From Peter Gordon’s Turkish eggs to Karam Sethi’s lamb chops, Marylebone’s finest chefs illuminate the creative processes behind their restaurants’ most famous dishes
Words: Clare Finney
Peter Gordon of The Providores and Tapa Room
Thirteen years ago, Turkish eggs didn’t exist in London. Now, if you search #turkisheggs, you’ll find they are the new eggs benedict. Nigella even has them in her new recipe book, and kindly credits us as being the first place she tried them—because although they have become a regular brunch item, they started here, in Providores. We put them on the menu after coming across them in Istanbul. In Turkey, they’re known as menemen, or prostitutes’ eggs, and they are nothing fancy: thick whipped-up yoghurt, poached eggs and aromatic Aleppo chilli butter, served with sourdough. We make them more or less as a Turkish grandmother would do, so they don’t really reflect the fusion food Providores is known for. That is much more evident in, for example, our grilled scallops with sweet chilli sauce: a paste of lime leaves, chillies and ginger, blended and added to a sugar caramel. The scallops are hand-dived, and boast this beautiful, sweet flesh. The fusion comes about when we serve it with crème fraiche because the ingredients in sweet chilli sauce are very much from south-east Asia, yet this European addition just melds the flavours together. It’s a perfect example of how flavours of different countries can go together very happily—like migrants. That’s why we should open our doors.
Colin Kelly of Picture
Pressed ham hock and pork cheek
When I first moved to London, I worked at Orrery, just up the road, and we did this pig’s head terrine: fromage de tête, it’s called in France. We didn’t sell much of it, to be honest, but when I went to work with Anthony Demetre, he served it slightly differently: warm, with a sausage alongside. Back then, it was still a bit spooky for people to eat pig’s head, but when they tried it they found it was amazing: so full of flavour. At Arbutus, where I went next, the pork’s head terrine became a signature dish—but when we brought the idea here, we decided to reduce the fat content slightly, which is where the smoked ham hock came in. The ham hock is pretty much all meat, while the pig’s head is intramuscular fat, so combining the two increases the meat content and introduces a smoky flavour. It’s been on the menu ever since we launched, though it changes its clothes seasonally. In January and February, it is garnished with beetroot, rhubarb and red onion; I always like to have fruit with pork, it just makes sense to me, and then I like pickled vegetables for crunch. In early summer it will be apricots, in late summer ripe peaches, autumn pear, and late autumn maybe quince puree. When you come across a technique that works perfectly, you don’t really want to change it—especially something as economical and tasty as this cut of meat. I am not sure it will ever come off the menu, unless we can’t get a pig’s head: they used to just be chucked away, but they are becoming much cooler as chefs discover the flavour, and now everyone wants them.
Ravinder Bhogal of Jikoni
Prawn toast scotch eggs
The prawn toast scotch egg is like the bonny love child between two perennial favourites: a Chinese prawn toast and a classic scotch egg. It really represents what we do here—we’re all about mixed heritage, and I really like presenting familiar things in unfamiliar ways. We serve the prawn toast scotch egg with banana ketchup: it may sound disgusting, but they go together very well! It came about when I had too many ripe bananas one day, and I was going to make a banana cake—but I really love the savoury approach to fruit adopted by many Asian cuisines, so I decided to try making a sauce. I’d been experimenting with different meats and different coatings for scotch eggs for a while when I had this idea. I love—really love—prawn toasts: I always get them when we have a Chinese, and my husband doesn’t like them so I usually get a whole bag to myself. To make these we buy really spicy Thai pawn crackers, which we blitz into a crumb and mix with panko breadcrumbs. We use quail’s eggs and prawn meat, rolled in the crumb mix. When you deep-fry them, they really crisp up because of the rice content in the prawn crackers: it’s like a Richter scale crunch. People love the texture of this, combined with the soft, almost gelatinous prawn meat and the rich, just runny quail’s egg inside.
Karam Sethi of Trishna
Tandoori lamb chops with Kashmiri chilli, ginger, crushed onion and kasundi mooli
Tandoori lamb chops is probably one of the most ordered dishes by Brits when they go to an Indian restaurant, but we have taken it to the next level. We use organic, free-range lamb from north Wales—Daphne is the farmer who supplies us—and we marinade it in a mix of Kashmiri chilli, garlic, smashed onions and ginger, garam masala, dried fenugreek, yoghurt and mustard oil. We leave it for 24 hours: marinating tenderises the meat as well as flavouring it before it is roasted in the tandoori oven. Ravinder Bhogal’s husband calls these the best lamb chops in London, and there are people who come to Trishna just for this dish. Though we we like to think the spicing of it is as robust and bold as those you will find in any good high street Indian, or even in India, we try to elevate that by making our own garam masala, by the quality of lamb that we use, and by serving it with kasundi mooli—two types of mooli dressed in a mustard-style chutney. We grew up eating tandoori lamb chops, but this is our own recipe—one we created ourselves when we first opened the restaurant, and has been on the menu ever since.
Nemanja Borjanovic of Donostia
Succulent Ibérico de Bellota pork shoulder with romesco sauce
You have to tell the story behind this dish for someone to appreciate what it is that makes it so special. On the face of it, it’s just a pork chop. You can pick one up in the supermarket. Yet the Iberico de Bellota has nothing to do with your standard joint. For one thing, it is one of the few pork dishes in the world that can be served medium rare, like you would a steak, because the meat is so tender. Pigs here in the UK are usually given a diet of cereal and so on, to fatten up, but this breed, the black Iberian pig, only eats the chestnut and acorns which they forage in the woods in which they roam freely. The nuts contain a high proportion of nutritious oils, and the pigs grow enormous: twice the size of your normal pig. Some of it goes to making the iconic aged jamón, but the rest is sold as fresh meat, like that we serve here, with a rich roasted red pepper and almond sauce.
Giancarlo Caldesi of Caffe Caldesi
Pan-fried calf’s liver with butter, sage and creamy mash
Calf’s liver is a classic Italian dish, but no one in London does calf’s liver the way we do it. I mean that—we’ve been making this dish since the very first restaurant we opened on Marylebone Lane, and I had people coming all the way from Greece, just to eat it here. Of course, things have changed in that time: the veal is rose veal these days, because it is no longer kept in crates, so it’s pink, not white in colour. It’s a big thing when you first receive it, and you have to clean it, take the arteries out and cut it properly, so that by the time you eat it, it is smooth, clean and delicious. It takes two or three years to learn how to do this—it is like surgery—but we know how to master it. We’ve been here making it for 23 years.
Michael Daniel of The Gate
Wild mushroom risotto cake
I grew up in suburbia, so I’d never seen a wild mushroom until we were cooking at our first restaurant, The Gate in Hammersmith, and a bloke called Dan appeared on the doorstep, selling them. They were weird and wonderful and wild, and I had to ask him if they were edible: the only mushrooms I had seen in my life were button or flat, and those were what we were using at The Gate. He was a forager. I’d never heard of one of those, either—but he started supplying us with wild mushrooms and since then we’ve always had them on the menu. These days I go foraging myself, in Scotland and the New Forest. We drive through the woods in a campervan, with the doors open, and when anyone sees one they shout “Stop!” and we all pile out of the van to a have a closer look. There’s an art to cooking wild mushrooms properly—they’ve got a lot of water in them—but this dish works well because it’s balanced: you’ve the risotto cake, the truffle shavings, it’s pan-fried so there’s a crisp texture and then you’ve a lovely cream sauce on top. I love mushrooms: the texture, the variety, and the thrill and mystery of finding these strange things in the ground.
Nemanja Borjanovic of Lurra
Squid stuffed with chorizo prawns, squid ink sauce
A lot of restaurants claim to be source-led, but we really are. All that we serve we get in ourselves, not from a third-party supplier. Lurra was born out of our importing txuleton—steak from 14-year-old cows—into the UK, and of course, that dish continues to be the biggest draw; but both Lurra and Donostia are about showing a new side of the Basque Country, a side people might not otherwise see. Recently we’ve been looking at the French side of the region: Saint-Jean-de-Luz, and the villages there around the Bay of Biscay, which is where this squid comes from. Stuffed with prawns and chistorra (a Basque chorizo) and served on a sauce of black squid ink, it looks beautiful—and it’s unusual, because it is meat and fish in a single dish. It’s seasonal, as we can only get the squid when the size is right, but when we have it, it is very much a signature special. It’s the sort of thing where a group will order one to share as a starter, then order another because it is so good.