Come Dine Round Mine Part I

Come Dine With Me has a huge following; everyone seems to be utterly seduced by the motley collective of strangers meeting at each others houses every night for a week and dining on hugely diverse types and quality food. Teens to octogenarians alike peer at the black box watching an often incohesive collective of competitors aim for the £1000 prize money; a reality TV game show like any other. But there is so much more to enjoy, the voyeuristic glimpse into a strangers home, the pressure and panic of the kitchen, the occasionally hilarious menu choices and potential for tremendous cock-ups all narrated by a frequently mocking voice. No wonder it maintains knockout ratings.

We wanted to try it for ourselves, no prizes, no video cameras, but four great food filled evenings cooked by enthusiastic and pretty knowledgeable foodies with liberal dose of competition to give the added edge of excitement and maintain the momentum.

First up was AH-H, with a few days off work and bijou residence in which to entertain he was up for the challenge. Eight of us feasted better than most if us had in a while and the effort was not wasted on anyone.

We sat down to a substantial spread of spiced rack of lamb with coriander and honey accompanied by a minty, ginger and chilli dressing. You could tell this lamb was the real deal, bought form one of Portabello’s finest flesh vendors.

Baked chicken portions rubbed with sumac, za'tar and lemon slices.

An enormous griddled peach, chard, watercress and speck salad with an orange blossom dressing. Sticky fruity and salty ham…

This belter couscous was heaped with the sweetest oven dried tomatoes, mograbiah, tarragon nigella seeds and bravely flavoured with saffron.

And lastly another more fresh salad of wafer thin slices of fennel, pomegranate seeds, parsley, feta and citrously electrified by lemon and sumac.

As if we needed more AH-H had lovingly baked perfect rounds of pistachio and cardamom shortbread.

This gutsy and extravagant Ottolenghi inspired dinner served in brimming dishes was a perfect August festival of flavours, bold and beautiful. Deep Middle Eastern colours and exotic tastes were heaped on us in an unfussy and unassuming way but underlying the casual front was lots work, lots of care and a bar set very high. I really hope round two matches the standard and I definitely look forward to three more dinners of this wickedness…