Perfect Plates at the Royal Horseguards Hotel:
A lot has happened to John Whaite since winning the third series of the BBC’s The Great British Bake Off. Having gained the law degree he was studying for whilst competing in the show, he now runs his own cookery school, has become something of a celebrity as a TV chef and columnist for the Telegraph and has also written 3 cookery books. As if all of that wasn’t enough, last night I saw him launch the new afternoon tea he has designed to celebrate the Queen’s 90th birthday at the Royal Horseguards Hotel.
The Royal Horseguards hotel is a beautiful building (built in 1884 in the style of a French château). Situated in Whitehall Place and steeped in history, the building once served as headquarters for the British Secret Service and it’s said that Winston Churchill and others used secret tunnels within the building during WWII, when most of the building was taken over by Government departments and the Russian and American embassies. It’s worth a visit just to look at the stunning interior architecture, in particular the freestanding grand marble staircase. Our event was held in the Reading and Writing room and with its high ceilings, murals and twinkling chandeliers it’s no wonder this has been used as a backdrop for many famous films and TV shows (including Harry Potter, Downton Abbey and Mr Selfridge).
As the hotel is so quintessentially British, they could not pass up the opportunity of celebrating the Queen’s 90th birthday with a special edition of their afternoon tea. Not detracting from the traditional finger sandwiches and obligatory freshly baked scones, John has honed his baking ingenuity and created a range of pastries and cakes, taking inspiration from the flavours of the Commonwealth. These include Hazelnut & Maple Chocolate Tarts, Raspberry & Rose Crumble Choux Buns, Lemon Macarons, Victoria Sponge Triangles and Yuzu & Coconut Blondies. These little delights come in perfect bite size portions, meaning you don’t feel too guilty sampling them all! In fact the Blondies (the perfect combination of citrus sharp and sugary sweet) were so good we had to have 2 just make quite sure we liked them :0)
We also got to sample some of the savoury dishes in John’s new book “Perfect Plates in 5 Ingredients”. The rationale is to create dishes using just five ingredients, with only the addition of basic store cupboard ingredients (oil, butter, salt and pepper counting as ‘free passes’). In describing the concept, John quoted Coco Chanel who famously said that before you leave the house you should remove one item of clothing. John now feels that metaphor can be applied to a plate of food, achieving perfection from simplicity. Well that’s easy for him to say I can hear some of you cry, but if the dishes we sampled were anything to go by, I think he’s got something!
The Hummus, Pepper & Dolcelatte Flatbread Pizza and the Rice Krispie-coated Chicken Pieces with Stilton Sriracha Sauce were my particular favourites but for days when I have more time and attention to spend on my food, I will give his Five-Hour Lamb recipe a go. The meat literally fell apart and with quality this good, it doesn’t need to be dressed up with too many ingredients.
Such success really could not have happened to a nicer chap. John worked the room seamlessly and appeared to have a genuine interest in all of us who had turned out for him. We even got to meet his equally charming mum, who was understandably as proud as punch of her boy. Hopefully these new endeavours will prove to be just as rewarding for him.
Perfect Plates in 5 Ingredients is available from all leading book shops (priced £18.99) or from http://www.kylebooks.com/
The Right Royal Afternoon Tea is available from The Royal Horseguards Hotel, 2 Whitehall Court, London, SW1A