Evenings combining classical music and food hosted by the team from the wonderful Semibreve Supper Club always inspire, delight and of course tantalise the taste buds, and Nature’s Prelude, a celebration of the glory of the great outdoors was no exception. Part of the bi-annual Eat! Festival, their previous events have included A Geordie Christmas Banquet (a riproaring festive celebration of all things Geordie) and catering for the Eat Festival Great Gatsby event at the Lit and Phil. The concept was dreamed up by Annie Ball, a classically trained pianist who also cordially hosts the event and provides the musical interludes, and Pia Castleton, Head Chef and foraging expert, who gives innovative twists to classic dishes and sources the most amazing local produce.
The Lit & Phil is one of the best venues in Newcastle for evenings such as these, giving just the right ambience and sense of occasion to proceedings. The function room was beautifully decorated as is the norm at Semibreve events, with pebbles for nameplaces, sheet music wrapped around jars/used as napkin rings and stunning table decorations incorporating conkers, moss, twigs – think hedgerow in all its glory.There were shells hanging from twigs protruding from a book! (These people are seriously creative). Guests were also treated to local filmmaker Christo Wallers’ short film inspired by starlings, the murmurations were the perfect visual accompaniment to the menu, décor and music inspired by nature.
Upon arrival my friend and I were offered ‘The Bumblebee cocktail’ (their welcome drinks always manage to make me smile) consisting of Prosecco, Gin, honey and lemon, with a sugar coated rim. Fittingly the extremely tricky Flight of the Bumblebee by Korsakov/Rachmaninov was being tackled by Annie as we were sipping it. Then Annie introduced us all to the team, which also includes Chef Dave Castleton, Chef Katie Forsyth-Wood,Sam Makepeace waitressing and Yoshie Kawamura, another pianist. Annie informed us that the vast majority of the ingredients had only been delivered that morning, ensuring its freshness. North East suppliers such as The Paddock, Ridley’s Fish and Game and Latimers Seafood were involved, as well as Knitsley Farm, Broom House Farm and Vintage Roots, who supplied great organic wine. She also told us how Pia had reluctantly killed the langoustines that morning for the starter before launching into a haunting piano duet with Yoshie – The Aquarium by Saint-Saens which set the tone for the evening beautifully.
There was the option of wine pairing with each course, which we decided to do on the night (they’re a flexible bunch). The flowery Soave Borgoletto went beautifully with the seafood themed starter – North Sea razor clams with orange and watercress, and langoustines in a spiced vinaigrette and saffron mayonnaise, not forgetting the mini potato salad. I loved the delicate flavours which went perfectly with the extremely fresh seafood, and as a result I am now an avid razor clam fan!
Then we were treated to Yoshie playing Ravel’s Jeux D’eau from memory, which made me regret refusing childhood piano lessons. Absolutely stunning. The main course was swiftly served, seared wild roe venison loin with a wild jus reduction, a fig and port compote and if that wasn’t enough to wake up everyone’s palette, a confit of rabbit alongside an organic roots salad drizzled with sage and truffle oil. This was a lot for me to take on after eschewing my vegetarianism recently, and I’m never big on the idea of rabbit, but both meats (from Knitsley farm) were delicious.The venison was served slightly rare but its depth of flavour was unbelievable. A big red had been paired with it – Cotes du Rhone Chateau Rocholombe, the faint hint of liquorice and herbs complimented the meat perfectly.
The evening seemed to be whizzing by, I was amused by my friend’s drinking prowess and enjoyed watching him entertain the couples sitting around us with his political and royal knowledge. It seemed fitting for Yoshie to play Barber’s Nocturne Op. 33, and everyone was rightly mesmerised. Our dessert was both palette cleansing and delicious – a rhubarb and rose fool accompanied by pistachio and ginger biscotti. I adored the floral flavours and the cocktail glass it was served in. It’s wine friend? A sweet, fruity Italian (the melon, grape, honeysuckle and elderflower aromas seemed just right with the rhubarb).
Thoroughly stuffed and as happy as larry in my surroundings, I almost had a little cry as Annie played Rachmaninoff’s Prelude Op.32 No 12 (one of my favourite composers). I was wondering how I was going to manage the cheese, but luckily the whipped goats cheese with caramelised walnuts and date molasses was slightly lighter than typical cheeseboard cheese. Another earthy red was its chosen partner – a medium bodied Loire Valley Bourgeil, all raspberries and oak. I could only nibble the cardamom coffee truffle cloud very slowly due to state of fullness I had achieved, and luckily the ginger and cardamom tea settled the stomach and set me up for a great sleep.
The Semibreve Team had outdone themselves yet again – I was even treated to a beautifully presented box of truffles as a thank you for attending numerous events (which were swiftly devoured the day after). Their passion for food and music and attention to detail is second to none, we’re lucky to have such events happening in the North East. If you’re looking for ideas for a special occasion the team also provide private dining, cookery masterclasses and foraging workshops. I can guarantee an unforgettable event.
Photos by Rich Kenworthy