Bleak news in the hospitality sector: Noma, the Copenhagen champion of raw shrimp and reindeer penis, will be shutting up shop in 2024. Chef Rene Redzepi declares the business unsustainable, following several temporary closures and amidst accusations of abysmal working conditions. It is going to turn into a ‘food lab’.
Whatever it means for you and me, not fortunate enough to have visited and now never going to, it’s worryingly symptomatic.
Only last week two restaurants have gone out of business in my, reasonably affluent, town. It looks like they must have gasped their last for Christmas in order to pay staff, then called it quits. I do hope that is good-ish news for the remaining ones, as the punters will have a smaller selection to choose from, but the problem is not too much competition: it’s the costs. What’s painful for us at home, is certainly much more acute for a restaurateur who can’t exactly tell their customers to don an extra jumper because the heating is off.
Sad scene all around because we, the customers, can hardly help with not quite enough spare cash to eat out every night and help out. I’m going to cheer myself – and you too, I hope – up by recalling some dishes I often make at home that were inspired by restaurant meals.
Some of them I tried at home nostalgically, to preserve the memory of a fabulous holiday. That’s the case of green papaya salad, even though you can’t buy authentic green papaya in the UK, at least outside some ethnic West Indian shops.
The same goes for salt crust baked sea bream invoking fond memories of my first visit to Venice, and in particular the waiter there who cracked the crust and filleted my bass at the speed of light.
Closer to home were crispy tobacco onions from one of The Pig hotels. The excellent method to bake then fry chips comes from a sadly defunct place in Tenby, Wales.
I’d obsessed about salt crust baked celeriac I had in Skosh in York until I finally cooked it myself. And I never dared cook sprats at home, because, like, do you fillet them or what? until served the little wonders at one of the Lussman restaurants. Corn ribs with dukkah are easy to trace – to Ottolenghi’s Rovi, of course.
They do cook seafood interestingly in good restaurants. That’s how I got inspired to do prawns with tomato stew and miso haddock. And sometimes the little additions to dishes are worth attention, like the seed crackers from L’Enclume in Cartmel.
My local fine dining place is responsible for kedgeree with smoked mackerel and duck pastilla – shout out to The Gatsby, may it weather the storm. And I couldn’t fail to mention sweets, though to be fair they might merit a separate story: my attempt at Sacher torte from Vienna and the dome cake, inspired by an astonishing dessert from the French Alps.
Do you sometimes try to replicate at home dishes you’ve had in restaurants? If so, share in the comments below.
Have a good cooking week!