The Week in Restaurants, news round-up week kicked off with the news of the potential demise of one of the UK’s longest-standing restaurant brands, roadside chain Little Chef.
After a number of tumultuous years for the group – which even a TV series with Heston Blumenthal changing the menus couldn’t fix – owner RCapital put it up for sale in April. But the majority of bids have since come from fast-food rivals, including McDonald’s, KFC and Costa Coffee, who want to scrap Little Chef and take the sites for themselves, according to BBC News.

Meanwhile another iconic-for-all-the-wrong-reasons brand is threatening UK and international expansion as Planet Hollywood founder Robert Earl has launched a new company called Earl Enterprises. He plans to grow the movie-themed chain, along with the Earl of Sandwich group of sandwich bars and the Buca di Beppo brand of Italian family restaurants, reports Big Hospitality.

New York-based restaurant operator the Altamarea Group has joined forces with Rowley’s steak house owner Will Guess to launch its first international site in London. Chop Shop in Haymarket is scheduled to open in September as a butcher-shop inspired restaurant, says Caterer and Hotelkeeper. across the pond, the Sun claims that after teaming up to open Union Street Café in London later this year, David Beckham and Gordon Ramsay could also be opening a restaurant in Las Vegas together. And while that might be a recipe for a bad hangover, Hollywood star Bradley Cooper has been getting cooking (aka swearing) lessons from Ramsay for his latest role of a drug-addicted chef.

On the small screen meanwhile, the BBC has commissioned two new series featuring chefs Tom Kerridge, Cyrus Todiwala and Tony Singh. Two-Michelin-starred Kerridge will reveal how to cook the best-ever pub food in Tom Kerridge’s Proper Pub Food, while Cyrus Todiwala and Tony Singh are setting out to creating a New British Cuisine that truly reflects the multicultural nature of our country in The Incredible Spice Men: Todiwala And Singh, announced Digital Spy.

Back in London, Michelin-starred Indian chef restaurateur Karam Sethi from Trishna is opening a new venture called Gymkhana in Mayfair in July. Modelled on the British Raj gentlemen’s clubs, Bloomberg reports it will specialise in spicy food, tonics and mixers from India, old Indian punch recipes and whiskies. on the subject of booze, Clement Robert of London’s Michelin-starred Medlar Restaurant has won the 2013 Moët UK Sommelier of the Year title. Having entered the competition for the fifth time, he told Decanter he “was ready to win this year”. Now there’s dedication that puts even Bayern Munich to shame.

Last but not least some positive news: Booming trade in Britain’s hospitality sector is paving the way towards an economic recovery, reports the Guardian, as business lobbying group the CBI said in its quarterly survey that UK hotels, bars and restaurants enjoyed their biggest rise in trade in almost six years. Cheers to that!

How to Boil an Egg – book review

HOW TO BOIL AN EGG flat coverHow to Boil an Egg is the second book from Rose Carrarini, following on from Breakfast, Lunch, Tea, which was published in 2006. It celebrates one of the most versatile yet unassuming ingredients: the humble egg.

UK-born Carrarini is the owner, together with her French husband Jean-Charles, of Rose Bakery in Paris. The couple set up high-end delicatessen Villandry in London, before moving to Paris and opening up their English bakery, shop and restaurant in the heart of the French capital in 2002. Here they sell a selection of organic store-cupboard goodies along with cakes and cookies, salads and sandwiches celebrating simple, fresh and healthy food. Branches of Rose Bakery have since also opened in London, Seoul, Tokyo and Tel Aviv.

How to Boil an Egg is a true homage to the egg, which showcases the sometimes underrated ingredient in all its glory. It lists tips on how to buy, store and handle raw eggs next to Carrarini’s favourite classic and contemporary recipes. Divided into four main chapters: Simply Eggs; Breakfast; Lunch; and Tea, it features some of the most popular dishes served at Rose Bakery, ranging from classic breakfast egg dishes like Eggs Benedict (see recipe below) to main courses including tarts, gnocchi and frittatas as well as gratins, soups, salads and sandwiches. There’s also a huge selection of muffins, cakes and puddings.

But what’s really special about the book is that instead of photographs of dishes, it features painted pictures from award-winning botanical artist Fiona Strickland. Her 39 water-colour illustrations are to a fantastic level of detail, adding a real element of richness to the book.

How to Boil an Egg is a wonderful celebration of the essential egg showcasing it not only as a healthy and nutritious but also a vastly versatile yet hugely economical ingredient that is not just for breakfast but also for lunch, afternoon tea, dinner and all the little moments in between.

Published by Phaidon, priced £22.95
ISBN 9780714862415

032 Eggs BenedictEggs Benedict
Serves 3

For the Hollandaise sauce:
Makes 750ml
4 tablespoons white wine vinegar
6 egg yolks
500g butter, melted
lemon juice, to taste
salt and ground black pepper

For the eggs Benedict:
3 slices brioche
6 slices good-quality ham, preferably carved off the bone or cooked bacon
6 eggs
½ quantity Hollandaise Sauce

To make the Hollandaise sauce, put 4 tablespoons water, the vinegar and a pinch each of salt and pepper into a pan and heat until reduced by two-thirds.
Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the egg yolks.
Return the pan to low heat and gradually whisk in the melted butter, a little at a time. Add a few drops of cold water if sauce starts to separate. (This also keeps the sauce light.)
Taste and adjust the seasoning, if necessary, and add a few drops of lemon juice. Strain into a bowl and keep warm.

Toast both sides of the brioche and put on individual serving plates.
Divide the ham or bacon between the slices of brioche.
Poach the eggs, then carefully place on top of the ham.
Spoon over the hollandaise sauce and serve immediately.

InDigestion – a summary of the latest restaurant reviews

shutterstock_130836209Keith McNally is likely to have lost his rag again about the capital’s “backstabbing restaurant community” following Matthew Norman’s less than glowing review of Balthazar London.

The Daily Telegraph’s food critic agrees with his fellow reviewers by insisting that the Covent Garden outpost of the famous New York brasserie is superb in every respect – except for the food.

Both The Guardian’s Marina O’Loughlin and The Observer’s Jay Rayner review Jason Atherton’s latest outpost the Social Eating House in Soho.

O’Loughlin scores the restaurant and bar an overall eight out of 10, concluding: “It’s a punchbowl of different ingredients that manages to end up being quintessentially Soho, with warm, assured service and wonderful food.”

However, Rayner says faffy service makes it an uptight person’s version of a laid back restaurant. “The Social Eating House needs more than a little tuning to become the brilliant showcase it could be for a great cook’s food,” he says.

Meanwhile Time Out’s Guy Dimond and Metro’s Emma Sturgess disagree about the quality of the food and service at Bird of Smithfield, the first solo venture from former Ivy executive chef Alan Bird. Dimond feels like he’s in safe hands with the team at the five-storey bar, lounge, restaurant and terrace overlooking the market, but Sturgess says the sense of exploration and excitement you might expect to find is well hidden.

The Times’ Giles Coren is impressed by the “brilliant cooking and lovely service” at the Michelin-starred Sportsman in Kent. “Why did nobody tell me about the Sportsman?” he asks. “It’s amazing. Amazing, I tell you.”

Lisa Markwell writing in the Independent on Sunday says Jamie Oliver’s latest gaff, a two-year pop-up Diner in Covent Garden is much better than so many tourist traps it rubs shoulders with, even if it was probably invented by a box-ticking committee.

The London Evening Standard’s Fay Maschler is more than impressed by the timeless cooking and presentation at classic French restaurant Otto’s, while the Sunday Telegraph’s Zoe Williams asks if Brasserie Chavot could be the epitome of brasseries.

In Scotland the Sunday Herald’s Joanna Blythman says the Bridgeview Station Café in Dundee may not look instantly promising, “but it’s nice inside, well run and the food is thoughtfully sourced and carefully cooked”. Meanwhile the Scotsman’s Richard Bath says small portions and
 worryingly variable standards at the Left Bank in Glasgow made for a meal that was instantly forgettable.

A few of my interviews

During my seven years at Caterer and Hotelkeeper, I was lucky enough to meet and interview some of the top chefs not just from the UK but also around the world. There were numerous times I had to pinch myself while I was sitting there chatting to some of these culinary icons and very few of them failed to inspire me with their passion, drive and unwavering commitment to their trade.

One of the biggest highlights was going out to California to visit the 2009 Roux Scholar Hrishikesh Desai during his stage at Thomas Keller three-Michelin-starred French Laundry. I met Keller for the first time and it was also the first of a few trips with the legend that is Michel Roux. And if that wasn’t enough Michel Troisgros was there too visiting his son César.

Another trip with Michel Roux took us to visit the 2011 Roux Scholar Mark Birchall at El Celler de Can Roca in Spain, which has recently been named number one in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants.

I also got the chance to visit Massimo Bottura at his Osteria Francescana in Italy before he gained his third Michelin star, accompany a bunch of chefs from Exclusive Hotels on a chefs’ day out in Copenhagen visiting Noma, and join two-Michelin-starred chefs Andrew Fairlie, Claude Bosi and Gary Jones on a culinary trip to New York where they cooked at Relais & Châteaux’s Dîner des Grands Chefs. of the big London openings I covered for Caterer included Daniel Boulud’s Bar Boulud and Heston Blumenthal’s Dinner, both at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, as well as Pierre Koffmann’s return to the capital’s dining scene, and more recently Rainer Becker’s Oblix at the Shard.

I’ve done Caterer and Hotelkeeper Interviews with chefs including Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall on being a sustainability champion and opening a chef school; Hélène Darroze on juggling running Michelin-starred restaurants in Paris and London with single motherhood; and both Michel Roux Senior on 30 years of the Roux Scholarship and Michel Roux Junior on the Art of Service.

Since going freelance, I have written for a number of new publications. Recent articles have included a profile of US-based Spanish chef-restaurateur José Andrés in FOUR The World’s Best Food Magazine; as well as a profile piece on Italian chef Francesco Mazzei from London’s L’Anima restaurant and a definitive list of the most influential movers and shakers of the London hospitality scene in City Magazine.