I don’t know about you, but one thing that always seems to excite me when I visit a restaurant, is being able to have a hands on approach to the preparation of your meal. In most cases cooking it yourself. Our European counterparts are big fans of this, it is unlikely you would visit the Alps and not partake in a cheese fondue, fondue chinoise (thin slices of beef cooked in a stock or oil) or a cheese raclette.
This type of interactive dining has always been a great way of “adding value” to a meal out and has been hijacked by an Australian company StonegrillTM who sell there concept to restaurants worldwide along with their specialised oven for heating the stones.
I was lucky enough to enjoy this unique dining experience in a little mountain restaurant whilst out in Switzerland. But first, a little on the concept behind hot stone cooking.
My first experience with cooking on stone consisted of making a fire between to large, flat topped rocks and resting a thick, tray size piece of slate over the fire on the rocks. My brother and I then proceeded to cook eggs, bacon, sausages and tomatoes on it. The only problem was that slate will eventually crack and can only be used a dozen times if that.
Cooking with stones has been utilised in the past by ancient Egyptians, Vikings and in Mesolithic Britain (8,000 years before present). Quite often hard, volcanic stones would be heated up on a fire for a couple of hours and then transferred into a pit next to the fire. The meat was then placed in with the stone then covered over with moss, grass and sand. This would be left for another hour and acted as a primitive oven.
Nowadays, the stone we use for cooking is still made from the same type of volcanic stone, in this case Dolomite, which is known for its high heat retention. The stones are heated up to around 400°C/752°F and then placed into a ceramic or more attractive wooden board and taken out to the table. The stone will hold its optimum cooking heat for up to 30mins. Cooking with stones is also a very healthy way of eating there is no oil used and the burning stone sears the meat instantly locking in all the natural juices. It also allows you to cook your meat as rare or well done as you would like.
The meat I had with mine with came on a big skewer and consisted of Ostrich, Beef, Deer and lamb. Each meat was delightfully tender and the difference in flavour from the rich, gamey flavour of the deer to the refreshing ostrich meat. It came served with a small Rosti, done only the way the Swiss do it.
This was certainly one of the most enjoyable meals I have had, it also was more filling than most meals and all that red meat gives you quite a heavy stomach. It also gives you the excuse to drink plenty of red wine to help break it down. I would definitely recommend giving it a go; the smell alone whilst cooking the meat is worth it alone. Your primitive instincts will take over and you may even resort to grunting as a means of conversation. The ultimate caveman dining experience!
If you fancy buying it yourself you can go to www.stonegrills.co.uk and can purchase a kit for around £30, or you can visit the Beluga Café in the London Docklands.