I have a confession to make: though I’m a food blogger, and love cooking at home, I am yet to master the dinner party. In fact, ‘yet to master’ is a bit of an understatement; I’ve never cooked for over 4 people at once without it turning in to one big stress-fest. I always spend too much time in the kitchen getting in a tizz, and then when we sit down to eat I’m too concerned with how the food is to just stop and enjoy it, and THEN there’s the washing up! I hope one day to be a better hostess, but until then, there’s La Belle Assiette. This private dining company got in touch to see if I’d like to host a meal at mine, cooked by Monica Sawhney Haldar, one of their chefs. This way, I got to host my friends, eat amazing food AND have nothing to wash up – needless to say, I was up for it!
It was really easy to arrange Monica’s visit. An event, not unlike on Facebook, was set up on the website, with the menu available to see in advance. Monica gave me a call a few days before to finalise arrangements – she was happy to accommodate various dietry requirements and was flexible with timings. On the day, she arrived a couple of hours early to get cooking, having brought all her own ingredients and kitchen-ware. Some people I knew thought it would be odd to have a stanger cooking in your kitchen, but Monica was the perfect balance between familiar and professional, so she soon didn’t feel like a stranger.
Once the guests had arrived and were seated, Monica brought out an appetiser of sweet basil lassi sho. Monica’s cuisine is inspired by the traditional home-cooking of her family, so this appetiser felt as though we were being let in on a secret, as none of us had tried anything like it. The appetiser was refreshing and really prepared our palette for what was to come. It was beautifully presented and a real talking point.
Next up was the starter, which was one of my favourite dishes: Samosa Chaat. This I had had before, and so I can say this was honestly up there with the best. It was deconstructed in a bowl, which I appreciated as often the bite-sized versions are difficult to eat politely! The cumin yoghurt, sweet tamarind and pomegranate seeds worked wonderfully with the samaso, with a great balance between spicy, sweet and cooling.
Monica then explained how she was serving the main course in the traditional family-style, where we would share multiple dishes from the middle of the table. These dishes included Malai Chingri (a tiger king prawn and coconut curry), Bhindi Paneer Dopiyaza (Okra and crumbled panneer cheese), kofta masala (courgette kofta curry) and basmati rice with cumin, cloves and bay leaf. This feast was a joy to eat; the flavours were beautiful and it was really nice to have something a little different such as the okra, which isn’t always easy to make interesting. The mains were also served with home-made raita and home-made buttery naan, which gave it that special home-cooking feel that is so far from your average Indian restaurant.
Finally, for dessert, Monica served a glass of Aam Malai – cardamon crumble, rose yoghurt, mango sorbet and roasted almonds. The textures in the glass had been well thought through, and the stronger flavours such as the mango weren’t allowed to overpower the subtle cardamon and rose. So often, an Indian meal is finished off with a below-average dessert, but this certainly wasn’t the case here. It was also the perfect cooling choice to end a fairly spicy and rich meal.
Overall, hosting a private chef was a great experience, and Monica in particular was faultless both in her cooking and her professionalism. There was nothing more satisfying than saying goodbye to my guests after a lovely evening and turning round into a spotless kitchen! La Belle Assiette make it easy to host a chef in your home, and though it’s not cheap, it’s a great option for when you want a foodie experience that’s a little different. Thank you to Oliver from La Belle Assiette for organising and Monica for cooking, we all had a fantastic time.