After reading all about Food Urchin’s Buried Lamb extravaganza earlier in the year, inspired by food Adventurer – Stefan Gates, I was determined not to miss out on the action this time round and promptly booked myself onto the Kleftiko night at Food Urchin Mansions.
Kleftiko translates as ‘stolen meat’ in Greek and so the story goes, this dish was traditionally made from lamb stolen from the hillside and was cooked in a hole in the ground for hours. The hole would be sealed with mud to prevent any steam from escaping and attracting unwanted attention that would give the thief away.
On arrival at Food Urchin Mansions in Upminster, we are given an lovely welcome by Mrs Food Urchin, who I have huge amounts of admiration for, not only for letting so many strangers into her home but allowing her hubby to dig a gurt big hole in the garden. It seemed like she enjoys the culinary fun and games and really was the hostess with the mostess – extremely organised, very hospitable and always smiling.
After enjoying a welcome drink, I go to check out the hole. At the bottom of the garden a rectangular space is left in the patio and in its place is a plot of clay. The hole about a metre deep was dug, a fire started and once it had got going for an hour or so, the lamb was added and promptly buried with a clay top soil to keep in the heat.
There is a sense of trepidation before the lamb is dug up, it is not as if you can easily close the oven door and give it another 20 minutes.
Food Urchin and his Dad make steady progress digging up the lamb, which was placed in wire supermarket shopping baskets for ease of recovery.
The meat itself was seasoned with a garlic and herb rub and buried with carrots and onions which have sufficient water content to keep the meat juicy and tender whilst it was cooking underground. The lamb is often wrapped in muslin sheets, although Food Urchin found pillow case covers work just as well.
The smell as the lamb was finally unwrapped and placed on serving plates was immense.
After watching the spectacle of the lamb being dug up, and my little brother checking no mud was touching the lamb we sat down to dinner.
The group was split into two groups of ten or so, we each sat down around one large dinner table to enjoy a selection of cold mezze consisting of homemade Taramasalata, Baba Ganoush, Hummus and Tzatziki with Grilled Haloumi and Flatbreads. Heaven!
I’d brought along a bottle of Gentilini Robola Cellar Collection – the last of my Kefalonian wines on the rack. I love BYO policies as it allows me to drink some really great wines without the hefty on trade price tag. I’m really proud of this wine as it is made by my good friend Michael Jones, winemaker of Gentilini in Kefalonia. On visiting the winery last year, I was surprised to find a such high quality white wine could be made in the heat on the island, and still retain such high acidity, be so refreshing, and yet full of character.
In creating the limited edition, Cellar Selection, Michael’s idea was to create a carefully oaked expression after visiting Santorini and tasting the not-so-dissimilar Assyrtiko variety which is the noblest of Greek whites. The past two vintages, had been limited to 1500 bottles, but in 2010 because demand had risen, almost twice as many bottles were produced.
So with a Greek wine in hand, we eagerly awaited the star of the show Kleftiko served with Roast New Potatoes and a fantastically fresh and juicy Greek Salad. It was worth the wait!
I’d left just enough room for the dessert of Poached Pears with Filo, Praline, Pistachio and Vanilla Ice Cream and if I’m not mistaken a dash of honey, the combination of flavours and textures worked really well.
Sadly, I live miles away and had to leave promptly after dessert to get back to Norf London, otherwise I’d happily have stayed longer as there was a such a fun group on the table.
Food Urchin‘s Buried Lamb night was a fantastic experience to remember, one I’d love to recreate if only I had a garden…
Travelling today seems to be simultaneously fast and slow due to COVID-19 requiring rapid change of plans and jumping on planes with