As part of its centenary celebrations, the Goring hotel in London has a special menu called 100 Years of Glorious Goring Grub, for which executive chef Derek Quelch has created dishes that have appeared on a past menu or reflect a period in its history. Mark Lewis reports.
This spring, the Goring hotel has celebrated its centenary year in suitably lavish style. Executive chef Derek Quelch has brought a culinary dimension to the hotel's calendar of festivities by creating a series of dishes that bring the history of the hotel to life.
Collectively dubbed 100 Years of Glorious Goring Grub, the dishes have either appeared on a past menu at the hotel or in some way reflect a period in its past; they are being rotated on the Goring's dining room menu through 2010.
Quelch has created 50-odd dishes recalling the various eras the hotel has witnessed, from Edwardian times through to the present day and taking in the Roaring Twenties, the war years and rationing, the Swinging Sixties and the Thatcher years.
He began by trawling through the hotel's archive of old menus. With the hotel's chief executive, Jeremy Goring, he then travelled throughout Britain last year to unearth regional specialities and producers.
Their travels took them from Cornish lobster-boat trips, to the cattle herds of the Castle of Mey in the Scottish Highlands, via the fruit orchards of Suffolk, the ham curers of York and Leicestershire's cheese dairies.
Back in London, the pair then spent a long day in specialist bookseller Books for Cooks, trawling through old recipe books. Quelch cites works by Marguerite Patten, Mrs Beeton and Elizabeth David as particularly fruitful sources of inspiration.
"We were so engrossed that we lost track of the time and Jeremy got a parking ticket," he recalls.
Despite all this research, it was never Quelch's intention to stick slavishly to the past.
"We had to take recipes and adapt them with the skills and technology we have today - modernise them without losing their identity," he explains.
"It was a question of creating a taste of yesterday, today. The dishes aren't fuddy-duddy; people think traditional means boring, but we wanted to show the best of both worlds."
As you would expect from such a quintessentially British hotel, many dishes come from the canon of British classics. These include braised devilled kidneys and beef Wellington; faggots and soused herrings; steamed pudding and Eton Mess.
Also present is Eggs Drumkilbo - lobster, egg, crayfish and tomato in aspic jelly, and a great favourite of the Queen Mother.
But there's evolution here, too - for example, in the Goring not quite a trifle, which is finished to order and not set in the fridge.
At times, Quelch conjures a dish from historical fact. Mrs Goring's pig's fry salad demonstrates this point well. Taking as his starting point the fact that the owner's wife kept pigs, ducks and bees in the war years, Quelch has created a dish of fried pigs' giblets and ears served with a poached duck egg and a cider vinegar and honey dressing.
Throughout the development process, Quelch focused on simplicity and honesty of flavour. Monday jug, for example, is a dish of boiled brisket and oxtail, root vegetables and dumplings that would traditionally have been made from Sunday roast leftovers. And Bloater pie is a fish pie based around smoked herring and potatoes.
Other dishes are even more remarkable for their simplicity. Among the food stalls of Bury market Quelch discovered the delights of Cumbrian black pudding and piccalilli; and from Lancashire he returned with Lanigan's potted shrimps.
"These days too many restaurants overcomplicate what they are trying to achieve," he worries.
So, a wartime gypsy tart is a straightforward but rewarding concoction of muscovado sugar and condensed milk, and served with a rhubarb ice-cream. Similarly, the jelly and ice-cream is fresh strawberry jelly and vanilla ice-cream, lifted in the presentation with a fresh strawberry-pulp tuile.
Expect more culinary reminiscing from Quelch in future. "I'm still researching, still learning about my trade and what has gone before," he says.
Meanwhile, the hotel has plans to box up all documentation relating to its centenary year, for reference in its bicentenary year, 100 years from now. Quelch's recipes will surely provide a valuable element in this cache.
What's on the menu
- Deep-fried whitebait (Swinging Sixties)
- Glazed Scottish lobster omelette (Now and Beyond)
- Terrine of Lincolnshire ham knuckle with piccalilli (War years and rationing)
- Bloater pie (Roaring Twenties)
- Braised oxtail with creamed potatoes (Thatcher years)
- Fillet of beef Wellington with a red wine sauce (Swinging Sixties)
- Selection of puddings or British cheese from the trolley
£47.50 for three courses
The Goring Hotel 15 Beeston Place, London SW1W 0JW
020 7396 9000