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Travel is food for the soul – it’s a tired cliche, but nonetheless rings true. As most travel plans probably aren’t getting off the ground for the foreseeable, we’ve chatted to our favourite chefs and asked them to share the dishes that they cook when they want a little culinary escapism. Rifle through your cupboards, pull things from the back of the fridge and dig deep in your freezer as we’re bringing a taste of your travels to your kitchen. Mix yourself a medicinal margarita and wipe down your chef whites because it’s time to get creative in the kitchen.
These are the plates to leave you full until you’re flying again.
Food for the soul: 12 dishes to remind you of travel, according to some of our favourite chefs
1. Tom Brown, Cornerstone, London
Hackney’s seafood hero needed no more than a second to respond when quizzed about his all-time favourite holiday dish. “I went to see my brother and his missus in Mexico and while we were sitting on Zicatela Beach, soaking up as much sun as two gingers can stand, a guy offered us fresh oysters from a bag on his back.” Wearing nothing but speedos and a Batman utility belt, he whipped out an oyster knife, shucked a handful of oysters and drizzled them with green hot sauce and a squeeze of lime. After eating just one, Brown knew he had to add it onto the menu at Cornerstone – this time with a serving of seaweed hot sauce. Oysters might not be at top of your shopping list, but you can use this hot-sauce method to spice up any dish. Grab green or red peppers, chillies, sugar, salt and a little raw garlic and vinegar, blend them until smooth and drizzle over anything. When times get hard, homemade hot sauce and tinned tuna will hit the mark.
Brown has started Hospitality Action, an initiative to help those hardest hit by the coronavirus in the industry. You can donate here.
2. Monica Galetti, Mere, London
As comfortable presenting prime-time television as she is on the pass, Monica Galetti draws her family and friends from far and wide to feast on her seafood platters. Rooted in memories of summer holidays spent in France, she serves her spin on the classic with buckets of fresh aioli and chunks of homemade sourdough, with fish sourced from her favourite fishmongers Flying Fish Seafoods or Colchester Oyster Fishery. Novice chefs who don’t know their scallops from their scampi need not panic – Monica suggests asking your fishmonger to open the shellfish for you and cooking the prawns and lobsters (or crab, because, recession) at the very last minute.
Sadly, Mere has had to temporarily close. Please continue to show your support to other small businesses and restaurants.
3. Ben Tish, Norma, London
Plunder your pantry and raid your freezer for your last bag of prawns to rustle up a plate of gambero rosso (red prawns) inspired by the shores of Sicily. A holiday favourite of Norma chef Ben Tish, this old-school Italian dish involves no cooking; simply sprinkle sea salt and any citrus element you have to hand – orange, lemon, lime – topped with a sprig of rosemary or marjoram. Don’t be shy, suck the heads out – it’s the norm in Sicily.
Drool over Ben Tish’s recipes and order a copy of his cookbook.
4. Alex Bond, Alchemilla, Nottingham
Is there a more iconic French dish than moules marinière with frites? Not for chef Alex Bond, who “bloody loves mussels with a glass of white wine” when holidaying in Lille. The dish is a firm favourite on his table back home too. The chef suggests cooking the sauce first to ensure the mussels won’t overcook. To make the marinière sauce, start by opening some mussels in a hot pan with wine. Reserve that liquid and then sweat shallots, garlic and thyme, add some more white wine and pour in the reserved liquid. Add cream to the pan and use an immersion blender to create a moreish mussel velouté. Next, get a hot pan, add (more) wine and some closed mussels. Once the shells start to open, add the velouté. For the chips, use frozen fries (McCain’s are fine). Stick them in the deep fryer if you can, it’ll make them extra crispy and the ideal dipping accompaniment. Voila!
Dine at home with Alchemilla’s takeaway service.
5. Matt Bishop, Roast, London
Aside from dishing up pillowy Yorkshire puddings the size of a small county, Matt Bishop has a penchant for Portuguese-Japanese fusion dishes thanks to the yearly trips to Japan he takes with his family. For a quick slice of Portuguese sunshine, grill sardines (don’t turn your nose up at tinned) and douse with lemon juice, black pepper and a “throw-everything-in” potato salad. Push the boat out by adding an authentic Portuguese mayonnaise from a local deli – Ferreira Delicatessen in Camden is our pick.
To continue supporting small businesses and restaurants, make a reservation for Roast.
6. Andrew Wong, A. Wong, London
We’ve spent plenty of Sundays feasting on chef Andrew Wong’s decadent display of dim sum, so we weren’t surprised when he suggested a deliciously avant-garde dish usually served during Chinese New Year celebrations. Steamed red grouper with Cantonese egg custard falls firmly into the “do not attempt if you can’t boil an egg” category and is probably best reserved for post-self-isolation celebrations – right now we definitely can’t afford to waste any eggs. Substitute the hard-to-source grouper for bass and steam the custard and fish separately. Start by mixing up potato starch, Chinese rice wine and water to brush over the fish – to stop the fish flaking once cooked – then steam. For the custard, combine eggs and chicken stock over high heat (85°C degrees should do the trick) for 15-20 minutes. Serve the steamed fish over the custard and pour a good quality chicken broth on top.
If this has you sweating in your chef whites (read: apron) leave it to the pros and sample chef Andrew Wong’s version at restaurant A.Wong.
7. Nicola Fanetti, Brace, Copenhagen
Despite Copenhagen’s status as a mecca for fermented fish and smørrebrød (open sandwiches), it’s the allure of Thailand’s tropical shores that gets chef Nicola Fanetti excited. He shared his secret to rustling up simple at-home ceviche: before marinating the fish it should be put in a brine solution to ensure it keeps a solid structure. Afterwards, infuse the raw fish with spices and a dressing of soy sauce, lime, chilli and toasted sesame oil. The medley of umami flavours will trick your tastebuds into thinking you’re dining in exotic climes.
Lured by the sustainably sourced wine list, we’re hot-footing to Brace as soon as we can fly.
8. Martha Ortiz, Ella Canta, London
Put down the tequila bottle and press pause on drowning your sorrows since your Tulum holiday plans have been halted. Paying homage to her Mexico City hometown and bringing a splash of vibrancy into your kitchen is Ella Canta’s magician Martha Ortiz with her pain-free fish tostadas. Simply marinate the fish – perhaps time to defrost that salmon at the bottom of your freezer – in citrus juices for 20 minutes, add some chillies and spread across the top of the tostadas. If you can’t get hold of traditional tostadas, then a toasted tortilla is a worthy substitute. It’s a little inauthentic, but needs must.
Book in for a margarita masterclass as a post-isolation pick me up. You’ll need a drink once this is all over, for sure.
9. Hélène Darroze, Hélène Darroze at The Connaught, London
For two-Michelin-starred chef Hélène Darroze, nothing beats a steaming hot bowl of pho – for her, it’s laced with emotion. The simple shellfish dish reminds her of becoming a mother and adopting her girls in Hanoi. “It was one of the best periods of my life,” she says. “I would eat pho every day in the streets.” Now, the dish appears on the menu at Marsan in Paris and has become somewhat of a signature. To cook a bowl worthy of a culinary accolade, throw everything in – noodles, shellfish, herbs – and watch it simmer to soulful perfection.
Usually, we think that gift vouchers are a bit of a cop-out but when they’re served with a two-Michelin-starred chef supper, we’ll make an exception.
10. Mathew Carver, The Cheese Bar, London
In a nod to the ski trips that have fallen flat, Mathew Carver (you know, the creator of that epic cheese conveyor belt in Seven Dials) has masterminded a way to embark on a cheese-filled pilgrimage to Switzerland without leaving the house. Fire up the fondue machine you got for Christmas two years ago, melt everything and anything you have to hand and prep some salami, bread (slightly stale is fine) and sticks of veg. After experimenting with cheese from every part of the continent, Mathew Carver has concluded that you can use pretty much any combination of stuff. Music to our stomachs.
Call on the Cheese Bar fleet of Cheese Trucks to deliver your own “Self-Isolation Survival Kit”.
11. Richard Bainbridge, Benedicts, Norwich
We’re getting a bit boozy on this one. Not content with serving you a run-of-the-Brittany-mill of mussels, chef Richard Bainbridge suggests lacing your bowl of mussels with alcohol – a culinary trick we can definitely get on board with. If you’ve missed out on a holiday to Greece, use Ouzo for an aniseed finish. Want to raise a glass to the West Country? Pour a Suffolk cider over them. Hankering for a chance to salsa through the streets of Cartagena, then use rum. Make sure to sprinkle flour over the mussels the day before and cover them in water. The mussels absorb the flour and when they breathe it out, it’ll take the grit and impurities with it.
Ready meals have been given a refined makeover. Order one from Benedicts if you’re not able to dine in the restaurant.
12. Alistair Craig, Cambium Restaurant, New Forest
Provided you manage to snag that last bag of pasta on the shelf, this puttanesca recipe will elevate your bog-standard spaghetti and give you good reason to use those tinned goods that have been hiding at the back of your cupboards. Using the same ingredient combinations as those he tried and tested in Naples, Craig chucks a tin of tomatoes, Kalamata olives, anchovies, capers and garlic cloves into a pan to simmer. After boiling the spaghetti, throw it all together and let it simmer for a few minutes longer. The one-pot dish will soothe any nostalgic feelings you have for those halted holidays.
Sleepover at Careys Manor to feast on the New Forest’s bountiful larder.
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