Archives for category: British
F&M at the Serpentine Gallery

F&M at the Serpentine Gallery

This week we had a meeting at Fortnum & Mason and it was interesting to hear their development plans.

I have always pondered how the big three London department stores: Harrods, Selfridges and Fortnums, find their place in the battle for the boutique of choice. Under the management of Ewan Venters the food offer at Selfridges was transformed and now he is a year into applying himself to Fortnums so I have no doubt they will flourish in their fortunes.

It seems clear to me the place that Harrods holds in the Knightsbridge arena and Selfridges has really cornered the contemporary edgy design-led market so where does that leave Fortnums? They are the only ones with true British credentials, a traditional, elegant style and a selection of food & drink that really has destination status worldwide. But the challenge is how to take that into the future. In the capable hands of Mr Venters it seems they are paving their way with aplomb.

Take, for example, their current offer at the Serpentine Gallery Pavillion.

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Every year, the space between the gallery and the park is given over to one well known architect to erect a structure of some sort that will house a Summer experience and with the calibre of commissions they get, the Serpentine really do boast a long legacy of amazing artists including Ai WeiWei, Frank Gehry and Zaha Hadid. This year, it was Sou Fujimoto, the third Japanese architect and the youngest person so far, who took over the space. It’s one of the few cultural experiences in London that I make a point of visiting each year and so today I ventured down.

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I did of course have another ulterior motive, which was to see the food offer that Fortnums created there. If this is a reflection of where they are going, then all will be well. The team are decked up in a trendy t-shirt and converse trainer uniform which nods to the formality with a waistcoat & tie printed on and the offer is cleverly conceived with easy to serve pre-packed boxes of treats.

Making up our Hamperling

Making up our Hamperling

You can opt for boxes of cakes, sandwiches, salads and other treats, but the hero product is the ‘hamperling‘. This is a hamper on the go created from a clever cardboard construction which opens up to reveal a lunch for one or a plentiful afternoon tea for two combining the best of the boxes, and costing ¬£25. The food was as fresh as a daisy and looked fabulous spread out on the clever place setting. There was even a disposable rug of sorts for us to create a perfect picnic on this lovely Summer day.

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This week I have been at the International Cheese Awards representing Laverstoke Park Farm on their stand.

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The Awards are basically the Oscars of the cheese world and whilst I have heard about this event for many years, this was my first time there. I find it quite funny that the cheese Oscars take place in Nantwich of all places. What brought it there? Anyway, instead of this little rickety tent and pongy cheese, I was amazed to see the scale of the whole thing.

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4235 cheeses were entered for awards this year over 226 categories. I didn’t know there were that many cheeses, least of all categories in which to enter cheeses. Madness!

After researching the British cheese world, it is clear that we really are in a league of our own. We now outstrip France in terms of number of cheeses boasting 700 against their 600 and we can certainly see some British classics competing and winning hands down against those old traditional French favourites. Roquefort is a thing of the past with a plethora of great blues such as Shropshire Blue, Colston Bassett Stilton and Stichelton coming from across the country. In fact, last year it was a British blue that won the overall prize at the World Cheese Awards and that was the Cornish Blue….and at this week’s International Cheese Awards, it was blue again with Long Clawson dairy producing the Supreme Champion award for their Claxstone Smooth Blue.

Brie is also seeing competition in the soft cheese world with Tunworth and Waterloo holding their own. But it in the hard cheese categories that we really are leagues ahead with the most wonderful cheddars coming from people like Montgomery’s, Keens Farm and Lincolnshire Poacher plus all the fabulous regional classics like Double Gloucester, Lancashire and red Leicester. It really is something to be proud of.

Cutting the curds

Cutting the curds

Filling the brie moulds

Filling the brie moulds

I actually helped our dairy manager make our buffalo milk ‘brie’ last Friday and had such a wonderful time seeing it from the raw milk stage right through to final product. It was a very simple process, with a lot of love thrown in and there you have it. Now I am waiting for my batch to reach its ultimate maturity and then I can sample the benefits of my endeavours.

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After much publicity and anticipation Shake Shack finally opened at their new Covent Garden location yesterday Рtheir first in the UK.

Shake Shack has become a key part of the US tourist scene with city guides citing outlets as a destination tourist spot alongside icons such as the Statue of Liberty and Grand Central Station. That’s quite something for a burger joint, especially given the many burger choices you get in the USA. I discovered it a couple of years ago when I went to their Madison Square Park location and have been following it ever since. So what is the magic formula?

Shake Shack at Madison Square Park, New York

Shake Shack at Madison Square Park, New York

I love the story that in 2004 founder Danny Meyer and CEO Randy Garutti literally drew their concept on the back of a napkin and they refer to that napkin to this day to make sure they stick to the plan. Their aim was ‘to create the best burger company in the world, for the world and for their team’. Quite an aspiration. They call their approach the “anti-chain” chain. So despite their expansion, they approach each outlet individually making decisions as if it is their one and only restaurant. And they are controlled in that expansion having kept it to around 4 a year until this year when that is likely to double.

Danny Meyer and Randy Garutti in Covent Garden this week

Danny Meyer and Randy Garutti in Covent Garden this week

It is so reassuring to me that their aim balances ethical practices as well as a need to really acknowledge their team. As a result, they seem to be welcoming some interesting people to work with them on it. Their staff retention is crazy high, especially as it is a fast food concept and they are proud to count some fine dining experts as a core part of their team. This is all because of their approach not only to recruitment but also to training and development… plus, their Shack Dollars policy. This ensures that 1% of all monthly revenue is given back as a bonus to staff at that unit which is an immediate and focused incentive for everyone to drive sales.

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London is not their only foray outside of the US. They first went to the Middle East and then onto Istanbul. And in each place they embrace the local supply chain and product choice. Here in the UK they opted for Aberdeen Angus beef and count other British classics such as Cumberland sausages and Wiltshire cured smoked bacon as key ingredients to their UK menu. In addition they have partnered with London favourites St John Bakery to complement their signature frozen custards and concretes for a fabulous array of sweet treats that can be customised daily.

Shake Shack London (Preview) - Brought your dog?

And if all that’s not enough, they even have a couple of choices for your friendly canine too. They really have thought of everything.

Shake Shack can be found in Covent Garden and this interview gives you a bit more from CEO Randy Garutti.

I love Simon Hopkinson.

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He is a chef’s chef. Those who knew him in the heady days of Bibendum still sing his praises as a chef, but sadly he didn’t enjoy cooking in that environment. The restaurant’s loss was the cookery book’s gain and in “Roast Chicken and Other Stories”, Hopkinson created a recipe book that is an icon. It should be on every kitchen bookshelf.

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Despite being published in 1994, it is still going strong decades later and was voted the most useful cookbook of all time by Waitrose Food Illustrated in 2005. It’s quite something in the food world to beat the likes of Delia, Rick, Nigel & Hugh but to outsell Harry Potter….well that really says it all.

He is now back on TV with a new series: Simon Hopkinson Cooks. Even the programme title is typically understated. This man definitely knows how to cook and in a way that is easy for amateurs like me. He keeps it very simple, his instruction is well communicated and the food itself is yummy.

I was struck by the Gnudi recipe. I am linking it here just in case you decide to google it like I did and get the link to Come Dine With Me : Nude Dining. OK – I missed out the ‘g’, but that’s no reason to take me there!

I am going to get some lovely buffalo ricotta from M, the dairy manager at Laverstoke and get cooking.

And now I have series linked Mr H. and can’t wait for next week. Bring on Classic Lunch.