Ottolenghi recipe, I checked out other items on the menu of his restaurants . The average cost of each dish was about £10. The dishes do not have names as such: they are described by their ingredients. The restaurant has a Mediterranean focus, and the ingredients are all fresh, but they aren't all British: according to the website, 'local' food is both British and European . Judging from the reviews posted by different diners, you would order about three dishes per person (they are mainly vegetable-based, which means that they don't fill up your stomach too easily), with an average cost per head of approximately £30, which translate to about 40 euro per head. That is not at all cheap.Having recently used an
The description of the dishes goes something like this
Roasted aubergine with turmeric yoghurt,
crispy onion, basil, rocket and
It's not difficult to imagine what I'll be getting from such a description. But it's hard to work out if the ingredients are truly seasonal when they are found from a range of different sources. In Greece, aubergine is usually associated with summer, and pomegranate with late autumn or early winter; this was supposedly a February menu. At least one of those ingredients would have to come from a greenhouse or outside Europe (ie not local, according to the restaurant's definition). The cooking techniques sound quite simple - the final taste and quality seem to depend on the appropriateness of the combinations of the ingredients.
My initial idea was to photograph the finished dish with an olive grove in the background. Then I remembered the plants that actually gave me the aubergines: now in winter, they are dry stalks. They continued to produce eggplant up until early January, but the fruit was not the best quality.
The roasted aubergine with turmeric yoghurt, crispy onion, basil, rocket and pomegranate seeds was the first item I saw written on the sample menu card . My first thought was "I can easily recreate a dish like this in my kitchen", because all the ingredients are available to me: in fact, we grow most of the fresh ones ourselves - but not all at the same time! My second thought was: "Oh my God, so many different ingredients." It's freaky to rush around trying to find obscure items that can't always be located at one stop-and-shop place, especially when you really don't need to use them in great quantity; a lot of your purchases will probably not end up being used again for a while, kind of like bottled Asian sauces sitting in your fridge for a long time. And finally: "There's a lot of preparation involved in this dish." You need a lot of hands to create this kind of meal, as well as quite a wide variety of pots and pans and kitchen utensils.
Pomegranate and eggplant are two of my favorite natural foods (in their season). They are also messy to deal with. Skin contact with the white flesh of an eggplant (and the yellow inner flesh of a pomegranate) makes your fingers black. I should know: I have cut a lot of aubergine in my lifetime. How to peel a pomegranate is the subject of many web discussions. At this particular restaurant, pomegranate is overused. Someone at Ottolenghi's must be peeling pomegranate for a good part of their day. I guess that's what you pay for when you go to an expensive restaurant: imported unusual ingredients, exotic looking food, a lot of manual labour and imaginative decor, whether it's in the premises or the food styling. The plating of the dishes is quite unlike serving a 'piece' of something from a pot or pan, like I do at home: a dish like roasted aubergine with turmeric yoghurt, crispy onion, basil, rocket and pomegranate seeds is all about food styling, artistic effect and detail.
Plating the same dish at at a restaurant must feel like an assembly line at times. PS: This dish doesn't really need the pomegranate seeds - it would probably work better with a sprinkling of dried crushed nuts to complement the sweetness of the sun-kissed Cretan summer-grown aubergine.
The cost of making this dish in my kitchen was less than €1 (for both portions). This does not include a payment for the cook, leaving me unpaid. To recreate the roasted aubergine dish (together with the purple-sprouting broccoli dish), I needed to spend well over an hour in the kitchen. But I had all the fresh ingredients available to me. When I decided to make this dish, it was a Saturday morning, and I didn't feel like leaving the house. I had everything I needed to make it without having to spend time or money sourcing it. That's the advantage of living in a food-centric society in the Mediterranean. Although I wasn't paid for my own work in producing the dish, I can safely say that my kitchen fun turned into a very rewarding experience, judging by the comments I received from my 'diners': the plates were licked clean.
A visitor from Iran recently landed on my blog with the search string: "why people prefer to eat out". Good question: cultural norms for eating out differ markedly between east and west, especially between underdeveloped and technologically dependent nations. When I want to eat out, I definitely want to eat something different to what I cook at home, which isn't as easy as it sounds in my own town; most local tavernas offer home-style food, using similar recipes to those of my own. The food doesn't have to be exotic or imported; the atmosphere needs to be fun and the food tasty. It should definitely be an accessible meal to all ages and pockets. The meal out needs to be an enjoyable way to spend time in good company. I'm looking forward to some Asian food in London soon...
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