Last night, my friends and I were treated to an amazing extravaganza of vegan gourmet dining. The food was created by 'plant powered chef' Matthew Nutter, at a 'pop up' restaurant in the quirky setting of Nooch in Wigan. Over the next few weeks, Matt is going to be creating imaginative vegan menus at Nooch that most definitely wipe the floor with any stereotypes of 'vegan food'.
Oh my! Our experience was such a whirlwind of taste sensations. Seven courses in all, in the unique and colourful cafe surroundings, and with a table laid with real vinyl record placemats to add to the quirky touch.
We started with an amuse-bouche of a broad bean fritter with a basil dip. Actually this was one of my favourite courses, but I'm a sucker for anything fried! And it was a light, crispy fried morsel, not heavy and loaded with oil. The basil dip was a perfect compliment to go with the broad bean fritter.
Next we had a choice of starters and I opted for the salt & pepper aubergine with pineapple and toasted cashew nuts. This yummy concoction was accompanied with pickled mooli - which I've never knowingly tried - and coriander oil. The aubergine had a wonderfully spicy kick with some fresh red chilli, and was fried in coconut oil. Pineapple is not a fruit that I'd normally be interested in opting for in a main course, but here it most definitely complimented the flavours altogether.
Before the main there were courses of soup - a chilled tomato gazpacho served in a little cup and saucer - and a salad. I say 'salad', but it was obviously rather more fancy than what the mind conjures up for 'salad'. No limp lettuce that even my neighbour's rabbit would turn his nose up at here! This was a bed of buckwheat and artichoke with cracked black pepper, topped with avocado and red pepper. Very refreshing and delicious.
For the mains, there was another choice of two, and I went for 'almond butter saag' - lentil and broccoli cooked in spinach, almond butter, coconut and the fragrant spices of cumin and cardamom. This was served with garlic and coriander rice, and seasoned potatoes and baby carrots. I just loved this course - the almond butter saag was divine and has inspired me to have a go at making this myself. Or something like it, we'll see if mine turns out the same!
There was a pre-dessert then (all posh menus must have a pre-dessert) which was lemon, ginger and chia, served again in a little cup and saucer. You either love chia, or you don't. It's a bit like Marmite in that respect.
If you've never tried chia, there can be no getting away from the fact that the texture of it once prepared, is very like frogspawn. If you are a fan of school semolina, you'll love chia. That's me. So yes, I'm a chia fan, and in this instance, I liked Matthew's flavours. One of my friends - who is not a chia lovey - was not so keen, but that was simply because she doesn't like chia. And even she admitted that she liked it more than normally in this case, so that's a plus point!
Dessert was our final course and again, here we had a choice of two options. I went for the smoked banana and vanilla rice pudding - as most of my friends did, I think. Delicious! Especially the rice pudding part of it. And it was perfectly light after the several courses, so a very pleasant way to end the meal.
Still though, I think I was most impressed with Matthew's talents on the savoury courses, and glad we had so many of them! It goes without saying that to be served so many courses, it is a tasting menu which is on offer. And the entire menu together left us all full and satisfied, but not stupidly stuffed, which is exactly how it should be.
The menu was about creating and mingling flavours, and was most definitely inspired. If you get a chance to experience Matthew's incredible food, then make sure you jump at it! Bearing in mind too that as well as being vegan (that is, free from all animal produce, including dairy), it was also completely gluten free and sugar free.
The 'pop up' restaurant at Nooch, where the seven course menu can be had for £30 per person, is running every Saturday night for the rest of May. However, it is fully booked up. The good news is though that Matthew is doing a night in Chorlton (Manchester) on the 29th May, which according to his Twitter feed, is at the Unitarian Church and is a three course menu that can be booked for £15.99 per person. It is also 'bring your own booze'.