28th November 2012One to watch: Laal Taste of Solway Seafood Festival at The Waterfront, Whitehaven

In Whitehaven, echoes of the town’s important maritime history are clear - the quayside warehouses, Custom House and the gorgeous architecture of the era. But I’d ask you to look a little closer to discover the ‘seafood revival’ that’s causing a bit of a stir in the area today.

In recent years, more and more fishing boats have bustled in Whitehaven harbor. Donnans Quayside Fisheries are providing more and more locally landed seafood to cafes, restaurants and hotels in the area. Even Michelin-starred French chef Jean-Christophe Novelli and his renowned wine merchant friend Gerard Richardson MBE have played a part in the uprising - their new book Mad Frog and The Englishman Go Fishing tells the story of 40 recipes using seafood caught off the Western Lake District coast.

But one particular local chef - Simon Haslam, owner of The Waterfront bar and restaurant - is taking his pride in local seafood to the next level. Simon chef’d at two of the finest Western Lake District hotels before starting up The Waterfront restaurant with his partner in a prime location on the Whitehaven quayside. His enthusiasm for local seafood is infectious. From what I’ve learned about his work, and from what I ate in his restaurant, I can tell he’s already on the way to making Whitehaven a must-see mark on the nation’s culinary map.

The ‘Laal Taste of Solway Festival’ took place in Whitehaven on 15/16th November - driven entirely by Simon Haslam and his team at The Waterfront, to champion local seafood. At the heart of the weekend was Simon’s Laal Taste of Solway taster menu, served exclusively during the festival and almost a sell-out. Other activity gave a glimpse of Simon’s ambition for future years; Donnans Quayside Fisheries, who supply 95% of The Waterfront’s seafood, gave a live filleting demonstration on the quayside outside the restaurant on the Saturday afternoon. They were prepping the very seafood I would enjoy later that evening.

Laal Taste of Solway was only my second-ever taster menu experience. I’ve always considered the taster menu a joy for the culinary geek, but a confusing barrage of the senses for the less ‘academic’ diner. I’m glad to say that Simon’s  Laal Taste of Solway opened my eyes to how special, and meaningful, this form of dining can be. It’s a chance for a fine chef to show what ‘s made of and what he really believes in.

Simon’s 8-course menu began with champagne and an ‘Amuse Bouche’ of melt-in-your mouth mackerel cured in lemon juice, served with, if I remember rightly, mango, chilli and fresh coriander. The second course was unlike anything I have ever tasted. Risotto of Solway Crab served with Avacado Ice-Cream wrapped in a tunnel of Parmesan Tuille - all polished with a Shellfish Foam. Every element of this dish was powerfully accentuated by its form and texture - the creaminess of crab in risotto, the freshness of avocado in an ice-cream, the hearty bite of parmesa in crunchy tuille…genius (but very hard to photograph!).

 Laal Taste of Solway Seafood Festival at The Waterfront, Whitehaven

We moved on to one enormous Seared King Scollop with Black Truffle, sitting on Seared Fois Gras and with Artichoke Puree, Sauce D’Epice and Truffle Oil (so delicious, completely impossible to photograph). Next, the ‘Surpise d’chef’ was ‘Scampi & Chips’ but not quite - a morsel of meaty fish in crisp batter, served with newspaper-wrapped Hand Cut Chips, a terrine-like Pea Mousse and tartar sauce. Fun, and every bit as good as you’d expect from an area renowned for its outstanding fish ‘n’ chip shops.

 Laal Taste of Solway Seafood Festival at The Waterfront, Whitehaven

A light course of Lobster Bisque in an itty bitty teacup gave us time to prepare for the most substantial course of all - Fillet of Turbot & wonderfully stewy Braised Oxtail, with Wilted Little Gem, Confit Shallots, Chestnut Mushrooms and Parsley Oil (pictured here after I’d dug in and ruined the presentation).

 Laal Taste of Solway Seafood Festival at The Waterfront, Whitehaven

By this point I thought I was done. Until the ‘Assiete of Desserts’ arrived, at which point my appetite miraculously reappeared - helped by a refreshing Marmalade Sipping Vodka which accompanied the course. The tang perfectly countered the richness of Cumbrian Sticky Toffee Pudding, Chocolate Brownie, mini Toffee Apple and mini mulled-wine-style poached pear…with a classy shot glass of custard. Outstanding.

 Laal Taste of Solway Seafood Festival at The Waterfront, Whitehaven

By the time the Cumbrian Cheese Board Arrived, I was almost defeated - but not quite. Port? Oh, perhaps a tiny glass…

All the courses were perfectly matched to a wine (or spirit!) by Adrian the Front of House Manager - a very knowledgeable and engaging sommelier. By the end of the meal, we were glad of the chance to rant our drunken praises at Simon Haslam himself. It was great to hear that Simon has plenty of repeat events and new ideas planned for the future - the next Laal Taste of Solway Seafood Festival will hopefully take place in Spring 2013.

So forget my amateur food photography, get yourselves to Whitehaven to be part of the Western Lake District’s seafood uprising!

 Laal Taste of Solway Seafood Festival at The Waterfront, Whitehaven

Whitehaven - the perfect day out
Millom & Black Combe

Brian Sherwen Photography

Many images on this website have been supplied to us by Brian Sherwen.