Oooh La La! ‘London is tops’ says Joel Robuchon (a French chef)
Did you see the headlines this week? All were some combination of A French Phrase + London is best + French chef. Which is quite cool, actually, that Joel Robuchon of l’Atelier de Joel Robuchon in Covent Garden and owner of 25 Michelin stars reckons that London is the world capitol of gastronomy and that he’s ignored patrimony and tradition to make that claim. What he actually said was that he would ‘argue that London is very possibly the gastronomic capital of the world’ but if it’s good enough for the headline writers, it most certainly is good enough for us. We’re tops. Robuchon went on to back up his claim, saying,
“Why? Because it’s only in London that you find every conceivable style of cooking. When it comes to what’s new in cooking, to innovative cuisine, it’s all happening in London. It’s the same in the agro-alimentary business. The epicentre is not Paris but London.”
Wait one minute. Qu’est-ce que c’est que ‘agro-alimentary business’? We understand the idea of ‘aggro-alimentary’ business, which is what happens when we have too much to drink and get bloody-minded about which tube to take home. But it turns out that ‘agro-alimentary’ is the term now for any business, from Monsanto’s genetic modification of potatoes to your local wine bar, that touches the sacred matter of food and drink at any point from its production to its final destination. Who knew?
But there’s another point. If London really is tops, and there are lots of reasons to believe that it is, then why do we need a French chef to tell us so?
The whole piece is here, agri-alimentary business and all.
A Head For Veg
Chef Mark Hix, of Hix in Soho, Hix Oyster and Chophouse and several other eponymous restaurants you can find here, has turned his attention to the cauliflower in his column in The Independent and offers four really lovely recipes for it. He came to cauliflowers late because, apparently, his grandmother didn’t care for them and didn’t cook them in the family home, but he now appreciates the versatility and special qualities of what he calls ‘this humble vegetable’.
It turns out we may have had the same grandmother. That means we don’t have a long family history of involvement with cauliflower, either, other than melting cheese on it and then not eating it. We did some scouting around and came up with an absolute gem of a book available free on The Project Gutenberg website. It’s called, with both minimalist precision and all-encompassing inclusion, The Cauliflower, written by AA Crozier and published in Michigan in 1891 and it is fascinating. The author starts his work with three epigrammic quotes before he tackles the history, cultivation, enemies of, uses for, cooking of and general understanding of the creation of the cauliflower. And it does it not only with an academic’s precision of language and a horticulturalist’s fervour, but also as one who ‘made a specialty of raising cauliflowers for the Grand Rapids and Chicago markets, planting from three to five acres a year’ and making profit therefrom. Our hats are off to both Mark Hix and to AA Crozier and we’re going to be friendlier to the not-so-humble, as it turns out, cauliflower from here on out.
Yalla Yalla Doubles
A Rather Unusual Chinaman visited the new branch of Yalla Yalla in Winsley Street north of Oxford Street, a second — much roomier — branch of the original Yalla Yalla in Soho. The Soho one is teensy but high in the hipness factor, serving Beiruti Street Food and you toptable diners have awarded it Top Diner Rated status. Tehbus, the Rather Unusual Chinaman’s other blog name, hadn’t really rated the original YY because of its ridiculously slow service, though you all have found that problem doesn’t seem to exist any longer. But he has a feeling that this second, less seedy version of YY is the precursor to a whole lot of little YY’s being rolled out across the country. Nevertheless, he said he’d happily return and that the food was great value at less than £20 per person.
Hibiscus High Five
I’m just an ordinary guy with nothing to lose has for years celebrated Masters Weekend (snooker, Wembley Arena) by going to the snooker then heading out for a meal. Back when he was a single man surrounded by mates, the meal portion of the evening mostly involved drinking and not necessarily the best of restaurants. But now his tastes have matured and he’s acquired a Mrs I’m just an ordinary guy with nothing to lose, the last few years have seen Masters Weekend rounded off with a trip to one of London’s best restaurants. Two years ago it was Benares, last year Le Gavroche and this year the twin-starred Hibiscus in Mayfair. Actually, they’re all in Mayfair, so maybe that’s part of the deal these days too.
They were defeated by the eight-course tasting menu, though delighted as well. The portions are larger than you’d expect for a feast of that size and with the interim dishes and amuses, there were more like eleven courses. Both adored the meal, rating each dish from very good to epic, or words to that effect. The favourite seems to have been the egg yolk ravioli with smoked mash and dusted with crumbs of black truffle. ‘Whoa mama – what a dish!’ He also rated the service as exemplary.
I’m just an ordinary guy was not the only serious diner who reckoned that Hibiscus was due a third Michelin star, but alas it did not happen this year. But in his words, ‘How much better can things get?’ We’d like to know the answer to that question too.
It’s not every day that you get conned into taking part in a brawn-cooking contest, but it happened to The Grub Worm. First he was going to attempt to prepare brawn because it’s a low-cost meat source for these mean times. Then it turned into a bit of a competition, then it became a proper contest to be judge by butchers from Jamie Oliver’s Barbecoa and the Brawnoff was born.
If you don’t know, brawn is prepared from a whole pig’s head and must certainly be one of the more enduring examples of peasant food, where every particle of any live animal that can provide nourishment is put to use. We who are accustomed to nice clean steaks and bacon and other non-bony, non-identifiable sorts of meat can find that we feel more than a bit squeamish at the idea, let alone the photographs, of the pig’s head in Grub Worm’s pot. But, as ever, the more you read, the more involved you become.
He did his research and was hooked.
Once I delved into the cookbooks to see where to start I realised there are all sorts of ways of doing it. To brine or not to brine? What spices to use? Do you want a Caribbean, Polish or traditionally English slant to your brawn? What about the charmingly named fromage de tête from France?
Grub Worm decided on a fairly traditional British recipe created from half a dozen chefs with his own amendments. It turned into an attractive loaf-shaped dish and — ta da — he won the Brawnoff against entries from Meemalee’s Kitchen, How Not To Do a Food Blog and Food Urchin and is delighted that he currently appears on Jamie Oliver’s own blog. Instructions for making your own award-winning brawn appear in GW’s blog and, as an added bonus, when you prepare brawn you end up with a gothic pig skull for your very own.
Congratulations for culinary bravery and gastronomic expertise go to Grub Worm. And thanks for sharing.