Stepping through the door of Jacques Table, a hidden restaurant in the Ayrshire countryside, you immediately sense the warmth. There’s a friendly welcome from Sylvia and a jolly ‘Bonjour’ from Jacques, the French chef in the adjacent kitchen. The hidden restaurant experience was not one I had enjoyed before and I was delighted to be invited to dinner at Jacques Table.
Jacques Troquet and Sylvia Brown have opened Ayrshire’s first hidden restaurant at their beautiful home in the former village school in Sinclairston. It may also be a first in Scotland to be run by a high profile classically trained French chef.
Jacques has worked in many top class Paris hotels and was previously Executive Chef at the French Embassy in London. Now semi retired, the couple offer a unique, high end dining experience on two evenings and 2 Sunday afternoons a month. Jacques’ table seats ten and can be booked individually or for private parties.
My partner in food for the evening was my friend Brenda Anderson from Tasting Scotland . We were joined by another four couples, for two, it was their second visit to the restaurant. And if the thought of dining with strangers worries you, within minutes of introductions, we found ourselves chatting with some very sociable people.
The restaurant is in the former dining hall of the old school building and the richly set long dining table looked quite at home outside the subtly shaded kitchen. This room had history and I did stop to think about some of the school dinners that the previous occupants had enjoyed. Certainly not of the standard we were about to enjoy. There is a classy but unfussy elegance about the room, plush carpets, neutral colours, flowers, a beautifully set table. It is their home, but there’s no feeling of being in their personal space.
Dinner, like most hidden restaurants, was a set menu and the suggested donation is £35. Diners supply their own wine.
We settled down on the comfortable sofas as Sylvia served complimentary aperitifs with a very generous selection of canapés. The lightest of pastry cases filled with aubergine caviar, tapenade on French bread and duck rillettes. There was also the most delicious talmouses, a blend of choux pastry filled with bechamel sauce and goats cheeses, wrapped in a light puff pastry. For me the pastry was a real winner, crisp short crust and buttery light puff . It quickly became the topic of conversation, discussions about how puff pastry could be so exceptionally good. With canapés of this standard, I had a feeling this was no ordinary supper club.
The meal started with a subtly flavoured Mise en Bouche of celeriac soup with brown shrimp. Served in a tiny espresso cup, it was velvety smooth and creamy, the brown shrimp being a nice addition.
The starter of cold terrine made with various prime fish in their own jelly with asparagus was cooked perfectly. There was just the right amount of jelly to hold the fish, bringing together some fantastic flavours and it worked perfectly with the asparagus.
The main of stuffed quail with duck liver baked in a rich red wine jus was dark and earthy, this was French classical cooking at it’s best. The tiny quail was cleverly stuffed with moist duck liver and generously served with fondant potatoes, glazed carrots and mushrooms. It tasted sensational, a marvellously rich and satisfying dish.
The Millefeuille dessert, like the canapés, showcased the chef’s expertise in pastry making. Slicing through the delicate layers of puff pastry, it flaked perfectly and was crisp and light, a real first class dessert. The creme patisserie added the perfect level of sweetness and tartness.
The wine brought by the guests to enjoy with dinner was set out on the nearby sideboard and Sylvia ensured the wine glasses were kept topped up throughout. I had asked wine merchant Pieter Rosenthal to match wine for the menu and he had recommended a Demi sec Vouvray. Slightly sweet with a crisp appley acidity, it worked well, powerful enough to stand up to the rich gamey flavours of the quail and duck liver without swamping the lightness of the dessert.
Clear plates and much praise from fellow diners was a sure signal that we had all enjoyed our meal and truly magnificent evening. It was rounded off with coffee and generous helpings of Jacques truffles and petit fours. Jacques and Sylvia were the perfect hosts. I was reminded of some of my trips to friends in France. In true French style, we chatted, lingered over our food, we relaxed. It had gone midnight, we had been eating for almost 5 hours and now the chef had joined us. There was still much to discuss, like how did he make that pastry?