Thursday, 25 May 2017

Chef Zak at Cafe Lulu - Birkenshaw

Birkenshaw. It’s not exactly the place I would associate with gourmet supper clubs and taster menus but last Saturday evening that is where I found myself. In Birkenshaw, in a small café that was open  after hours specifically for a guest chef to come in and serve a gourmet six course Caribbean themed taster menu.

The café in question is Café Lulu, a breakfast and lunch place for locals that are housed in the basement underneath an Indian restaurant. It doesn’t exactly scream gourmet dining experience but I’m interested in unique and different experiences. When we arrived I was and stepped in to their basement and was pleasantly surprised. What greeted me was a very romantic setting of vaulted ceilings, exposed brick, twinkling lights and candle light. Never judge a book by its cover and all that.

Cafe Lulu

The chef in question was Chef Zak. I guess you could call Chef Zak a freelance chef as he doesn’t have his own restaurant and is available to rent for supper clubs and even home dining. Chef Zak spent 10 years in the Caribbean and now he is back in the UK he is starting to make a name for himself popping up here there and everywhere.

Chef Zak takes a new look on Caribbean food producing a six course taster menu that brings Caribbean food in to the forefront of fine dining. Expect delicate but exploding with flavour dishes which will challenge your perceptions.

First on the menu was Ackee and Saltfish. Saltfish is usually cod that is preserved (by salting) and popular in the Caribbean, it wasn’t disclosed to us which fish was used. Ackee is traditionally paired with Saltfish in the Caribbean and Google shows me a much different picture of a jumble of pieces ackee fruit and fish, far less presentable than what was placed before us.

Ackee & Saltfish
Separately each ingredient isn’t much to shout about but altogether the salty puree and sour cucumber with the sweet shallot work perfectly to create a refined dish.
Our second course was a tiny teacup of yellow split pea soup topped with parsley and crispy bacon dust. There was a snap of pepper at the back of the throat with the finishing of this dish and I could have had a couple more cups to help bridge the gap between courses. 

Yellow Split Pea Soup

The third course was Jerk Chicken, this dish isn’t exactly a looker and I really really tried with a dozen different camera angles but alas this is the best I got. The jerk marinated jerk chicken could have had a little more marinade for my tastes, I like really strong flavours with chicken to try and wash out the bland. The steamed coconut rice was served in a tiny bowl which gave way to fiddling with tipping it out on to your plate with no extra pleasure from this, perhaps a nice compact presentation of the rice would suffice instead? The Fried plantain and gungo pea salad both paired well with the chicken. 

Jerk Chicken with Rice & Peas

The fourth course had me intrigued, how you would curry a goat and then get it in to a croquette was an interesting concept. It worked well however and was a much better presented dish with my photos doing it a little more justice than the last. The sweet potato wasn’t to ratio with the buttered spinach and I would have liked a little more to pair with my curried goat croquette and being ever the Yorkshire Person I could also so with more goat gravy. Watch out for the hot sauce it’s a stinger. 

Curry Goat & Calalloo

A pre-dessert or palate cleanser, I’ll let you decide, was a mix of exotic fruit in a champagne glass. The fruit was dished and laced with spiced mango liqueur and toasted coconut. Out of all of the dishes this is the one I could have eaten a little less as the acidity as I neared the bottom of the glass started to spike my gums.

Exotic Fruit

For finals we were served Jamaican Ginger Cake with Guinness Punch. The Guinness punch being in the form of a panacotta with excellent wobbling abilities and the cake the most traditional aspect of the whole menu. A little rich for some tastes but perfect in smaller taster portions.

Jamaican Ginger Cake with Guinness Punch

The night was relaxed and intimate. I overheard other guests exclaiming how they were trying dishes and ingredients that they had never had before, one of the beauties of a tasting menu. 

There was no phone signal and so most of us were forced to talk to our better halves all night, quite refreshing really, don't let this put you off going! 

Cafe Lulu were incredibly hospitable and service was impeccable!

If you’re interested in finding when the next event at Café Lulu will be or if you want to keep tabs on Chef Zak check their respective Facebook pages below.

Cafe Lulu's Facebook 

Chef Zak Facebook

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