Too Many Chefs review

by Gemma Harrison14 July 2015

As part of a programme of fundraising events, the charity Action Against Hunger put on a special dinner at The Drapers Arms, but this wasn’t any ordinary tasting menu - 10 different chefs were each cooking their own course.

Gemma can usually be found in a restaurant, at a food festival or cooking at home.

Gemma studied Music at the University of Surrey, but her passion for food and wine led her to work firstly for an online wine, beers and spirits retailer and then Catering Services in the House of Commons. Outside of work she can usually be found in a restaurant, at a food festival or cooking at home.

Gemma can usually be found in a restaurant, at a food festival or cooking at home.

Gemma studied Music at the University of Surrey, but her passion for food and wine led her to work firstly for an online wine, beers and spirits retailer and then Catering Services in the House of Commons. Outside of work she can usually be found in a restaurant, at a food festival or cooking at home.

Action Against Hunger was set up over 30 years ago with the aim of ending child hunger. In recent years they have held a range of food-based events bringing together some of the country’s top chefs to raise crucial funds to support their work. I had previously attended their Auction Against Hunger event at Street Feast’s Dalston Yard, with some of London’s hottest chefs (Nuno Mendes, Issac McHale, José Pizzaro and Tomos Parry, to name but a few) taking over the space to produce amazing street food, so I had high expectations for this Too Many Chefs dinner. Held at Islington’s The Drapers Arms, the evening was hosted by chefs Neil Rankin (best known for Smokehouse and Bad Egg) and Robin Gill (of Clapham’s The Dairy), alongside Nick Gibson from The Draper’s Arms.

The evening started off with a selection of canapés from Gina Hopkins, head chef at The Draper’s Arms. Pig’s trotters and spring onion rolls were followed by black pudding and broad beans, and then deep fried Ogleshield cheese and gooseberry (my favourite of the three). Our first full course of the evening was from Lee Westcott of the Typing Room, whose star has been on the rise from the day his restaurant opened. His dish of roasted celeriac, fermented mushroom, pear and hazelnut, had an understated elegance about it, no showy ingredients or techniques needed here. It was the simplicity of the dish that surprised me – I hadn’t expected to enjoy quite as much as I did – and I’m really looking forward to visiting the restaurant later this summer to try more of his food.

The Drapers Arms, Islington
Fried Ogleshield cheese and gooseberry canapé (photo courtesy of Clerkenwell Boy)

The first of the fish courses was served by Dean Parker of The Manor. The Dairy’s ‘little sister’ opened in Clapham last year, and it’s had the critics raving, with the desserts being a particular highlight. Dean left The Dairy to head up The Manor, and his applewood smoked eel, cultured cream, new potatoes and sorrel dish, felt very much representative of the restaurant’s style. Smoked eel has been appearing on menus all over the capital in the last year or so, and the cultured cream carried the smoky flavour well. Next up, Elizabeth Allen (head chef at Pidgin, recently opened by James Ramsden and Sam Herlihy) produced some sensational beef rendang balls, with the slow cooked meat coated in breadcrumbs and then deep fried. If the rest of the food at Pidgin is as good as this, there are going to be queues around the block…

After a brief meaty detour, the menu switched back to fish, with an inspired ‘skate and rye’ dish from Soho House’s Andrew Clarke. It was my favourite fish course of the night; perfectly cooked pieces of skate with fried bones (essentially a fishy crisp… it did taste better than it sounds), with miso butter, rye crumb, black vinegar and pickled cucumber. The creamy sauce and the cucumber were a brilliant combination with the fish, and definitely one I’ll be looking to replicate at home. Our last fish course was from Andy Oliver, previously a winner of MasterChef, he’s gone on to open London’s most talked about Thai restaurant, Som Saa. He has a real talent for balancing strong flavours that have the potential to overcome the main ingredient, and despite everything going on in his ‘larb pla dip’ (raw wild bass with vegetables and wild herbs), you could still taste the fish, although I did avoid the rather dangerous looking chilli.

Beef rendang balls (photo courtesy of Clerkenwell Boy)
Skate with fried bones (photo courtesy of Clerkenwell Boy)

We’d now reached the halfway point, and I caught up with Lee Westcott and Matt Gillan to find out why they were involved with Action Against Hunger. They’ve just been competing in the South East heat of Great British Menu (airing later this summer) and here they cooked a starter and dessert respectively. Lee has been involved with the charity since the last dinner, but this was Matt’s first time – it took some convincing from Neil Rankin, but luckily he turned out to be very persuasive. I also asked them what inspired each of their dishes: Lee chose a dish from his restaurant, whilst Matt had been looking to do something with apples for a while (more about that later). Finally, I wanted to know whose dish they were most looking forward to trying – they turned and grinned, simultaneously pointing at the other. Naturally, it’d be rude not to, but joking aside, I got the impression there was a real appreciation for one another’s food.

Lee Westcott
Lee Westcott
Matt Gillan
Matt Gillan

Brad McDonald (about to open a follow up restaurant to his much-lauded, The Lockhart) was next to present his course. Intriguingly titled ‘chicken spaghetti’, we were each given a Chinese-style noodle carton, and inside were strands of chicken made to look like spaghetti, coated in a silky cheese sauce. I initially thought the portion size was a little small, but the richness of the sauce meant that it was just right.

Now it was time for what everyone had been looking forward to, since a photo of a beautifully marbled piece of 12 year old Highland cow appeared on Instagram this morning. Shaun Searley of the Quality Chop House (a butchers-come-restaurant in Clerkenwell), is someone who knows how to cook a piece of meat, but what has his customers in raptures are his confit potatoes (popularised as ‘THOSE confit potatoes’ by foodie tastemaker, Clerkenwell Boy). Thinly sliced and then sandwiched back together with more butter and salt than I want to think about, these are probably the best potatoes you will ever eat, and our whole table pronounced his dish be one of the highlights of the evening.

We were now on to desserts, and our first was from James Knappett, chef at Bubbledogs (who serve gourmet hot dogs and grower Champagne) and Kitchen Table (a small private dining room at the back of Bubbledogs, which has already achieved a Michelin star). His balsamic, artichoke and truffle dish was towards the savoury end of the dessert scale, with artichoke ice cream sprinkled with a very generous amount of truffle. A little disorientating at first (we were expecting desserts after all), it really came into it’s own after a few mouthfuls. Our final course was from Matt Gillan of The Pass, and I could see that he really had been thinking a lot about apples. A platter of ‘toffee apples’ were delivered to the table, each containing mousses and ices, coated with a green gel. Aside from the witty presentation, every layer was a complete surprise and delight – a very innovative, but more importantly, delicious dessert.

If you would like to find out more about Action Against Hunger or attend an event, visit their website.

Confit potatoes (photo courtesy of Clerkenwell Boy)

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