23 Feb 20

A week of meeting Ian Hislop in the car park at Twickenham, watching Kit&McConel at Crazy Coqs and The Hobbit on Netflix, it’s been quite a week. The food was good too: rediscovering Haddock Monte Carlo, a Savoy classic, making an impromptu fish cake supper out of a jar of tuna and the joy of Bangers and Mash with Apple Sauce. Ah yes, and Shepherd’s Pie.


This morning we are off to Twickenham to watch England smash Ireland (or so we hope). Take quartered Scotch Eggs and a tube of English mustard (very useful for pic-nics) as a contribution to a friends car park, car boot pic-nic, cars parked impossibly close together. This is a curious and very English tradition where booze and food is piled on fold up tables abutting the open boot. Champagne corks pop, beer, wine and hot toddy is lined up and served in plastic glasses. Super-keen pic-nic providers offer hot food on paper plates but smoked salmon sandwiches, pork pie, Scotch eggs, posh cheeses and French bread is what I clocked on my way to our car boot (‘under the English flag with writing on it, next to the railing…..). First person I met was Ian Hislop and as we knocked back a tumbler of white wine and munched on F&M pork pie, I discovered he used to write book reviews for Time Out. So had a lovely gossip about past TO staffers and I rather wished Private Eye might need a cookery writer. After the match we trudged back to Richmond, arrived home, took the dog out, lit the fire and I got cracking roasting big fat Cumberland sausages (thanks www.mackenbrothers.co.uk), made apple sauce (peeled, cored and chopped 2 Bramley apples, cooked in a covered pan with just enough water to cover for about 6 minutes until soft then beat them smooth with a wooden spoon, adding a couple of teaspoons sugar, knob of butter and squeeze of lemon and transferred to a bowl to cool) and mashed potato. This was the regular post rugby feast with frozen petits pois cooked with a knob of butter and scant splash of water (as suggested by one of my regular Dinner Tonight column readers at the Times).


There is quite a lot of leftover mash and not much else in the fridge. I have a busy morning before I collect the little boys from school, so decide to make fishcakes with a jar of tuna from the food cupboard and dill I find in the fridge. I’ll definitely be making Tuna Fishcakes again; such a quick and easy recipe, so delicious and a good excuse to have chips (this time M&S crinkle chips which I didn’t think were as good at Aunt Bessie’s).


Tonight I’m off to see Kit&McConel at the Crazy Coqs and then dinner afterwards at Zedel. The show, in that cosy, cramped venue was terrific, so clever, so witty, so of the moment. Why don’t we hear Kit Hesketh-Harvey on the radio any more these days, I used to love him on Just A Minute (Rad 4).

Zedel at 8.30/9pm was heaving and even though our table (for four) had been booked for days, we had to join a small queue waiting for tables. Once settled – right down the back of this magnificent room, close to the comings and goings of the kitchen – we were soon tucking into our food. Very good, very crusty, fresh white bread and what tasted like Normandy butter, then 3 of us had Haddock Monte Carlo, the other steak with a red wine sauce. Terrific chips all round. Started hatching a plan on the way home to buy smoked haddock and make my own version; the Zedel one didn’t include spinach and the sauce was very creamy and not particularly interestingly seasoned. While I’m at it, I thought the pieces of fish under the cream sauce were a tad hard and wonder if that is caused by cooking it solely in milk rather than water with a splash of milk, which is what I’ve started doing with smoked haddock. It’s probably though, the dynamics of a restaurant kitchen mise en place. As it happens, this will be the perfect supper for me tomorrow as I have another big dental appointment in the morning.


Up early and at the fishmongers (www.coventgardenfishmongers.co.uk) soon after 8.30, snapping up a fine fillet of naturally smoked haddock to make my version of Haddock Monte Carlo. Couldn’t resist a smoked mackerel (whole and from Cornwall) and bought 4 plump partridge (2 for tomorrow, 2 for the freezer). Haddock Monte Carlo is a classic dish, possibly invented by Escoffier, certainly emanating from The Savoy and making a minor come back thanks to The Wolseley and Zedel. Many recipes call for a spinach base virtually hidden by poached fillets of smoked haddock with a cream sauce flecked with tomato concasse and a poached egg perched on the top. Often, as at Zedel, the spinach is forgotten and it does complicate life for the chef. The dish breaks into several parts: poaching the fish, making a cream reduction for the sauce, making concasse (peeled, seeded, diced tomato) and poaching the eggs. Each part is simple enough but requires quite a coordinated approach to get everything hot and ready at the same time. It is, though, fabulous and worth having a go. In my searches to discover where the recipe originated, I came across a similar dish in The Savoy Food and Drink Book published in 1988, called Haddock Fume Alban (Monsieur Alban was chef at the Savoy during late 50’s and early 60’s) but Richard Shepherd who made his name at Langan’s Brasserie, remembers both as part of the classic repertoire along with Omelette Arnold Bennett (another fabulous smoked haddock recipe and definitely Escoffier) but said it could have been invented by any number of French chefs who cooked at The Savoy. There is a 1955 advertising chef-cooks poster I discovered on the internet that shows Haddock Monte Carlo with the fish over a tomato cream sauce, Rowley Leigh makes a tomato sauce and a cream sauce, serving the tomato sauce as a garnish over the egg nestled on top of the fish, both napped with cream sauce.


Order a book recommended by one of my sons for cooking with a wood fired oven. I particularly want the pizza dough recipe. Shopped for ingredients for a smorgasbord of pizza toppings; mushrooms, Roma red peppers, rocket, prosiutto, mozzarella, tomatoes and passata, Italian 00 flour and yeast. Tonight supper is two of the partridge I bought earlier in the week at the fishmonger. I prepare the milk for bread sauce (several cloves, a bay leaf from the garden, salt, whole peppercorns, adding mace at the suggestion of one of my Instagram followers). Prep sprouts and stuff the birds with a generous bunch of thyme, draping streaky bacon over the breasts, hooking it round their legs so it doesn’t slide off as it roasts. Later I’ll thinly slice potatoes to make a version of game chips. I find it simpler to slice, rinse and pat dry the potatoes then toss with a spoonful of olive oil, laying them out on a heavy-duty roasting tin, roasting for 20 minutes or so at 220C, getting them done before the birds are roasted at 180C for 35 minutes, rested for 10 while the gravy is made


It’s raining again, so spent the morning making Shepherd’s Pie for supper and roasting the Romano peppers for pizzas that I plan to make tomorrow night when my two little grandsons come to stay.


Instead of attending to making pizza dough, I join The B for lunch with his mum and sister at Mazi (www.mazi.co.uk), a highly recommended must book modern Greek restaurant behind the cinemas in Notting Hill Gate. The menu is longish and it’s a sharing menu. We’ve all been before but the menu is as if encountered for the first time. Our waiter suggests 10 dishes between the four of us and everything we chose was fantastic, a really interesting and delicious meal. The first part of the menu is ‘jars’; this means the food comes in kilner jars. The fish roe mousse tarama, their elegant take on taramasalata is highly recommended and so is the similarly elegant but gutsy tzatziki with a pinch (their description) of garlic. These are scooped up with very fresh, very crisp white bread. Their Greek salad with cherry tomatoes, small barley rusks (like croutons) and finely crumbled feta is pretty and a clever out of season solution to this fine salad.  There are so many temptations on this menu but artichoke risotto a la polita, dill and heritage carrots, fresh calamari lightly battered and presented in strips like fish fingers with citrus mayo and te mana shredded lamb shoulder fricassee with avgolemono sauce went down very well with us. The latter presents like a small oblong block of chocolate next to a pale, lumpy sauce. Stroked apart, the shredded lamb is tender and succulent, the lemony, egg sauce the perfect compliment. Mazi is the sort of place – two cramped rooms with a terrace and garden – that feels homely yet bright and modern, comfortable yet done economically. I wish I lived next door to it; I’d be in here every night. Great puds too; I want chocolate eclaire, Greek coffee ice cream and Nutella dust now.  

By the time we are home, the dog walked and the fire lit, the young family are already installed. The parents buzz off to their evening, leaving two boys who do not want pasta, they want Jago’s soup (aka sausage and tomato ragu with orzo). In retrospect, that is a huge relief (see next week) and I take sausages from the freezer and quickly defrost the skin by soaking them in boiling water for 1 couple of minutes, then rip off the skin and cut the sausage in chunks to soften and cook in softening onion, with grated carrot, stock and tomato passata, the orzo cooking separately. Phew, the whole thing is done in 20-odd minutes, they are happily scoffing, then a bath before the film of choice. By the time we’d watched half The Hobbit and little boys were finally tucked up in bed, we wanted instant comfort grub. So Nduja Baked Beans on Toast with Poached Eggs and Cheddar Cheese it was. Yum, yum. Do try it.