Award-winning chef Alex Aitken takes Tom East on a tour of Dorset’s top producers with his 15 Mile Menu.
The Kings Arms in Christchurch is the only restaurant in Dorset to be awarded the prestigious Bib Gourmand Guide for three years in a row, but perhaps what’s even more remarkable is that you can eat there for under £20. What’s more, you’ll be able to sample the very best of the county’s local produce in dishes crafted by Michelin starred chef Alex Aitken and his team. His 15 Mile Menu only uses produce that’s been sourced from suppliers within a 15 mile radius of the restaurant, and it only costs £15 for two courses (£20 on a Friday and Saturday evening). Recently returned from a tapas tasting mission in Barcelona (he’s well travelled), Alex talked us through some of the local delights on his menu.
Local Breadport Artisan Breads
They’re brilliant breads from a guy called Stefan in New Milton – he’s Slovakian. I was at Wimborne Farmer’s Market and he was sat there with a few loaves of bread. I bought one, took it home and the next day I went to see him at his bakery. I think Eastern Europeans have been baking great bread for a long time, and it’s traditional old fashioned baking with natural ferments rather than lots of yeast. You get a lot better flavour – the bread’s a bit chewier though. We will get some people who live on ‘white sliced’ saying: “Your bread’s chewy,” and we say: “Yes!”
Wild Garlic and Nettle Risotto
I picked two kilos of wild garlic on Sunday morning. It was a lovely morning, and I went for a walk with my wife through some private land that I know has wild garlic. I’ve been an avid forager from before it became popular, and wild garlic is now bang in season. The nettles are a bit like spinach, so you’ve got great iron qualities to them, and the wild garlic gives it that garlic flavour. There’s no getting away from it – when I was picking the wild garlic on Sunday, the smell is on your hands.
Kings Cured Salmon and Pickle Mussels
One of our best friends at Kings is a guy called Lukasz Dwornik and, together with Martyn Jennings, he’s made a gin in Christchurch called Pothecary gin – gin is all the rage at the moment. Their botanicals are lime leaves, juniper, Sicilian lemon zest, and what we’ve done is use the same botanicals that they use in their gin as well as their gin and salt and sugar to cure the salmon. Pickles are a great way of adding acidity to a dish. When you’re cooking you’re trying to find a balance of sweet and sour and acidity is a great way of cutting through oils.
Potted beef and dripping
I adore dripping, I’m terrible, I’m the guy that when you’re done with your roast dinner, lets the fat go cold, and underneath that fat you’ve got this intense gravy and a number of juices that have dripped out of the meat. I’m in there scraping Stefan’s bread across the bottom of the dish so I can get all the fat and all the meat juice. The flavour is amazing. We cook some beef very slowly, season it with the aromatics, but also on Sunday lunch we keep al the dripping from beef, and that’s actually used to flavour the potted beef.
Favourite local producers
Definitely Dan Tanner from the Sopley Farm. You can pick your own there – we don’t have to but we love their fruit and vegetables. Their asparagus is amazing – it’s just so local, so if you pick it and use it the day that it’s picked it tastes much better than if it’s been in a box for a week. You want it for that zingy, fresh flavour. On the fringe of our 15 miles, you’ve got a guy called Mike Smales, and he’s a cheese producer in the New Forest. He’s got Lyburn Cheese and we use his Old Winchester on our Cheese Souffles and they’re our number one seller – I’ve sold millions of them.
The Kings Arms
It’s £15 for two courses, but you can pay a bit extra for three (£20.50)