Venetia Sherson finds much to tempt the taste buds on Braemar’s new autumn/winter menu.
We are at a tasting for the private hospital’s new autumn/ winter menu. The guests include Braemar’s chief executive Paul Bennett, finance manager Brenda Williamson and GM clinical services Lindsey Bates, plus the Waikato Times’ award-winning food writer Denise Irvine.
Louise Chidlow is explaining her philosophy about food before we get down to the serious business of tasting dishes from the new lunch menu. Louise joined Braemar as head chef four years ago with the intention of moving away from the traditional perception of “hospital food.” She grows her own vegetables and has an extensive herb garden, which she raids for the hospital kitchen.
“People eat with their eyes, so the food must look and taste appetising. The solution is simple: fresh ingredients, good preparation and attention to detail.”
Denise nods her head approvingly. She is used to reviewing Hamilton’s top eateries, where the city’s best chefs share the same philosophy.
The new autumn/winter menu at Braemar is packed with fresh vegetables, tender cuts of meat, tasty, fresh fish and the most tempting desserts, which don’t resemble traditional hospital fare. The dishes are even more remarkable given the need to cater for a range of dietary requirements.
First up is the Lamb Shank on a Vegetable Hot Pot; a melt-in-the-mouth meat dish flavoured with fresh bay leaves and rosemary. Next is Smoked Fish and Kumara Pie topped with fresh herbs and served with a green salad; followed in quick succession by Beef and Spinach Cannelloni; Chicken and Roast Vegetable Tortilla Stack; Fish (“always snapper,” says Louise) coated in egg, parsley and parmesan; Beef Fillet on Caramalised Onion Tart with Beef Jus and Mushroom; Pork Eye Fillet on Ginger Kumara Mash, with a mustard and apple sauce and Angus Steak on Potato Rosti.
That’s eight mains with more to come. Our stomachs are starting to feel the pace and I wish I had begun with smaller portions. “Don’t forget we have desserts to follow,” says Louise.
The Lamb, Feta and Roast Beetroot salad gets a big tick from us all. The backstrap lamb is beautifully tender. There is also little waste. Louise has an advantage over other chefs in that meals are ordered the night before. Nevertheless, she is rigorous in catering precisely to avoid wastage. Everything is made from scratch and there is very little processed food. She even makes her own bread.
The main courses are cleared and we are given fresh lemon sorbet to cleanse our palates before dessert.
“This is like a degustation at a top restaurant”, I say.
Denise comments that the dishes are flavoursome without being overpowering. “They are comforting without being dull and many of the dishes offer a contemporary twist on the traditional.” She adds that a friend, who was having an operation at Braemar, asked if he could stay an extra night because one of his favourite dishes was featured on the next day’s menu.
Paul, Brenda and Lindsey simply smile. They are used to sampling this fare. Many staff choose to eat in the cafeteria because the food is so good. They also know how much patients appreciate the attention to detail.
Desserts have arrived. Louise introduces her second chef Queenie, as Braemar’s “amazing baking queen.”
“Make sure you leave room for her famous Pavlova,” she says.
We will try, but first up is Berry and White Chocolate Bread and Butter Pudding, served with mascarpone, followed by Passionfruit Cheesecake with Cream and Citrus Sauce. The citrus peel adds a lovely tang to the sweet dish. “The recipe came off the Internet,” says Louise.
Could anything be better?
Well, yes. Queenie’s Rolled Pavlova with Passionfruit Cream lives up to its billing. It is the most delicious I have tasted. She tells us she and her brothers and sisters have always baked and, at family gatherings, they enjoy getting together in the kitchen.
We lick our spoons.
“Cheese and biscuits anyone?” says Louise. Sorry, but we can’t oblige.
We have sampled just a portion of the lunch, dinner and dessert menu on offer at Braemar for the next three months. The dinner menu features 10 main meals, 10 light meals and 11 vegetarian meals, plus 10 desserts. Despite this, Louise says she still gets requests for simple favourites like scrambled eggs on toast and jelly and ice cream.
Local dietician and nutritionist Deepti Duddumpudi assists Braemar with preparing the menus.
It’s good to know the health boxes are ticked. But what is the verdict of the professional food writer?
“I was very impressed,” says Denise. “Louise and Queenie absolutely know who they are cooking for and have the interests of Braemar’s patients and staff at the forefront of everything they do. The dishes are beautifully presented and made from good quality seasonal ingredients.”
And her personal favourites?
“The pan-fried parmesan snapper; the pork fillet on kumara-ginger mash, and Queenie’s rolled Pavlova with passionfruit and mascarpone were among the stand-outs for me.”
No one argued with that.