For almost two decades, I have been busy helping to turn The Ivy, Le Caprice, J Sheekey and Scott's into the most celebrated restaurants of our time – and now finally I am moving on to new pastures. Seventeen years is quite a long time, I suppose, to stay in any one job, but in this restaurant business it's a bit more than a job – it becomes your life. If you surround yourself with good people, however, the whole business becomes a joy. I've had a lucky innings and I've also been fortunate enough to keep most of my staff and key players interested, both front and back of house, many of them having served 10 years or more with me.
Holding on to your best staff is the key, especially when you have several restaurants to look after – and without them there's no way we could keep the restaurants full and customers happy. I should also mention that working alongside my former colleagues, the restaurateurs Chris Corbin and Jeremy King, was about as good as it gets; they were and still are the best at getting the most out of staff, even if it was sometimes a little painful on the way.
Getting through the tough interviews when I applied for the job at Le Caprice was a major hurdle to overcome, but once I was part of the family it was pretty difficult to escape – although Corbin and King managed to do it themselves a few years ago when they left the family to fend for themselves! Now, sadly, it's my turn to leave, though I'm not moving to the West Country as some reports have suggested. I'm not quite ready to reveal my plans yet, but don't worry – I promise to keep you informed!
Serves 4 as a starter
Risotto never made it on to the menu at Le Caprice before my arrival and I was determined to get a silky rice dish agreed by Chris and Jeremy. After several visits to Spain I became inspired by the country's black rice, which was more of a paella than a risotto.
For the stock
A good knob of butter
1 medium onion, peeled and roughly chopped
1 leek, roughly chopped and washed
1 bay leaf
10 black peppercorns
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
A sprig of thyme
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1kg fish bones, washed and chopped
20g squid ink
Half a glass of white wine
For the risotto
1tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
25g (3 sachets) squid ink, available to order from good fishmongers
200 g carnaroli rice
Risotto stock (see above)
A good knob of butter
100g cleaned squid, cut into small rough 1cm dice
To make the stock, melt the butter in a large saucepan and add the vegetables and spices. Cover and cook gently for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft. Add the fish bones, squid ink, white wine and cover with water. Bring to the boil, skim off any scum that forms and simmer for 40-50 minutes.
Strain the stock through a fine-meshed sieve. It should have a good, strong flavour, if not, reduce it a little. Keep it hot until you make the risotto, or if you are making the stock in advance, reheat when you are ready to use it.
To make the risotto, heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan, add the rice and stir on a low heat for a couple of minutes, without allowing it to colour. Add the squid ink, stir well then slowly add the stock, a ladle or two at a time, ensuring that all the liquid has been absorbed before adding more, stirring constantly.
When the rice is cooked add the butter and a little more stock if the risotto seems a bit dry: it should be wet but not runny. Meanwhile fry the squid in the butter and scatter it over the risotto to serve.
We used to serve hundreds of eggs Benedict every week at Le Caprice, especially at Sunday brunch. Le Caprice was the epicentre of the Sunday brunch. It used to go on for hours – into dinner time – and Sunday was usually the day that the chefs, including myself, were suffering from the night before. This classic was subsequently renamed after the cul-de-sac in which Le Caprice resides.
For the Hollandaise sauce
1tbsp white wine vinegar
1 small shallot, roughly chopped
A few sprigs tarragon
1 bay leaf
2 large egg yolks
250g unsalted butter
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
4 slices (100-120g) smoked salmon
2 English muffins, halved
4 large eggs
First, make the Hollandaise sauce. Put the vinegar, water, shallots, herbs and peppercorns in a saucepan and reduce the liquid to about a dessertspoonful. Strain it and put to one aside.
Melt the butter and simmer it gently for 5-10 minutes until it looks like it is separating. Remove it from the heat, leave it to cool a little, then pour off the pure butter where it has separated from the whey and discard the whey. This helps to keep the sauce thick. Put the egg yolks into a small stainless-steel bowl with half of the vinegar reduction and whisk over a pan of gently simmering water until the mixture begins to thicken and become frothy. Slowly trickle in the butter, whisking continuously – an electric hand whisk will help. If the butter is added too quickly, the sauce will separate.
When you have added two-thirds of the butter, taste the sauce and add a little more or all of the reduction and season with salt and pepper. Then add the rest of the butter. The sauce should not be too vinegary but the vinegar should just cut the oiliness of the butter. Season again with salt and pepper if necessary, lay some clingfilm directly on the sauce to stop it forming a skin and leave in a warm, not hot, place until needed. The sauce can be reheated briefly over a bowl of hot water and lightly whisked again, but try to avoid doing this if possible.
To serve, lightly toast the muffins and soft-poach the eggs. Place a slice of smoked salmon on the muffin with the poached egg on top and coat it with a couple of generous spoonfuls of the Hollandaise sauce. Add caviar as an optional extra.
Crispy duck and watercress salad
Serves 6-8 as a starter
I conjured this up as a tongue-in-cheek homage to the tourist dish that features on Chinese restaurant menus. It actually started its life using pork but quickly changed to duck when sales were low. Looking back, duck should have been the obvious choice to begin with, but I was still learning about the palates of our regulars.
Today it's the best-selling dish on The Ivy and Le Caprice menus and it's one of those dishes that gets tweaked a little every so often and will probably remain on the menu forever, along with fishcakes, shepherd's pie and hamburgers.
1 x 1.5 kg duck or 12 duck legs
Water to cover
3 star anise
1 head of garlic, roughly chopped
60g ginger, roughly chopped
20g coriander, stalks only, washed (keep the leaves for the salad)
1 tsp Chinese five-spice powder
For the duck sauce
4tbsp tomato ketchup
Juice of half an orange
1tbsp soy sauce
2tbsp sesame oil
For the soy and sesame dressing
2tsp soy sauce
2tsp rice vinegar
1 clove of garlic, peeled and crushed
A small piece of root ginger, peeled and finely grated
1tbsp sesame oil
3tbsp vegetable or corn oil
For the salad
4 bunches of watercress, washed and thick stalks removed
110g white radish (mooli), peeled and cut into 1cm-wide ribbons
60g bean shoots, washed
1 bunch of spring onions, trimmed and shredded on the angle
Oil for deep frying
The leaves from the coriander (see above)
1tbsp sesame seeds, lightly toasted
1-2 punnets of Asian sprouts or cresses, like shisho, mung, etc (optional)
Cover the duck with the water, add the herbs and spices and simmer gently for 45 minutes. Remove the duck from the stock and set it aside to cool. Skim the fat off the stock and use it as a base to make an Asian Soup.
Whisk together all the ingredients for the duck sauce, then whisk all of the ingredients together for the soy and sesame dressing .
To assemble the dish, remove duck from the bone, then cut into 1cm-thick slices. Pre-heat the oil for deep frying.
Arrange the watercress on the plates with the white radish, bean shoots and spring onion.
Fry the duck until crisp, then drain on some kitchen paper or in a colander and mix it with the duck sauce until it is nicely coated. Arrange it in piles on the salad and spoon over the dressing. Then scatter the coriander and sesame seeds over the top (and sprouts if you are using them) and serve immediately.
Brochette de lotte à l'echalote
Now this dish unfortunately never made its way on to any of the menus, although we used to talk about it regularly at Le Caprice tastings. You might well wonder why the brochette never made it to the finishing line – because as you can see from its title it simply rolls off the tongue in a rhyming slang sort of way. Jeremy texted me recently to remind me of the brochette de lotte à l'echalote, and as a further tribute to times gone by, I thought I should create this dish once and for all – even if it never does gain a place on the menu.
1kg monkfish fillet, cut into 2cm chunks
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
A little olive oil for grilling
For the sauce
4 large shallots, peeled, halved and finely chopped
A good knob of butter
100ml white wine
150ml fish stock
150ml double cream
100g cold butter, diced
11/2tbsp chopped parsley
To make the sauce, melt the butter in a saucepan and cook the shallots for 2 minutes until soft. Add the wine and simmer until it has completely reduced, then add the fish stock and do the same. Add the cream and simmer until it has reduced by half then remove from the heat and whisk in the butter until it has emulsified into the sauce; season to taste. Pre-heat a grill or ribbed griddle pan. Thread the pieces of monkfish on to skewers, season, brush with oil and cook for 3-4 minutes on each side. Serve the sauce separately or poured over.Reuse content