EARLIER this year, I was invited to get involved in an incredibly exciting project, The Cube by Electrolux. It is an innovative dining concept that brings together some of the best food in a unique dining setting – atop London’s Royal Festival Hall.
Diners get an unrivalled view of the city and the entire structure of the restaurant has been designed to make the most of the location. It almost looks like a piece of art in itself.
I’ve seen the success the concept has had in other countries including Brussels and Milan and, in this thrilling year for Britain, I am proud to be part of it and to showcase our outstanding Scottish produce. With the Olympics likely to create the most electric ambience in London, I am hoping my cooking will reach some of the hundreds of thousands of visitors to the capital.
Working on this project, it reminded me how much the setting of a restaurant matters, especially when thinking ahead to a summer of celebrations. Although the whole concept revolves around food, it’s a great example of the way in which outstanding food can be combined with an incredible setting, to create a truly unforgettable experience. For me, the food is always the focus, but in fact, just as important is the setting of a meal. Visitors to The Cube by Electrolux will be part of such an exciting experience but in the same way, every time we dine out, or even enjoy a special dinner at home with friends and family, we want it to be special, memorable and enjoyable.
At The Kitchin, we have always made a point of creating an atmosphere and ambience that my wife and I enjoy ourselves. Like many restaurants, we didn’t have the spectacular views of a city skyline or the breeze of the ocean at our doorstep, but we always liked the charm of the cobbled stones of Leith.
When setting up The Kitchin we also brought ideas from other restaurants that we had worked in or visited, and tried to think about those special touches we both remembered or relished. A lot of thought went into the layout of the restaurant, where we positioned the tables allowing our guests to enjoy the theatre of dining and allowing them to see into the kitchen if they want to. For me, it was always about the drama of cooking and I love to share that experience with people – I like to think it makes their dining experience unique.
I have some fond dining memories and it’s always those restaurants with unique qualities in service, style or setting that make an experience memorable. While the food always remains a focus, great memories are the result of a balance between the very best food and service in the right setting and atmosphere.
Some of my favourite restaurants aren’t necessarily decadent or elegant, although one of the most special restaurants in the world to me is Le Louis XV at the Hôtel de Paris in Monaco. I worked there for master chef Alain Ducasse for two years but didn’t dine there until two years after I left. The interior is like nowhere else in the world. The exceptional menu and wine-list combined with outstanding service, make for a truly memorable dining experience but the surroundings and décor are sheer elegance – in my eyes. Le Louis XV has to be the greatest restaurant in the world.
But some of my other top restaurants aren’t quite as glamorous. One of my favourite places to eat in London is La Petite Maison because I love how the produce does the talking. The food is perfectly executed and the atmosphere just right and not pretentious. Whenever I’m in France, I also love visiting La Merenda, in Nice – a very small restaurant on a backstreet, with very simple décor and outstanding food. Again, it’s a place with excellent character, atmosphere and ambience. It’s all about finding those gems that give you a special experience and make you want to come back for more.
Even away from restaurants, some of my best meals in Scotland have been picnics where we can enjoy great fresh food and fine wine among nature itself. Scotland is truly magnificent and has some outstanding picnic spots with views the rest of the world envies. Whenever time allows we like to visit the coast of the East Neuk of Fife. We really enjoy places such as Elie, Anstruther and Pittenween – but also enjoy travelling further to places on the West coast such as Applecross and Loch Fyne. One of my best ever food memories is of an afternoon in Applecross eating freshly caught langoustine and sharing a bottle of dry Riesling with my wife. Few things are simpler or more enjoyable and it proves you can make the most of the setting whether dining in or out.
If you’re planning a dinner it’s good to think about all these things, as well as what you’re going to cook and where your ingredients are coming from. As a summer of celebrations approaches, it’s the perfect time to plan ahead. Think carefully about how you present your dishes. Don’t be afraid to experiment and push your boundaries. Some of the best presentations come from moments of playing around and trying to release your artistic flair. Something like shellfish can be made all the more special if you serve them in their shells, as nature intended and as fresh as can be.
Don’t just save the special memories for dining out – try to create your own unique eating experience at home. Setting the table in a personal way, adding candles or flowers as finishing touches and serving dishes that are finished off at the table can ensure a meal is as memorable and as fun as possible.
The Cube by Electrolux is open until 30 September
Boned and rolled pig’s head with langoustines and a crispy ear salad
1 pig’s head, de-boned and tied
2 carrots, roughly chopped
1 white onion, chopped
1 celery stick, chopped
2 bay leaves
1 sprig thyme
2 pig’s ears
1 tsp herbes de Provence
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp ground cumin
salt and pepper
80g mixed salad leaves
1 tsp tomato chutney (optional)
1 tsp sauce gribiche (optional)
Preparing the pig’s head
Start by removing all the hair with a blowtorch. Go down the middle of the head, all the way to the snout, then carefully cut away the flesh at each side of the head, keeping the mat attached to the skin, then tie with butcher’s string. You can always ask the butcher to do this if you don’t want to do it yourself.
Place the tied pig’s head, carrots, onion, celery, bay leaves and thyme in a very large stock pot. Cover with about two litres of water and bring to the boil. Cook for about one hour.
Remove all the hairs from the ears with a blowtorch and wrap them in muslin. Add the ears to the pot with the pig’s head and cook for another four hours. Ensure the ears remain covered, so top up with boiling water if needed. At the end of the cooking time, take the pot off the heat and remove the ears and set them aside. Leave the pig’s head to cool.
Rolling the pig’s head
Remove the cheeks from the pig’s head and separate the meat and fat from the skin. Set the meat aside and discard the fat. Lay a piece of clingfilm on a chopping board and place the skin, outer side down, on top of the clingfilm.
Shred the meat from the pig’s cheeks and mix with the herbes de Provence, fennel seeds, cumin, a pinch of salt and some freshly ground pepper.
Lay a line of cheek meat mix in the middle of the skin and roll it into a sausage about 6cm in diameter. Wrap tightly in clingfilm and leave in the fridge to set for 12 hours. As you are ready to serve, cut the sausage into 3cm thick slices and fry them in olive oil until crispy on the outside and warm in the middle.
To make the crispy pig’s ears
Remove the cooked pig’s ears from the muslin and trim off the muscles. Wrap the ears in clingfilm and put in the fridge under a heavy weight for 24 hours.
Pre-heat the oven to 170°C/ 325°F/gas mark 3. Shred the ears very finely with a sharp knife. Heat the olive oil in an ovenproof frying pan and add the shredded ears, spreading them evenly. Fry them for a minute or two and then place the pan with the ears in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes until crispy. Keep warm until needed.
To cook the langoustines
Peel the langoustines and leave only the end tail in the shell, removing all the dark intestinal tracts. Heat a heavy-bottomed pan and add olive oil. Season the langoustines and pan-fry for one or two minutes depending on size.
On each plate, place a few salad leaves and a teaspoon of sauce gribiche if you like. Then add the slice of the rolled pig’s head on top and decorate with some crispy pig’s ears, some tomato chutney and serve with the langoustine.
Razorfish served with diced vegetables and wild herbs
100ml vegetable oil
8 razor clams
2 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
100ml white wine
100ml whipping cream
50g chopped chives or parsley
20g unsalted butter
salt and pepper
3 sprigs dill
1 bunch chives, chopped
2 sprigs chervil
For the vegetables, peel the carrot and cut into 5mm dice. Cut the green skin off the courgette, then dice the white part. Gently sauté both in a teaspoon of vegetable oil for three or four minutes, then set aside. Zest the lemon and squeeze the juice. Set both aside for later.
Wash the clams well in cold running water, making sure you rinse away any sand and grit. Take a pan large enough to hold them all and place it over a high heat. Add the clams, shallots and white wine and immediately cover the pan with a tight-fitting lid so the clams steam. After 30 seconds, all the clams should spring open. Then remove, but keep the jus they are in for the sauce. Discard any that are unopened.
Remove the clams from their shells – keep the shells for serving. Slice the razor clam meat thinly at an angle around the brown intestine. Set aside.
Reduce the white wine cooking liquor by half. Then add the cream and the finely chopped vegetables and herbs (keeping some dill aside for garnish) while the liquid is simmering, stirring constantly.
Once the cream thickens slightly, add the sliced razor clams, lemon juice and zest, and top with a knob of butter.
Place two shells on each plate and pile in the razor clams, vegetables and creamy juices. Then garnish with some dill for decoration and added flavour.
Tom Kitchin’s top tips for memorable meals
• Welcome guests with your own signature drink – they will feel like they’ve just arrived at a restaurant when they receive a pre-dinner drink and it also relaxes everyone and keeps them happy while you make finishing touches to the meal.
• Get creative with decorations – at The Kitchin, we have lots of things on display that symbolise great memories from our travels or past experiences. Decorating the table with things you’ve picked up or been handed down can create a great talking point over dinner and will help to make the setting unique to you.
• The right lighting and the addition of candles can make all the difference to the ambience and can help create a restaurant feel at home.
• People love to see chefs at work – like at The Cube by Electrolux and at The Kitchin. Don’t be afraid to let your guests see you in the kitchen – it’s all part of the enjoyment. Bringing dishes or food to the table and adding the finishing touches there, or asking guests to help with the final flourish, can bring a really relaxed ambience to the evening.
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Sunday 19 May 2013
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