I was rather lucky on stumbling onto this, in-lieu of missing the Wreckfish pop-up event which sold out in some 15 minutes; tickets were fiercely fought for. I spotted the Northern Fields event and in light of his history with the Rhubard and Custard brand and knowing what I know of Burgess' prowess, the blow was well and truly softened.
Meeting with another Manchester-based writer and friend along with her other half, we stepped in; the venue at Space Coffee wasn't entirely what I expected - formerly a branch of HSBC before becoming an office for the Liverpool Food and Drink Festival organisers SK Events and now in the throes of being a coffee establishment, it actually already looked the part of a restaurant... in the main. The stark and flat walls meant the acoustics made for a difficult evening on occasion; as the decibel level rose, conversation became increasingly strenuous to hold up, but otherwise the surroundings were comfortable, flattering for the event and worked in an holistic sense.
I won't wax lyrical again with talk of service; all the personnel on Burgess' ship are well versed and briefed on these events and this Northern Fields expedition was no exception. The pacing of the courses was actually great too, allowing ample time to consider and digest (and not just in the literal sense) what had been plated before us.
We were then faced with the rather nebulously named 'snacks' for a pre-entrée course. Though when these snacks arrived at the table, any apprehension faded. Three elements were presented, featuring a cauliflower cup, which was warmed, creamy and lacking in any bitterness or funk usually waiting on the edges of any cauliflower dish. The other two elements were also exceptionally good; a slab of unctuous mackerel with thin fennel and adorned with orange was not quite as easy to handle as the other two elements, but definitely as easy to eat and finally, the duck rillette and blueberries sitting on op of a duck skin infused biscuit. This last element was stupidly good. I think if the following courses had been a variation on this theme I wouldn't have left disappointed. I probably would have been ducked-out though.
Something simple came from the kitchen and broke up the snacks-melee; a very simple but excellent salad. I might be doing a bit of a disservice to this, but it worked wonderfully to towel down the palate, a green salad with peashoots, nasturtium and a beetroot remoulade was liberally scattered with a cured egg yolk to give some layering to the dish. The key word with everything considered in this course was fresh, clean flavours, verdancy, earthiness and even a salt-tang-rich-but still-clean umami note. Effective and certainly helped the flow of the meal.
The fish course... or however these things are thought of these days, was a stack of delicious light crab meat, dressed in crème fraiche and layered with dried apple, jewels of cucumber and sour slivers of rhubarb. The addition of a green apple granite gave another twist, which along with all the elements meant an individual course which provided some interesting and varied combinations of flavour, texture and temperature. I must admit, towards the end of the dish, it was a little too much and I think the portion size for such a rich dish might have been just right, at least for me. I suspect my companions could have kept going with this course until the small hours.
It sat in a pool of mead-gravy and turnip, laced with shallot and truffle, it stared right at me... and I stared right back. Up until the moment it dared me to eat it. So I did. For such a dreadfully weathered evening, this was the perfect riposte. Soft, succulent and sweet, there was a moment of pure silence when the single shard of crackling was discovered and devoured. Every detail of this course had flavour crammed in; testament to the ingredients and to the preparation. A note has to be made of the hispi cabbage that sat alongside the pie; rather than a side note, this was another exceptional piece of sourcing and cooking. Butter and smoke came through abound, again, as with the cauliflower, the brassica-bitterness which often waits in the wings was simply hounded out. Perfect levels of sweetness, smoke and texturally complimentary. It all worked.
Sadly, it seems there are no immediate plans for Northern Fields to follow things up with a more permanent venture in Liverpool. A massive shame, but then opportunity does come in cycles when you maintain quality. I think a campaign should start here really... we really do need more of this kind of thing (inverse Dougal and Ted) in Liverpool.
The memory of how stupidly good, well-designed, sourced and prepared the food on the evening with Northern Fields was.
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