Dining with a Slow Food Twist
The Slow Brunch – coinciding with the inaugural Sunday Slow Food Market – took place in the grand and glittering Mirror room at the Rosewood London, and it certainly lived up to its name. It was, in all, a huge meal, breakfast, lunch and Sunday dinner spread over almost three hours in one long dreamy afternoon.
Gentle female jazz vocals wafted through the room as impeccably polite but also friendly, and even chatty international staff attending to your needs without any fuss, and leaving you alone if they see you are busy.
So, guest-led, you can set the pace and create the style you wish for your sensuous Sunday – a spacious sofa and low table in your own nook or a more traditional dining table for two. There is plenty of room and privacy, giving you the impression you have the enthusiastic staff and the lovely dining room – which looks like an elegant, and very large living room with mustard leather sofas, black columns, calming pale silver grey carpet – all to yourself. The geometric mirror shapes, softened by yellow orbs of light, are unobtrusive, mostly on the ceiling, just hinting at a glitzy world of grandiose balls and regal events if you chose to look upwards, but otherwise merely creating a hint of a sparkle to the gently lit room.
Some guests read newspapers as they awaited their dining companions, others started on their own, gazing comfortably at their books, or smartphones (on silent), happily spending their time grazing on croissants and cheese, or charcuterie and breads before their friends or partners arrived to start the business of the Sunday Slow Food Brunch.
A Visit to the Market
My teenage son suddenly relaxed at the ample space we were given, and the warm welcome. Without planning anything in advance, we went with the flow and just did what felt right, breaking up our fine dining experience with conversation, writing, drawing, and – in my case – a second visit to the stalls of the Slow Food Market – taking place in the hotel’s courtyard – before dessert.
It felt like luxury beyond compare, the slow food pear juice from Chegworth Valley – sold outside in the market – with a refreshing crisp edge, and the sparkling wine by Nyetimber, a classic cuvee perfectly chilled and as delicious as any champagne (later the head sommelier explained why,
Our grapefruit salad was gently laced with a “Sorrel” cordial – a perfect combination. While the charcuterie was a true feast, with delicious shavings of chorizo, curls of ham, pastrami with Szechuan pepper and pecan-speckled mortadella standing out. The “Egg of the day” was perfectly poached and served in a glass with a thick and tasty watercress coulis.
Never rushed, we had plenty of time to talk and read or sketch between courses, and only received the next course when we indicated we were ready – reminding me of the time I lived in Mexico and lengthy Sunday lunches in the garden.
Next came the Slow Roast of the Week, succulent poultry glazed with lemon and rosemary and perfectly al dente broccoli and soft and seasoned butternut squash. A glass of 2013 Pinot Gris, from West Sussex’s Stopham Estate was just right for me, while those who like a soft red with their poultry, the volcanic vines of 2012 Tenuta Della Terre Nera, were recommended, an organic wine from Etna in Sicily.
The Chef who Brought Slow Food to Rosewood
French Chef Amandine Chaignot – the creator of this event and Rosewood’s new Slow Food menu – came to our table to talk through the concept and the age-old enmity and competition between Britain and France.
What about the notion of the extreme superiority of French cuisine over the British? I asked, recalling a saying I once heard about the UK (“If you like the weather, you will love the food!”)
“It is really wrong,” she said smiling. “In the month that I have been here I have been exploring the restaurants of this city, and you can be really proud. Here you are open to other cultures and are good at mixing. It works very well.”
I had been reading the objectives in the mission statement of the Slow Food movement, and was intrigued by the notion of developing an “Ark of Taste” for each eco-region where local culinary traditions and foods are celebrated.
What are the specific tastes, and herbs used in British cuisine, as distinct from the French?
“Well, there is Rosemary. You use it a lot – really! And cinnamon, in cakes and beverages, also cocktails and jams.”
What is classic British food for you?
“Fish and chips, I love it! When it is fresh, it is really good, easy and straightforward. And then your beautiful afternoon cakes and the cinnamon rolls.”
“In France no one knows about the Slow Food movement; it is more important in the UK,” Amandine observes. “In France the focus is simply on quality.”
But there is more to it. The contemporary, and undoubtedly chic, Slow Food Movement has many strings to its bow, in addition to promoting ethical production and buying. These range from forming and seed banks to preserve varieties , teaching gardening skills, political lobbying (for example against pesticides), organising small-scale processing and promoting “taste education.” It aims to preserve not only local and traditional food products, but also their preparation and their lore – which is why the story behind the product, be it steak or salad, is so important.
There was time to ponder with our silver tray of bijoux desserts, lemon meringue on a small bed of soft sponge cake and a pretty little rhubarb panna cotta, as well as a whole apple and cinnamon cake, delectably moist with a rich with a cream topping. Daniel chose tea from Lalani & Co, while I had a thick, black, sugary coffee from Dark Arts.
As the popular Rosewood event demonstrates, Slow Food is also about pleasure, taking time to enjoy your senses, access to top quality produce and also thinking positively and proactively about how we organise our lives and our consumption.