Monday, 28 November 2011

Let them eat cake

Unemployment rising. TICK
Global food prices soaring. TICK
Consumer spending on goods and services remaining low. TICK
Britain likely to enter a double recession. TICK

Ideal time to open another cafe.

People often ask me whether the credit crunch has affected our business. Its impossible for me to answer because this is the only economic environment Lantana has known. Opening in September 2008, Lantana arrived on the crest of the wave that was, and still is, the global financial crisis.

I remember the day before we opened flicking through a newspaper filled with stories of the long deep recession we were facing. As the knot in my stomach grew tighter and tighter I said to my business partner “I think we might be the most stupid people on earth”.

We bravely soldiered on and three years later not only is Lantana still in business, it is now one of many independent cafes in London that are not just surviving, but thriving. I’m amazed and delighted that barely a month goes by when I don’t hear about a new café opening that I want to go and check out. Two have opened just recently, metres from where I live.

Salt on Great Queen St, Covent Garden, the day before opening

and just around the corner in Wellington St Covent Garden, Notes recently opened their second cafe. 

“Let them eat cake” is famously attributed to Marie Antoinette when told that the starving peasants had no bread to eat. While this expression has been used to demonstrate her frivolity and callousness, maybe she has been wrongly maligned. I suspect that she was actually showing great empathy for the peasants, understanding that in times of extreme economic hardship it is the small luxuries that help us survive.

On a bleak Monday afternoon while sitting in one of my favourite local cafes 

I sipped a silky smooth flatwhite with a slice of carrot cake and pondered why cafes seem to be defying the economic slump. On cue, two city types popped their heads in and one said to the other: 
“This place looks nice. Is it expensive?”
“£2.20 for a coffee. That’s cheap” the other replied, and in they came.
Since when did suits become sensitive to the price of a cup of coffee?

That's when it struck me. Independent cafes are no longer the third place. They have become the credit crunch place. With their reclaimed furniture and lack of frills or pretention, they are the affordable luxury that we can still enjoy in a gloomy world of austerity cuts and meagre budgets. The fact that independent cafes are usually staffed by young scruffy hipsters is the icing on our cake, making us feel we are doing our bit for youth unemployment.

So with shaky hand about to sign the lease for a second café, I can read the newspaper with less fear than I might when economists are describing our grim economic future and quibbling over whether the recovery will be shaped like a 'V' 'W’ or 'U'.  Perhaps it will be an 'L' shape (long-term slump with no recovery) which in years to come will be taught in high school economic classes as the ‘Latte’ recovery. 

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Rodeo Mike

Hi there! My name’s Mike and I work at Lantana. If you pop down to Lantana this month you will recognise me as the one grooming my very own charity Mo for Movember, in support of Prostate cancer and Testicular cancer. So far it is going well and a bushy tash is forming beautifully, if not very gingerly!

Lantana has kindly offered to match whatever I raise, just because they are that nice, so donations are very welcome. If you would like to donate to this amazing cause visit my site. Better yet, come down to Lantana and check out my Mo for yourself and donate in person. Any amount is a generous one.

See you soon :{)

PS- Let's hope Mike has better success than the LanMowers who last year only managed to raise £70.41 and brought great shame and embarasment to us all, but mostly to themselves. S x  

Thursday, 15 September 2011

The Lantana Q&A

Any resemblance to the Guardian’s Q&A is entirely intentional and done without their knowledge or permission.
Tim Dorman, Head Chef at Lantana since January 2011, grew up in a small town  in New Zealand with nine siblings in a Brady Bunchesque family.

Tim is the Bobby (second from left) in the Dorman Bunch. NB. This is not Tim's actual family photo.
After a brief stint as a rousie* in a shearing gang, Tim suspected that crutching sheep had limited career prospects and decided to follow his brother into the kitchen. His first job was as a dishy in the restaurant where his brother was head chef. From those humble beginnings he worked his way up the kitchen larder via numerous fine establishments including the gunshop cafe, an award winning restaurant in my home town, Brisbane. But the bright lights of bigger cities beckoned. Tim came to London to seek out fame and fortune and found...Lantana.

What is your earliest food memory?
My mum counting down from 10 to make me eat swede and carrot mash.

Which person has had the greatest influence on the way you cook?
Good friend and former head chef at the Merthyr Bowls Club, Andrew Dale. He was my first proper teacher...the first person who really inspired me in the kitchen.

Aside from knives, what is the most expensive piece of kitchen equipment that you’ve bought for yourself?
My bright red Kitchen Aid with an array of mincing, juicing and mixing attachments. The first thing I made with it was pancakes the morning after my birthday - not really utilising its full potential. It’s now sitting in a box underneath my house in Brisbane.

What’s the worst thing a chef has ever said to you?
Too numerous and inappropriate to mention. A four year apprenticeship means you learn to deal with a lot.

What trait do you most deplore in other chefs?
Gordon Ramsay style tantrums. I’ve seen chefs make apprentices cry and then expect to have a beer and be mates after service. Wankers.

Who would play you in the movie of your life?
Will Ferrell.

What would your superpower be?

Is it better to cook or be cooked for?
To cook. I like showing off.

What is your guiltiest food pleasure?
Does wine count? (No) Then cold baked beans from the tin. But they have to be Watties, not those crappy English ones.

What is the greatest crime committed against cuisine?
The 3am kebab.

Strangest food request you’ve had from a customer?
Raw steak. We had a regular at the Merthyr Bowls Club in Brisbane who used to come in and say he’d been out in the bush hunting and needed to eat raw meat. One of the many colourful New Farm nutters.

Cheese or chocolate?
Cheese please.

Closest you've come to death?
Crashing my car into a semi trailer when I looked down to change the radio station and crossed onto the wrong side of the freeway. I left black tyre marks down the side of the truck and ended up in hospital.  The first of many car crashes. That's what you happens when you learn to drive in small town New Zealand.

What would your last meal on earth be?
BBQ rib with a cold beer on a hot sunny arvo’

If you could ask anyone, alive or dead, to dinner, who would you invite?
Goose and Maverick

Tell us a joke
A Scotsman walks into a bakery and points to a cake, “Is that a doughnut or a meringue?”

The baker says, “No you’re right. It’s a doughnut.”

*rouseabout (often abbreviated to 'rousie'), is commonly used in Australia and New Zealand to refer to shedhands who pick up wool after it has been taken from the sheep's back during shearing operations.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Seeing the amber light

Something unexpected has happened to me since I’ve been living in England. I’ve become a beer snob. Really, no one could be more surprised than me.

I grew up believing that the measure of a good beer is how cold it is. The colder, the better because we were indoctrinated with the slogan ‘a hard earned thirst needs a big cold beer’. Pub selections were always based on which one served the coldest beer (chilled glasses scored highly) rather than the type they actually kept.

When I arrived in the UK and was served tepid, flat beer, helpfully labelled ‘bitter', initially I was perplexed. How could the beer stay cold when poured by the pint rather than the pot? Clearly the poms weren't working up much of a thirst.

I'm not sure exactly when or how it happened but at some point over the last 4 years I had a beer epiphany. Its like discovering iberico after being raised on spam or drinking a proper espresso after making do with instant coffee. Suddenly the penny drops.

Just as I learned that the taste of coffee differs enormously depending on the origin of the bean and how its roasted and brewed, I came to appreciate that beer is a similarly complex beast. The hops, the malt, the alcohol content and the brewing recipe all add up to a smorgasbord of styles from porter and stout to lager, pale ale and yep, good old bitter, a far cry from Victoria Bitter, which I now recognise as a pretty piss poor lager.

As my exposure to different beers has widened, so too has my beer vocabulary from 'mmm its cold' to it's 'biscuity' 'floral', 'citrusy', 'grassy' or 'treacly'. To drink generic bottled lager now seems completely uninspiring, even if its a frosty cold one. Its hard to go back to instant coffee once you’ve had a flat white.

Having seen the amber light I'm thirsty for knowledge and eager to research.  

You'll find me arriving with beer instead of wine when invited for dinner;

Meantime's Porter goes down a treat at a barbeque
I spend my days off visiting micro brewerys like The Kernel,

The Kernel Brewery in Bermondsey
where they hand label every bottle;

a labour of love that few could appreciate.

Angelle stamping Lantana takeaway cups

I seek out pubs based on the range of beer they serve rather then its temperature;    

The Jerusalem Tavern in Clerkenwell
The Charles Lamb in Islington
And of course, I look for opportunities to incorporate beer into my cooking.

Beef and Stout Pie- recipe below
Like a true evangelist, I want to share my new love so Lantana is now stocking some interesting craft beers. Come in and enjoy a cold frosty, metaphorically speaking.

Beef and Stout Pie
(serves 4)

750g stewing beef such as skirt, chuck or shin
4 tbsp plain flour seasoned with salt and pepper
4 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp tomato purée
500ml Stout
350g shallots, peeled
1 tablespoon muscovado sugar
1 teaspoon soy sauce
Few sprigs of thyme
2 bay leaves
2 garlic cloves, peeled 
200g chestnut mushrooms, thickly sliced
500g puff pastry
1 egg lightly beaten

Dice the beef into 2.5cm cubes and toss it in the seasoned flour to coat.

Heat the oil in a large pan and fry the beef until golden brown. Add the tomato purée and cook for 1 minute, stirring well. Pour in the stout and add the sugar, soy sauce, shallot, thyme, bay leaf and garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and simmer for 1.5 hours. Half an hour before the end of the cooking time, add the mushrooms. Once cooked, remove the bay leaf and discard. Allow the mixture to cool.
Preheat the oven to 200C/Gas 6.
Transfer the meat to a 20cm pie dish.
Roll out the pastry and cover the pie. Scrunch the pastry to the edge of the dish and trim around the edge, leaving 1-2cm overhanging. Brush the top with the egg.

Bake for 15-20 minutes.    

Monday, 11 April 2011

Baking for Britain

Nothing says Australian summer to me quite like a pavlova; crisp meringue with a soft marshmallowy centre, smothered with whipped cream, masses of luscious berries, and juicy passionfruit.

It’s bright and bold, generous, unrefined, and utterly satisfying. Always a crowd pleaser. Always a show stopper.

Last weekend I went away with some English friends to a small village on the banks of the river Severn in Gloucestershire. With the weather forecast promising clear blue skies and temperatures in the mid 20s there was talk of barbecues, sunbathing and walks along the beach.  Feeling firmly in my comfort zone, I volunteered to make desert for the Saturday night barbie. Bring on the Aussie pav.

But as we meandered along picturesque country lanes through fields of daffodils and spotted pigs,

and along the banks of the Severn where people unhurriedly fished in the soft afternoon sunlight

I started to waver on my decision for desert. I suddenly saw the pavlova in a new light. It seemed too brash, too showy, too…Aussie? What this tranquil setting called for was a desert with subtlety and restraint. Something quintessentially British.

I remembered Oliver Peyton’s article in the Times' weekend magazine a few weeks ago where he wrote that “baking is the heart and soul of British cooking… Sifting, kneading, folding or whisking- these things are comforting and communal, old fashioned and timeless”.

A quick google search saved me from making a cultural faux pav. Instead I made a Bakewell Tart; 

A delicious sweet tart in which the berries hide their brightness under a bushel of buttery frangipane and flaked almonds. Served with a modest dollop of creme fraiche. 

It was a triumph for the barbecue and for Britain. 

Bakewell Tart
(10-12 modest serves)

For the shortcrust pastry
115g cold unsalted butter cut into dice
25g castor sugar
200g plain flour
zest of half a lemon
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon iced water

Mix flour, sugar and zest together. Incorporate the butter into the flour mix using your finger tips until the mixture resembles bread crumbs. Add the egg yolk and the water and bring the dough together with a metal knife as quickly as possible. (Important not to overwork pastry as it will become tough). Shape the pastry into a disc, cover with cling film and refrigerate for 30 minutes. 

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry to 2mm thickness and line a 28cm tart tin with a depth of 2cm.  Prick the base with a fork and put case in freezer for an hour. Heat the oven to 180C. 

Line the pastry case with baking parchment and fill with weights (scrunched up tin foil will work if you are in a country cottage with no pastry weights). Cook for about 15 minutes until the pastry is a pale golden colour. Take out the parchment paper and brush the inside of the pastry case with a little egg white. Cool. Reduce oven to 170C.

For the filling
200g unsalted butter (melted)
200g castor sugar
200g ground almonds
3 eggs (lightly beaten)
50g self raising flour
100g good quality raspberry jam
100g fresh raspberries lightly crushed
50g flaked almonds

Mix flour and ground almonds in a large bowl. Add the melted butter and eggs and gently fold into the dry mix until just incorporated.

Spread base of the cooked pastry case with jam. Scatter crushed berries over the jam and pour in the almond mixture. Smooth the surface and scatter the flaked almonds on top. 

Bake for 30 minutes then cover with tin foil to stop it browning further. Bake another 10 minutes until filling is just set. Serve with creme fraiche. 

(6-8 immodest serves)

6 free-range egg whites at room temperature
375g caster sugar
3 tsp cornflour
1.5 tsp white wine vinegar
½ tsp vanilla extract

For the topping
300ml cream whipped until soft peaks form
5 passion fruit
3 punnets mixed berries

Preheat the oven to 180C.
Line a baking sheet with baking paper and draw a rough 25cm circle onto it. In a dry bowl, whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form when the whisk is removed, then whisk in the sugar, one third at a time, until stiff and shiny. Sprinkle the cornflour, vinegar and vanilla extract over the egg white, and fold in lightly with a metal spoon. Spoon the meringue onto the baking parchment within the marked circle and, using a spatula, flatten the top and smooth the sides. Place into the oven and immediately reduce the heat to 150C. Cook for an hour and 1/4, then turn off the oven and leave to cool completely. (I usally cook it the day before and leave it in the oven overnight).

When you are ready to assemble the pavlova, invert it onto a plate and peel off the baking parchment. Spoon the cream onto the meringue base, then pile on the berries and passionfruit.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Freestyle surfing

What do you get when you cross a grown man in a bib with a coffee bong and a micro roastery? The third wave of coffee. Or is it the fourth wave now? I don't know, I’m still on my boogie board surfing the second espresso wave...dude.

I hadn’t been home to Australia in the 4 years I’ve been living in London so thought it was time for a trip back to check out what has been happening in my absence.

If you thought London was starting to get seriously geeky about coffee, you ain’t seen nothing yet if Australia is any indication of where it’s  all heading.

There seems to have been an explosion of micro- roasters, single origin coffees, lighter roasting, drip brewing, hi-tech gadgetry and perhaps most inexplicably, baristas wearing bib aprons.

Never one to leave cafe exploration to chance, I went armed with a long list of ‘the best’ cafes to try in Melbourne.  First stop, Proud Mary: the Fat Duck of the Melbourne café scene.

Located down a side street in Collingwood, (what used to be a pretty dingy part of Melbourne but now home to all the hot new cafes, bars and restaurants in town) Proud Mary is a modern and airy warehouse conversion that epitomises the pointy end of the coffee revolution in Melbourne.

There’s an impressive array of coffee paraphenalia on display to provide customers with a choice of  extraction methods: syphon, filter, clover, cold drip, or if you’re old school, an espresso based coffee made with the world’s first custom built 6 group Hydra Synesso machine which allows the baristas to adjust the temperature of each group head to suit particular single origin or blended coffees. Each day they offer 3 different single origins as well as 2 blends for their espresso based coffee drinks. And that's just the espresso.

It was here that I had one of the most amazing coffees I’ve ever tasted.

60mls of cold drip single origin Sumatran coffee extracted over 12 hours, served on ice. The taste was indescribable – so sweet, clean and smooth, it was like a fine liqueur.

From there I visited the cafes set up by the Seven Seeds coffee roasters:

Brother Baba Budan in  Little Bourke Street (Photo courtesy of Breakfast Out)

De Clieu in Gertrude St, Collingwood
The original, Seven Seeds in Carlton. Note men in bibs.

The East Brunswick Project in Nicholson St who roast their own coffee called Padre.

St Ali in South Melbourne

The Sensory Lab in David Jones in the city,

More men wearing bibs.

And the Auction Rooms, who roast Small Batch coffee, in Errol St, North Melbourne

As I went down my ‘best of’ list I was starting to feel a little bemused and alienated, and not dissimilar to how I felt during the Summernats car festival when I was living in Canberra. There seemed to be lots of boys revving their engines and admiring their reflections in big shiny machines, speaking a language I didn't understand.

This new wave of coffee does provide some good entertainment (as does Summernats) but what I really wanted was a welcoming space to catch up with friends. What had happened to the little unpretentious and quirky cafes that I loved about Melbourne and where were all the chicks? Fear not, as they are also there in abundance, going about their business, serving fantastic food and coffee but without quite so much noise or petrol fumes.

At Bell Jar in Smith Street Collingwood,

Photo courtesy of Melbourne Gastronome
Milkwood in Nicholson St, Brunswick East

Mitte in Michael Street, North Fitzroy


Pope Joan in Nicholson Street, Brunswick East

Amsterdam in Richmond

Photo courtesy of Melbourne Gastronome
Cornershop in Yarraville

and North in Rathdowne St North Carlton

When someone asked me on my return what was the one thing I wanted to steal from Melbourne cafes for Lantana, I had to think long and hard. The cafes where I had the most enjoyable experience were not necessarily the cafes where I’d drunk the best coffee, seen the most impressive barista theatre, eaten the best food or seen the most stylish fitout. My favourite cafes were the ones where I felt the warmth, individuality and personality of the staff and the owner. They were the cafes that felt like they weren’t copying someone else’s style or following the latest trends just for the sake of it.

I read a comment on twitter recently by a visitor to London who wrote “I am left with a feeling I've visited the same coffee shop on different sides of town. Are the London third wave independents a new chain?”

It has been something that has been nagging me recently too as I see some of the new cafes opening in London that seem to be copying other cafes or following fads and lacking in individuality. 

When I read that twitter comment I knew what I wanted to hold onto from my trip back home. A commitment to individuality. 'Independent' is an ethos, not a brand.  I'm going to surf my own wave.