When it comes to Portuguese cuisine in Britain piri-piri chicken has been the most prominent dish for many that only have a flitting knowledge of the diverse and extensive gourmet delights the country offers. As part of the 2015 Obsession Festival held annually at Northcote, the leading Portuguese chefs descended on the hotel for a one night only Taste of Portugal event, in an attempt to dispel the limited experience of Portuguese cuisine many in Britain have. The work of no less than five leading Portuguese chefs, with seven Michelin stars between them, were showcased, alongside a contribution from another Michelin stared chef, Nigel Haworth.
To start off the evening, Nigel Haworth of Northcote and Dieter Koscina of Vila Joya collaborated on two appetisers. Both dishes were a clear sign of what to expect with the coming courses, elegantly plated with just a hint of spontaneity whilst at the same time harking back to traditional Portuguese epicurean delights. The first amuse-bouche of duck liver, toffied smoked eel, scallops and dashi was slightly lacking in appearance, looking rather bland and unexciting, betraying its true indulgent taste. Moving onto the second amuse saw glimmering Périgord truffle perched on top of beef tartar and focaccia, providing a well needed burst of flavour.
Miguel Laffan of L'And presented the most complex and visually inviting dish of the night, with an inspired cured Scottish salmon with almonds and seaweed, Bergamot tartar with passion fruit and fennel combination. It may have been a bit of a challenge to get to Northcote, which is a little further than most venture in the North, but it was well worth the trip thanks to the diverse dishes the chefs had prepared.
The biggest surprise of the evening for me was the discovery of the Abade de Priscos Pudding. This traditional Portuguese dessert had received a contemporary facelift, with the addition of Serrada Estrela cheese, eggplant and pumpkin by Vitor Matos of Casa da Calcada. On paper this combination wouldn't seem to work but rather bizarrely it emulated the taste of Kinder Egg, which was a fitting end to the menu of new Portuguese taste experiences.
Despite a few minor missteps the overall presentation was almost flawless with the array of chefs managing to come together and create a menu that showed Portuguese cuisine at its best. Thanks to two large TV screens all diners were able to get a glimpse of the behind the scenes action happening in the kitchen. More restaurants should think about introducing interactive elements to change the often elusive nature of restaurant kitchens, to allow diners to gain a greater connection to their dining experience.
The food more than lived up to the pedigree of the 8 Michelin stared chefs behind the menu, but the real highlight of the night had to be walking into the bar and seeing all the Portuguese chefs sitting around listing to José Avillez playing the guitar. There are not many occasions where you could see such leading chefs together in one place and watch them enjoy each other's company.