Archive for the ‘United Kingdom’Category

Doyle shows Irish hospitality, sip by sip in London

The Bloomsbury Club Bar in a Doyle hotel in London
Nothing says “welcome” like a good hotel bar. I certainly found that to be the case at the three Doyle hotels (www.doylecollection.com) in London. (That’s the Bloomsbury Club Bar above.) The family-owned collection launched in Dublin in 1964 and made its first foray into the British capital twenty years later.

The Marylebone


The Marylebone (47 Welbeck Street, +44 20 7486 6600) was the first Doyle property in London, but a recent renovation has given it the most contemporary design of the three hotels. The clean lines and bright, warm colors strike a perfect balance between modern style and good old-fashioned comfort. The Marylebone’s 108 Bar has an entrance right off the sidewalk. It’s just a short walk from Marylebone High Street, the main shopping drag of this stylish urban village. With a long, curving bar, lots of comfortable seating, big windows, 108 Bar feels like a rather fancy version of a proper Irish local.

Mixologist Engji Shana at the 108 Bar in The Marylebone, a Doyle hotel in London

This being London, however, the mixologists are immersed in the city’s cocktail culture. Engji Shana (above) mixed me The Marylebone, the hotel’s signature champagne cocktail. It’s a very modern twist in the Chambord Kir Royale.

THE MARYLEBONE


20ml vodka infused with elderflower
90ml champagne
10ml Chambord
raspberries
flower

Pour vodka into champagne flute. Float champagne on top by drizzling down the twists of a bar spoon. Add Chambord. Garnish with raspberries and a flower.

The Bloomsbury


By contrast, the lower level Bloomsbury Club Bar at the Bloomsbury Hotel (16-22 Great Russell Street, +44 20 7347 1000) is dark and seductive. It’s a far cry from the building’s early beginnings as the YWCA Central Club, with 86 bedrooms for young ladies, a concert hall, library, two restaurants, and a gymnasium.

The Central Club was formally opened in 1932 by the Duchess of York, the late Queen Elizabeth (the current queen’s mother). Described as the Club’s Patron, she returned to celebrate the Golden Jubilee in 1982. The naming of the bar recalls the building’s early years. Mixologist Brian Calleja (below) has a soft spot for the old fashioned Gin and Milk Punch, which he told me was the favorite of the Queen Mother. It is a traditional restorative dating back to the 18th century. The double straining is important because it removes the curds from the milk. Some mixologists also add lemon juice.

Mixologist Brian Calleja of the Bloomsbury Club Bar at the Bloomsbury, a Doyle property in London

GIN AND MILK PUNCH


50ml Haymans Old Tom Gin
10 ml sugar syrup
50 ml full fat milk

Put ice in a cocktail shaker. Add ingredients and shake well. Double strain. Pour into a saucer cocktail glass. Garnish with grated nutmeg.

The Kensington


Classic Victorian townhouse architecture gives The Kensington hotel (109-113 Queen’s Gate, +44 20 7589 6300) a traditional, clubby feel. It’s just right after a day sampling the royal trappings of the neighborhood—from Kensington Gardens and Kensington Palace (home of Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge) to the Victoria & Albert Museum and Royal Albert Hall.

The K Bar nestles between the drawing rooms where breakfast and afternoon tea are served and the Town House restaurant. The space sets itself apart with wood-paneled walls, low lighting, and a smoky blue glass ceiling. It’s a place to settle in a for a drink and good conversation. Like The Marylebone, The Kensington has its own signature champagne cocktail. Mixologist Mantas Ignatavicius (below) served it to me.

Mixologist Mantas Ignatavicius of the K Bra in The Kensington, a Doyle hotel in London

THE KENSINGTON CHAMPAGNE COCKTAIL

sugar cube
rhubarb bitters
10 ml Calvados
Perrier Jouët Grand Brut

Place napkin over a champagne flute. Set sugar cube on napkin and drip bitters onto it until saturated. Drop cube onto bottom of glass and add Calvados. Top off with Perrier Jouët Grand Brut.

Whitby’s Magpie Cafe famed for fish and chips

Diners wait to enter the Magpie Café in Whitby, United Kingdom
Back in November we wrote about John Long’s Fish & Chips, the eatery that’s almost an institution in Belfast, Northern Ireland. It’s been around since 1914 and does a bang-up job with the United Kingdom’s signature fast food.

Much as we relished the Belfast version, nothing beats eating fish and chips by the sea. One of the best places we’ve discovered is the Magpie Cafe (14 Pier Road, +44 1947.602.058, www.magpiecafe.co.uk) in the seaside town of Whitby. It’s in North Yorkshire about 250 miles from London.

Ruins of a medieval abbey loom above the village of Whitby in North Yorkshire, home of Magpie CafeWhitby’s long, sandy beach makes it a favorite destination for British vacationers. The ruins of a medieval abbey and an ancient graveyard perch high on a bluff and add atmosphere to the tidy town. A busy fishing fleet lends a lively sense of purpose—and guarantees plenty of fresh catch for lovers of fish and chips.

Duncan Robson’s family has operated the Magpie Cafe for more than 50 years and he feels a great responsibility to uphold the standards of what he calls “a quintessentially British dish.” Drawing a comparison that visitors from the United States are sure to appreciate, Robson calls fish and chips “the English equivalent of a hamburger—quick and easy.”

Fast food, however, need not be slapdash. The Magpie always uses fresh fish, much of it from the local fleet. Once diners have settled in the 1750 building with windows looking out on the harbor, they are offered a choice of cod or haddock for their fish and chips. Cod is considered the “meatier” of the two fish and is served with skin and bones removed. The stronger-tasting haddock is served without the bones, but with the skin intact to boost the flavor. The fish is dipped in Magpie’s secret-recipe batter. Both the fish and the thickly cut potatoes are deep-fried in beef tallow. Its high smoke point produces a crisper, more flavorful fry than vegetable oil.

Fish and chips is the most popular dish at the Magpie Café in Whitby, United Kingdom The Magpie offers “small” and “regular” portions, which is Yorkshire-speak for big and bigger. The small portion is more than enough for most diners, particularly when served with a side of mushy peas. Virtually unknown outside the British Isles, these “marrowfat peas” are a large-seeded version of the green garden pea that is allowed to fully mature before being dried. Mushy peas are made by soaking the peas overnight, then cooking them with seasoning until their texture more or less resembles oatmeal. They are admittedly something of an acquired taste, but nonetheless an indispensable accompaniment to a traditional fish and chips meal.

It’s a good idea to leave a little room for dessert as the Magpie offers about 20 choices. One of the most popular is another British classic: sticky toffee pudding served with crème anglaise or a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Robson kindly shared the recipe that has been on the Magpie menu for more than 30 years.

STICKY TOFFEE PUDDING


Duncan Robson’s father Ian tells with mock horror of a restaurateur whose idea of sticky toffee pudding was to slice up a Jamaican ginger cake and cover the slices with sauce. Says Robson, “There’s no substitute for the genuine article.”

9 servings

Ingredients


For the sponge cake (or “pudding”)
1 1/2 cups pitted and chopped dates
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 cups boiling water
5 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup superfine sugar
2 eggs, beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder

For the toffee sauce
1 1/2 cups (firmly packed) dark brown sugar
10 tablespoons butter (1 stick + 2 tablespoons)
1 cup heavy cream

Directions


For the sponge cake, place dates and baking soda in a bowl and cover with boiling water.

Set oven to 375ºF.

In a separate bowl, mix together the butter and superfine sugar. Then beat in the eggs one at a time and add the vanilla extract. Beat in the flour and baking powder. Stir in the date mixture. (This will produce a very runny batter.)

Pour batter into a greased 8-inch-square ovenproof dish and bake at 375ºF for 40 minutes, or until the sponge cake springs back when pressed.

While the sponge cake is baking, make the toffee sauce. Place brown sugar, butter, and heavy cream in a heavy saucepan. Stirring well, bring to a boil for three minutes.

When the sponge cake is cooked, prick with a skewer several times, then pour the toffee sauce over the sponge cake. Serve immediately with crème anglaise, whipped cream, or ice cream. Serve any extra sauce on the side.

27

01 2017

London meat pie saves pretty penny at lunch

pie sign
I sometimes find myself doing business in big international cities where the cost of living far exceeds my budget. The challenge at lunch is to eat well without breaking the bank. In Paris that could be a croque monsieur or a sidewalk hot dog on a baguette. I’d opt for a square of pan pizza in Rome. My preference in Madrid is a thick wedge of tortilla española (Spanish potato-onion omelet) and a beer. In London (and many other British cities), the solution is a meat pie.

Back when Simple Simon met a pie man, a British meat pie cost a penny. In the cafe of a department store like Selfridges, Marks & Spencer, or John Lewis, a meat pie will now set you back about £10. That’s a bit over $12 at the current exchange rate. A meat pie is one of the cheapest full meals in London. As a general rule, they have a flaky crust filled with plenty of meat, vegetables, and thick gravy. On cold and rainy days (which are so rare in London, right?), they are gastronomic revelations that make a Yank sorry for every mean thing he’s ever said or thought about British food.

Outstanding meat pie spots


Not all department store pies are bargains, but the Welsh lamb shank pie in the Gallery restaurant at Fortnum & Mason (181 Piccadilly, London; +44 20.7734.8040; www.fortnumandmason.com) justifies its £19.50 price tag ($24). Deeply savory and encased in a delicate puff pastry crust, it is a very civilized way to partake of what is basically a workingman’s dish. You get to sit at a real table with linens and metal cutlery, after all.

eating in London pubFor a superb compromise between a humble pie and an exalted one, it’s hard to beat the Coal Hole (91-92 Strand, +44 20.7379.9883, nicholsonspubs.co.uk). This classic high street Victorian pub boasts a serious kitchen and a cellar full of cask ales. In the last year, Coal Hole has embraced a new culinary identity as a “speciality pie house.” That means the kitchen downstairs in the old coal cellar bakes a variety of meat pies, most of them selling for £12.75 to £13.95 ($15-$17). On my last visit, I enjoyed a beef and ale pie and a pint of ale. That’s another good thing about British gastronomy: a “pint” is 20 fluid ounces.

CHICKEN, LEEK, AND BACON PIE


homemade pieThis classic British meat pie is a distant cousin to an American chicken pot pie yet tastes completely different. This version can be made in a springform pan or in a souffle dish. It serves four with a salad. For less messy serving, prepare one day ahead and refrigerate. Remove pie whole from pan and cut into quarters. Reheat each quarter in a separate serving dish.

Ingredients

Pie crust
2 cups flour
10 tablespoons butter, chilled and diced
1 egg yolk
pinch salt
ice water

Filling
2 tablespoons butter
3/4 teaspoon olive oil
2 leeks, white only, thinly sliced
4 strips bacon, chopped in 1-inch pieces
2 cups diced roast chicken (about 12 oz.)
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
6 tablespoons flour
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup milk
salt and pepper to taste

Directions

For crust
Place flour and butter in a food processor with steel blade. Process until mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add egg yolk, a pinch of salt and just enough water just to bring dough together (about a tablespoon). Pulse until mixture comes together. Remove from food processor, roll into ball, and wrap in plastic wrap. Let rest for 30 minutes. (Refrigerate if kitchen is warm.)

For filling
Meanwhile, make the filling. Place butter and olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add leeks and cook until softened, about 2 minutes. Add bacon and continue cooking for 5 minutes. Stir in chicken and thyme,

Place flour in bowl. Slowly stir in chicken stock and whisk to dissolve. Stir in milk. Add mixture to pan with chicken, bacon, and leeks. Bring to a simmer, stirring continuously until sauce thickens. Set aside to cool.

Set oven to 400ºF.

Divide dough into four pieces. Combine three pieces and roll out to 11-inch circumference. Line 6-inch springform pan, draping extra dough over edge. Spoon the chicken and leek mixture into the pie case.

Roll out remaining dough into 7-inch circle. Lay on top of filling. Crimp the edges of the pie and place in the oven over a drip pan to bake until pastry is golden and crisp and filling is cooked through, about 30-35 minutes.

24

01 2017

What to bring home from a British grocery store

British groceries Whenever I visit a British grocery store I scour the shelves for the most unusual items. But it’s really the comfort foods that define a cuisine — or at least taste like home. That’s the lesson I learned from a lovely woman in Leeds who had lived and worked in Taiwan for 15 years. When I asked her what I might want to buy in the city’s big Sainsbury grocery store, she immediately rattled off the items that she had most craved during her years abroad.

At the end of every visit home, she would pack herself a big care package for her return trip to Taiwan. Here are the foods she couldn’t do without:

Heinz Tomato Soup. It’s ultimate comfort food.

Heinz Baked Beanz. Brits consider this version superior to the American version.

Heinz Salad Cream. This tangy dressing has a consistency like mayonnaise. Dubbed “pourable sunshine,” it’s as popular on sandwiches or baked potatoes as it is on salads.

Marmite. This yeast extract with a strong, salty flavor is equally loved and hated, even in Great Britain. The dark brown paste is usually spread on toast, with or without a little butter.

Walkers Salt & Vinegar Crisps (potato chips, to Americans). Walkers is the favorite brand in the UK and the salt and vinegar variation has a tangy, salty flavor that is quite addictive.

Cadbury Dairy Milk Whole Nut Bars. Introduced in 1933, this bar pairs Cadbury’s creamy, high milk content chocolate with whole hazelnuts.

And here are a few more items that I like to throw into my grocery cart:

HP Sauce. This secret-recipe brown sauce has been manufactured since 1899 and is a favored accompaniment for beef. The original version is available in many U.S. grocery stores, but it’s worth seeking out some of the other flavor options, including the blend of HP and Guinness.

Branston Rich & Fruity Sauce. This mix of tomatoes, apples, and dates is blended with herbs, spices, sugar, vinegar, and molasses to make a sweet but tangy brown sauce. It’s good on scrambled eggs.

Cadbury Flake. The crumbly bar of thin sheets of milk chocolate is the classic adornment to a scoop of ice cream.

A very Fortnum Christmas to you


Since business took me to St. James’s Street in London (mostly to visit the iconic wine shop of Berry Bros. & Rudd, which has been there since 1698), there was no way I could miss visiting Fortnum & Mason (181 Piccadilly; tel: 0845.602.5694; www.fortnumandmason.com), practically around the corner. I could tell that Christmas was coming when I met chocolatier David Burns (above) just inside the front door, handing out samples of his chocolates. (The lavendar English cream that he gave me was as divine as I’d expected.) Burns and his wife Keely operate the small firm that has supplied handmade chocolates to F&M since the 1920s.

By the first week of October, my favorite London purveyor of gourmet goodies had transformed its first floor into the Christmas shop. Given the paucity of British autumn holidays, the retailers start Christmas early. But no one does the flavors of Christmas quite like the Brits, who have spun a whole gastronomic fantasy about holiday sweets and savories (and sweet savories, like mincemeat). For example, who can resist a jar of Christmas rum butter to accompany Christmas puddings and pies?

The store is a great place to buy holiday gifts for foodie friends (I’ll take the whole-grain mustard, please, and a bottle of F&M’s own beef extract–a hideously expensive commodity ever since mad cow mania shut down the British beef industry for a while). Maybe the nicest of the Fortnum & Mason teas is the white Yunnan, but I find the packaging of the “Royal Blend Stronger Tea” irresistibly colorful.

Fortnum & Mason tries to have Christmas both ways, of course. Advent calendars make it nigh unto impossible to find the cash register, and the tins of plum pudding and other sticky sponge-like things conjure up the feel-good emotions of a Charles Dickens Christmas. But even Fortnum & Mason can sometimes jump the shark with its Yuletide enthusiasms. Just who do they think will be serving the “Arctic delicacy” of reindeer paté at their Christmas party?

Tags:

05

12 2010