There are a couple of ways you can look at employing the services of a private chef – nervously, at the thought of inviting a stranger into your kitchen, or with feverish anticipation, at the thought of experiencing restaurant-quality food in your home without even having to lift a finger.
When we discovered this service had recently become easily bookable in Bristol, as odd an experience as it had the potential to be, we opted for the latter approach. Because the idea of La Belle Assiette sounded so very enticing – catering for homes across the UK, France, Belgium, Switzerland and Luxembourg, it works with hundreds of chefs to provide its customers with a gourmet evening they’re unlikely to forget. They do everything: buy the ingredients, devise the menu, then cook and serve up before cleaning up and slipping out whence they came.
We’d found the perfect opportunity to sample the service one midweek evening – the giant Alaskan hound was out for the night, meaning all plates would remain intact, shoes would stay unnibbled, and no ingredients would mysteriously disappear from the worktops. So, local chef Tara Clist was enlisted and booked through the website, and while we finished getting ready upstairs and enjoyed a little pre-prandial prosecco without having to dash between wardrobe, kitchen and designated dog area to keep everything on track (already a refreshing change), she arrived promptly and got to work in the kitchen.
Having called previously to get acquainted with our dietary preferences, Tara had put together a four-course menu that sounded rather tempting, and the aromas emanating from the kitchen soon had hopes pinned high. After fresh, well-balanced appetisers of chicory salad with mint, pomegranate and goat’s cheese cream, we tucked into starters of pumpkin risotto with pine nuts and crunchy sage leaves for extra texture. While a contrasting punch of say, citrus perhaps, was missed by a couple of guests, the majority found this dish to be the most flavoursome of the evening, and the most filling.
It was lovely to be able to focus completely on our guests, and be a real part of the conversation, rather than poking our heads out from the kitchen every five minutes to contribute a glib comment. With the weather being what it was (tempestously English) we were happy to be in the comfort of our own home, while still socialising, enjoying good food, and our own favourite music and wine choices.
Next came soft fillet of bream with an unusual red wine butter sauce and roasted fennel – which could have done with some sort of carb-based accompaniment – before a pre-prepared blood orange jelly contrasted with little bricks of almond biscotti, which elicited mixed opinions, some feeling it was a tad basic. The service was impressively efficient, with all four courses prepped, served and carefully cleaned up after in under two hours.
An excellent concept, eliminating most of the stress and faff of throwing a dinner party, and allowing the host to relax – though in practice, the experience itself seems like it could be fairly variable, depending on several factors. While the food didn’t quite represent the level of restaurant quality we’d expected – with some dishes more assembled than cooked as such, meaning they wouldn’t have been too difficult to recreate ourselves – it was all tasty and very prettily presented, and the ability to sit back and relax was simply invaluable.
A four-course menu ranges from £39-£59 per head depending on the ingredients used. To hire a private chef in Bristol visit labelleassiette.co.uk/bristol