Archive for October, 2012

The roof’s the limit. We go up to Skymarket.

October 10, 2012 Leave a comment

We’re all going a bit bonkers for street food right now, but what about roof food? Nick Harman thinks he may be in on the ground floor of a brand new trend.

God of small things

The wind buffets SkyMarket, five floors up over Tooley Street, and a large red chili tumbles off its shelf and rolls over to lie beside a fast growing puddle on the deck. The rain lashes down, occasionally finding its way in, and the sky fades to deepest black. In a few hours SkyMarket will open for the evening’s business and the chefs are prepping hard, oblivious to the wind and rain outside and positively basking in the warmth of the cooking range and the heat lamps.

Long way down

A small lift at the base of Magdalen House brings you up to Skyroom, an award-winning roof construction created by David Konn. It looks jerry-built but is in fact sturdy and secure and it’s a kitchen, bar, deli, art and craft gallery and performance space all on one rooftop.

Julian Bayuni is one of the creators of Platterform the company behind SkyMarket, along with Kevin Darcy. Originally both mixologists at Momo where they first met, Julian went on to manage West London’s Notting Hill Arts Club and worked in the Netherlands with The Fabulous Shaker Boys. Together they’ve  created plenty of cool pop ups and  Platterform itself picked up a Young British Foodies ‘Best Food Experience’ award earlier this year.

Spice of life

‘Platterform suggests what we do as a brand and events company –  large plates of food and a platform for  ideas, bringing together creative energy,  chefs, mixologists, artists, musicians and  performers,’ Julian explains. ‘Two years we worked a pop up at Hel Yes! during the 2010 London Design Week just off the City Road and that gave us our initial impetus. I’m used to working in the food world, but this is about more creative ideas and techniques for food and drinks. We want it to be fun and accessible and not intimidate people, but we want to challenge the traditional constructs of what people expect from a drinking or dining experience.’

No reservations

It certainly does that. When you walk out the lift and feel the wind gust you’re already a bit on the back foot but then a vibe familiar to anyone that’s ever been to Camden Market, or a traveller encampment, embraces you. It’s multisensory with four different musical sounds going on around and a wealth of aromas, some from the satay bar perched dizzyingly out over the drop and some from the range where the main dishes are being cooked.

It’s a local, family thing. Julian, who is half Indonesian and from a restaurant running family, even has his stepfather cooking some days, while meat and vegetables come from local suppliers like Maltby Street along with ethical foods such as jams being made in people’s kitchens from fruit that would otherwise go to waste. In season vegetables also come from the nearby St Mungo’s of Melior Street project and the market up here sells a mix of exciting spices and other stuff you won’t find in Tesco’s.’

Hot off the grill

‘We have six chefs in the team, two are Jamie Oliver trained at 15 and are doing a contemporary take on African and Caribbean dishes,’ Julian says as tables are set up. ‘The dishes are added to each week and they really suit the environment; we can’t seriously expect people to sit down for five courses on a rooftop so we keep a casual street food/tapas thing going along with the market vibe. This week has been Indonesian and Caribbean, next week we’ll be adding some Brazilian dishes. And our SkyMarket Bar takes inspiration from the changing food menu with the bartenders creating bespoke cocktails designed to complement the dishes.’

Nuno Mendes of Viajante is a friend they hope will get involved via his Loft Project, and Gok Wan’s been in a few times too. ‘He’s a family guy,’ laughs Justin. ‘He loves this place because it’s a family unit, my mum’s British, my dad’s Indonesian so I think Gok sees the similarities to his own life.  He even got my mum into hotel GB for lunch with Gordon!’

Evolving, and almost literally moving, all the time SkyMarket is a concept they hope to take to other spaces like railway arches. And more rooftops? ‘We’re certainly looking around,’ says Justin as I start to make my way down.

Open cooking class or presentation every Tuesday lunchtime between 12pm- 4pm

Experiential drinks brand events including workshops and masterclasses will take place every Tuesday evening at 6.30pm

The Skyroom, 5th Floor Magdalen House, 148 Tooley Street SE1 2TU

Ashdown Park Hotel.Foraging and finding luxury.

A very nice house in the country

With a flourish the waiters whip off the cloches to reveal the meal beneath, a sight not seen in London since barrage balloons wobbled in the sky and Evelyn Waugh wobbled out of Whites. You can only imagine what some metropolitan critics would make of this; gleefully sharpen their pencils in preparation for stabbing the restaurant through the heart, no doubt.

It tastes better in silver

Things are done differently in the country though, they hunt things, they kill and mostly eat the things they hunt, they are comfortable with corduroy and welly boots and mud. Here at Ashdown Park Hotel and Country Club part of the same Elite Hotels Group as The Grand Eastbourne.  some things are still done pretty much as they would have been done thirty years ago.

A bit of swag

The hotel is, as are so many, a converted country house but it’s a converted convent really. In the 1920s an already pretty large place was bought and added to by rich nuns, grand wings sprouted from both sides and a chapel was tacked on. Then came a spell as an American ‘university’, then a training college for a major high street bank. Finally, around 1993, it became a hotel, club and spa.

It’s size means our journey from reception to suite takes forever; the endless fire doors that encumber each and every corridor making it seem longer. The suite’s smart though; a double aspect sitting room looking out onto rolling downs and a lively fountain. This and a large bedroom furnished with genteelly distressed furniture makes it feel like we were spending the night at Downton as family guests of the perennially sad Earl. Only the flat screen TVs in each room break the spell.

Try and ignore the telly

We’re here for the  annual Sunday mushroom foraging and lunch, but on this Saturday evening it’s also a chance to try the restaurant too, so we yomp the corridors, descend the wonderfully creaky grand staircase and enter the 2 AA Rosette restaurant; Anderida.

Except I don’t. Sir is wearing neither tie nor jacket and is swiftly intercepted. “I told you!’ hisses the wife. The Maitre d’ is good about it, he produces a jacket, ‘carry it over your arm,’ he advises, ‘then hang it on the back of your chair.’ Am I enraged by this? No I am just a bit embarrassed as, after all, it was clearly stated beforehand both on the website and in the room. I am not an iconoclast and when in Rome, or when in East Sussex, one does what the Romans do.

And they’re off

Like the cloches, this is a hangover from a better age, one when a gentleman did not need to be told to dress properly for dinner. It may make trendy young, and not so young, Londoners choke over their napkins made from kitchen roll,  but from the look of the packed restaurant with its heavy drapes, warm candlelight and tinkling piano, it doesn’t upset anyone else.

Sadly inedible

The food looks the part, once cloches are removed. Head Chef, Andrew Wilson is not serving dinner from the dark ages and my Supreme of Local Partridge, Leg Croquette, Creamed Parsnip, Potato Terrine (complete with authentically crunchy bits of shot), is well-cooked and presented with bags of flavour. This was good as the starter of Sweet and Sour Duck Terrine, Crispy Won Ton and Pineapple Textures had read well but lacked sufficient seasoning and distinct tastes. P’s Salmon and King Prawn Filo Parcels, Fennel Purée, Aioli could have had the power turned up too, especially on the aioli, but her 38 Day Aged Fillet of Beef Wellington from Lamberhurst, with Dauphinoise Potatoes, Roasted Shallots, Aubergine Purée was very good, suggesting chef works best when he works using good local produce.

Off to enormous bed we went then next day down to a breakfast looking out onto the vast grounds and golf course. We have mushrooms with our full English, just in case, then boot up for the coming search under the expert guidance of groundskeepers and mushroomologists.

Can’t eat these either

It’s fun. The secret of ‘shrooming is to keep your expectations as low as your gaze. Adults and small children alike rummage cheerfully around the ferns and foliage as we wander in a group through bosky woodland, grassland and lakeside.

Mushrooms are found but at best are inedible, at worst dangerous. ‘Dinner or death’ our guide cheerfully remarks. The weather has not been kind this year but remains of the sought-after cepes can still be seen, a clue that it mostly depends on luck, although many mushroom hunters hunt by the phases of the moon.

Somehere near is a llama farmer

Surreal site of the day is a herd of Llamas who wander over to to flick their funny ears at us, but thankfully not spit as they often tend to do. They look like aliens in the English countryside, a cross between camels and sheep, yet really rather sweet and endearing.

Not much for lunch

A pleasant hour or two passes as we walk and chat and listen to our expert guides. Then it’s back to the hotel for the grandgourmet mushroom lunch in the old chapel, our boots shucked off and most of us are secretly only in our socks under the linen laden tables.

Beneath a luminous fried duck egg and walnut oil is a thick carpet of mixed wild mushrooms on toast, a brunchy starter. The mush are slippery and varied, each with its own distinct flavour and breaking the egg and letting it puddle through creates a tasty mess.

Puffball. Inedible. Again

Next pot roasted ox cheek with mushrooms en croute and a truffle and parsnip puree. Some find the cheek too gelatinous for comfort, must be Londoners we snidely remark. The meat is tumbling to the fork, the truffle puree not too assertive. Then a suitably classic steamed orange and ginger sponge pudding with clotted cream ice cream and an almond tuile leaves us puffing in our chairs. And with coffee it was check out and car time.

Home James

The problem with these country house hotels is that as you return to London the increasing density of housing is depressing after the aristocratic acres. How, you wonder, can we live in such tiny places.

It may be all wrong for some that these grand houses were created in the first place, but they served society as a small world of employment, status and self-respect for all who lived and worked in them.

Now as leisure machines they do much the same thing, but in Ashdonw Park’s case, happily under cloches.

Ashdown Park Hotel  Ashdown Park, Wych Cross, Forest Row, RH18

Angelus, London

4 Bathurst Street  Paddington, London, London W2 2SD

Tres Francais, non?

The sight of a man eating alone in a restaurant is reassuring, one you tend to see only in French restaurants. A good French place is where the lone diner never feels like a sad loner; just someone having a meal. The staff treat him perfectly normally and chat cheerfully, knowing just how long to linger before letting him get on with his grub.

There are two single diners in Angelus when J and I come  in from out of a wet and windy night. Just a few hundred yards from Lancaster Gate tube, this restaurant created from a venerable old pub is cosily welcoming in a Brasserie stylee. A sense of cheerful informality but with steady professional staff at the tiller. The tables are close together, which is another good sign; I actually  like a Brasserie where you can have next door’s conversation as a backdrop and their elbows in your soup.

It’s Angelus’s birthday apparently; five years old and going very strong, and so they have a menu of revisited classics as well as dishes that the locals, and this is a very local restaurant, like to eat repeatedly. This is enough to tempt me out west.

It’s classic stuff. A starter of duck’s liver brulee is something you might find in the quack-obsessed Gascony region, or in Bordeaux’s brilliant La Tupina. The glaze of sugar shatters to reveal smooth, rich, cardiac-arrest klaxon creamed livers ready to be shovelled heavily onto fine bread studded with nuts. It’s as gorgeous as only something so simple can be. A glass of Pacherenc, so much nicer than Sauternes in my book, proves just the ticket to go with it. Read more…