The Daily Telegraph - Saturday
HERE’S A SPUD YOU’LL LIKE
What is it that makes this simple dish special enough to serve in a threestarred restaurant?
It may cause the odd raised eyebrow to see that today’s recipe is for baked potatoes, but once you’ve got through this long Easter weekend of rich roast, sticky cakes and loads of chocolate, I think you will thank me for a simple midweek meal.
On the other hand, I have always thought that the baked potato is an underestimated plate of food which was due a serious look. Recent developments in the food world have proved this true. Back in the early Eighties, I had my first experience of visiting a restaurant that someone I knew had opened; and the dish I first ate there was a baked potato with Boursin. I’ve eaten all kinds of amazing food since, but to this day I can’t get that simple dish out of my head.
There was a connection between the earthy spud and the garlic in the cheese, all lifted by the herbs, and it seemed perfect to me. Was it just because I knew the people who had set up this place (Paradise Cafe in Canterbury) that I loved it so much?
If the way that dish has lingered in my mind wasn’t enough to prove the value of baked potatoes, then my trip to a new restaurant in Notting Hill
Gate in August 2017 confirmed it. The restaurant was Core by Clare Smyth, who had been well known as the head chef and part owner of Gordon Ramsay’s three-starred flagship on Royal Hospital Road in Chelsea.
Although she had been a three-star chef for many years, there was always that niggling doubt that she hadn’t won them herself at her own place. The food that she and her team cooked at RGR was Ramsay’s food – very French, and very much in the style that had won him three stars back in the early 2000s.
So when Clare opened Core, there was an intense interest from the industry as to what she would do. We knew she was a top chef – but what would she bring of herself to the food? When I ate at Core, it was obvious that the standards Clare had shown at RGR were being maintained, but there was something more interesting going on.
Among all the perfect dishes were a few which must have raised a few eyebrows among habitués of the world’s three-star restaurants. Instead of that sort of clichéd idea of such food – primarily French, smothered in truffles, foie gras and caviar – Clare served something more original and local. There was a dish of a carrot that had been cooked in stock, something every chef will have recognised from the stock pots in their own kitchen. Vegetables from this are usually served in staff meals, quietly munched as a snack during service or just thrown away. This one was topped with braised lamb and sheep’s cheese – a clever, original idea.
Another dish which stood out was the one I have given a recipe for today, although I have simplified it a little. It has become a signature dish of the restaurant: a baked potato with seaweed, fish roe and dulse beurre blanc.
Core’s baked potato is a triumph for many reasons. Firstly, it is very brave to serve such a modest-seeming dish in such an ambitious restaurant (even as part of a tasting menu that might include scallops, venison or other more opulent ingredients); but it sends a clear message that this is Clare’s restaurant, and she doesn’t have to stick to the palette of relentless luxury found at many three-star restaurants, which are really just chains for the super-rich. The dish shows a commitment to honour and elevate British ingredients, even apparently humble ones. It makes reference to Clare’s own story, too: she grew up in Northern Ireland as the daughter of potato farmers.
Core, which only opened in 2017, was awarded its third Michelin star this year. I know chefs who have been gunning for a third star for years, even decades, so the way Clare has developed her own style while managing to win three stars in such a a short time, especially considering the impact of the pandemic, is seriously impressive.
There was a connection between the earthy spud and the garlic in the cheese, all lifted by herbs