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Personal chef for a night

PUBLISHED: 13:06 22 January 2016 | UPDATED: 13:06 22 January 2016

Have your dinner cooked, your table waited, and the dishes taken away afterwards!

Have your dinner cooked, your table waited, and the dishes taken away afterwards!

Manu Palomeque 07977074797

Sometimes you just don't want to go out. But you do want to enjoy a fabulous meal with friends and family. Without shopping, cooking or clearing up. Here's how. Words by: Sarah Sturt Pictures by: Manu Palomeque

Chef discusses the main course but everyone is too busy eating it to look up ...Chef discusses the main course but everyone is too busy eating it to look up ...

Dining habits are changing. Many of us are investing in our homes rather than moving, creating more and more attractive environments in which to cook, eat and socialise.

And while ‘going out for a meal,’ especially at a top/recommended/favourite restaurant will always be up there with one of life’s ‘treats,’ sometimes the thought of venturing out into the cold, dark night, organising taxis or drawing lots to see who gets to drive makes the lure of home overwhelming.

Dinner being preparedDinner being prepared

However, on the flip side you’re going to have to draw up a menu, shop for all the ingredients (at your local independents and farm shops, naturally), cook it all perfectly, serve prettily (with matched wines). Then clear it all up again before collapsing, exhausted, vowing next time to go out to a restaurant.

Sounds a familiar dilemma? So what if I was to suggest an alternative: eat at home in your beautiful kitchen-diner or dining room, but you don’t lift a finger, just sit back and enjoy it.

You can drink as much wine and fizz as you and your guests want without having to worry about driving anywhere and – arguably the best bit – at the end of the evening pop your head around the kitchen door to be greeted by gleaming surfaces, everything washed up and cleared away as if by magic.

Chef Dan Hatton making the finishing touches to this courseChef Dan Hatton making the finishing touches to this course

Too good to be true? Not if you enlist the help of renowned chef Dan Hatton, who trained under Marco Pierre White and Gordon Ramsay, has now moved into the specialised arena of bespoke dining – and he’s never been busier.

I first met Dan when he was head chef at Thackerays in his home town of Tunbridge Wells and it won a Michelin star. Now he’s decided to branch out into his own bespoke catering company, Hattons of Royal Tunbridge Wells, using his culinary expertise, passion for food and attention to detail to provide innovative creations and bespoke menus for all occasions.

A Hattons custom-made service can range from a relaxed dining experience with your friends and family to big weddings, corporate events, garden parties and canapé receptions.

Adding some garnishingsAdding some garnishings

Dan explains how. “It’s a very personal service, as no two events are the same so no two menus are the same. We go to the client’s home and I ask for their likes, dislikes and their food memories– for example, we can recreate holiday, wedding day or honeymoon food memories; we take them back to that place with the dishes I create and the wines we suggest.

“I write lots of notes, fire a menu back and 95 per cent of people say ‘yes’ immediately. People like that about it; within a couple of days of the enquiry it’s pretty much all sorted, from the food and the wine to the flowers, glassware, lighting. We build kitchens if needed, provide the waiters - we like to go in and do the whole package, which takes all the hassle out for you.”

He grins: “Basically, we’re offering restaurant quality without you having to spend the money or get in your car to enjoy the experience.”

Order upOrder up

I’m intrigued to know how he came up with the idea. “It all began with a client I started cooking for on a regular basis at her home,” Dan explains. “I met her through Thackerays, she and her husband would meet up with a big group of friends and then they’d get on the drinks and need to book a hotel and end up spending a fortune. Now they go for bespoke dining.”

Dan agreed to recreate the experience at my home in Tonbridge, where I had just had a new kitchen installed and was keen to show it off (and learn how to work out the induction hob; bonus).

We were a motley crew. The Meat Eaters: me - interviewing, hosting and sampling; chief photographer Manu Palomeque – taking these pics, sampling and distracting Dan in the kitchen (a lot); and The Vegetarians: my (very hungry) daughter and her husband, who’d come down on the train from London straight after work.

DeliciousDelicious

From a cost-effective point of view Dan prefers larger groups (the lowest he’d usually do is eight, one client hosted 120 at home) and his main area is west Kent, although January saw him ‘test the water’ in Bromley after a recommendation. All his business comes in via word of mouth.

Dan took my semi- in his stride, parking his van in my drive and decanting more pots, pans and utensils than I will ever own in a lifetime into a kitchen that is probably the smallest he’s cooked in; he’s used to far grander.

His menu, which we’d previously discussed, encompassed everybody’s tastes and was as enthusiastically received by the vegetarian couple as the meat eaters around the table. Course after course soon arrived as if by magic, all delicious, from the warm sourdough bread with thyme butter to the butter-poached lobster and honey and spiced ginger cake finale.

All packed up and ready to return to baseAll packed up and ready to return to base

Dan even exceeds his final claim: “We leave the kitchen cleaner than it was when we started – the women all love it. The men don’t care, as long as the wife or partner is happy, they’re happy.”

Staying in has never been more appealing.

Our Bespoke Menu

First course Sous-vide new season Partridge with foie gras, salt-baked artichokes, shaved black truffle, brioche pain perdu OR Salt-baked artichokes with slow-cooked hen’s egg, wild mushrooms, brioche pain perdu, black truffle (V)

Second course Butter-poached lobster with lemon grass and kaffir lime leaf broth, Dorset crab, pak choi, apple, onion seeds and baby coriander OR Parsnip tortellini, grilled lettuce, radish and tarragon with warm Heritage carrot salad, dates and bread sauce (V)

Third course Slow-cooked Kentish venison hyme-infused Heritage carrots, cardamom, braised potatoes with Barolo wine jus

Fourth course Kentish apple, honey and spiced ginger cake, apple salad and milk sorbet

Get in touch

Hattons of Royal Tunbridge Wells. Registered office: Melbury House, 34 Southborough Road, Bickley, Bromley BR1 2EBT. 07920 745826 or info@hattonsrtw.co.uk.

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