"How can you portray the ingredients on a plate if you don't know its history?" - Chef Daniel Ayton
There is an ongoing British Food Festival till August 31st at Kafe Fontana, the all-day dining restaurant at Taj Palace, New Delhi and you are invited!!
Showcasing Britain's diverse cuisine is the well known Chef from UK, Chef Daniel Ayton, Vice President of the World Master Chef's Society and a Masterchef of Great Britain. He also also been associated with the Taj Group, London since the past seven years.
My first introduction to British food was very early on in life. Having grown up on a staple diet of Enid Blytons, I can still recount the countless adventures of Secret Seven's and Famous Five's and the vivid description the books had of mind boggling food like jam tarts, meat pies, hot scones running with butter, plum cake, treacle tart, cold ham, potatoes in their jackets - a fantasy world any child would love to dwell in. (Believe me, back in the 70's, food like this was indeed a fantasy). What I wouldn't have given to be able to crawl into one of these novels and eat my way out of it.
I think these books were a major influence on me because this cuisine is very dear to my heart and till date this is the kind of food I love to eat and cook and write about too.
An invitation to attend the British Food festival had me all ready to relive my childhood food fantasies and I was all excited to find out the traditional British dishes that would be on menu.
According to Wikipedia, "British cuisine has been described as "unfussy dishes made with quality local ingredients, matched with simple sauces to accentuate flavor, rather than disguise it." However, British cuisine has absorbed the cultural influence of those who have settled in Britain, producing many hybrid dishes, such as the Anglo-Indian chicken tikka masala.".
The lunch was impressively laid in buffet style and Chef Daniel Ayton walked us through the exquisite menu. The mouthwatering array of dishess combined rustic and authentic dishes like Butchers pie, Billingsgate fish pie, Classic Cesar Ritz Salad, leek and potato soup to name a few. The desserts too had classics like Sherry trifle, summer berry pudding.
Though some of us were really looking forward to tasting the famous classics like the Yorkshire pudding, treacle tart and kidney and Steak Kidney Pie (blame it on our staple diet of Enid Blyton's) which were conspicuous by their absence especially so as we found out that they were available for the a la carte menu for dinner.
Describing the dishes on the elaborate menu, the chef told us that the Billingsgate Fish Pie takes it name from the Billingsgate Fish market which is UK's largest inland fish market. Billingsgate pie had fresh fish made in white sauce and topped with a mashed potato topping. Absolutely delicious as I am a fish lover.
Highly recommended by the chef was the Fish and Saffron Soup. Made with smoked Haddock, I loved how the simple flavors of the soup were elevated by the use of saffron.
Cornfed Chicken with Barbecue sauce was next in line. According to the chef the Cornfed chicken was sourced from London's famous Smithfield Market, the largest wholesale meat market in the UK. I believe these free range chickens feed only on corn hence the name. This diet doesn't just gives the meat a beautiful golden color but also contributes to a more intense flavor than a standard white chicken, with a moister bite after cooking. I too found the chicken to be really juicy and full of flavor.
Butcher's Pie is a traditional meat pie served in Britain made from stewing steak and beef gravy and enclosed in a pastry shell. Here the classic was replicated with lamb and being encased in a lovely crisp golden crust it was beautifully cooked stewed in its own juices. This is something I would love to make for dinner- a complete meal in itself.
Nothing can get more traditional than the classic Leek and Potato Soup.
Crumb Fried Fish served with a creamy mayonnaise was extremely crisp and fresh tasting. It got a big nod of approval from everyone on our table.
Chef also talked about how British people were basically meat eaters and don't really stress on vegetarian meals. Because of which here in India to recreate the same authentic British flavors in vegetarian dishes the chef found a bit tricky. But Vegetarians don't lose heart as the chef has put in a lot of effort and prepared an equally delicious fare keeping you in mind. Here are some dishes you can look forward to :
Vegetable crumble in Basil Sauce consisted of an assortment of vegetables cooked in a creamy sauce and topped with a layer of crispy cheese baked to a perfect golden color. I can't figure out which I preferred more - the buttery cheesy crumble or the creamy vegetables.
Tabouleh, Fattoush, Beetroot Tzatziki Roasted Potatoes and Peas were a few other vegetarian options.
Stuffed Peppers and Sile - peppers stuffed with risotto and mushrooms.
Vegetable Mille Feuille- roasted wedges of mozzarella, potatoes zucchini and tomatoes with gooey melted cheese on top was a feast. I loved the different textures and flavors in this dish.
How can a British menu be complete without the quintessential English dessert -Sherry Trifle - a layered melange of sponge cake soaked in sherry and covered with jam, custard and whipped cream.
Another classic dessert Summer Berry Pudding was an absolute winner. Showcasing the beautiful summer berries, the dessert not only looked exquisite with its brilliant purple color but tasted great too. One spoon of the delectable tangy dessert and you were completely addicted to it. A memorable dish indeed.
As the chef joked the British were quick to embrace cuisines from other cultures easily hence the Apple Pie.
Apricot Cup Cake, Passion Fruit Pastry, Peach Mousse, Chocolate Shell with Cherry Filling, Strawberry Cheese Cake, Chocolate Flaky Bite were a few more sinful delights to tempt you.
Back from a trip to the famous "Spice Market' in Chandini Chowk, Chef Daniel was quite thrilled to explore the interiors of the city. According to him how could one understand the culture of the country without first experiencing its food and culture. Reciprocating, to educate the guests the chef had brought with him a platter of popular cheeses from Britain. Amongst them were a few interesting cheeses like Southwest Cornish Yarg, Cheddar cheese, Red Leicester, Black sticks Blue, Sussex Cheese. It was amazing to learn how the Cornish yarg was matured wrapped in leaves of nettle, (nettle is a prickly plant with stingy hairs that causes skin irritation on contact) which surprisingly lend the cheese a lovely nutty taste.
For some Indians who are fond of their extra punch of spices, the British food might seem a little bland due to lack spices but for me this meal was inspiring and spelled perfection in every way. I thoroughly enjoyed each and every preparation.
If you too want a soak yourself in the authentic flavors of Britain, head towards Kafe Fontana, Taj Palace Hotel, New Delhi.
The festival is on till 31st August.
Buffet Lunch – 1230 – 1445 hrs
Dinner a la carte- 1900 -2300 hrs
Thanks Taj palace Hotel and Chef Daniel Ayton for the fabulous meal.