This weekend just gone was an unusual one as not once did I set foot in a kitchen; instead I feasted in a number of ways and so I thought it only fair that I give my round up of what’s cooking, good looking and super fantastic in sunny Lagos. My pit-stops included a six course gastronomy dinner held to celebrate Martell Cognac’s tercentenary held at the Oriental Hotel, a pilgrimage to Lekki to sample ice-cream and a Sunday lunch in Ajah where a new soups was introduced to my ever expanding palate.
But let’s start with the glamour and gastronomy first; a special dinner hosted by Martell Cognac as part of a year’s celebrations for their 300th birthday. I am a big fan of birthdays, so was happy to slip on my requisite little black dress and vertiginous heels and raise a glass to one of the world’s best cognac producers. It seemed rather appropriate that apart from the Martell blue carpet instead of the usual bore-snore red one, that parent company Pernod Ricard should choose Lagos as one of the global pit-stops for the year’s celebrations. For one, the belle monde of Lagos love their luxury and more than represented at the party itself, second Jean Martell, the founder of the eponymous cognac’s own life story reads like the best Nollywood movie; a man with a bold vision, a serial entrepreneur and one who suffered numerous setbacks, even bankruptcies before seeing his cognac become the choice tipple of the elite!
We were first treated to a cognac tasting; and got to sample three from the Martell stable. The first I tried was the Cordon Bleu, one which my novice cognac tasting palate noted could go rather well with food. It had a floral almost cinnamon bouquet or nose as they say in the business, and a deceptively smooth finish. I then moved on to the Caractère, a recent addition to the Martell family having been launched in 2013 and the cognac that was paired with five of the six courses we were to eat later. The nose was more tropical fruits this time and I detected a spicy and nutty finish on the palate. It was this sweet savoury combo that made it work particularly well with all of the courses. Finally, I sampled the big-daddy of them all, the XO. Is it correct form to say the nose was very rich man’s study? I say this because the notes of leather, dried fruits and nuts in the nose had me thinking of leather wingback chairs, walnut paneled interiors and someone with a deep voice who closed mega-deals on a regular. The finish was equally luxe and rich it is no surprise that it was paired with the beef course later.
The food; and it pains me to write this was not quite as super-fabulous as the drinks. This was in no way the fault of the kitchen, but rather that murderer of many a big culinary dream, time. The invitation clearly stated 7.00pm but sadly the masses chose to arrive very fashionably late and I can only imagine the havoc this caused with food that had been prepared to go out at a certain time, sitting idly under heated lamps, until all the guests were finally seated. I shan’t pick out the courses that suffered worst from the fate of being luke-warm, having pieces of protein that were in peril of drying out completely and sauces that had settled into a static puddle. However, the crème brûlée that had not been in contact with a blow torch made me particularly sad face. It was not all sad news though, I inwardly cheered at the soup course, a classic creamy tomato with the rather genius addition of Beefeater Gin and a perfectly crisp garlic bread for mopping up the magic at the bottom of the bowl afterwards.
Deserving of a paragraph all of its own was course six; which were possibly some of the best truffles I have tasted, and I have gone through quite a few in my time. They were prepared by local food hero and renowned pastry chef Tolu Eros of Cookie Jar fame. We had a selection of truffles to eat, that incorporated cognac but with the added flair of Tolu’s fantastic flavor combinations, these became more than the usual chocoholic hit. Two days later and I am still thinking, no meditating and in a general state of thanksgiving that I sampled the raspberry and pistachio truffles. They were so good, and my only hope is that they wind up on Cookie Jar’s menu, you heard it here first!
My other food forays took me on to the Lekki peninsula; the first was to Ice Cream Factory, an ice cream and specialist dessert café that has a cult like following. Judging from the children I saw jumping in the queue in excitement and the number of people coming in having preordered, collecting frankly gigantic take-away packs, I figured It must be pretty special. I was sad that my favouriteice cream flavour, salted caramel was out but I enjoyed the Hokey Pokey a vanilla ice cream that had honey comb incorporated in it. From the Italian gelato menu, the Amareno was definitely something worth writing about, with generous amounts of wild cherries running through it. My only note to self was to follow the pre=order crew next time as I felt a little too old for the pop music they had cranked up on to full volume and the teens who were flirting and squealing in the table behind me. Sunday lunch was a surprise for me, as I was expecting an at-home buffet of the ilk you get at most houses: the mountain of jollof rice, the egusi that’s aroma dominates the room forever, the crazy high pile of swallow-du-jolur, and some give yourself a heart attack stew at the end with some super dry difficult to chew fish and chicken for afters. Not at Mrs Ebilah’s house though, who deserves a special mention for giving Naija grub a clean and lean redux but keeping all the essential flavours intact: the chicken and fish were barbequed rather than fried, resulting in smokey, flavoursome meat, yes, I am salivating as I type. But my favourite new thing she introduced me to on Sunday was Banga Soup – who would have thought that the Nigerian name would translate so aptly in English into how good it was ? This was most definitely a banging dish. Made with pine kernels and in this instance with chicken as the principal protein, it was rich, but not in a so oily everything is lost way, and there seemed to be layer upon layer of flavour, which was explained to me as being a result of the many processes required to create it. I went back for thirds, clearly not my most disciplined meal time but when food is this good, it is rude not to.
So the take aways for Gastrotastic readers today; blow the budget and buy yourself a bottle of Martell XO, and if you live in Lagos double or quits it with some of Tolu’s truffles, make sure there is a supply of Ice Cream Factory ice cream in the freezer just in case, and find an Auntie who can provide happiness on a plate that AKA Banga Soup.