Dawn of a new menu
Kleo Tabaku has just celebrated his second year as head chef at The Old Palace but already his team has doubled in number and the hotel has become a magnet for discerning diners and afternoon tea takers.
Born and trained in Albania, Kleo served his apprenticeship in Italy before moving to Newcastle to gain further experience. There he met his wife, whose subsequent move to a post at the University of Lincoln brought them both to the city in 2010.
“I worked firstly at another uphill restaurant but I have always been ambitious and a kitchen of my own was the next step. When The Old Palace opened as a hotel and was looking to appoint a sauce chef, it was a perfect opportunity for me,” Kleo explained.
In August 2013 he was appointed head chef.
Growing up, Kleo had always been used to fresh, home grown produce. He mentioned his father as his early culinary influence, who as an accomplished home cook produced wonderful seasonal meals.
“The Old Palace has its own vegetable garden on one of the terraces and we now use our own grown herbs and some produce in our menus,” said Kleo. “I love to be busy and I have plans for more but Lincolnshire and especially our local supplier are able to provide an excellent choice of local, seasonal ingredients. We can be very flexible and pick the best of what is available on the day.”
In turn, the seasonally inspired menus can be changed on a daily basis.
Kleo explained that he finds some of his best thinking time is early in the morning, before his wife and young family are awake.
“I have always been able to manage with only a few hours sleep a night and I keep a pen a paper at the ready to write down ideas for recipes that pop into my mind,” he said.
The location of The Old Palace is one of the finest Lincoln has to offer. Right in the heart of the uphill Cathedral quarter, this former home of the Bishops of Lincoln is perched on the edge of the escarpment with a terraced lawn, vineyard and gardens offering majestic views across the city; and yet its proximity to the Cathedral precinct gives both a stunning location and seclusion.
Working from their compact kitchen, Kleo and his five chefs have risen to the challenge of launching the hotel’s food offer from scratch and now the Lounge Menu offers light bites and lunches from 12noon until 9.30pm, seven days a week. The elegant rooms are ideal for private dining or special events and the hotel now hosts over fifty weddings each year.
“One of my favourite jobs is sitting down with couples to help them make their menu choices,” said Kleo.
Sunday Lunch offers a choice of roasts as well as options themed to the time of year. It is always advised to pre-book as this is one of the busiest days for the hotel. Two courses are priced at £15.95, while three are £19.95.
Afternoon Tea, which is also served seven days a week, has become a speciality of The Old Palace. Kleo said: “It has amazed and delighted me how popular our Afternoons Teas have become since they were introduced. I always knew that we had a perfect venue to make this traditional British ritual a special experience. We have focused on serving a fresh, delicious tea served with great style.”
All the cakes are freshly baked with a choice of at least four including brownies, carrot cake, banana and chocolate cake and Victoria sponge. Individual trifles include fresh rhubarb or other fruit from the garden. Fresh baked scones – plain, cheese or fruit – are served warm from the oven; choices of sandwiches and loose leaf teas or coffee complete the menu. Priced from £12.95 per person, this is a treat which has proved irresistible for many. For an extra indulgence there is a Gin and Tonic Afternoon Tea priced at £17.95 per person which offers a tipple of one of the Ely flavoured gins with your chosen mixer. What could be more enjoyable when the sun is over the yardarm, or rather over the cathedral, on a summer’s day?
Recognition of his hard work is growing for Kleo. This year the hotel has applied for an AA Rosette. Next month, Kleo will be one of the guest chefs cooking in the Food Hall on the second day of the Lincolnshire Show, Thursday 25th June. He will also cook later in the year at the Food and Gift Fair held at the Lincolnshire Showground at the end of November. “This is the first experience for me of cooking live in front of an audience. I am going to feature a fish dish of wild sea bass and lemon posset brûlée served with strawberries for dessert. It should be a really fun day to showcase our kitchen and the hotel.”
Kleo has given Lincolnshire Life readers a preview of the recipes which we have included ready for the show.
With afternoon service gathering pace Kleo headed back to work, still gushing with ideas for the next themed menu.
Lemon Posset with Almond & Pistachio Biscotti and Marinated Strawberries
Almond and Pistachio Biscotti
250g plain flour
150g caster sugar
1tsp baking powder
Zest of 1 lemon
100g unsalted butter (chilled and diced)
100g blanched almonds (whole)
50g pistachios (whole)
2 eggs (beaten)
Preheat the oven to 180oC. Mix the flour, sugar, baking powder and lemon zest together. Add the butter and rub together into a breadcrumb consistency (by hand or using a food processor). Stir in the almonds and pistachios. Add the eggs and bring together to form a dough (try not to overwork). Dust the work surface with flour and roll the dough into two 30cm long sausages. Place onto a lined baking tray and bake for 20 minutes until it turns a light, golden colour. Take out the oven and using a serrated bread knife cut each sausage into diagonal strips 1cm wide. Lay all the pieces flat on the baking tray and return to the oven for 5 minutes. Turn the biscotti over and place in the oven for a further 5 minutes. Leave to cool completely on a wire rack and store in an airtight container until required.
150g caster sugar
600ml double cream
Zest the lemons and mix with the sugar in a bowl. Rub together until the sugar becomes damp. Tip into a saucepan with the juice of the lemons and the double cream. Bring to the boil, then take off the heat and leave to stand for 10 minutes. Sieve the mixture to remove the lemon zest then pour into glasses or ramekins. Place in the fridge overnight to set.
75g caster sugar
120ml Framboise liqueur
Cut the stalks off the strawberries and wash. Slice in half and shake together with the sugar in a bowl. Pour in the liqueur and set aside at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Grilled Wild Sea Bass, Fennel Beans, Baby Courgette and Asparagus, Sauce Vierge
4 wild sea bass fillets
1 banana shallot (finely diced)
1 clove of garlic (finely sliced)
Knob of butter
2 tomatoes (skinned, seeded and finely diced)
1 lime (zest and juice)
2 tbsp basil (chopped)
100ml olive oil
Fennel broad beans
300g broad beans
1 fennel bulb (sliced in half)
Baby courgette and asparagus
8 baby courgettes with flowers
16 asparagus spears
Put the shallot, garlic and butter in a pan and set over a low heat until softened. Add the tomatoes and cook for 5 minutes. Add the lime and basil. Stir well and season. Set aside at room temperature until ready to serve.
Fennel broad beans:
Bring a pan of salted water to the boil and have a bowl with iced water prepared. Blanch the broad beans for 2 minutes. Lift out using a slotted spoon and immediately transfer them into the bowl of iced water. Now add the fennel bulb pieces to the boiling water and blanch for 3 minutes. Transfer to the iced water with the broad beans. Once cooled, drain off the iced water then shell the broad beans and finely slice the fennel. Set aside.
Baby courgette and asparagus:
In batches of about 5, blanch the vegetables in salted boiling water for 2-3 minutes then transfer into a bowl of iced water to cool then drain and set aside.
Wild sea bass:
Preheat the oven to 180C. Place a non-stick frying pan over a medium-high heat and add a drizzle of oil. Season the underside of the sea bass with salt and pepper then place in the pan, skin-side down, for 5-6 minutes. Transfer to the oven for further 5-6 minutes until the flesh turns white. Transfer the sea bass onto a plate.
Set a griddle pan over a high heat. Slice the courgettes in half lengthways and put them in a bowl with the asparagus. Toss with a drizzle of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill for a couple of minutes.
Tip the sliced fennel and shelled broad beans into the sea bass pan. Toss with a drizzle of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Fry for a couple of minutes to warm through. Plate up all the elements and serve immediately.