Passport on a Plate: A Taste of London From Gillray’s Chef Jamie Welch
Chef Jamie Welch's Yorkshire Pudding Club Sandwich. Photo: Jean-Cazals/Courtesy of London Marriott Hotel County Hall
If these walls could talk. I’m sitting in Gillray’s Steakhouse & Bar at the London Marriott Hotel County Hall. Its name may sound like it’s a country house, but it’s actually smack-dab in the heart of the capital — I’m gazing out the window at the River Thames and Westminster while having a traditional (and gut-busting) English breakfast. Immediately across the Thames from Westminster, on London’s getting hotter-by-the-minute South Bank, this place has a history all its own.
Overlooking the recently restored Elizabeth Tower, which houses Big Ben and its smaller brother bells, the Houses of Parliament, and right next door to the London Eye, County Hall was originally City Hall. King George V and Queen Mary cut the ribbon on its opening in 1922, and named it HQ of London’s local government. According to one of the very friendly gents that greeted me at the front desk, after catching me staring for minutes at the scene outside, the hotel has about 180 ways (windows is what I’m guessing) to take in the views.
The history of London is vast and deep, and it is one of those cities where you can experience it by actually living in it (even if it is just for a night or a week). Historic England has listed the former offices-turned-hotel as Grade II, a designation that denotes a building of special interest to the history of the United Kingdom.
Of special interest to me on this day is also the opportunity to take afternoon tea in The Library, which is also listed as Grade II. Because the hotel is made up of a series of the original buildings, more than one area can be designated as such.
The table I’ve scored looks directly at the Elizabeth Tower, all shiny and new, and prepped in time for Her Majesty’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations. My server sets down all the choices for tea, allowing me to take my time and inhale the sweet and spicy aromas of the leaves in their little jars. I tend to choose whatever the house blend is, wherever I might be; it’s an easy way to also understand what may inspire a tea sommelier or a chef at a place. Sandwiches with crusts cut off, of course, but then, little cakes arrive, shaped in the likeness of the tower and Big Ben, too, and it gives me a frisson of delight to see them.
Speaking of the chef, whether you’re staying at County Hall or not, if you’re a meat lover, it may suit you to book a table for the food and the spectacular views — or perhaps a Gin & Tonic from Gillray’s Bar’s extensive menu of this favourite British tipple. Executive chef Jamie Welch’s history is also deeply rooted in British cooking. His mum would shoo him out of the kitchen, adding a mystery to what was going on with all those pots and pans. His curiosity got the better of him, and as soon he had the opportunity he took classes and a job in a kitchen.
Starting as line cook for a Marriott in Southampton, Welch was later moved to a junior position in London, at County Hall. His take on British cuisine, modern yet tied to tradition — with a twist — is his trademark. “Food is a lot like fashion,” he says. “It’s always evolving. It’s always changing, and I think if you don’t move with the times, you’ll get left behind. I love cooking because it’s like that, always changing. Every day, there’s a different challenge, and you’re constantly learning. I just like to try and be different.” And, he adds, “People are a lot more aware of what they’re eating, and they want to know where it’s from and how it’s done. They like a bit of a story behind their food.” Just like this hotel, methinks.
Here, Welch shares his take on the Sunday Roast & Yorkshire Pudding classic, the Yorkie Club Sandwich, a signature dish on his menu for Gillray’s Steakhouse & Bar. But first, a few culinary tips from the chef.
Insider Tips: Can you share your favourite flavour boosters — and any other secret weapons?
The obvious flavour booster is salt, but as we try to live healthier lives there are some good natural alternatives out there. I find using anchovy paste (check the label for quality), extra garlic or lemon juice can replace salt. Just make sure no kissing will be happening any time soon afterwards. I have also just discovered yeast flakes. These are a great alternative and can also be used to substitute parmesan cheese on pasta dishes, etc. It’s also vegan, which is a bonus as the popularity of veganism is growing rapidly.
Easy Entertaining: What is your go-to dish for cooking/entertaining without the stress?
This evolves all the time as I get bored quite quickly with food and, am always trying and experimenting with new dishes. The one I love doing, which is quick and easy (just a lot of chopping involved) is a red lentil dahl. You can make a big batch and leave it in the fridge for a few days or it freezes well. The best thing about this also is that the older it is the better it gets in taste. With it just pan fry some tortilla flour wraps and brush with butter. Use this to scoop up the dahl … heaven!
Must-Haves: What items/ingredients do you keep stocked in your pantry/fridge?
Butter!!! With my friends I am known as Mr. Butter as I put it in everything! Hence the big belly! The other things are the usual … lots of spices, tahini, harissa paste and tinned beans.
Finding Comfort: What is your go-to comfort food dish?
I love a good pizza. If I could, I would eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. A very dangerous thing has just happened to me: a little family-run pizza place has just opened opposite to where I live making really authentic pizzas using amazing Italian produce.
Snack Attack: What is your favourite snack, healthy and otherwise?
Not so healthy, but I am a sucker for crisps. Especially prawn cocktail. There is always a packet in the cupboard. But health wise, I love making a quick hummus with any sort of pea/bean I have to hand and eating it with sugar snap peas!
Multi-generational: Favourite dishes to cook with the kids?
No kids, as yet, but I love cooking with my friends’ children. The go-to with this is always baking. Who doesn’t love licking out of the bowl? And breakfast time: American pancakes! Something very simple and quick but always great to see their faces when the pancakes puff up.
Gillray’s Signature Dish: Yorkie Pudding Club Sandwich
Gillray’s Yorkshire Pudding
Yield: 4 portions
2 whole eggs (free range if possible)
Equal weight in milk
Equal weight in plain flour
A kitchen scale to weigh the ingredients
Yorkshire pudding or muffin trays or tins
- Crack open the two eggs and discard the shells. Weigh these and make a note of it.
- Then weigh the same amounts of flour and milk and mix altogether.
- Set the oven at 400 F (200 C) and place a little oil in pudding trays and heat up in the oven for 20 minutes.
- While trays are warming, with a stick blender mix, mix and mix ingredients. The longer you mix the better the rise (that’s what I tell myself anyway).
- When the 20 minutes is over pour the mixture into a jug and evenly distribute over the pudding rings. Sprinkle the chopped thyme over the mixture.
- Reduce the oven temperature to 350F (180C) and bake for 27 minutes, until golden, crisp and firm.
- Once cooked, take out the tray and turn upside down to drain of excess oil.
Gillray’s Bacon Jam
Yield: 10 portion
1 kg bacon, minced
800 g shallots, sliced
1 garlic clove, blitzed (very finely chopped or pureed in a food processor)
60 g brown sugar
75 g maple syrup
300 ml filtered coffee
100 ml white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon tabasco
Tomato chutney to taste
- Sweat off the bacon, garlic and onion until caramelized
- Add the sugar and maple syrup and reduce for 3 minutes.
- Add coffee, vinegar and tabasco and simmer for 1 hour. Keep stirring so it does not burn, on a medium heat.
- Pulse with a kitchen blender.
- Rest in a raised container with muslin cloth allowing the fat to pass through for 1 – 2 hours.
- Add tomato chutney and leave to cool.
PS: It tastes better than it looks!
Pulling It All Together for Gillray’s Yorkie Pudding Club Signature Dish
Yield: 1 portion
1 Yorkshire Pudding
200 g Sirloin steak
1 Duck Egg
Enough Bacon Jam to fill a pudding
- Bring the steak up to room temperature and lightly brush with rapeseed oil and generously cover with Maldon salt.
- Reheat the bacon jam.
- Chargrill both sides of the steak using the cross hatch method (about halfway, turn the steak over diagonally) and cook to desired temperature and leave to rest for 3 minutes.
- With a little oil in a frying pan, fry the duck egg and season with pepper.
- Reheat the Yorkshire pudding.
- Once the steak has rested, slice into roughly 1 cm slices.
- On the plate, place a little bacon jam and then the Yorkshire pudding on top of that. This will help the Yorkshire pudding stay in place.
- Fill the Yorkshire pudding with bacon jam and then carefully arrange the sliced sirloin steak and then top with the duck egg.