Friday, 28 February 2014

Restaurant review: The Fish and Chip Shop, Islington

There are two things about food that I tend to get ridiculed for the most. While the first is the way that I eat pizza, a story for another time, the second is that my favourite thing to eat is fish and chips. Despite all of the cooking that I do, I just can’t get enough of it. It’s that comforting smell that cuts through the cold on a wintery evening. The ‘fuffing’ that results from not letting the chips cool down. The soothingly greasy crunch of the batter and the melting, delicate fish. I harp on about memories and how they connect with food, and to me fish and chips is sitting next to dad in the car on the way back from the football with the plastic bag burning my thighs and the steam getting in the windows. Or sitting at my grandparents picking what seemed like the millionth bone out of the cod. It’s something so familiar but never gets old, and always the menu choice in otherwise unreliable eateries. 

But going down the chippy has never been fancy. It was just the thing when faced with an empty fridge or unexpected crowd. That shop light that you wished would still be lit when all others had closed. To me it’s just as much about the situation in which it is being consumed, improved tenfold if I happen to be anywhere coastal. While storms were battering Mull over New Year we were sat on the front wrapped up in the warmth of stodgy vinegary chips. And my trips to Devon and Cornwall are never without a harbour-side fish supper. It is perhaps in Padstow where Stein set my current benchmark. I had never sampled deep-fried monkfish before, but in the still afternoon sun watching the mullet ease around the moored boats it was perfect. True, monkfish might be more fancy than the norm, yet it was still housed in a cardboard box and we were still offered a cup of tea to accompany (something that despite my love of the food, I have never understood). In reality the consistency is really the thing. You can get some pretty awful cases of thick, flabby batter and spongy fish from time to time, but mostly you get just what you expect. I’m not that fussy. Even to the point where normally I’m a stickler for a crisp, fluffy chip, yet find love for the thick mulchy sog when the potatoes have been patiently wrapped that bit too long. 

So not too much pressure for somewhere seemingly trying to add a bit of posh to all this. It made me a bit nervous to be honest, like when I encounter the word ‘gourmet’ in a restaurant name. I am a man of simple needs; all I wanted was crispy batter and freshness, not for my fish to appear in a tuxedo. I worried that the simplicity of it all might be muddied by an injection of class. But what The Fish and Chip Shop did really well on was changing the experience. Unfortunately not every chippy finds itself in Port Isaac or Oban, and in reality a lot of the ones that aren’t are a pretty sad affair. The only time that you would even consider eating-in in these places was if a hurricane was forcing the door shut. Or if you were in Brighton, and you fancied adorning some bunny ears and joining a hen do. And when these occasions force you to, the sticky table covers and bleach white lighting never make you hang about for long. But on Upper Street, the dim light glittered off the cut glass and a happy bustle thronged. Like everyone had bought their takeaways to the same place to have their family gatherings. 

Despite these early plus points I was most concerned about the food. The menu read confidently, betraying the simplicity of just serving out of the fryer. Scallops, langoustines, woodland mushrooms and a curry sat alongside the battered options. It all sounded rather nice. We began with a small platter of tiny sweet queenies posing daintily in their shells. They had been treated properly and paired with the usual suspects and were devoured swiftly, like a witty compère before the main show. Really I was only there for one thing, here performing in locally-brewed ale. My main anxiety was the trendiness, and the declining scale this usually inflicts. There’s no room for small portions when it comes to food like this. It needs to warm your bones and fill your stomach. No smears or quenelles here, please. 

This was of course quashed as our table became a tetris game to accommodate each of the different dishes. I am always thrown when fish or steak are served all alone on a plate, looking like the last person in the school team selection. If this was attempted elegance then it was quickly smothered with a scattering of chips and a dollop of tartare. That was better. And to my relief, delicious. The surroundings and fancy sides such as cabbage and bacon may have implied one thing, but when it came to the fish they didn’t faff around; they just did it well. My tummy was happy and my head saturated by glorious nostalgia. A mug of greying tea was replaced with fruity ale and we even had battered pickles. These onions and cucumbers read like the ultimate bar snack, and despite not quite matching the hype were still moreishly consumed. Mushy peas are a contentious issue, and here they diplomatically offered both crushed or marrowfat. I yearned for a bowl simply seasoned and buttered but that’s just me. 

All deeply satisfying stuff. Our only complaint was the layout, which could have its own seafood simile. With tables tightly packed in we suffered the occasional bum hovering perilously close to our eagerly awaited fish as our neighbours squeezed to and fro. But it was a small price to pay for the bustle that it helped create. We left with that wry glow that a lovely evening had been had. At last a bright star in the largely swathing mediocrity of Upper Street. Who would of thought that humble old fish and chips would be the cause of all that.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Pig head project 3: seared squid with homemade paprika sausage, purple sprouting broccoli and ink dressing

Finally we come to the end of the pigs head project, and to be perfectly honest I’ll be happy to start writing about new things again. But that said, I have thoroughly enjoyed tackling a piece of meat that was new to me and being able to create three very different meals out of it. It’s certainly inspired me to try out more of the undervalued cuts; they are so cheap to buy and can be made into really lovely dishes with a bit of thought and time. I was amazed at how far the head went, and once you stopped thinking about the anatomical side of things you were left with a lot of really decent meat. Although these cuts are not commonly found in the supermarket, it’s well worth getting to know your local independent butcher who can advise you on these cuts and can usually order them for you within a day or two. 

Even this week there has been loads of coverage on the news about how supermarkets are developing new schemes to deliver food not to people’s houses, but to convenient points such as tube stations to be collected. I found this quite depressing. This is another measure that is going to damage our high streets. Luckily where I live in Stoke Newington we have a high street that is 90% small independent businesses, and this diversity is such a refreshing change to the corporation dominance of other parts of town. Don’t get me wrong, of course I shop at supermarkets, but when it comes to food, the quality shines through in these small shops. I always find pork chops the most striking example of this, where the scrawny ones sold at the supermarkets are dwarfed by the cave-man style specimens from a butcher. And don’t get me started about the way that some of the big brands treat the farmers. It’s more than embarrassing. I digress, but my point is that without these specialist butchers, fishmongers, delicatessens, finding those great quality or less popular ingredients would be near impossible. 

With the braised cheek and doughnut dishes the pork was definitely the star of the show, whereas in this case it’s more a balance of three good ingredients that combine really well together. Squid and chorizo are classic partners and one I love, and this is kind of my attempt to replicate that. Although my method of making these sausages is totally makeshift and involves cooking the meat in the spices beforehand, I was amazed that it worked. I found that another fairly gruesome-yet-handy piece of pork, caul fat, acted perfectly as the casing and formed a crisp shell around the filling when fried. Aside from the initial slow roasting of the pork that you can do a day or two in advance, this is a really quick meal to knock together. 

Purple sprouting broccoli is bang in season and gives the finished dish another texture and an earthy, irony taste. Like the squid it also loves strong spicy flavours and marries really well with the paprika in the sausages. But don’t cook it too much; it just needs steaming or boiling for a couple of minutes.

I also wanted to include the squid ink in this recipe. It’s commonly used in risottos and pasta dishes but tends to dominate everything else and make it all look a bit, well, inky. I wanted things to be a bit more subtle here, so have used it in the vinegar and lemon reduction. Although very sharp, it cuts through the rich oiliness of the cooking juices used to make the rest of the sauce. 

Serves 2 for a light lunch. 


For the squid: 

1 large squid, cleaned and gutted then cut into large triangular pieces 
½ a lemon, juice only 
Olive oil 

For the pork: 

1 pork jowl, approx. 600/700g 
1 carrot, halved vertically 
1 leek, halved vertically 
1 onion, sliced thickly 
3 cloves of garlic, crushed 
1 star anise 
1 bay leaf 
A few sprigs of thyme 
1 cinnamon stick 
1 glass of white wine 
1 tbsp fennel seeds 

For the sausage mixture: 

25g butter 
1 shallot, very finely chopped 
2 cloves of garlic, very finely chopped 
1 lemon, zest only 
1 tbsp sweet smoked paprika 
1 tsp dried chilli flakes (or to taste) 
½ tsp oregano 
An approx. A4-sized sheet of caul fat 

For the purple sprouting broccoli: 

10 florets of purple sprouting broccoli, trimmed 
Olive oil

For the squid ink dressing: 

4 tbsp white wine vinegar 
1 lemon, juice only 
1 bay leaf 
½ a small sachet of squid ink

Pre-heat the oven to 160⁰C. 

First roast the pork jowl. Use the sliced leek, onion, carrot and garlic as a trivet in the bottom of a roasting dish. Top with the star anise, cinnamon, fennel seeds, thyme, seasoning, white wine and about 150ml of water. Score ½ cm marks into the pork skin and rub in a generous amount of salt. Place the meat on top of the trivet and cover with foil. Bake for 3 hours, or until the meat is really tender. Raise the temperature of the oven to 220⁰C and continue to roast until the crackling is crunchy. Strip the soft meat from the crackling, it should fall away with little pressure, and shred well. 

Heat a saucepan up to a medium temperature and add the butter for the sausage mixture and a little olive oil. Fry the shallots, garlic, paprika, oregano, chilli flakes and lemon zest until very tender. Add the shredded pork meat and a good amount of seasoning and combine well. Reduce the heat slightly, cover the saucepan and allow to cook for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste for seasoning then mash the ingredients together well. Spread the filling mixture out onto a plate to cool down quickly. 

To construct the sausages, lay the sheet of caul fat onto a flat surface. Make a long sausage out of the filling mixture and lay on top. Very carefully wrap with the caul fat, overlapping a little and making sure that the filling is held in tightly. Twist and cut into a few separate sausages, then put in the fridge for about 15 minutes. 

Make the dressing by putting the vinegar, lemon juice, bay leaf and seasoning into a small saucepan. Reduce over a medium heat until only about 2 tablespoons of liquid remains. Remove the bay leaf and squeeze in the squid ink. Mix well and taste; it should be quite sharp. Remove from the heat and set aside. 

Lightly score one side of the squid pieces in a crisscross and allow to come to room temperature on a plate. 

Fill a saucepan with well-salted water and bring to the boil. Also heat a non-stick pan to a medium temperature. 

When the pan is hot, fry the sausages in a little oil for a couple of minutes on each side until crisp on the outside. Be careful when turning them to reduce the risk of the caul fat breaking apart. 

Boil the broccoli for a couple of minutes until cooked but still retaining a bit of bite. Drain from the pan, season well and toss in the olive oil. 

While the other elements are cooking, heat up a heavy pan or griddle to a high temperature. When smoking, coat the squid pieces in olive oil and seasoning then sear quickly for about a minute on each side. Squeeze over the lemon juice right at the end.

To serve, put some of the broccoli and sliced sausage pieces onto a plate and top with some of the squid. Spoon some of the cooking juices from the sausage around the stacks and dot over some of the dressing.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Pig head project 2: jowl, apple, cinnamon and fennel doughnuts

I was really happy with my first attempt at creating something out of the pig’s head in the last post. Before starting the project I was fairy anxious as to how it would turn out and taste, as apart from the Hannibal Lecters among us who really likes the thought of eating the face and ears of something? But it just goes to show that you should always give these squeamish things a try, and in this case it was totally delicious. I love the increased popularity of nose to tail cooking, both for the great food it throws up and the minimised wastage from using more of the animal. Farmers do an amazing job to bring us such fantastic well reared produce, so it takes the piss a bit to throw loads of it straight in the bin. It’s mostly just the psychological barrier that needs to be broken down, especially in this country. We have a lot to learn from other countries and cultures, where all of the unglamorous stuff is often a delicacy. 

As I only used the cheeks and the ears in the last recipe, I still had tons of meat left that I was determined to use. This mostly comprised of the large slabs of jowl, which have a great fat content and almost resemble a piece of pork belly. Traditionally these would be used to make brawn or rillettes, but I had other ideas. For a while now I had been wanting to make doughnuts, but instead of your traditional cream or jam filled varieties I thought about giving them a little twist. Not having a mega sweet tooth, I often ate them and craved something savoury and salty to cut through all of the sugar. So why not combine the two? I guess the inspiration was probably born from eating things like Asian steamed pork buns, apart from this would be much dirtier and more deep fried.

With the doughnut idea, I originally intended the meat to be shredded confit duck, combined with something like cherry. But recently I had an apple filling, and the pork idea lit up. Although normally you would pipe the jam into the cooked buns, the coarseness of the cooked pork mixture meant that I stuffed the dough after the first proving process. I was sceptical about this at first and thought that this might upset the raising process, but once cooked the filling stayed inside and the dough was light and fluffy. I was really pleased with the taste too, that had just the right balance of sweetness, richness and saltiness. It has also opened up my eyes to all of the other filling possibilities out there.

They went down a treat with everyone who I gave them too. After a few nervous looks at the prospect of a pig head doughnut they were wolfed down.

Makes about 8 large doughnuts.


For the dough:

550g strong white flour, plus more for dusting 

14g instant yeast 
60g caster sugar 
40g salted butter, softened 
2 eggs 
150ml milk 
125ml water 
Vegetable oil for deep frying, about 2ltrs.

For the filling:

1 x pork jowl, about 600/700g 

1 carrot, halved vertically 
1 leek, halved vertically 
1 onion, sliced thickly 
3 cloves of garlic 
1 star anise 
1 bay leaf 
A few sprigs of thyme 
1 cinnamon stick 
1 tbsp fennel seeds 
1 glass of white wine 
1 braeburn apple, peeled and cut into large chunks 
30g butter 
1 tbsp caster sugar, or to taste 
Salt and pepper

For the sugar coating: 

4 tbsp caster sugar 
1 tsp cinnamon 
1 tsp fennel seeds 
A good pinch of salt


Pre-heat the oven to 160⁰C. 

First roast the pork jowl. Use the sliced leek, onion, carrot and garlic as a trivet in the bottom of a roasting dish. Top with the star anise, cinnamon, fennel seeds, thyme, seasoning, white wine and about 150ml of water. Score ½ cm marks into the pork skin and rub in a generous amount of salt. Place the meat on top of the trivet and cover with foil. Bake for 3 hours, or until the meat is really tender, adding the apples underneath the meat for the last hour. Raise the temperature of the oven to 220⁰C and continue to roast until the crackling is crunchy. Strip the soft meat from the crackling, it should fall away with little pressure, and shred well. Reserve the roasted apple chunks. Cut the crackling into strips and sprinkle with salt. 

To make the doughnut dough, get a large bowl and add the flour, sugar, a good pinch of salt and butter. Form a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and add the eggs and water. Warm the milk to a lukewarm temperature and stir in the yeast. Add this mixture to the other wet ingredients and combine them into the dry ingredients using a spoon until it comes together. Tip the dough onto a well-floured surface and knead really well for about 7-8 minutes, or until smooth and slightly elasticky. Put the dough into a clean bowl and cover with a layer of clingfilm. Leave in a warm area for about an hour to prove.

While the dough is proving make the filling. Chop up the roasted apple chunks and add to the shredded pork meat. Heat up the butter in a saucepan on a medium temperature. Add the meat and the apple along with the sugar and some seasoning. Stir together, cover the saucepan and cook gently for about ten minutes. Mash the filling roughly so that everything is combined yet still a little chunky, then taste and adjust the seasoning if needed. Tip out onto a plate and allow to cool. 

When the dough has had its first prove, tip out and divide into 8 pieces, depending on how many and what size you require. Knead each piece a couple of times to get rid of some of the air and then flatten a little to create a thick disk. Spoon a tablespoon of the cold filling mixture into the middle and then carefully seal around it, making sure there are no gaps. Roll the doughnuts to create a round bun shape and then transfer to a well-floured surface, seal side down. Cover loosely with a layer of cling film and allow to prove for another hour.

To make the sugar coating, put the sugar, cinnamon, fennel seeds and salt into a pestle and mortar and crush together really well.

When the doughnuts have nearly finished their proving time, start heating the frying oil in a large, wide saucepan to 160⁰C.

To cook the doughnuts, carefully lower them into the hot oil using a large greased spoon. Cook in small batches depending on the size of your saucepan, but do not overcrowd. Fry slowly for about 4-5 minutes on each side to ensure that the middles are cooked through. Scatter a good amount of the sugar coating onto a plate or board. As soon as each doughnut is cooked, transfer straight over and roll well so that every bit of the surface is covered. Eat whilst still warm, with a bit of the crackling on the side.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Pig head project 1: braised cheek with crispy ear, burnt leeks, black pudding, beetroot puree and tarragon mayonnaise

“There a pig’s head in our kitchen?!” she said down the phone, in a way that even without seeing her came with raised eyebrows and scepticism. “Are you sure that you don’t just want to go to the pub instead?” and “please can it not be staring out of the fridge when I get home” (this was not a question) followed. I couldn’t help but grin wryly. There was a huge temptation to divulge that I was in the process of ridding her supper of impressive facial hair and ear wax. There was a vague temptation to decorate my clothing with the ears, tongue and teeth for when she walked through the door. This was quickly discarded, but I revelled in the challenge of making her a lunch that she had already squeamishly written off. This was going to be fun.

I love a good project, and this one had been long in the making. For months I looked at trendy menus that contained pig’s head this way and that, and it just always remained one of those things that I would get around to doing at some point. I had never tackled anything of the sort; apart from eating the cheeks and spying ears on the odd bar menu I had no idea what else was there. This seemed the best way to find out, and before I knew it I was sitting on the bus home next to a large bag, hoping dearly that a child didn’t peek inside. 

It was surprisingly easy to tackle once home, and before long most of the meat was in manageable portions. Although I could have got the butcher to do most of this, and he probably would have made the whole process look so much neater, I felt rewarded in learning a small skill. 

I only needed the ears and the small, dark nuggets of cheek meat (plus a couple of extra) for this recipe, so against my dear lady’s wishes a few largish bits of pig ended up finding their way into the fridge. But they were certainly not wasted, and in the next couple of blog posts I’ll be writing about the recipes that followed. For such a cheap, unglamorous cut of meat it really went far. I’ll certainly be getting another before too long, to roast whole until crisp or make stunning rillettes out of if nothing else. 

In terms of flavours used in this recipe, I’ve stayed fairly safe and traditional. Pork loves sweetness, and this comes through in the beetroot and the leeks. For me this needs to be balanced though, and I often avoid pork dishes when eating out as it tends to come with a sugar overload. The addition of earthy black pudding and savoury sauce achieve this equilibrium, and the tarragon gives an additional fresh tanginess that rounds everything off. 

Serves 2 


For the braised cheeks: 

4 pork cheeks, sinew removed 
2 carrots, roughly chopped 
1 leek, roughly chopped 
1 onion, roughly chopped 
5 garlic cloves, crushed 
10 sprigs of thyme 
2 bay leaves 
2 star anise 
30g butter 
500ml good quality dry cider 
1.5ltrs good chicken stock 
Olive oil 
Salt and pepper 

For the crispy ears: 

1 pig’s ear, any hair and wax removed 
Oil for frying, approx. 1ltr 

For the burnt leeks: 

6 baby leeks 
Olive oil 
½ lemon, juice only 
Salt and pepper 

For the black pudding: 
2 slices of black pudding, cut into 1cm cubes 
Olive oil 

For the beetroot puree: 

2 beetroots 
8 sprigs of thyme 
2 garlic cloves 
Olive oil 
Salt and pepper 
20g butter 
Splash of hot water 

For the tarragon mayonnaise: 

250ml rapeseed oil 
1 large bunch of tarragon, leaves picked 
1 egg yolk 
½ a garlic clove, finely chopped 
Splash of white wine vinegar 
½ lemon, juice only 
Salt and pepper 

For the sauce: 

Approx. 200g of trimmings from the pig’s head, excess fat removed 
1 shallot, finely chopped 
¼ leek, finely chopped 
2 garlic cloves, finely sliced 
5 sprigs of thyme 
1 star anise 
1 tsp fennel seeds 
1 tsp sugar 
2 bay leaves 
150ml good dry sherry 
500ml of the braising stock 
20g butter 
Salt and pepper 

First braise the cheeks and ear. Heat a large stockpot with a little oil to a high temperature. Season the cheeks and brown very well on all sides, then remove to a plate. Add the onion, leek, carrot, garlic, herbs, spices and seasoning to the pan and sauté for a couple of minutes. Pour in the cider and bring to the boil, then add the cheeks and ear and cover with the stock. Return to the boil and then reduce to a low simmer, cover and cook for 3 hours. Once the meat is tender and cooked, remove from the heat and allow to cool. Carefully remove the cheeks and ear from the liquid to a plate and set aside or refrigerate until needed. Strain the stock, discard the vegetables and reserve the liquid to make the sauce. 

Preheat the oven to 200⁰C (fan). 

Make the beetroot puree by putting the beetroot, garlic, half the thyme, seasoning and a little olive oil into a small oven dish. Tightly cover with foil and bake in the preheated oven for 1 – 1 ½ hours, or until very tender. When cooked, remove from the oven and carefully peel the beets and garlic. Transfer to a small food processor along with the butter, the rest of the fresh thyme leaves, seasoning and a small splash of water. Blitz very well until you get a fine puree texture. Taste and adjust the seasoning, then pass through a sieve. Set aside for reheating later. 

While the beetroot is cooking make the tarragon mayonnaise. Pour the rapeseed oil into a food processor with the tarragon leaves and blitz well until the oil is a vibrant green colour. Pour into a jug and clean the processor bowl. Put the egg yolk, salt, garlic and vinegar into the clean mixer and blend well. With the blade still running pour in the tarragon oil very slowly, until the mixture thickens and emulsifies. When all the oil has been mixed add the lemon juice and taste for seasoning. Let the mayonnaise down with a little water if too thick. Transfer to a sauce bottle and refrigerate until needed. 

For the sauce, heat a large skillet or saucepan to high and add a little oil. Brown the trimmings well on all sides before adding the leek, shallot, garlic, fennel seeds and herbs and frying until coloured. Carefully add the sherry and burn off the alcohol and then top up with the stock. Reduce right down until left with a thick sauce, about 15-20 minutes. Strain into a small saucepan. 

Heat the frying oil for the ears in a saucepan to 180⁰C. Dry the ear with kitchen roll and slice into thin strips. When the oil is hot carefully lower in the strips and cook for a minute or two until crispy and golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain. Sprinkle with salt and set aside. 

Fill a saucepan with salted water and bring to the boil. When hot blanch the baby leeks for a minute, then transfer to a large bowl of cold water. When cool, remove and pat dry. Put aside for grilling later.

Heat the oven to 180⁰C. 

When the oven is hot, arrange the black pudding onto a baking tray and drizzle over a little olive oil. Bake in the oven for 4-5 minutes. 

While the black pudding is cooking finish off the other elements of the dish: 

Heat a frying pan to a medium-high temperature and add a little olive oil. When hot add the braised cheeks and cook for 2 minutes on each side until browned. Halfway through cooking add the butter and a good tablespoon of the reduced sauce and baste well. 

Heat a heavy griddle pan to a high temperature. Toss the blanched leeks in a little olive oil. When the griddle is hot sear the leeks for a couple of minutes until the outsides start to blacken. Remove to a plate, season well and squeeze over the lemon juice. 

Reheat the sauce and stir in the butter thoroughly just before serving. 

Gently reheat the beetroot puree. 

To plate up, arrange two pig cheeks onto each plate and three baby leeks around and on top. Spoon a quenelle of the beetroot puree to one side and squeeze some of the mayonnaise around the plate. Scatter on some of the black pudding and crispy ear. Finally spoon over a little of the thick sauce.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Grilled whole lemon sole with crispy mussels, pickled cucumber and hollandaise sauce

As with most cooks and food enthusiasts, most of my inspiration comes from my experiences and memories. I was quite a fussy eater growing up and would demand dry, plain pasta or breaded chicken. I hated marmite, mushrooms or anything with even the slightest hint of a sauce. I even refused to eat burgers until well into my teens, and when I finally allowed poor dad to cook me some they had to be cremated to within an inch of their lives. Oh how times have changed. But even with such rigid tastes, for some reason I took an early liking to fish and would be the first to snaffle a stray mussel or order a seafood pizza (something that I definitely wouldn’t nowadays!). I guess my dad was the driving force behind this, as his love for all things fishy almost matches mine.

My memories of eating lemon sole are deep rooted and happy. As kids we would often holiday driving through France or Spain, singing songs or deep in sleep in the back of a huge estate car. We would stop off camping along the way, spending the evenings fishing with bamboo rods and the days (much to our displeasure) looking at local castles or art. Sorry mum! For dinner we would often drive to the local harbour towns and pitch up at a restaurant along the front, the sort laid with baskets of bread and concentrated garlic butter and heady with sangria and sweaty mosquito repellent fumes. Despite many holidays I only remember ordering one thing; whole baked flatfish with garlic and herb butter. And I would order it again and again. Despite my adventurous ordering you must remember I was still very much fixed in my tastes! It would be back to a bowl of rice with the accompanying pile of picked out mushrooms upon my return… 

Funnily enough I have barely eaten it since. It’s just been one of those meals that seems so obvious when at home but flies from your mind when it comes round to doing the shopping. So I was very happy when I left Jonathan Norris with a couple of superb lemon sole the other day. Although less fashionable than the dover sole, for my money they are just as tasty and a whole lot cheaper. Now is the perfect time of the year to eat them too; they are large and plump, and just starting to take on a little bit of roe. Although I have added a few accompaniments in this recipe, it all comes back to the wonderful taste of the freshly cooked, moist fish. After one mouthful I could have been back on holiday again. 

Serves 2


For the lemon sole: 

2 large lemon sole, gutted and outer skirt trimmed 
20g butter 
Half a lemon, juice only 
Olive oil 
Salt and pepper 

For the crispy mussels: 

6 live mussels, de-bearded 
Splash of white wine 
1 egg, beaten 
4 tbsp plain flour 
4 tbsp panko breadcrumbs 
Sunflower oil for deep frying 
Salt and pepper 

For the pickled cucumber: 

Quarter of a cucumber, quartered lengthways, de-seeded and cut into thin slices 
4 tbsp white wine vinegar 
4 tbsp caster sugar 
1 bay leaf 
6 black peppercorns 

For the hollandaise: 

4 tbsp white wine vinegar 
1 bay leaf 
6 black peppercorns 
200g butter, melted 
2 egg yolks 
1 lemon, juice to taste 
Salt and pepper 

To finish: 

Chervil leaves

To pickle the cucumber, heat the vinegar, sugar, bay leaf and peppercorns in a small saucepan until combined and just boiling. Put the sliced cucumber into a small bowl and cover with the strained hot liquid. Set aside to cool down. 

Put a dry saucepan onto a high heat. When hot add the mussels and the white wine, which will bubble straight away. Seal with a tight fitting lid and shake well. Cook until the shells only just open, about one minute then remove from the heat. Carefully remove the plump flesh, discarding the shells. Scatter the flour onto one plate, the panko onto another and beat the egg in a small bowl, seasoning each. Roll the mussels in the flour, then dip in the egg before finally covering in the breadcrumbs. Set aside until needed. 

For the hollandaise sauce, melt the butter in a saucepan then transfer to a jug and allow to cool slightly. Reduce the vinegar, bay leaf and peppercorns in a separate small saucepan until only one tablespoon of liquid is left. Put the two egg yolks into a small food processor and combine well with the cooled vinegar reduction, a little salt and pepper and a splash of warm water. With the machine running pour in the butter very slowly, adding more water if the mixture looks too thick. When all of the butter has been emulsified, squeeze in a little lemon juice and taste for seasoning. Keep warm while you cook the fish. 

Pre-heat the grill to medium-hot. 

Pour 2 inches of sunflower oil into a saucepan and heat to 170⁰C. 

Drizzle a little oil onto the bottom of a non-stick oven tray and season well. Rub oil all over the lemon soles and place on top, then add seasoning to the top. Cook under the grill for about 11-13 minutes, until the flesh just comes away from the bone. Baste every couple of minutes, adding the butter half way through cooking. 

When the sole is a couple of minutes away from being cooked, lower the mussels into the hot oil. Fry for 1-2 minutes, until lightly golden and crisp. Remove to drain on greaseproof paper. 

When the soles are cooked squeeze over the lemon juice and transfer carefully to plates. Top with the chervil leaves, drained pickled cucumber, crispy mussels and a few dollops of the hollandaise sauce. Eat straight away.