The Waterside Inn: Back to ’89

Actually more like back to ’84, when Duty Free was the raciest show on TV, and Banjo bars were a regular feature in my life.  Pure mid 80s time warp: that’s what it feels like walking in to The Waterside Inn.  Not in a bad way; just in a major way.

The Waterside Inn has held 3 Michelin stars longer than any other restaurant in the UK.  It is run by a Roux (Alain – cousin of Michel Roux Jr. from Masterchef, son of Michel Roux Sr – who along with his brother started Le Gavroche – my favourite posh restaurant in London.)  The Waterside Inn is in beautiful surroundings on the Thames, in Bray, even in the rain:

and it is breath-takingly expensive for the a la carte menu (£103 for a main course, anyone?)  However, it does have a set lunch for £58 – a comparative / veritable bargain. (It was my birthday.  Besides, you also get temporary use of a colourful array of pashminas to protect against the cool August wind.  You don’t get that in Nandos now, do you?)

And, the food is amazing – amazing, and stuff I would never be able to make at home.

For canapes you are served these beauties:

which in close up look like this:

There’s smoked eel, a very salty anchovy cheese straw, something with capers and tarragon on a lettuce leaf – all delicious.

Then for a starter: a duet of salmon gravadlax and tartare with beetroot salad and wasabi sauce.

A main of super rare spit roasted beef rump fillet, garnished with a terrine of braised shin, potato and girolle croquette, and a red wine gravy, sorry, jus….

A pudding of creme brulee (where are the acute accents on this thing…grrr) with praline, and almond ice cream.  So a perfect, rich, vanilla cream, with hidden swathes of posh Nutella running through, alongside a dense, perfectly white fragrant ice cream that feels like dense snow against your teeth.

And finally an array of beautiful petit fours, and coffee (included in the price.  And I did have 5 cups of coffee to get my moneysworth.  And to sober up from the two bottles of Michel Roux rose wine – delicious and only £30.)

A lavender macaroon, just about one of the prettiest things ever, and on Justin-Custard-Doughnut-Man’s menu for his final supper.:

But not as beautiful as this mini raspberry tart, which is a lot like the one in Pear-Shaped that Sophie wears on her head for the Tarts party…  This one went straight in the mouth – unfortunately in the mouth of my companion…

Everything we ate was utterly delicious.  Plus the service was phenomenal, and the waiters flirted with us just the right amount.

It’s the perfect place to go with your in-laws / an old aunt / anyone who loves food, on a special occasion. 

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The St John Custard Doughnut – all hail the master

As previously discussed the St John Custard Doughnut is a mythical creation, a thing of beauty,* and one of the best treats in London. It does things to your tongue and your brain that are illegal in several American states.**

It is also proof to me that there is a God, in this case a pastry God, in the form of Justin Piers Gellatly, Executive Baker and Head Pastry Chef of the St John empire. Starting out at 15 washing dishes, he’s worked in the business for 23 years, the last 11 of them with Fergus Henderson at St John.

As well as being in charge of St John’s legendary breads, now served at over 30 top London restaurants, Justin looks after all their baked goods. He recently did a spot of catering for a certain royal wedding – 2000 rolls – toasted rye, white sourdough and raisin – plus some buttery buns for the morning after bacon sarnies. And he is the inventor of THAT Doughnut.

First things first, Justin wanted a brioche-inspired, buttery dough. He uses Lescure, a French butter with a low water content and drier texture, to ensure perfect consistency. The finished dough combines strong white bread flour, butter, salt, sugar, eggs, yeast, water and lemon zest, which lifts and offsets the dense rich custard inside perfectly.

Strong white bread flour.  Great packaging, no?

Justin trialled around 50 doughs over 6 months in development, encountering over-exuberant yeast and exploding doughnuts along the way.

The custard was a different story and he nailed it first time. He mixed 50% Crème Patissiere (to chefs, what concrete is to builders – Raymond Blanc) with 50% Crème Chantilly (double cream mixed with sugar and vanilla.) The result is a luscious thick, rich yet light vanilla dream. It has a fullness to it that feels as satisfying on your tongue as a water balloon in your palm.

When Justin presented the finished prototype to his boss, there were nearly tears in Fergus’s eyes.

Justin and his team now bake 500 donuts at a time for St John Bakery in Bermondsey on a Saturday morning, and another 100 for St John Bread and Wine in Spitalfields on a Sunday morning.

St John Bakery at the end of the Saturday shift, not a doughnut left in sight…

The dough is prepared the night before and given a 24 hour bulk fermentation (the doughnuts are kept as one large lump of dough, so that the flavour can develop fully.)

Tomorrow’s bread, proving today

The custard is made in the wee small hours of the morning. The dough is divided and rolled into 47g balls, left to double in size in the prover for two hours, then arranged in batches of 25 per proving tray – then fried quickly in vegetable oil.

Justin, Executive Baker, with a proving tray, which holds 25 dough balls

After a brief pat with a paper towel, each doughnut is given a good roll around in sugar, left to cool, then hand-piped to bursting, full of custard.

At close of play there are never any doughnuts left. Not one. Ever.

If I worked in this bakery I’d be fired on day one for eating the stock. How often does Justin allow himself a taste of his own confections? Turns out he hasn’t eaten a custard doughnut for a few months. That’s the thing about gods; way more will power than us mortals.

‘I crave cornichons!’ he says by way of explanation. It does make a certain sense – a salty, acidic, sour counterbalance to the richest, creamiest sweetest puff of joy imaginable.

If you are brave and want to try recreating these at home, the recipe can be found in Beyond Nose To Tail. If I were you, I’d leave it to the doughnut masters. Just get here early.

Mini Q&A with Justin, the Doughnut Master:
Perfect accompaniment to a St John Custard Doughnut: A glass of champagne
Favourite London restaurant, aside from St Johns: Anchor and Hope, Waterloo

Last supper:
Guests – My wonderful wife Louise Jane Gellatly
A few glasses of Krug with some crab meat toast
Wine with the meal – a chilled red (Brouilly)
Starter – Confit Rabbit Nicoise salad (Anchor and Hope)
Main – Grilled Onglet, chips, watercress salad and béarnaise sauce (very heavy on the tarragon )
Dessert- Custard tart
Cheese- Roquefort , Water Biscuits and Ruby port.
Earl Grey Tea, violet macaroons and chilled Poire William
Calvados and cigars

* Keats, who wrote Endymion (first line ‘A thing of beauty is a joy forever…’) used to live a stone’s throw from St John Bakery, in Tooley Street.
**Did you know it is illegal to own a ferret as a pet in California and Hawaii?

Jose on Bermondsey Street – part II

Second trip to Jose, even better than the first, in spite of the fact that I had to stand throughout the meal as they only have 17 chairs, and I gifted my friend the 17th.  The only other place I happily eat standing is McDonalds and on those rare guilty-pleasure occasions I’m invariably drunk.

I am all class.

Highlights were the ever-changing tortilla, today smoked paprika and peppers.  Smoky, sweet, tender, delicious:

Phenomenal prawns with chilli and garlic, this time with their clothes on:

And spectacular ham and cheese croquettas, that make it on to my uber-list:

Finally spicy, tasty lamb meatballs in a beautiful fresh, sweet, vibrant tomato sauce:

All delicious and simple – high quality raw ingredients, executed perfectly.

San Fran Redux

San Francisco, just like I pictured it.

More giant produce, this time a Brussel sprout – not a cabbage, a Brussel sprout:

We stayed in Pacific Heights, one of the most beautiful areas of a generally beautiful city, and home to some of the grander mansions such as this:

You can even drive around the ‘hood with Zillow on your iPhone, looking at how much each house cost.  Extraordinary – everything from $3.4 to $33.9 million.  This one was weird – note the metal dude on the left:

Zillow doesn’t report how much for this poor doggy in the window:

Highlights of the trip included this beautiful heart-shaped wine at Chez Panisse:

These tomatoes at the Castro Farmer’s Market, and these amazing summer squashes:

An eight ball, San Fran style:

I could happily work in this store:

Seriously, beer, bourbon and hummus – winning combo.

We had amazing Catalan food at Contigo in Noe Valley where Ottolenghi had been the week earlier so we knew we were on to a good thing.  This is a corn, bacon and cheese pizzette.  I think corn and bacon is as winning a combo as darn near anything:

Not sure how Spanish a corn and bacon pizza is but anyway, it was delish.  Also amazing clams and bacon:

Tartine is an award-winning bakery everyone raves about.  Be prepared to queue.  My still-warm orange, cinnamon breakfast bun was a moment of unmitigated joy:

Tartine Morning Bun

Their other cakes are mighty purty too:

We took a little trip over to Hog Island Oyster Farm, in Tomales Bay, an estuary about an hour’s drive north of the City.  A perfect day – a handsome man


super-fresh oysters

and triple-cream cheese spread thickly on wild sourdough:

Hog Island Farm is basically a super-hipster weird hillbilly oyster rave in the middle of nowhere. 

Then from one extreme to another.  We drove inland across to Sonoma, wine country, and popped first to Ridge, a vineyard famous for its fancy shmancy Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon blend.

Within an hour we’ve gone from cold, roughneck and barnacle-y to hot, posh and super-sleek.  And then on to the awesome-est place of all – Francis Ford Coppola’s winery, Disney Wine Vegas, a shrine to all things Coppola:

This place is fully hilaire.  Luscious country club

meets mega-brand merchandising opportunity

Apocalypse Now – in liquid form.  The horror…

 meets shrine to immodesty:

Who, little old me?

Although how cool is this?

 and this?

And how very uncool this:

Kirsten Dunst channeling like Marie Antoinette, duh…

Can’t wait to have my own vineyard.