For those of us stuck in the office this week, half term makes the London commute a little bit more pleasant. With many parents on annual leave, the trains are near-empty and, best of all, there are no noisy schoolchildren threatening to upset the equilibrium of those of us who are, ahem, shamefully nursing a Tuesday morning hangover. My copy of Time Out, my headache and I were grateful of the quiet time.
The reason for said hangover, and the excuse for almost putting on odd shoes this morning, was an evening of cookery and wine at The Underground Cookery School with some fellow food bloggers.
The Underground Cookery School was established in 2003 and, under the tutelage of chef Matt Kemp and his team, aims to teach groups the art of cooking. It is located just a short walk away from London’s Old Street in a capacious underground kitchen and dining area. These groups are generally corporate team building events, hen and stag parties or birthday parties, with moderate cookery knowledge and an interest in food, who want to learn more of the complex kitchen skills. The groups arrive to drinks and canapés before they start preparing the main elements of a three-course meal. The food is then finished by Matt’s team and the group is invited to gather at the long wooden dining table to share what they have cooked. With more wine, obvs.
We arrived, were handed an apron and a name badge and were ushered into a large kitchen where the champagne was waiting. Good start. Some bloggers more punctual than I were already de-bearding the mussels for the starter over in the corner – a process I usually try to avoid if possible. We were told to pull out the little ropey tendrils that poke out from the cracks in the shells and scrape off any tough white barnacles with a knife. This was more laborious than it looked and was promptly abandoned in favour of eating the canapes: chicken skewers with a lime-chilli dip, lamb and caraway sausage rolls and vegetarian arancini.
We were then faced with the task of jointing half a chicken for the main course. A slightly dangerous task for somebody who was already on their third glass of fizz – luckily I had done this many, many times before for my all-time favourite cold-weather dish, Chicken ‘n’ Dumplings. Luckily, the knives at The Underground Cookery School are far superior to those I have at home, so I managed not to make too much of a hash of it. A bit of rolling-pin bashing, filling piping and rolling later, we all had nice neat ballotines ready to be poached.
And on to dessert. And to one of my favourites: tarte tatin. Unfortunately, caramel and I are never the best of friends; I have ruined pans, had near-breakdowns and burnt myself quite severely in the quest for the perfect caramel cage to sit atop a dessert. It seems that some people are adept at flinging molten sugar over the handle of a wooden spoon and some are not, so I stayed away from the caramel-making to instead roll out some little circles of puff pastry. Once the caramel made, the apple slices arranged and the puff pastry fitted on top, the little tarte tatins were whisked away to the ovens, and we were ushered to the table to prepare to eat.
The Starter: Moules Marinière
One of my fellow cooks claimed to eat mussels three or four times a week when in season. Although I’m not quite such a frequent eater, I do love a good moules dish. In fact, I am still eagerly awaiting the opening of the takeaway at Bonnie Gull’s so that I can have moules marinière at my desk. The recipe for this moules marinière is very similar to my own recipe, with the mussels cooked simply in a sauce of white wine, onions, bay and thyme. The mussels were well cooked and delicious, and the addition of warm bread to soak up the sauce, most welcomed.
The Main Course: Ballotine of Chicken with Leeks and Savoy Cabbage
I’m not ever really one for stuffed chicken as I find it can get a little dry, however this was very moist and tasty. The chicken was wrapped in a savoy cabbage leaf and oozed a filling of creamed leeks and smoky bacon. My only gripe is that my portion came with a piece of skin inside the ballotine, however that was quite easily removed.
The Dessert: Apple Tarte Tatin
There was nothing really to fault on this: crisp apple, beautiful caramel and flaky pastry. And they topped the tart with a quinnelle of vanilla ice cream, which made the whole thing go down way too quickly. I could have easily polished off six of these.
If you are looking for an event with a difference and are keen to polish up your kitchen prowess, The Underground Cookery School is definitely something to consider. The involvement in the preparation of the three-course meal is enough that you learn new skills, but not so in-depth that you end up slaving over a hot stove all evening. If you have any kitchen training or are self-taught to a higher level, there may not be much for you to learn, but you will have fun nonetheless.
The Underground Cookery School, 201-203 City Road, London EC1V 1JN.
I was invited to review The Underground Cookery School.