After lunching at The Marquis at Alkham in Kent, Lucy Self can see why head chef Charlie Lakin won a spot on top foodie TV show Great British Menu.
Great British Menu aired its seventh season at the beginning of April. God knows how I, who will only watch something if it’s food related, only just caught on to its genius. It’s like Masterchef but with less gimmics/annoying sound effects, judges who know what they’re talking about and actual professional chefs (past winners include the marvelous Tom Flowers – but then you probably already know that).
For those who (like me) have had their head in an oven for the past six years, the show pits three judges, Prue Leith, Oliver Peyton and Michael Fort, against top chefs competing in eight regional heats. This year the prize is of Olympian standards – a chance to create and cook the menu for a gala dinner hosted by Sir Steve Redgrave and a guest list of British sporting royalty. In celebration of those rather important games London will host this summer…
GBM 2012 has already covered the best Scotland has to offer and is currently putting three chefs from central England through their paces. This week it will travel northeast and find Charlie Lakin, Head Chef at The Marquis at Alkham in Kent. Where I, coincidently, had lunch last week.
Lakin, who was recently awarded a rising Michelin star, cooks the kind of hearty British food that everyone wants to eat. His winning GBM menu showcases Lakin’s dedication to locally sourced produce and a love of foraging forgotten ingredients such as ramsons (otherwise known as wild garlic) and gorse flower.
The Dexter beef, which featured both on his winning menu and our lunch plates, is farmed ten minutes from the restaurant. They also rear sheep exclusively for The Marquis. Charlie visits the farm regularly, buying the animals whole, butchering and hanging them himself, and wasting nothing. This, he says, encourages him to be ‘creative’ when putting together menus for the restaurant.
Lakin’s menu is intentionally traditional, as are his techniques. Restaurant manager, Tom, admits that they fitted out the kitchen with the best modern equipment when they opened in 2008, but that the only thing they actually sous vide, is rhubarb. Interestingly, former Head Chef of highly acclaimed London pop-up Roganic, Ben Spalding will spend next month sharing the kitchen with Charlie at The Marquis, partly to investigate some of Lakin’s braising techniques.
At lunch, it was easy to justify Lakin’s place on the show, from the flavour-filled main course of Dexter Beef (prettily adorned by fresh broad beans and vivid indigo potatoes) to the richly comforting starter. A neat parcel of melting braised mutton, crunchy nugget of deep fried Kentish cheese and scattering of spring vegetables – all immersed in a velvety broth. Individual elements of the not-so-dainty dessert were perfect: a deep yellow creme brulee spiked with elderflower, a subtly pitched earl grey sorbet and a flawless finger of lavendar shortbread.
Viewers can watch the northeast heats starting from Monday. But regardless of your stance on my currently televised food-based fixation, I highly recommend a jaunt to The Marquis at Alkham (they have rooms too). Where you will find a chef serving a reassuringly (great) British menu.