Archive for June, 2010

This is like the continued adventures of Simon in the professional kitchen. If you have read my blog before, you may know I went to a cookery lesson in Essex earlier in the year. At the time I had also booked a Masterclass at Corrigan’s of Mayfair. Some of you may have noticed I have two major Chef heroes, Michel Roux Jr and Richard Corrigan so deciding on this masterclass was a no brainer. I thought reasonably priced too considering you get to meet the great man himself. I twittered/tweeted for many weeks and certainly in the days running up to it and will apologise now to my friends on Twitter, I am sorry if it got annoying, I was just a little bit (a lot) excited.

The day was for me with my wife choosing to take advantage of us being in London to go shopping. We stayed at the Cumberland at Marble Arch the night before to avoid any train difficulties on the Saturday morning. I was excited (sorry have I said that?) even on the Friday night, starting to feel nervous which I kept telling myself was silly. Afterall I was paying for this, it wasn’t like I was actually cooking as part of the staff. I think it dawned on me though how much I admire Mr C and love his style of cooking.  So to relax we stayed in the hotel and ate at Rhodes W1 Brasserie which was delightful, one of the best pork chops, actually the only Pork T-bone, I have ever had. A little drinking was done, okay a lottle. A bottle of champagne between us to celebrate the birth earlier that morning of our new Nephew, Connor, and a bottle of wine with the meal. (yes we had had a drink during the day also).

So I wake, very early, stomach in knots as the day has arrived. I’m like a schoolboy, I can’t sleep, it’s 5 a.m. please let me sleep. Needless to say I am ready very early for my short walk down Park Lane to Upper Grosvenor Street. The day starts at 10am and I left the hotel at 9. Yes like it would take an hour. I get there about quarter past, hover around and then take a walk round the block. Nice area, I may buy a house in Mayfair (when that lottery wine comes in). Eventually I decide 20 minutes isn’t too early and guess what, I was first to arrive. What I didn’t expect though is as I walked through the door, was to see Richard leant on the bar having a coffee. “Hello” he smiles with a knowing look, I’m sure he realised I was very excited and I think my face may have given away the fact I was slightly in awe. We had a brief chat, I sat at the bar with some very nice coffee and Richard disappeared to get ready.

Cornish Crab Cocktail & Melba Toast

The other 14 guests arrived and we chatted, drank more coffee (like I needed the caffeine) and some lovely biscuits. The anticipation was killing me, itching to get in the kitchen. I was thinking, is this what it’s like when someone gets a back stage pass to see their favourite band. Richard calls everyone’s attention and introduces us to Chris McGowan, Head Chef and Partner. The two Irishmen talk about the menu we will be cooking and even hearing them just talk through it you can hear the passion in their voices about the food. The usual health and safety notices go through, “knives are sharp, don’t cut your fingers”. Good advice. And with that we are led to the kitchen.

We all stand there, very quiet and I wonder if everyone is as nervous about me. We’re split into three groups of five and spend time on each course. Our group started on the starters. I expertly peeled an avocado, well the basics have to be done and I sometimes forget that it’s not all cheffy, things need peeling. The one thing I can’t get over though is that the kitchen is actually quite small but the sizes of pots, ovens etc are huge. There is also a major lack of gadgets in the Corrigan’s kitchen. This is definitely somewhere  the ingredients do the talking. No cooking something in a bag for fours hours and Richard was keen to point out. Back to the starter, we are sweating down fennel, deglazing the pan with Pernod ready to add to the avocado for a very light mayonnaise to go with some crab. Ah yes crab, where is it? Richard asked that too to be told it hadn’t turned up. In fact the crab was so late, Richard popped out to Bentley’s to get some from there. The benefit of having your own fish restaurant nearby.

I had a go at making some Melba toast. Now I had no idea how to make it but now I do and how I managed to cut that bread I will never know. My hands were shaking as I attempted the first one. Still shaking on the second but then I got the knack so my family may find it on the menu for our next big meal.

Reggie Johnson's Duck, Endive & Orange

Time to move on, we go to mains next, duck laid out in front of us, several ducks actually to be roasted. Also some duck that’s been slowly braised which we have to flake and of course try, and try again, well we must make sure it’s okay. I had a huge tray of duck in front of me and could quite happily have taken it to a dark corner and devoured the lot. Why a dark corner I’m not sure, suddenly that sounds a bit creepy. We are talking meat with Chris while we do this and getting tips like always cooking on the bone to keep the heat and flavour, then remove the bone just before serving. To prove the point, Chris gets a duck breast quickly cooks it and let’s us try. Nothing like a freshly cooked piece of duck breast, just with salt & pepper. Simple food tasting so good. Then the quick crispy chicken skin he made which was like a roast dinner flavoured crisp when he was finished.

Okay onto the pastry section. Our last section which in a way is sad as we know when we’re finished there it’s all over in the kitchen. This was a bit more fun and larking about as we, well I was a bit rubbish. We helped make part of the souffle as the other two groups had done their part. We also had a go at making bread rolls for their dinner service. I don’t think they will be serving them and at some point my rolls will be nothing more than breadcrumbs in another dish. There were two guys round the corner making the same rolls. In the time we took to do 3 each, so only 15 rolls, the guys had produced 8 trays (about 30 on a tray). It is just one of those moments when you applaud someone even though it’s just a bread roll. I should mention here though that all the bread at Corrigan’s is made on site. Oh and if you haven’t had it, you must try their soda bread whether it be at Corrigan’s or Bentleys. Actually you can get it at Hix too, they realise they couldn’t do better.

All through the day we have been cooking with the chefs from each section with Richard keeping an eye on proceedings and offering advice and answering questions. It wasn’t what I was expecting but then, do i really know what I expected? No I guess I didn’t. That is the cooking over really, we have helped prep, getting things ready not to leave the experts to finish off. We exit the kitchen proudly in our Corrigan’s aprons where most of us have partners or friends joining us for lunch. Champagne is already flowing and it continues to do so as the restaurant is closed. After a lot of champagne we are shown to the private dining area where the wine starts flowing just as freely. We sit to enjoy the food that we may or may not have prepared. I am sure that Melba toast was mine though.

Corrigan's very well stocked bar

The food is just phenomenal and to see that some of it was actually quite simple, it does make you want to go and try, experiment and my passion for cooking increased hugely. Ever since that day, just over two weeks ago I have hardly stopped thinking food. I’ve already made a version of the mayonnaise and I am waiting for the right time try the duck. This wasn’t as much a lesson, it was an inspiration. If just some of the knowledge that Richard, Chris and the team passed on has sunk in, I know my own cooking will have improved greatly. As we leave we are handed a goodie bag with cook book, soda bread and petit fours. Of course we get to keep the apron too.  Thanks guys, a great morning, great lunch and yes we will be visiting again.



The Menu

Cornish Crab Cocktail

& Melba Toast

Wine – 2008 Cheverny, Domaine de Veilloux (Biodynamic) – Loire


Reggie Johnson’s Duck,

Endive & Orange

Wine – 2006 Toro, Vetus – Toro


Rhubarb Souffle

& Ginger Ice Cream

Wine 2006 Gaillac “Grain de Folie Douce”,

Domaine Causse Marines (Biodynamic) – South West France


Masterclass costs £250 per person with lunch guest for additional £90.

For more details visit www.corrigansmayfair.com


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A long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away……… cue the dramatic music. Okay so it actually started in Essex where a courageous couple headed off t the far distant place of London. Anyone wondering what I’m going on about yet? I shall explain.

We booked tickets to see Star Wars In Concert and the day finally arrived on the 3rd April. We headed off to the O2 through the manic bank holiday train cancellations and engineering works. (Transport for London? What transport?). This was my wife’s idea surprisingly and I was like a child all day, filled with excitement.

We had no idea where we would be eating at this point and having heard there were many venues at the O2 we just headed there to see what there was. We got as far as Gaucho which is near the main entrance. I love steak and the force called out to me, the Dark side of the force I feel as I looked at the black exterior and décor. Given the occasion I really did expect Lord Vader to appear at any moment.

Plenty of tables free for lunch and given that mainly it was families at the O2 I wasn’t surprised many headed for the cheaper options. We walk to the lift, opposite their wine room. Do we have to go upstairs? I’ll just wait here I think. Unfortunately my wife over ruled me and we head upstairs, shown to our cow hide seats. Not a place for vegetarians. Our waiter is cheery and polite, explains Gaucho to us and shows us the meat board. So much steak, looks so good and I could have just taken the lot, put it on the grill and that would have done me.

My wife was on water as she wasn’t feeling too well so I have a beer and order a starter just for me. Crab cocktail with potato. It was fresh, light and a kick of Tabasco. I’m not a fan of hot spicy food so love it when I get something to spicy for me that I can’t stop eating because it tastes so good. My wife orders a pork steak, more like half a pig really. I go for a plain rump steak, 300gr with a mushroom sauce on the side. We get fries, cheesy roast potatoes and a salad to go with it. Perfectly grilled to medium rare, a steak that must have been more than 2 inches think in places. It tasted so good and I think it is one the best mushroom sauces I have ever had, creamy, thick and well mushroomy. After my main there wasn’t “mushroom” left for dessert. (Groan).

I went for a Malbec with my steak and boy did it go down well. We both had a citrus tart for dessert which was a little too sweet for me but still very zingy and full of flavour. I ordered a dessert wine which battled against the dessert but only because it was cheaper than the one they had matched to it. I should have listened and paid the extra few pounds.

Definitely will be visiting a Gaucho restaurant again and I know there is one in Swallow Street, off Piccadilly so it won’t be long before I do. It is a meat lover’s dream.

A few days later, the following Tuesday we were back in London as we had the day off.  As on our last two visits to London we had not been able to visit one of our favourites bars, we popped along to Selfridges to the champagne bar. We got there and as we approached the stairs, I kept thinking it’s had a make over. We then saw the new sign “Hix” and I suddenly remembered reading about it. Now I’m not a great fan of Mark Hix, well let me correct that, I haven’t been a fan in the past but probably because I’ve never sat down and looked at one of his menus.

We sat at the bar, our retro glasses filled with champagne (nice touch with the glasses Mark). I look through the bar snack menu and see a few things to go for. We went for a selection of snacks, pork crackling with belly pork, quails egg shooters and root vegetable crisps. The crackling is amazing, crisp like crunchiness with a sweet apple sauce. My wife liked it so much, we were given a second helping on the house. Although I was half thinking the bar man was flirting with my wife as he also got her to drink some extra champagne so he could just finish the bottle.

The quails egg shooters are interesting, an acquired taste. They are warmed, so basically are raw, with some crunchy bacon on top. I down the first shooter, and was unsure about it, the experience being a  little alien to me. However, I always want to try new things so I try a second one after a sip of the bubbly stuff. I take the second egg and this time it goes down easier and I get the taste of the yolk. The last time go down very easily. My wife didn’t try them and four was pretty hard going. I decided to have an oyster as well, yes just the one as I can hardly resist it when I see oysters on a menu these days.

Then the crisps, which you can’t say much about other than they were quite sweet, very tasty and overall very good. We had fun trying to figure out some of the vegetables. Now that doesn’t mean you couldn’t tell what they were, I think once you deep fry most things, the flavour changes and if your palate is trained enough, you may not recognise all the flavours. It was just a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours. The staff were excellent and our bar man on the day was jovial, polite and very funny. My wife loved him. We are plannign a retun visit the the restaurant to try the main menu and I have a feeling I may be visiting at least one other Hix restaurant.

It was then off shopping as we were fully energised and we did shop a lot. The problem is, my wife has a thing about just picking things up and not trying for sizes. So as you may guess, we get home and find that two of the tops she bought, do not fit properly. Jumping at this I say “Don’t worry, we’ll pop back in on Saturday” already thinking of the many places to lunch.

So come Saturday, one week after the Star Wars visit, we find ourselves in London for the thrid time. We are walking up Piccadilly and I keep repeating “Bentleys” and my wife soon gives in, well it wasn’t much of a problem to get her to agree. It’s warm so we sit outside, watching the world go by and I realise that I may be a while choosing. I have an oyster, yes another one and had just the one as I wanted the Sea Snails for starters. They were delicious, so good and so fresh. Michala went for the white asparagus with blood orange. The asparagus I thought was quite distinctive from the asparagus we would normally have, a little more bitter which is where the oranges worked so well.

We both had the same main course, pollock with coconut, carrot and I think orange. Right you will all be glad to know here that I have now bought a notepad for when I go out as I keep forgetting the exact details of dishes.  Suffice to say though, the pollock dish was great. Something I had never tried before and will definitely have again. I have to say though, the star of Bentley’s is the soda bread. I first tried soda bread in Dublin on holiday a few years back and try it everywhere I see it. Mr Corrigan’s soda bread is by far the best I have ever had. Maybe he’ll give me the secret at the masterclass.

And so we finish, we go home. One week, three visits to London and amazing food, great drink and the best company I could wish for. I hope you don’t all get bored of my constant trips to London and I will try to find some different places to go rather than my usual haunts.

As always when I think of these days and finish these great meals, I raise a glass to the chefs, the food and drink producers, and my foodie friends. And on this occasion I say “May the Force be With You”. I now return to adulthood for a short while.

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