Day 59: Grilled Mushrooms with Confit Egg Yolk & Barley
inspired by Brat
I realise in yesterday’s post I didn’t actually talk about the restaurant at all. Too caught up in describing my trip to Blackheath, I rather forgot about it.
In truth I don’t know much about Balthazar. It’s the London outpost of a French style brasserie which is legendary in New York. But I only picked it for it’s inclusion of herb omelette on the menu. More accurately I should say picked from one of their menus. I counted 11 different menus on their website. Not including drinks.
But what else can I say about it? It turns out it’s part of the same restaurant group as The Ivy restaurants. Also La Caprice, J Sheekey, Scott’s and Sexy Fish. Oh and Bill’s restaurant chain. Owner Richard Caring, also owns Annabel’s and Soho House private members clubs. He used to own Strada. He has shares in the Côte Brasserie chain.
This gets me back to thinking about Blackheath yesterday. As I walked around the high street these was a definite trend. The Ivy Cafe and Côte Brasserie were closed. So was Cafe Rouge. Pizza Express wasn’t even open for delivery. Even more surprisingly, Costa and Greggs weren’t trading.
And yet so many independent or small-chain coffee shops, bakeries and restaurants were open. For takeaway. Converted into delis or wine shops. Or perhaps not open to the public but with a string of Deliveroo drivers waiting for their orders to be taken to customers at home.
Why then, I wondered, is it that the large are closed but the small are open?
My first thought was that of course larger chains can stay shut. They’ll have enough money to keep them going. They don’t need to open yet.
But that’s not always the case.
Richard Caring’s restaurant empire is working behind the scenes. Aiming to deliver 100,000 hot and cold meals across the country every week to the homeless, vulnerable and isolated as well as NHS staff. All though his Caring Foundation charity.
But what about the other chains? Are they all financially stable enough to be able to turn themselves over to charity and ignore the need to generate income for themselves?
As we are finding out, the answer is sometimes no.
The first signs of large chains suffering came back in March with the closure of Carluccio’s. This week the Casual Dining Group (who own Bella Italia and Cafe Rouge) go into administration.
In a Guardian article published yesterday it claims that up to 30,000 pubs, bars and restaurants may not reopen. It makes the point that casual dining chains will be hit hard, with outlets in shopping centres, business districts and leisure complexes suffering from a lack of trade for the foreseeable future.
But why is Costa shut? And Greggs… surely they can open? Nearly all of it’s trade it takeaway anyway?
This highlights another problem with being big. It takes time to react and adapt.
Small, independent restaurants and pubs across the country have transformed themselves, almost overnight, into delis, off licenses and bakeries. They offer food to takeaway and meal kits to cook at home. They put together meat, veg and dairy boxes from their suppliers and distribute them to the public. Their chefs are on social media showing us all how to make their signature dishes at home.
For a large chain to adapt to social distancing is much harder. They can’t just open their doors, put some tape lines on the floor and see how they go. They need to come up with strategies, work out which sites to open first, which of their staff should run them. Then they need to work out how to roll this out across hundreds (or in Greggs case thousands) of outlets. No small task.
Just as our dependence on a single big supermarket might now have shifted to shopping more locally, or more directly from producers, perhaps our restaurant habits will follow suit. That daily coffee fix now from an independent cafe. Our pizza from a family run business. Our vegan sausage roll made at home from an Instagram tutorial.
In a time where all restaurants are fighting for survival, so far it seems the small are winning.
Or maybe it’s just we can see them fighting. Their battle is happening right in front of us. Not in a strategy meeting or on a conference call.
So it seems only right that today’s dish is inspired by an independent restaurant.
Brat was opened in Shoreditch in 2018 by Tomos Parry. He is inspired by the cooking techniques and respect for produce from the Basque country. But using local and seasonal British (often Welsh, he’s from Anglesey) ingredients.
It was the restaurant everyone was talking about. A Michelin star followed. Getting a table because impossible.
So it’s no wonder that I’ve never eaten there. Another one from the list of places I’ve never quite got round to visiting.
Sadly I don’t live close enough to visit their Deli, Grill and Wine Shop they have temporarily transformed into.
But I can have a go at cooking a dish from home.
An article from The Modern House about Tomos Parry contains this recipe.
“Grilled Wild Mushrooms with Confit Egg Yolk and Barley”
This is exactly what I want to cook.
You know why? It’s nothing to do with the fact I love wild mushrooms. Or the fact that I already know how to confit an egg yolk.
Nope. I want to cook this now because I can make fresh, home-made bread to go with it.
Made with yeast.
Yes, you heard me right. I am now the proud owner of yeast!
Aidan was at work earlier this week and popped into Waitrose.
And there, in a supermarket, for the first time in nine weeks, he found yeast!
So with Aidan gaining enough brownie points to keep him going for the rest of the year, I set about making bread.
Once the dough is proving I turn my attention to what I’m actually supposed to be doing.
Which is making mushroom stock.
For this chopped mushrooms, leeks, onions, carrots and garlic get spread on a roasting tray and put into an oven for an hour.
The recipe says preheat the oven to 18°C. I assume this must be a typo. It’s currently 21°C in my house. I’m fairly sure it’s’ impossible to get my oven colder.
I assume they mean 180°C, which I will interpret as 160°C for a fan oven.
After an hour roasting they go into a saucepan with herbs and peppercorns and get covered in cold water. Bring to the boil and leave to simmer for an hour.
I’m ready to bake my bread now so the oven gets turned up and in it goes.
I strain the stock through a sieve. It tastes delicious! I’ve never bothered making vegetable stock before. I’ve always assumed it’s when you have animal or fish bones that you can produce something better than a foil wrapped stock cube.
I was wrong. The flavour of this is so much deeper than the stock cube version. And also a lot less salty, which I like.
I now need to wait for my bread to bake, and my oven to cool down, before I can confit the egg yolks.
I submerge two egg yolks in olive oil in a soufflé ramekin (I’ve still not make a soufflé) because it is a nice small oven proof dish. This means I don’t need to use too much oil.
When the oven has got to 65°C the egg yolks go in for 55 minutes.
I take barley out the cupboard and read the instructions on the packet. It says to cook for 1 hour 15 minutes! What?!
Well I don’t have that long. I’ve got 50 minutes tops. My eggs are in. I’m on a deadline.
So barley, water and a spoonful of miso paste go into a saucepan and I set it to a rapid boil. I pray it hurries up.
20 minutes later I have perfectly cooked barley.
So I’ve panicked over nothing. How on earth does the supermarket packet think it will take nearly four times longer to cook? Maybe they tried to put it in an 18°C oven.
Brat would cook their mushrooms over a charcoal grill. I just get out my trusty non stick frying pan and get it nice and hot. I fry the mushrooms without any oil, and work in batches so they don’t crowd the pan and start sweating rather than grilling.
As the mushrooms are done they get added to the mushroom stock and then I’m ready.
The trickiest part of this is trying to balance a confit egg yolk on top of a heap of barley. If you try this make a well in the centre so it can’t make a break for it and slide off to the side of the plate.
I slice the fresh loaf and we tuck in, dipping the bread into the mushroom broth. It’s utterly delicious.
Even Aidan loves it.
Maybe that’s earned me a few brownie points too.