The restaurant business is a funny old world – just when you think consolidation is the order of the day, the opportunity to acquire a great new site comes up and you find that you cannot turn it down. What I mean by a "great site" is this: somewhere where you don't have to dig too deep into your pockets to do a good refurbishment, and which has the added bonus of being a perfect central location.
Restaurant refurbs are well-known for getting out of hand and breaking the bank before the place even has a chance to open; so although we restaurateurs like to be as cutting-edge as possible in design terms, we also need to keep an eye on spending too much on unnecessary things.
Fortunately, the site for my new place had already had a substantial amount invested in it, and this was an added attraction. It's in Brewer Street in London's West End, on the former premises of a place called Aaya – and as well as having a basement bar, it will now feature my own brand of British food.
I'm very excited because I have a great opening team for the new restaurant – somewhat different from the time, a couple of years back, when I opened my Chop House in Smithfield. Then I had a team that I hadn't worked with before, and found it pretty tough trying to relay my philosophy to a bunch of strangers. Happily most of them are still with me and we now have a really good, solid team at the Chop House.
Kevin Gratton, who was head chef at Le Caprice, is heading up the new kitchen, and the bar downstairs is going to be the home of an old mate, Nick Strangeway, who mixes some of the best cocktails in London. Fingers crossed, we open at the end of the month.
So, to kick off, here are the recipes for four new dishes I will be featuring in the Soho restaurant; I hope you enjoy them.
Cockle, cider and herb broth
Cockles are a vastly underrated shellfish, full of flavour, on a par with any good clam – and a fraction of the price, too. If you can't get hold of good cockles, then buy surf or palourde clams. Before you make the soup, run the cockles under slow running water for 20 minutes or so, agitating them with your hand or a spoon.
500-600g live cockles
150ml dry cider
1 leek, halved, cut into rough 1cm dice and washed
A couple of good knobs of butter
tbsp plain flour
500ml fish stock
200ml double cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2tbsp chopped green herbs (such as parsley, chervil and chives)
Drain and rinse the cockles (or the surf or palourde clams) in cold water. Place them in a saucepan with the cider, cover and cook over a medium heat for 3-4 minutes until they have just opened, shaking the pan as they are cooking, then drain in a colander over a pan to reserve the cooking liquid.
Meanwhile, heat the butter in a large thick-bottomed pan and gently cook the leeks for 2-3 minutes, stirring every so often.
Add the flour and stir well, then gradually add the cider cooking liquid and the fish stock, whisking as you are adding it to avoid lumps forming, season lightly and cook on a high heat until it has reduced by about half.
Add the cream and continue simmering until the liquid has reduced by half again. Check the seasoning, add the herbs and cockles and bring back to the boil.
Partridge with puffball and elderberries
Puffball mushrooms are a great versatile mushroom that you can serve on toast, simply diced up and pan-fried like ordinary mushrooms for a light lunch. They tend to vary massively in size, so you might have some left over for breakfast that you can slide a fried egg on to.
1 medium-sized puffball mushroom, weighing about 400-600g
A little vegetable or corn oil for brushing
4 oven-ready partridges
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
A couple of good knobs of butter, softened
A handful of small salad leaves (optional)
For the dressing
2tbsp cider vinegar
2tsp Tewksbury or Dijon mustard
3tbsp rapeseed oil
Preheat the oven to 220/gas mark 7. Season the partridge and rub with the softened butter, then roast in the oven for 15 minutes; remove and leave to rest. Meanwhile, heat a ribbed griddle pan or heavy-based frying pan, brush the puffball with oil and season and grill for 3-4 minutes on each side. Make the dressing by whisking the vinegar, mustard and rapeseed oil together and seasoning; then stir in the elderberries.
Lay the puffball on to warmed serving plates. Remove the legs from the partridge and cut away the breasts from the bone with a sharp knife. Cut the breasts in half and arrange on the puffball with the legs. Spoon the dressing around and scatter the leaves over if using.
This is a nice rich tea-time cake, or you could serve it as a dessert with, say, an ice-cream such as marmalade or ginger. I've served it here with cheese as there is a British tradition, although admittedly not a terribly popular one, to serve fruitcake with cheese. But a cake like this, or even a good old piece of Christmas cake, is really quite delicious with blue cheese – try it.
450g self-raising flour, sifted
A good pinch of salt
225g caster sugar
A good pinch of nutmeg
A good pinch of mixed spice
A good pinch of cinnamon
225g cold butter, cut into small cubes
The finely grated zest of 2 oranges
The finely grated zest of 1 lemon
1 large free-range egg, beaten
150ml Guinness or dark ale
Preheat the oven to 160C/gas mark 3.
Mix the flour, sugar and spices together in a bowl then rub in the butter with your fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Mix in the grated orange and lemon zest then gently mix in the egg and Guinness; transfer to a round cake or a loaf tin. Cook for about 1 hours or until the point of a skewer comes out clean when inserted in the centre. Leave to cool a little in the tin then turn out on to a cake rack. Serve at room temperature or warm with cheese, thick cream or ice-cream.
Buttermilk pudding with blackberries, cobnuts and Kingston black
Although we have seen the last of the summer fruits there are still blackberries in the hedgerows for the picking. The other great ingredient in this pudding is Kingston black, one of Julian Temperley's apple brandy aperitifs which I love using in desserts (ciderbrandy.co.uk).
12g leaf gelatine (4 sheets)
50g caster sugar
250ml double cream
250ml Kingston black
24 or so cobnuts or filberts, shelled
1-2tsp icing sugar
Soak the gelatine in a bowl of cold water for a few minutes until soft, then squeeze out the excess water. Bring 100ml of the buttermilk to the boil with the sugar then remove from the heat and stir in the gelatine until dissolved.
Leave to cool, then whisk into the cream, the rest of the buttermilk and 100ml of the Kingston black. Pour into shallow moulds or coffee cups and leave to set in the fridge for 2-3 hours or overnight.
Meanwhile, place the cobnuts on a tray and scatter the icing sugar over. Lightly toast under a medium grill, turning them every so often until they are a little caramelised.
To serve, dip the pudding moulds very quickly in and out of hot water, then turn out on to serving plates. Scatter the blackberries and cobnuts around the puddings and spoon around the rest of the Kingston black.
Hix opens at the end of the month at 66-70 Brewer Street, London W1 (020-7292 3518). Mark Hix will be signing copies of his new book, 'British Seasonal Food', at the Aldeburgh Festival this weekend. Contact aldeburghfoodanddrink.co.uk
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