Mentor Will Holland and protege Liam Dillon reunited for a Sauce Supper Club to remember at Lichfield’s The Boat Inn, as Amy Norbury discovered
Mention Will Holland in foodie circles and you’ll see eyes light up and mouths begin to water at the thought of the inspired, classically French influenced cooking which has earned Michelin stars and the accolade of one of the ten most influential chefs of the decade by the Good Food Guide.
Eagle-eyed viewers may also remember Will from his stint on BBC culinary favourite Great British Menu. Representing the central region, he cooked up a storm to battle through to the final at his first attempt, narrowly missing out on a dish in the final banquet.
Now working on the beautiful island of Jersey, at Ocean at the Atlantic, his style is more relaxed and informal, but the focus remains on fantastic ingredients, excellent technique and mouth-watering food.
So what would entice the esteemed chef away from sunny Jersey to venture up to the Midlands for a night of catering for expectant foodies? Why, the chance to collaborate with former protege Liam Dillon, of course. Now the successful chef patron of The Boat Inn in Lichfield and one of the city’s finest hopes of reaching the upper echelons of the culinary world, Liam mastered his craft under Will’s watchful eye during his Michelin-starred tenure at La Bécasse.
And thanks to the efforts of Sauce Supper Club’s Beth and Jon Toovey, mentor and protege were reunited for one night only to create fine dining magic.
2018 has been a hugely successful year already for Sauce Supper Club, with former Simpsons head chef Nathan Eades, now of The Wild Rabbit in the Cotswolds, and Masterchef finalists Leo Kattou and Louisa Ellis getting events off to a barnstorming start. Rising star Alex Bond of Nottingham’s Alchemilla and Simpsons’ head honcho Luke Tipping are the next two invitees to Lichfield while Hampton Manor’s Rob Palmer heads up the supper club’s inaugural event in Nottingham as Jon and Beth’s reach widens to bring top chefs to destinations a little further afield.
The menu for the evening – the majority of supper club diners choose to stay in the dark about what they’ll be sampling until the night itself – was divided equally between the two chefs, with Will and Liam each preparing three of the six courses. The kitchen was buoyed by the camaraderie – and no small amount of friendly rivalry – between Will, Liam and their teams – whose dish would be declared the knockout of the night?
We began proceedings with snacks from The Boat – Liam’s signature pig’s head and burnt apple cubes as well as a stunning take on southern fried chicken, which were just sublime. Followed up by beer and spelt bread with chicken butter, it was an exceptionally promising start.
Liam was in charge of the first course, a simple asparagus dish which packed tonnes of flavour into it’s delicate portion. Rich brown butter and egg yolk combined to create a silky accompaniment studded with English caviar, which was a lovely balance to the fresh, tender asparagus. It was an elegant dish and we did hear many murmurings throughout the evening proclaiming it the favourite. One-nil to Liam.
Up next was Will’s braised chicken wing and seared prawn, on a bed of haricot blanc with a luxurious shellfish and truffle vinaigrette. If pressed – and only if I absolutely had to – I’d have to opt for this as my personal dish of the night. Really, it was that vinaigrette which tied everything together and added the wow factor to every morsel. It was unbelievably moreish and a wonderful example of the exemplary cooking to be found at Sauce Supper Club evenings. Point to Will.
We were eager for more, and Liam’s next offering certainly didn’t disappoint. A sizeable Scottish langoustine, sweet and juicy, paired with the savoury punch of black pudding and a fresh sweetness from delicate ribbons of leek, all bound with a rich jus to create a delightful mouthful.
Now, we were a table of duck fans, so there was much excitement which greeted the arrival of the main dish; roasted duck breast served wonderfully pink with forced rhubarb, duck sausage and anna potato. The tart rhubarb was the perfect foil to the beautifully cooked duck, while the decadent potato with its buttery goodness proved a delicious accompaniment. The duck sausage was also a real treat.
Liam’s final course was one which initially left us scratching our heads, described on the menu as simply ‘hay, pine, buckthorn’. I was, in fact, a wonderfully zingy sorbet with a disc of something melt-in-the-mouth and almost popcorn-y in texture and a sweet crumble. I must confess I’m still not entirely sure what each component was, but it was a surprising triumph and wonderfully refreshing.
In a similar vein, Will’s dessert was a barrage of fresh, zesty flavours from the set lime leaf cream, marinated pineapple and passion fruit granité. It was a tropical dance on the palate, with tiny cubes of gingerbread adding a spiced warmth.
So which chef took the crown for dish of the evening? To be completely fair, it was nigh on impossible to separate mentor and protege. The four of us at our table each had a different favourite, with two votes for a Liam dish and two for Will, and chatting to other diners it seemed there were many different opinions on the standout course. What we could all agree on, though, was that the evening had been rather wonderful, with superlative food created by two exceptional chefs. It was the perfect way to spend a Monday and I, for one, can’t wait to see what Sauce Supper Club brings to Lichfield next.