Is your waiter eyeing your plate enviously, or are the meals behind the kitchen door every bit as good? Hot Dinners takes a seat at the staff table and samples some of the best-known chefs’ never-seen dishes.
Legendary Spanish gastro Mecca El Bulli is rumoured to plan their staff meals up to six months in advance, and sampling some of Europe’s finest cuisine on a daily basis is certainly a perk of the job there.
As well as tried and tested favourites, the El Bulli staff are also a fertile testing ground for new recipes. Gourmet Magazine once reported that the staff sampled four or five different pestos in the chef’s quest for the perfect mix, while slow-roasted suckling pig rubs shoulders with humble pasta on the staff table.
Here on British shores ambitious cuisine is balanced with staff fueled and on their feet through busy meal services. Here’s a few highlights of what those behind-the-scenes at London’s best restuarants are eating (anyone reading this whilst eating their lunchtime sandwich over a keyboard might want to look away now).
Bruno Loubet looks after his Bistrot Bruno Loubet staffs' rumbling stomachs with homely, nourishing meals. Roast pork belly and cabbage are regular fixtures, while lasagne, stews and pasta dishes keep the carbs coming.
The Sanctum keeps an eye on health with three balanced staff meals a day, ranging from breakfasts of muesli and scrambled eggs to chilli and roast chicken for dinner (although they do admit to occasionally relying on McDonald’s during busy holiday period).
The Embassy Club takes a more experimental approach with speciality pizza nights, and sous chef specials - including something owner Mark Fuller cheerfully described to us as ‘blow yer bum off chill’.
There’s something of a Sweeney Todd scene over at Odette’s, where pies are in season, particularly game pies using pheasant legs and trimmings. Chef Bryn Williams’ father shoots the game served in the restaurant, and staff reap the benefits when a bird is shot in a way that rips the meat or means that it doesn’t meet the restaurant’s exacting service standards. Covered with puff pastry or mashed potato, and served with vegetables, it’s a filling meal for a busy kitchen team.
Benares staff are treated to a continental brunch and ‘build your own wrap /sandwich bar’ before lunch service, while the evening meal takes an Anglo-Indian twist. Staff favourites include chicken curry, spiced lasagne, spiced meatballs, noodles and risotto.
Jeremy Lee’s Blueprint Café chef team fuel their hard-working staff with two meals a day of British comfort food – a brunch of egg dishes and bubble and squeak, and dinner of pasta, simple chicken casserole with rice or shepherd’s pie.
High Timber’s head chef Justin Saunders is proud of serving fresh staff meals daily (see picture for a good example). Two recurring dishes for the St Paul’s eaterie’s staff are an upmarket fish and chunky chips, made fresh from the 'Fish of the Day' and beef stroganoff, sewn together with offcuts of sirloin and rib-eye steaks served throughout the week.
And if all this has given you an appetite, we managed to prise a recipe for the regular staff lunch coullibiac and green salad from Martin Nisbet at Angelus for Hot Dinners' readers. ‘It’s not a traditional coullibiac’, Martin warns, ‘but it’s just as delicious’.
Angelus staff coullibiac recipe
Mix together some cooked rice with some cooked vegetables and cooked meat or fish of your choice. Mix with a little white wine sauce reserve.
Roll out puff pastry to form a large rectangle, egg wash the edges and place the rice mix down the centre.
Envelop the rice in the puff pastry and seal the edges. Brush all over with the egg wash.
Bake in the oven at 220 degrees C for 25-30 minutes.
Slice and serve with some white wine sauce and a nice green salad
Anyone for a career change?