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In these days of endless choice, sometimes a no-choice menu has plenty going for it, and this was certainly the case at the Marsh Cat, Parkgate, where James Ryan became the second young chef to display his many talents as part of the Wirral Young Chef of the Year competition 2016.

What I especially like about this venue is that both the front of house staff and the dining room in which they work have a real family feel about them. Greeted by Nick, we were led to our table and were seated in a space that had a real ‘front room’ charm about it-clutter free, uncomplicated yet totally inviting.

Drinks were served promptly with little fuss, and within minutes our starter arrived, an ambitious combination of Duck Arancini served with Roasted Golden Beetroot, Pomegranate Coulis and Blue Nasturtium Leaves. This indulgent starter of fried risotto balls (incidently named after the little oranges they resemble), although slightly under seasoned, clearly demonstrated that a simple ingredient such as beetroot could be shown off, in this case, as an impressive coloured platform for the arancini which was in turn dressed sublimely with the lightest pomegranate coulis imaginable-this made a great introduction to the meal.

And so to the real star of the show, James’ main course of Pan-Fried Pork Fillet wrapped in Parma Ham, served with Black Pudding Purée, Pork Collar and Apple bon bon, Potato Fondant, Sage and Pea Purée and a White Wine Jus-where do I start?

The pork, served a shade pink, could potentially make some diners a little nervous, but not this diner! The sheer quality of the execution was the thing that really caught our attention, indeed the riskiness of cooking pork in this way actually proved to be part of its appeal. Pork is also one of those commodities that readily accepts flavours and seasonings, and as good as the sage and pea purée was, it took silver to the gold medal that was the indecently delicious black pudding purée, a resonating flavour that worked superbly with the pork, a real taste sensation! I also can’t move on to the dessert until I give a complimentary nod to James’ humble potato fondant, proof that sometimes the best flavours are not necessarily found in the most luxurious ingredients! Well done chef, a dish of risk, effort, skill and poise!

To finish we were served a Pear and Passion Fruit Tart, with Peanut Brittle and Clotted Cream. The impeccably light pastry tart containing a mix of refreshing pear purée and passion fruit proved to be a real palate cleanser, and was only let down by the slightly thick peanut brittle, but this did not in any way detract from what was a truly exceptional meal experience.

To summarise James Ryan has talent-he has talent in a way that the American TV family The Waltons (back in the day) had kids-lots! Tonight he very nearly produced a ‘perfect 10’ masterclass not only in the way he executed his dishes but perhaps more importantly in the way he has made progress since last years competition.

The meal had real character (just like the venue), and in places was very clever indeed, and ambition like this is worth experiencing, so why not try the Marsh Cat for yourself….you will not be disappointed!

Congratulations James,  and we look forward to welcoming you to the Cook-off at Wiral Metropolitan Colege on Monday 4th April.

Tony Boustead (College Manager for Hospitality & Catering)

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