An invitation to a one-off gourmet cookery workshop at THIRTY SIX restaurant with Michelin starred chef Nigel Mendham is not something you easily turn down, so when I was invited to trade in a day at my desk for an afternoon of cooking in his kitchen and learning some of his trade secrets, it was an offer I simply couldn’t refuse.
When his refined, British cuisine had earned him a Michelin star in Windermere, Nigel Mendham was invited to set up his very own restaurant at Duke’s Hotel, where he focuses his menu on traditional and somewhat nostalgic British dishes, using only the very best quality seasonal British ingredients. Although moving to London meant leaving behind his hard-earned Michelin star, he has his sights set on achieving it again – an ambition which I think is well within reach, considering he’s already managed three AA rosettes within the past four years!
Inspired by his Norfolk childhood memories, he launched his British Larder menu to celebrate time old English recipes and ‘simple, home-cooked food”. When asked where he finds his inspiration for each dish, he answers “I start with the ingredients that are in season and then I come up with some ideas to create a dish around them”. In celebration of launching this British Larder menu, with a rotating seasonal dish each month, he invited me into his kitchen to try a few recipes together in his kitchen at the luxurious Duke’s Hotel in Mayfair.
On arriving at Duke’s hotel, it felt very tucked away and hidden, almost like discovering a secret new place – down a little side street just off St James’s. The restaurant is not the sort of place you might accidentally find yourself or casually stumble upon, it’s a place people make a conscious effort to visit, and revisit, time after time.
We met Nigel Mendham in the brightly coloured Perriet Jouet Champagne lounge, where we chatted over some tea and biscuits. He’s not what you might expect a highly acclaimed chef to talk or act like (if TV chefs are anything to go by), instead he’s really rather shy, approachable and down to earth.
When we entered his busy kitchen we got down to business straight away, and I got to don some chef whites for the afternoon, blending in with his trained and experienced sous chefs.
We start with a large piece of Venison – we need to remove the part which is to be used for the steaks.
After being explained where to cut, I tried to separate the meat from the bone – Mendham made it look so easy, but it’s actually quite fiddly!
Once we had the pieces that we needed, he put the rest of the meat aside, to be used for stews and gravies – nothing in his kitchen goes to waste!
Next we started on the vegetables – one of his trade secrets is that he uses a lot of butter, he even adds butter to a pan of water when he’s boiling vegetables! He also keeps his sprouts in icy water..
Once our food prep was done, we moved on to the dessert station where we got started on our Pineapple Upside Down Cake!
With the dessert practically done, all that was left was searing the steaks (a few minutes on each side)…
… and now for the final touches – learning how to plate up!
Not too shabby if I do say so myself!
After a busy morning in his kitchen, we were rewarded with a delicious long lunch where we got to taste the fruits of our labour!
We sat down and were served what we made earlier – it was quite a surreal experience to be served the food you made yourself, in a restaurant, by the chef!
Finally, time to tuck in…
Juicy, succulent melt-in-mouth venison, washed down with a generous glass of gorgeous wine, and followed with our sweet and fruity pineapple upside down cake!
A behind the scenes glimpse into the world of a top London chef – something I will never forget.
I challenge you to try Mendham’s British Larder classics for yourself at home – without his help!
Pineapple upside down cake
You will need:
- 4 eggs
- Tinned pineapple slices (in juice not syrup, drained well)
- 150g self-raising flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- Pinch salt
- 200g caster sugar
- ½ vanilla pod
- 1 tbsp. melted butter
1. Set oven to 160 degrees.
2. Caramelize pineapple slices and set aside.
3. Sieve together the flour, baking powder and salt.
4. Separate the eggs. Whisk egg whites to soft peak then add caster sugar slowly. Whisk until stiff.
5. Whisk the egg yolks and vanilla until thick and yellow.
6. Fold the yellow eggs in with the egg whites.
7. Fold the flour in with the egg whites.
8. Fold in 1 tbsp. of melted butter.
9. Place 1 ring of pineapple in each mould and half fill with cake mixture.
11. Bake until golden brown.
South Downs venison with parsnip, pear and charred sprouts
You will need:
- 1 x 3-4 kilo venison saddle
- 1 kilo parsnips
- 100g butter
- 300g vegetable stock
- 50g double cream
- 200g baby parsnips
- 75g unsalted butter
- Rock salt
- Sprig of thyme
- 200g purple sprouts
For the sultana puree:
- 1 bay leaf
- 200g sultana
- 100g Port
- 20g Caper
- 100g water
For the pear puree:
- 540g fresh pear juice
- 6g agar agar
- Lemon juice
1. Remove the loins from the saddle, remove all sinew and set aside
2. Pan fry the loins in a large frying pan 2 minutes on each side.
3. Remove from the pan and allow to rest.
4. Peel the parsnips. From the thick end of the parsnip slice 1 inch pieces until you get halfway down the parsnip then set aside.
5. With the parsnip that is left cut into small pieces
6. Take a heavy bottom saucepan melt the butter until foaming. Add the parsnip and a pinch of salt.
7. Cover and cook slowly until the parsnip is soft.
8. Add the vegetable stock and bring to the boil.
9. Add the double cream and bring to the boil.
10. Blend until smooth. Check the seasoning. Place in a container and set aside.
11. Peel the parsnips. Mix together with the butter/thyme and a pinch of salt. Roast in the oven until golden brown.
12. Clean the sprouts (keeping some of the outer leaves for garnish).
13. Bring a large pan of water to the boil. Add sprouts and boil for 4-5 minutes. Put into ice water. Drain. Cut in half and saute in a heavy based frying pan. Season and set aside.
14. For the sultana puree: Mix all the ingredients together. Place in a pan cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove the bay leaf. Blend until smooth. Set aside.
15. Last but not least; Bring the pear juice to simmer. Whisk in agar agar and bring to the boil. Whisk continuous for 2 minutes. Put in a container and chill. When set, cut into pieces and blend until smooth. Season with lemon juice and salt.
Use the sprouts tops and parsnip crisps to garnish the plate, and serve!