The grandeur and sheer opulence of the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel is usually something I appreciate in Charlie Bucket-like measures – all misty-eyed on passing research trips to the British Library up the road. My metaphorical golden ticket this week was a copy of The Gilbert Scott Book of British Food, based on the menus and traditional culinary methods that have been shaping up Marcus Wareing’s resident food haunt, The Gilbert Scott Restaurant & Bar.
It’s hard to decide what’s more impressive; the handsome chapters of British fare steamed, baked and potted into this nostalgic tome of a recipe book – or the historic cliffhangers that underpin the restaurant’s very existence. The eaterie opened its doors on 5th May 2011 – a timely 138 years to the day after the official opening of the Midland Grand Hotel, on which the restaurant’s foundations now stand in north London.
It began with a competition from the Midland Railway Company. The brief: to ‘add lustre’ to their soon-to-be completed St. Pancras station. George Gilbert Scott, a leading Gothic Revivalist, had un-flinching ideals for architectural excellence teamed with an eye for beauty; gold leaf decoration and ornate stenciling adorned every inch of wallpaper, guests warmed in front of huge open fires in each of the 300 bedrooms and the hotel quickly garnered reputation as ‘the most perfect in every possible respect in the world.’
By 1935, the Midland closed its doors, unable to compete with the growing number of hotels offering en-suite conveniences (the hotel had nine baths for the 300 rooms which was, at the time, considered a novelty for Victorian guests.) Withstanding three bombings during the Second World War, the Hotel became a dated shell of its former glory and shirked demolition in 1967 when it was given Grade I listing. It was backed, with a dreamy dose of doubt, by Sir John Betjeman, who said that the building was ‘too beautiful and too romantic to survive.’
But survive it did. Now, the newly-published recipe book, from the lauded brasserie and bar named in homage to the truly great Scott who built its walls, offers rediscovered and re-imagined versions of British classics, borrowing inspiration from culinary greats such as Isabel Beeton, ‘Queen of Ices’ Agnes Marshall and John Nott, cook to the Duke of Bolton (a classy take on his Queen’s Potage, a boiled mash up of meat and vegetables garnished with pistachios and pomegranate seeds is a must-try for autumn days.)
For the sake of ‘cake’ here, you’ll have to discover the starters, mains and brunch recipes at your own leisure – and there’s a month’s worth of decadent cocktails to shake up, too, including a potato-vodka infused ‘George’s Fizz’ and after-dinner digestif, ‘The Earl of Grey’, taken from the best-selling tipples at the Bar and Gin Garden.
The Gilbert Scott has become a go-to place for afternoon tea and there’s a tasty-looking chapter for anyone looking to recreate the event at home. I’m sure Scott would have reveled in a ‘Right Honourable Cucumber Sandwich’ that throws tradition on its head by placing the bread between lightly salted shavings of cucumber, or a Marcus Wareing twist on the Bakewell Tart where a moreish cherry jelly trumps the jammy classic.
Led by my loyal sweet tooth, I find myself poring over an extensive, considered and beautifully-shot pudding section. The heavies, featuring fruit crumble, Spotted Dick and Raspberry Roly Poly, are stowed away for winter and it’s all eyes on the tarts, fruity ices and jelly-based sweets that boast a real taste of history. Cambridge Burnt Cream (thought to have originated at Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1879, with the college arms ‘impressed on top of the cream with a branding iron), joins recipes for Lemon Cream Ice with Salted Caramel Popcorn (adapted from Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management), and a wicked Eton Mess – again, an inside-out take on a classic which allows guests to‘make their own mess’ by splitting a perfect meringue filled with sweet raspberry cream.
Here’s my favourite. Mrs Beeton’s Apple Amber (think meringue-topped apple pie), can be made as a large tart or small individual tarts and, at The Gilbert Scott, is served with a big dollop of clotted cream. Figs, pears and apricots all work beautifully as seasonal alternatives.
The Gilbert Scott Book of British Food by Marcus Wareing with Chantelle Nicholson is published by Transworld Publishers, RRP £25. For more information, visit www.thegilbertscott.co.uk
Makes 1 large or 6 small tarts
- 85g soft unsalted butter
- 115g caster sugar
- 225g strong flour
- 7g baking powder
- 3g salt
- 100ml double cream
- 6 Granny Smith apples, peeled,
- cored and cut into eighths
- 300ml apple juice
- 80g (about 3) fresh free-range egg whites
- 160g caster sugar
For the sweet pastry, mix the soft butter and sugar together with an electric mixer on slow speed, or in a food processor, until just combined. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together. Add half to the butter and mix to form a smooth paste, then add the remaining flour and mix just until fine crumbs are formed. Slowly add the cream, mixing just to bind to a dough. Gather into a ball, wrap in clingfilm and place in the fridge to rest for 1 hour.
Roll out the pastry dough between two sheets of baking parchment until 5mm thick. Allow to rest in the fridge again for 20 minutes, then cut into a round to fit in the bottom of your tin or tins. For a large tart, use a 26cm tart tin that is 1.5cm deep; for individual tarts you need six 8cm tart tins that are 1.5cm deep. Line the bottom of the tin (just the bottom, not the sides) with the pastry, then set on a baking tray lined with baking parchment. Place in the fridge to chill while you cook the apples.
Put the apples and apple juice in a large saucepan, set over a moderate heat and cook until just tender. Remove from the heat and cool. Drain the apples in a sieve set over a clean pan; set the apples aside. Boil the apple juice until it has reduced to a thick glaze. Set aside.
Preheat your oven to 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4. Place the tray with the tart tin in the oven and bake for 12 minutes, until the pastry base is set and golden brown. Remove from the oven and reduce the temperature to 165°C/325°F/gas mark 3. Mix the cooked apples with the apple glaze (try not to break down the apples too much so they retain some texture), then pack on top of the pastry in the tin. Bake for 20 minutes, until most of the liquid from the apples has evaporated.
Cover the tart with baking parchment, then set another baking tray on top, weighed down with something heavy, and allow to cool. Once cold, remove the tart from the tin and transfer it to a baking tray.
For the meringue, whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks will form. Gradually add the sugar, whisking, and continue to whisk until very stiff. Place the meringue in a piping bag fitted with a 1.5cm plain nozzle and pipe small ‘tufts’ on top of the apple. Bake for 6 minutes, until the meringue is crisp on the surface. Serve immediately, or wait until later in the day when the tart will need 5 minutes reheating prior to serving.