I love a long weekend in London, it’s so easy to pop over from Cork Airport, no queues, no hassle. A chance to see a couple of exhibitions, maybe a play, stroll around several cool Farmers’ Markets and food shops, go to the theatre and do some yummy research on new openings and the current food scene. I love to check out the latest restaurants and cafés but there’s one old favourite that I can’t resist returning to virtually every time I go to London – Quo Vadis in Dean Street in Soho. I love Jeremy Lee’s food and always hope that this charismatic, bespectacled chef will come bouncing into the dining room with his usual exuberant welcome and generosity of spirit.
Jeremy is one of those rare, seemingly egoless chefs whom everyone loves. In Jay Rayners words, ‘one of those rare phenomena in the London food world – a chap everyone agrees is a good thing’.
He writes the menu every day. At this time of the year, he cooks the sort of warm comforting food that we crave in Autumn and Winter, chunky soups, game pies, salad of bitter greens with perfectly ripe pears and chunks of Stichelton cheese….wild plums and caramelised apple tarts and when the weather get chillier, steamed puddings floating in homemade vanilla flecked custard with freshly churned ice cream and thick rich Jersey cream. The dining room is small so you’ll need to book ahead…
His love for food was honed in the kitchen of his childhood in Dundee where both his Mum, a home economics teacher and his illustrator Dad loved to ‘read cook and eat’ and share good things around the table with family and friends.
He came to London in the 1970’s when becoming a chef had little allure for middle class boys. Back then the restaurant world was all about starched hats and Escoffier inspired hierarchical kitchens, but in the 80’s, interest in food gathered momentum, a whole new generation of great restaurants opened around the world. Changes in produce and restaurant menus…cookbooks on every cuisine were rolling off the press. He cooked with Simon Hopkinson at Bibendum, Alastair Little at Frith St, and manned the stoves at Boodles and the Blueprint Café. In 2012 Jeremy joined forces with the Hart brothers, Sam and Eddie, the restaurateurs behind Barrafina and Quo Vadis in Soho. He’s got a vast and much-loved library with Elizabeth David, Jane Grigson, Julia Child, Claudia Roden, Elizabeth Luard, Marian McNeill, Florence White and Eliza Acton were all powerful influences.
For years Jeremy’s many devotees have been longing for him to write a cookbook but it wasn’t until Quo Vadis was shuttered up during Covid that Jeremy began to jot down recipes for a combination of his favourite things to eat and favourite recipes from a lifetime spent in restaurant kitchens. Warm comforting, nourishing dishes that he cooked during lockdown form the heart of the book.
The smoked eel and red onion sandwich so beloved of Quo Vadis guests is there, as is the baked salsify or asparagus in filo, chocolate, almond and marmalade tart as well as the classic pommes Anna and rumbledethumps – one of the many nods to his beloved Scottish ancestry.
Like many others, I predict that Jeremy’s cookbook will become a cherished classic. I’ll leave you with a quote from the introduction. ‘The simple truth, I’ve learned from a lifetime of cooking, is that good food is honed from fine ingredients’ – how true is that…
Cooing Simply and Well, For One or Many by Jeremy Lee is published by 4th Estate.
Jeremy Lee’s Griddled Chicken Livers, Bacon and Sage
These are as pleasing as they are simple. Two each will serve well for a bite or buy and make more for a more substantial dish.
Made earlier in the day and refrigerated, they are a treat cooked swiftly on a grill, heaped on a dish and taken piping hot to the table.
When buying chicken livers, ensure they are dark in colour, firm and, above all, fresh. Wooden skewers are best here and soak them for 20 minutes before using.
150g (5oz) freshest chicken livers
12 rashers of streaky smoked bacon
24 sage leaves
2 soup spoons of olive oil
1/2 teaspoon red wine vinegar
Trim the livers of all and any trace of gall, easily recognised by its green colour.
Cut the rashers of bacon in half. Lay these flat on a chopping board or baking tray. Lay a small sage leaf on each piece. Lay a piece of liver on top of each leaf. Thread a skewer securely through the bacon, liver and sage. Cover and refrigerate until required.
Place a skillet or griddle on a high heat. When ready to cook, have a dish beside you. Lay the skewers on the skillet or grill, season well with a pinch of each of salt and black pepper, then let cook until a fine-sounding sizzle is achieved after a minute or so. Turn the skewers and cook for a minute or two. Remove to the waiting dish, then mix together the oil and vinegar and lightly brush the meat. Serve swiftly.
Jeremy Lee’s Hake with Parsley, Dill and Anchovy Sauce
A striking dish with the pale green limpid sauce pooled in the plate, contrasting with the delicate slivered skin of the hake. Heaven with the first crop of new potatoes.
3 small shallots
1 clove of garlic
6 anchovy fillets
7 soup spoons olive oil
200ml (7fl oz) double cream
150g (5oz) picked flat-leaf parsley leaves
30g (1 1/4oz) picked dill leaves
6 fillets of hake, roughly 1kg (2 1/4lbs) in total
Preheat the oven to 200˚C/400˚F/Gas Mark 6.
Peel and finely chop the shallots and garlic. Place in a pan with the anchovies and olive oil. Sit this upon the gentlest heat and warm until the shallots have softened and the anchovies have melted. Pour in the cream. Bring to a simmer, then pour into a blender packed with the picked herbs. Render smooth and pour this through a fine sieve. Cool swiftly and refrigerate until required.
Place the fillets of hake in a deep ovenproof dish, lightly season with salt and white pepper and lightly dress with a soup spoon of olive oil. Pour in enough cold water to cover the bottom of the dish. Cover the dish and bake in a hot oven until done, say 15-20 minutes. Remove from the oven and keep warm. Any residual juices left in that dish can be added to the sauce.
Warm the sauce and pour on to a dish. Place the fillets of hake on the sauce and serve swiftly.
Jeremy Lee’s Apple Tarts
I first ate a ‘tarte fines aux pommes’ at the Peat Inn in Fife on the east coast of Scotland when still a young apprentice in the late seventies. It is a lovely pudding, timeless, elegant and delicious, simplicity itself, the very best recipe to withstand the vicissitudes of time.
I have made this tart with pears, peaches, apricots and plums and enjoyed them immensely, but there is just that something about apple to which this cook happily returns again and again.
For each person
50g (2oz) puff or rough puff or flaky pastry
1 apple, such as Egremont Russet or Cox’s Orange Pippin
a squeeze of lemon juice
15g (generous 1/2oz) unsalted butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon caster sugar
Preheat the oven to 200˚C/400˚F/Gas Mark 6.
Roll the pastry out thinly on a lightly floured surface, roughly into a 12-13cm (4 3/4 – 5 1/4 inch) disc.
Place on a baking sheet and prick with a fork. Refrigerate.
Peel and core the apple, halve it, slice the halves thinly and toss in lemon juice. Lay these concentrically and fairly evenly over the pastry. Brush the apple with melted butter. Evenly sugar the apple slices. (These keep remarkably well in the fridge if necessary).
Bake in the preheated oven for 25 minutes until slightly risen and golden. Serve with very good cream. (If you make the tart in advance, warm it through before serving).
Jeremy Lee’s Custard
Makes 600ml (1 pint)
1 vanilla pod, split and seeds scraped, or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
500ml (18fl oz) whole milk
6 organic egg yolks
40g (1 1/2oz) caster sugar
140ml (scant 5fl oz) double cream
Place the vanilla pod and seeds in a heavy-bottomed saucepan with the milk (if using vanilla extract, add this to the milk instead). Place over a gentle heat while the milk infuses, stirring from time to time.
In a bowl mix the egg yolks and sugar together. Just as the milk comes to the boil, pour half on to the egg mix, stirring all the while. Pour this back into the remaining milk in the saucepan, and return to a gentle heat, stirring until the custard thickens.
Remove from the heat and pour in the cold cream. Pour the custard through a sieve into a waiting bowl and stir for a few minutes until the steam disperses. Cool and refrigerate until needed.