I miss a busy restaurant service. The rush, the thrill of it, the buzz and excitement of a kitchen in the middle of serving a room full of hungry punters. I miss the feeling before a busy service. The feeling of nervous anticipation, worry, anxiety and fear at what the night will bring. I miss that last hurried cigarette before service, squatting out back by the bins with a pilfered beer, some pro plus washed down with a redbull or maybe something a bit stronger to get you through the night. I miss that grim look of determination on my colleague’s face as we turn to go back into the kitchen knowing full well that in less than an hours time we’ll be toiling under a mountain of orders. Most of all, I miss the feeling of camaraderie, the feeling of being part of a team, a ragtag band of socially retarded, borderline alchoholic, criminally minded cooks. Some of my happiest memories are from working in shit restaurants turning out hundreds of meals every night with a team of 10 or so cooks. This is 20 years ago now and even though, back then, I was a thoroughly miserable, angry and generally obnoxious young teenager, the nights I spent getting bullied and harassed by more senior cooks are some of my fondest memories.
“Christ on a bicycle, what on Earth is he babbling on about today….WHAT’S YOUR POINT?” I hear you mutter. Well, dear reader, the reason I bring this up today is because I have recently come to a sad realization. Having taken a short break from Tahitian life over the last few weeks and travelled to France and then back home to London, I have been lucky enough to have had time to eat out a lot. Eating out is by far my favorite pass time (ok it’s not, but this is a family show). I never cook outside of work really and can probably still count on both hands the number of times that I have cooked a meal for myself or another that hasn’t involved getting paid for it (I just managed to restrain myself from putting in a following sentence about me cooking for people only if something that rhymes with ‘getting paid for it’. But I didn’t. Look at me, I’m growing.) I love to eat out. On my own or with others, I don’t care. I prefer with others but will happily crack open a good book while demolishing a 10 course tasting menu. I’ll have a tasting menu for lunch and then another for dinner if the opportunity arises (which it did when I was back home, 4 michelin stars in a day) and if anyone ever brings out a 9 course tasting breakfast then I’ll be there as well. Before you all think I am some monstrous Michelin obsessed snob, I do go to other restaurants. If I think or have heard or read somewhere that a place might put something tasty ‘En Ma Belleh’, then I will be there to check it out. The best restaurant tipoff I ever had?…..Nandos. Thanks Sis.
But while indulging myself over the last few weeks, I have walked past a lot of alleyways and side streets. And looking down these alleyways and side streets, has brought back a lot of memories, of which I spoke earlier. Seeing all those chefs, cooks, dishwashers, waiters, waitresses and busboys standing hunched over a fag at the back of their respective places of work has brought with it a sudden realization. I am no longer one of ‘them’. It saddens me to say it, but it is the truth. You see, I sold out a while ago. I chose this life of the ‘private chef’. There was a point, a cross roads, where I could have chosen to stay and work in restaurants and hotels and maybe work up to Michelin glory myself one day, and stayed part of the clan. Or….yachts. Cooking for 10 guests (on a busy day), table d’hote not a la carte (this basically means that they don’t choose from a menu, but just eat what they are given). No budgets or GP’s to worry about. No labour margins to worry about. Sun, travel and quite a tidy pay cheque at the end of the month. Guess what I chose.
Occasionally I’ll visit a restaurant and have such a great time that I want to show my appreciation in another way other than just the service charge (Oi! This is a family show remember!). I want the boys and girls who slaved away over my wonderful meal to know that I really appreciate what they are doing. So I will maybe ask the head waiter how many staff, front and back, are working that night and then buy them all a beer or whatever their poison is. This always goes down well and as soon as word gets out that I cook as well then it usually prompts a quick tour of the kitchen and suddenly me and the head chef are bezzie mates. But then comes the question that I now dread.
“Where do you work?”. Ah…well…yes…erm…funny story….
These guys are fighting the good fight, working ridiculous hours in intolerable conditions because they love food and want to share that love of food with others. They are now my heroes. I would have so loved to be heading up a trail blazing kitchen in London. But it just never really happened. As soon as I realized that people would actually pay me to cook abroad and travel, I was out of there. See you later UK. So to turn around to a chef who is striving for perfection and trying to get his second star in London and tell him that well actually I cook for 6-10 guests is…well frankly, embarrassing.
But hey, the moneys great, so I’ll get over it.
The photos are all from restaurants I have visited over the last 5 weeks.
Stinking Bishop and Lincolnshire Poacher with a glass of Riesling Auslese at Arbutus in Soho.
Marinated Scottish scallops with wild sea bream, pickled cucumber, mint yoghurt and avocado oil was the second course of 10 I had for lunch at Pied a Terre near Goodge Street, London. This was by far the nicest meal i had in terms of food. The company was great too as i was sat by myself.
Probably my favourite thing to eat is good ham. This was a little place we found while wandering around Soho. Just a very simple wooden bar with a guy behind it hand slicing some awesome Jamon Iberico de Bellota. Some freshly fried Padron peppers with sea salt and a lovely glass of Palo Cortado dry sherry.
Petit fours at Pied a Terre and also below some nice Brie de Meaux and crisp breads.
Dessert at Helene Darroze @ The Connaught was the highlight of what was over all a disappointing meal. I am beginning to learn that high profile restaurants that are built in hotels are often very distracted and not necessarily as focused on the food as maybe they should be. Having worked in one myself that was a part of the kitchen in the Mandarin Oriental London I know that it is indeed hard to focus on your small restaurant while working in an enormous kitchen that is also doing banqueting, room service, staff canteen and a couple of other large scale restaurants. However, as i said, this creme brûlée was very nom nom nom.
Another disappointment was Nobu Berkeley Street which turned out to be a very poor version of its famous Mayfair flagship. Just a very rowdy dining room filed with suits wolfing down a quick bento box on their lunch break. The highlight for me was this seared toro with yuzo miso and jalepeno salsa.
While we are on the subject of raw fish, we found another little gem in Soho called Ceviche. A small Peruvian dining room where they don’t take reservations but if the dining rom is full, you can sit at the bar behind which, the cooks are busy preparing your food. Luckily for us, the dining room was full as i always prefer to watch the action and also be close to the barman. We shared lots of small dishes (again, the best way to eat in my opinion) such as Seabass ceviche, Tiradito of salmon with tiger’s milk, satsumas and mirin, Mussels with Chalaca salsa, Pulpo al olive and all washed down with some cocktails made from the local poison Pisco. Below is the octopus and also the Alianza lima which was a mixed ceviche of prawns, squid, sea bass and octopus in rocoto chilli tiger’s milk and choclo corn.
And yes, after a while of wandering who the unlucky chap was who had to go and milk the tigers we finally plucked up the courage to ask what this ingredient might actually be. It is infact the name they give for the juice that is created from a ceviche. So a mixture of lime juice, fish and chilli all blended together and often served on the side as well.
Next up in London was a visit to Heston Blumenthal’s latest outpost which is called Diner by Heston Blumenthal and is inside the Mandarin Oriental. The concept is that he has taken olde English dishes from the last few hundred years and brought them up to date. So on the menu there are dishes like Meat Fruit (c.1500), Broth of Lamb (c.1730) or Nettle Porridge (c.1660) and then there will be a description of the dish and its origins.
I tried the Salamugundy (c.1720) which was chicken oysters (the two tiny but delicious lobes of meat located either side of the back that are usually thrown away), salsify, marrow bone and horse radish cream. My dinning companion Helen (also a chef) had the Rice and Flesh (c.1390) which is pictured below and was described as Saffron, calf tail and red wine. It was a risotto basically but very nice and at £16.00 for a starter you would expect it to be nice.
The two desserts we ordered were Brown Bread Ice Cream (c.1830) with salted butter caramel, pear and malted yeast syrup.
and Tarte of Strawberries (c.1591) with camomile, orange blossom cream & strawberry sorbet.
Last but by no means least, i went on a bit of a pilgrimage with another chef mate of mine to Restaurant Le Louis XV Alain Ducasse in Monaco. For those of you who don’t know, Alain Ducasse is one of Frances great chefs. All our Ramseys and Rouxs started off in his kitchens in Paris back in the day. So to have the chance to grab a trough at his gaff was indeed an exciting prospect. We managed to get a table on the balcony for lunch overlooking casino square. It were dead posh.
I think the highlight for me was the bread, butter and cheese. Me and Tina love a good cheese trolley and in Monaco we were not disappointed.
Ok, that’s all from me for now. I am sorry to have kept you all waiting for so long but as you can see, I’ve been a busy boy. Hopefully i shall be back soon with more tales from the high seas. I should hopefully be heading away from Tahiti soon towards Galapagos and Panama so much to write about me thinks.