Mirabelle: Join the Mayfair set

Chef Marco Pierre White reveals how to create the dishes that are helping restore his Mirabelle restaurant to its glory days, when Orson Welles, Winston Churchill and Vivienne Leigh were among the regulars

When I acquired the Mirabelle restaurant in 1997 I felt as if I had found myself in charge of the crown jewels or a stately home. It was a restaurant with a world-famous name, suffused with history, now rather down on its luck, but still with that aura of glamour and prestige which no number of false dawns and reopenings had quite removed.

My aim was to bring the Mirabelle into the modern age, making it much less elitist, and offering really good food at affordable prices. One idea that occurred to me when planning its reopening was to see what could be learned by looking at the cooking that had been done there in the past, and possibly reconstructing some of the restaurant's classic dishes.

When looking over the old menus, some of which go back to the Fifties, it is interesting to see how little things changed over two decades - apart, that is, from the prices. The hors d'oeuvres comprised caviare (which cost 22s 6d for an ounce in 1955 and pounds 15 in the Seventies); snails a la bourguignonne, lobster cocktail, avocado with crab, York or Bayonne ham, a chef's pate, smoked trout, potted shrimps, and that post-war delicacy the grapefruit. The range of fish was limited by today's standards. For more than 20 years the restaurant served a Polish borscht which it called "Barszcz a la Cracovienne".

The recipes that I have included here are generally much more accessible to the home cook than some of those I have published in previous books, which reflects the fact that restaurant food these days is becoming simpler.

`The Mirabelle Cookbook' by Marco Pierre White is published by Ebury Press, priced pounds 25. The Mirabelle restaurant, 56 Curzon Street, London W1 (0171-499 4636).

Lemon tart

Serves 8

The secret of a good lemon tart is that the filling should be firm and clear, and the pastry light and sweet. You can't serve it immediately it is cooked, because the filling will be too runny. Let it set for at least an hour. It will still be warm, and at its best - it will also taste excellent cold the next day.

500g plain flour

175g icing sugar

250g unsalted butter, diced

grated zest of 1 lemon

grains from a vanilla pod

11/2 eggs

50g sieved icing sugar, to dust

flour, to dust

For the lemon filling

9 eggs

400g caster sugar

5 lemons (zest of 2 and juice of all 5)

250ml double cream

1. Make the flan case as follows. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Sieve the flour and icing sugar, and work in the butter. Make a well in the flour mixture, and add the lemon zest and vanilla grains. Beat the eggs and add to the well. Knead the mixture with your fingers quickly but thoroughly until smooth, then wrap in clingfilm. Cool in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

2. Roll out the pastry on a lightly-floured surface to a size just large enough to fill your flan tin, which should be 20cm (8in) in diameter and 3.75cm (11/2in) deep, with a removable base.

3. Grease the tin, and fold the dough into it, gently easing it into the corners, and ensuring an overhang of not less than 1cm (1/3in).

4. Line the flan with greaseproof paper, and fill with enough dry baking beans or lentils to ensure the sides as well as the base are weighted. Bake in the oven for 10 minutes.

5. Remove the beans and greaseproof paper, and trim the overhang. Return the flan to the oven for a further 10 minutes.

6. Make the lemon filling as follows. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs with the caster sugar and lemon zest. When the mixture is smooth, stir in the lemon juice, and then fold in the cream. Continue to whisk until all ingredients are thoroughly amalgamated, and remove any froth from the top.

7. Reduce the oven temperature to 120C/250F/ gas mark 1 or 2. Pour the cold filling into the hot pastry (which ensures that the pastry case will be sealed and hold the filling). Bake for 30 minutes.

8. To serve, preheat a very hot grill, sieve the icing sugar over the tart when it comes out of the oven, and then flash briefly under the grill to caramelise the sugar. Cut into 8 slices, and decorate with a sprig of mint.

Sea bream with citrus fruits

Serves 4

2 heads chicory

1 whole lemon

2 tablespoons olive oil

salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 oranges (zest, 4 segments, and squeeze the remaining juice)

2 grapefruits (4 segments, and squeeze the remaining juice)

2 more lemons (4 segments, and squeeze the remaining juice)

4 bay leaves

20 coriander leaves

4 x 250 g black bream fillets

Sea bream are not easy to find, in any of their many varieties, so buy them when you see them - they are not expensive, and the flesh is sweet, firm and delicate. This recipe is for the black bream, which is called red porgy in the USA but is actually dark grey. You need a fairly large specimen, so it can be filleted and pinboned. The recipe can also work well with red mullet or sea bass. Depending on the weight of the fish, the cooking time (see step 4) may need to be reduced.

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Cut the chicory heads in half and squeeze the lemon over them. Add 2 teaspoons of olive oil, and season. Cover in tinfoil and cook in the oven for about 20 minutes until the chicory is tender. (Reheat for 30 seconds while you are cooking the fish.)

2. Place 2 teaspoons of olive oil with 1 tablespoon of each of the fruit juices and the orange zest in a pan and bring to simmering point. Add the bay leaves and coriander, and keep hot to one side.

3. Arrange 3 of each of the fruit segments on each plate (9 segments per plate). Keep 1 segment of each to one side.

4. Slowly heat the remaining olive oil in a non-stick frying pan, adding the fish, skin side down, before the oil

gets too hot, and cook for a minute or two until the skin is crispy, then 30 seconds on the other side.

5. To serve, put chicory in the centre of each plate, the fish on top (skin side up) and then the 3 remaining fruit segments plus a bay leaf. Then spoon over the citrus sauce, and decorate with coriander.

Chicken a la vinaigrette

Serves 2

It is much easier than it used to be to find a chicken that actually tastes of something, that hasn't been intensively raised. They cost a bit more, of course, but the difference is worth it. The best chicken, to my mind, are poulets de Bresse, from Burgundy in France, but generally free-range chickens and corn-fed birds always taste better than broilers.

1.5kg free-range chicken

15g unsalted butter, softened

200g green beans

100ml vinaigrette

2 medium potatoes

1 shallot, chopped

1tbs chopped parsley

50g pan-roasted hazelnuts (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6. Prepare the chicken by taking out the wishbone and removing the legs and winglets (the latter can be used for making stock).

2. Moisten the breast and thighs with the softened butter and fry in a pan for about 15 minutes until golden.

3. Cover the chicken in foil, and roast in the preheated oven for 15 to 20 minutes until cooked through. Leave to rest for 8 to 10 minutes.

4. Boil the beans until tender, then drain well. Cook the unpeeled potatoes until tender, then skin and slice into rounds.

5. Bone the chicken, and slice it widthways into 3 or 4 pieces. Lightly toss the chicken, then the beans, potatoes, shallot, parsley and hazelnuts (if using) in the vinaigrette.

6. Arrange the beans in the centre of each plate and set the chicken on top - with a thigh underneath each breast. Arrange the potato slices around, scatter with hazelnuts, shallot and parsley, and pour any remaining vinaigrette over.

Smoked salmon properly garnished

Serves 4

The best smoked salmon has moist, glistening flesh, and is rosy pink with a faint hint of orange. The stronger cures tend to come from Scotland, made with Atlantic salmon, but Irish and English cures can also be delicately flavoured. This dish is a classic starter - lemon juice is traditional because it cuts through the flavour and brings out the richness of the salmon - and this is how we present it at the Mirabelle. You can buy horseradish sauce, or make it yourself from horseradish root. Bought sauce can be surprisingly variable in strength.

500g sliced smoked salmon

black pepper

20g flat-leaf parsley, cut into fine strips

50g shallots, finely chopped

50g baby capers

50g gherkins, chopped

2 hard-boiled eggs, grated

2 lemons, halved, wrapped in muslin

100g horseradish sauce

30ml double cream

cayenne pepper

juice of half a lemon

4 slices buttered brown bread

1. Divide the salmon equally between the four plates. Grind a little black pepper over them.

2. Place the shallots, parsley, capers, gherkins and eggs in five separate piles on the edge of the smoked salmon, and put the lemons in the middle.

3. Make the horseradish cream by mixing together the horseradish sauce, cream, cayenne and lemon juice, and serve it in a little jug on the side, with the buttered brown bread.

Tarte tatin of caramelised onion and goat's cheese

Serves 4

If you have your puff pastry already made, this is a quick dish to produce and a popular starter. Any sort of goat's milk cheeses, which the French call chevres, will do - and there is a huge variety, in all shapes and sizes, to choose from.

2 large Spanish onions, skinned

40g unsalted butter

40g caster sugar

200g puff pastry

100g goat's cheese

rock salt

flat-leaf parsley to garnish

1. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6. Top and tail the onions, and cut them in half. For each onion half put 10g each of butter and sugar in a non-stick blini pan, and push the half onion into the butter. Place on a low heat, and slowly cook the onion until soft and golden. Remove from the stove, and allow to cool.

2. Roll out the puff pastry to make four discs 3mm (1/4 in) thick and 130mm (5in) in diameter, and chill them.

3. In 10cm (4in) ramekins, place the puff pastry discs on top of the onion halves, and fold down the sides. Put each dish in the oven and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown.

4. Turn the tarts out onto plates, pouring over them any juices from the pans.

5. Place 3 thin slices of goat's cheese on top of each, and place briefly under a hot grill until the cheese starts to melt. Serve, garnished with a little rock salt and parsley.

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