Food & Drink: Entertaining - Welcome to the Sugar Club

Holding a party and want to offer your guests something smarter than smoked salmon, stilton and canapes? The Sugar Club's Peter Gordon has the answer. Annie Bell salutes the ultimate cup-a-soup. Photographs by Georgia Glynn Smith
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Indy Lifestyle Online
The best party food I have had in a very long time was served up Peter Gordon at the launch of his The Sugar Club Cookbook. Admittedly, it was held at the restaurant, so there was a cast of thousands, five chefs, two barmen and several waiting staff to smooth things along. Not to mention Gordon's design on the food. But this doesn't remove the extraordinary success of the way he approached the menu.

The starting point was a five-course, sit-down meal. Then, as so often happens, numbers escalated. "We wanted to do more than canapes," says Gordon, "so we thought about what dishes could be miniaturised and handed round on little plates or on platters."

The result, as Gordon puts it, was "fingerish food" that took its cue from all over the world - whether Asian street markets or Spanish tapas. As you might expect from Gordon, it did not fall neatly into any one type, it was bar food, finger food, canapes and teatime rolled into one, with a hint of sushi woven in. The menu was devised with five starters, six main-course tasters, and, finally, three sweets, all served at small tapas size, some on a side plate with a fork, a soup in a coffee cup and desserts in miniature. It was carefully paced: a few items and then a break, and then a few more, with an emphasis on vegetarian dishes to start, moving on to meatier offerings.

The food spanned crisps; plantain fritters with a dollop of tapenade; slices of roasted sweet potato with smoky paprika aioli and Parmesan; a single fat scallop that sat in a spoon, grilled and ladled with sweet chilli sauce and creme fraiche; a small china teacup filled with hot and spicy chicken, coconut and shallot laksa; sticky squares of treacle tart, and a tiny dollop of tamarillo ice cream in an espresso cup.

With each round of appetisers, there came different wines. This was Ashley Sumner's domain. Over the years of working with Gordon, he has spent considerable time trying to match the right wines to the jazzy combinations the chef puts together. "Sometimes the wine will go with three items, and then a chutney or a vinaigrette will ruin it," he says, "there needs to be an overall effect."

At the launch, they served Benedick Grand Reserve Champagne to start - "nothing too dry or yeasty". It was designed to cope with the famous grilled scallops with sweet chilli sauce and creme fraiche. Next came two New Zealand whites: a Vavasour Reserve Sauvignon Blanc and Seresin Chardonnay Reserve, both wines with more ageing than average. And, finally, a Mount Langi Shiraz and Staton Hills Cabernet Sauvignon, rich and sufficiently opulent to cope with the garlicky beef pesto.

Now, I can appreciate that this was far more ambitious than anything you might like to try on your own at home, but even scaled down to a handful of different appetisers, it makes a blissfully refreshing change from more formal canapes. And unlike canapes, the food handed to you on a plate was real - there was just enough to satisfy greed without interfering with appetite.

Of course, it wouldn't have worked nearly so well had the food been too delicate. I can think of plenty of more restrained French fare that simply wouldn't make the grade served up like this. The intensity and mixture of flavours in Peter Gordon's cooking made every little taster sufficiently interesting. But enough of theory. Here's to the Sugar Club and some of their favourite dishes.

Coconut, oyster and salmon laksa, makes 6 large bowlfuls

This soup, as Peter says in the book, is really sumptuous. If you aren't already familiar with laksas, they are a hearty bowl of noodle soup containing fish or meat, often very spicy and with a base of coconut milk. As a large bowlful, they make a meal, as a small one an excellent lead into a main course. Beyond that, they can vary hugely to include chicken, squid, crab, or quails' eggs and won tons. If you do want to serve this as a large bowlful, then add 200g/7oz of cooked vermicelli noodles, ideally rice ones, to the finished soup.

2 medium-hot red chillies, seeds removed

4 cloves of garlic, peeled

1 x 6 cm/212in fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped

1 tsp finely ground coriander seeds

2 handfuls of fresh coriander, roots, stems and leaves

50ml/2fl oz sesame oil

250g/9oz salmon fillet, skinned and bones removed, sliced into 12 pieces

50ml/2fl oz fresh lemon juice

1.1litre/2pt unsweetened coconut milk

800ml/28 fl oz fish or vegetable stock

50ml/2fl oz Asian fish sauce

12 freshly opened oysters plus their juices

sea salt

18 fresh mint leaves

3 spring onions, finely sliced

Put the first six ingredients into a food processor and puree to a coarse paste. Mix the salmon and lemon juice together and leave to marinate at room temperature while you prepare the laksa. Heat a large pot, add the paste and fry for 1 minute, stirring well. Add the coconut milk and stock, bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes. You can prepare it to this point in advance.

To serve it, add the fish sauce and salmon drained of lemon juice and cook for 1 minute. Add the oysters and their juices and cook for another 30 seconds, then adjust seasoning with salt. Serve in warm bowls scattered with mint and spring onions.

Roasted sweet potato with paprika, feta and almond pesto, makes 800ml/28 fl oz

Serve this pesto on slices of roasted sweet potato, very popular at the Sugar Club where Peter also grills them. He says "the best sweet potato we can get in England is orange-fleshed and usually comes from Israel or South Africa. The variety we have in New Zealand is called `kumera' and has a striking purple-coloured flesh and skin. It was the ability to grow and store these tubers that determined how well a Maori tribe survived from one season to the next."

You need quite slim potatoes. Peel and slice them, then paint with olive oil and season them, and cook for about 20 minutes in an oven heated to 200C (fan oven)/220C (electric oven)/425F/Gas 7 until lightly coloured. Serve them warm or at room temperature with a dollop of the pesto on top. This is a large quantity of pesto, you may like to halve it.

2 tbsp sweet paprika

4 cloves of garlic, peeled

310g/11 oz shelled almonds, toasted for 10 minutes in an oven heated to 170C (fan oven)/180C (electric oven)/350F/Gas mark 4

2 large handfuls of roughly chopped parsley

200g/7oz feta cheese

450ml/17 fl oz extra virgin olive oil

50ml/2 fl oz lemon juice

sea salt

Pulverise the first four ingredients to a coarse paste in a food processor. Crumble the cheese and add with half the oil and puree for 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the remaining oil and the lemon juice and puree for further 15 seconds. Tip into a bowl and stir in salt to taste.

Sweetcorn fritters with tapenade, makes 40-50 small fritters

These are like little pancakes, but more rugged. Gordon says they are good "with creme fraiche, smoked salmon and chives on top or made into larger fritters and topped with a salad of chopped rocket and tomato as a starter. I've even made them as a side dish for grilled chicken. The fritters can be eaten hot, cold or at room temperature." Or you can cover them in foil and reheat them in a low oven. If you can't get corn on the cob then substitute two cans of corn.

4 cobs of corn

4 eggs

3 tbsp creme fraiche (or soured cream)

2 tbsp polenta grains, sieved to remove lumps

2 tbsp cornflour

2 tbsp finely sliced spring onions

12 tsp each of salt and freshly ground black pepper

vegetable oil for frying

To serve: 150 ml/5fl oz creme fraiche, tapenade

Steam or boil the corn for 3 minutes, then refresh in cold water. To remove the kernels, hold one end of the cob and rest the other on a chopping board. Run a knife along its length and cut the kernels off, turning the cob as you go. Mix the remaining ingredients (apart from the oil) together well and then stir in the corn. Heat up a frying pan and add a small amount of oil. Drop tablespoonfuls of the mixture into the pan (but don't overcrowd it). Cook for 1 minute before flipping the fritters over carefully and frying the other side. Serve with the tapenade and creme fraiche.

Tapenade

This is my recipe and not Peter Gordon's, but he recommends it as an accompaniment.

110g/4oz black olives, pitted

15g/12oz capers

shot of brandy

12 clove garlic

black pepper

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Finely process all the ingredients except for the olive oil in a food processor. Add the olive oil in a thin stream until it is the consistency of a thick spreadable paste.

Sauteed chicken livers with tomato and chilli jam, makes 570ml/1 pt

Peter says "this jam is indispensable in my kitchens both at home and at work. It's great on toast with a fried egg on top, lavished on a slice of roast leg of lamb or pork, or used to glaze a fillet of fish or fowl under the grill. Or eat it with goat's cheese and rocket in a sandwich."

Sautee as many chicken livers as you require in clarified butter, leaving them pink in the centre. To clarify your butter melt it in a saucepan, skim off the surface foam and decant the clear liquid, discarding the milky residue in the base. Serve the chicken livers on small plates with some of the jam spooned over, sprinkled with coarsely chopped coriander. You could also serve them on a bruschetta.

500g/18oz very ripe tomatoes, washed

4 red chillies, seeds removed

4 cloves of garlic, peeled

2 thumbs of ginger, peeled and roughly chopped

25ml/1fl oz Asian fish sauce

310g/11oz golden caster sugar

100ml/312 fl oz red wine vinegar

Reduce half the tomatoes, the chillies, garlic, ginger and fish sauce to a fine puree in a blender. Although some people have an aversion to seeds, don't strain this as the tomato seeds provide the pectin that will make the jam set. Put the puree, sugar and vinegar in a deep pot and bring to the boil slowly, stirring all the time. When it reaches the boil, turn to a gentle simmer and add the remaining tomatoes, which you have cut into 5mm/14in dice, seeds, skin and all. Skim off the foam and cook gently for 30-40 minutes, stirring every five minutes to release the solids that settle on the bottom. Also, be sure to scrape the sides of the pot during cooking so the entire mass cooks evenly. When it's done, pour into warmed glass jars and allow to cool to room temperature before storing in the fridge or a cold larder.

Ann O'Carroll's Treacle Tart, serves 10 or 20 miniature

Peter reckons this is the most delicious treacle tart to be found in London. I would go further and say the world.

Sweet lemon pastry:

200g/7oz unsalted butter, chilled and diced

350g/12oz plain flour

112 tsp finely grated lemon zest

110g/4oz icing sugar, sifted

1 small egg, lightly beaten

Filling:

4 eggs

finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon

550 ml/19 fl oz golden syrup

400ml/15fl oz double cream

150g/5oz brioche crumbs (or bread or croissant crumbs)

1 eating apple, peeled and grated

Place the flour and butter in a food processor, give it a quick burst at high speed to reduce it to a crumb-like consistency, then add the lemon zest and icing sugar and give it another quick burst. Add the egg to bring the dough together, if necessary you can add a drop of milk, remove and knead it for a few seconds. Wrap it in clingfilm and chill for 30 minutes.

Lightly flour a worksurface and thinly roll out the pastry. Line the base and sides of a 30.5 cm/12in tart tin 2.5 cm/1in deep by slipping the base of the tin under the rolled out pastry and then into the tin, don't worry if you end up partly pressing it into the tart tin. Trim the edges and chill for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 170C (fan oven)/180C (electric oven)/350F/Gas 4. Line the case with paper parchment and baking beans and cook for 15 minutes. Remove the paper and beans and cook for another 10-15 minutes until the case is evenly gold.

Heat the oven to 150C (fan oven)/160C (electric oven)/320F/Gas 2.6. Whisk the eggs, lemon juice and zest for half a minute, then add the golden syrup and cream and whisk until the mixture emulsifies. Add the crumbs and grated apple and mix well. Pour the mixture immediately into the precooked tart case, place it on a baking tray and bake for 55 minutes. The filling should be golden and slightly puffy, if you move the tart around it should wobble without showing any signs of being liquid.

`The Sugar Club Cookbook', by Peter Gordon, is published by Hodder and Stoughton, pounds 20

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