they’d make. I had five courses to consider and the dinner was for six, so basically I needed five bottles of wine for a glass each with each course.
My guests began to arrive at eight and while Niall and his helper Michael were prepping in the kitchen, we sat in the drawing room sipping the Orio Russell Brut Cava, a very drinkable sparkler from Catalunya available from Enowine at €16.99. And while we sat and chatted platefuls of dainty canapés kept coming from the kitchen - tiny tasters of foie gras on brioche, little vol-au-vents and sweetmeats of all kinds.
After a while we were summoned to the dining room where Michael had laid a splendid table and our starters arrived. Seared wild salmon served with an apple and fennel salad. Simple and perfectly executed. With ingredients like wild salmon, now so rare, the best plan is to let the fish speak for itself with as little cheffing as possible - exactly what Niall did. I’d chosen a particularly good wine from Tours, the Domaine de Chezelles from Wines Direct, a stunningly crisp and bright Sauvignon Blanc. At €10.30 it knocks most New World Sauvignon Blancs right off their perch.
Next to arrive at the table was a duck confit served with spinach, chorizo, tomatoes and olives. Learn this trick from chefs - finely diced chorizo in small quantities enlivens many a dish. Every bit as good as the starters, I paired this dish with an excellent Pinot Noir called Agustinos from Chile, available from Superquinn.
Next came pan-fried scallops with braised pork belly and caper butter, a dish that had me scratching my head for a while before I paired it with Tesco’s Finest Premier Cru Chablis, which had the body for the scallops and the acidity for the slow-cooked pork belly.
We had a small pause at this point before launching into a wonderfully gooey chocolate fondant which I’d paired with a luscious dessert wine, a Muscat from Gran Feudo. Despite the fact that there was still a selection of cheeses to come, it was at this point that we stopped eating. Well, almost. There were the petits fours to tempt any lingering vestige of appetite.
We finished up with proper espressos - the kind with a crema atop that you never get in Dublin - made with a small domestic espresso maker. It had been a very fine meal of the kind that the best restaurants supply, but with the added bonuses of being in the comfort of one’s own home, being able to pick wines from a huge range instead of a small list and lastly, all the boring stuff of home entertaining - like the washing up and putting away, was taken care of. By the time the boys from the Butler’s Pantry left you’d never have known a dinner party had taken place.
This particular dream dinner that we’d had cost €70 a head. It’s possible to design a menu that costs less or indeed one that costs more. For a special event it makes a great alternative to dining out. To find out more you can email email@example.com or call chef Niall Hill direct on 087 125 0259.