Culture: Gastrono-me’s back

Swiss meringue
Swiss meringue

By the time you are reading this, Gastrono-me on Abbeygate Street will be about to open. To everyone who has dined with us before and has experienced the “please give me your mobile number and I’ll call you in about 10 minutes, when a table is ready” scenario, I apologise that we have been running a little later than expected.

I will also apologise to anyone who is expecting one of Gemma’s recipes. Today I give you one of mine, but if you ever got sick of grainy, sugary buttercream on a cake or cupcake, you’ll hopefully thank me for this mousse-like Swiss meringue buttercream that helped to make us who we are today.

It started with a small, cream Kenwood mixer that my mum bought for Gemma one birthday. She had been asked to make a birthday cake and some cupcakes for a friend’s party and, Gemma being Gemma, wanted to make it the best she could and looked for alternatives to the butter/icing sugar mix that we often endure.

Those 12 cupcakes were to provide us with the foundations of where we are today and as much as I still get chills when I think of piping and decorating 200 cupcakes for a wedding and then delivering and setting it up, I still smile at the thought that it got me here.

It has been almost six months since we closed the café on St John’s Street and although I have been busy managing this building project I have missed our customers so much. Every day I am reminded how much I love my job. A phone call, a word in the street, social media “When are you opening?” “Can I make a reservation?” “Just open already!!” It has been nothing but encouragement and it fills my soul with happiness. I can’t wait to show you what we’ve done with the place, but it also feels like bringing your girlfriend home for the first time. I’m excited and nervous in equal measure.

I want to know what you’ll make of the three bi-folding windows opening out on to a south-facing Abbeygate Street. I fought like hell to make sure they were in the budget. Will you like the flooring, the bar, the bespoke tables and chairs or the timbered ceiling? Toilets? Yes toilets, what will you think? We paid as much attention to the detail of those as we did the rest of the building. What about the lighting as daytime creeps into evening?

I’m fairly certain you’ll love the menu. Lovingly created by Gemma and Caitlyn, its playfulness still breaks from the norm. Alongside your favourites (we thought you’d kill us if the Hash or Pain Perdu went) we now have a triple-layered breakfast burger, a breakfast milk pannacotta, served on a granola honeycomb crumb. And while it may be playful in style, flavour is still taken very seriously. The Masala is a heady mix of cumin, garam masala and chilli. Powerful, yet married artfully to not overpower the creamy, delicately folded scrambled eggs and served in a warm folded paratha.

The first time I tried their low slow 14-hour beef shin ragu on the Brunch & Beyond menu I cried. At the New York brisket Reuben on Rye I squealed like a child. The rye bread from Wooster’s bakery is just a perfect base for a dish like this.

Local roastery Frank and Earnest are providing our coffees and the source of some of our new breakfast cocktails. The Crude Martini is incredible. The local brewery craft lagers have been carefully chosen and the wines have been hand-picked by one of our customers who is a supplier with Hallgarten & Druitt. The cocktail, beer and wine tasting evening was quite a night.

Will you all still want to come and dine with us? God, I hope so.

As I watch our dedicated team of builders, lighting technicians, plumbers, architects and decorators ‘snagging’ the building for details missed or needing re-positioning, much of the tension of the last few months is passing, but I am reminded of how hard it was when we opened our market stall one cold February day in 2010. I remember when it rained so hard the tarpaulin fell in soaking all of our stock. Hours upon hours of hard work ruined by 10am and we couldn’t leave until 4pm.

I remember how we kept going until we had enough money to open the shop in St John’s Street. For that there was no luxury of outside help. It was just Gemma, myself and a rather inadequate toolkit. I recall the 36-hour shift we pulled to get the doors open in time, catching a couple of hours sleep in the car, parked in a loading bay. I remember when the door opened at 9am and a lady asked: “Are you open?”

We were far from ready. “Yes!”, I shouted. And so the thrill-ride began. Plenty of ‘ups’, some immense ‘downs’. Knowledge found just after I needed it. A fair bit of ‘Jeez we got away with that’.

Most of all we made some incredible friends and extended our ‘family’ immeasurably. Some of the most fantastic days of my life have been spent with people from Gastrono-me. Birthdays are celebrated. Love is shared. The staff Christmas present opening takes hours, and I think our dedication to each other is what enables us to show you the same dedication when you join us. And I can’t wait for you to join us again.

All of this from 12 cupcakes for a friend.

Swiss meringue

If you look online for a Swiss meringue recipe you will be faced with all manner of temperature probes, stopwatches and ice baths. Ignore them. They are trying to make it difficult.

You will need:

A mixer with a whisk and a paddle (metal or ceramic bowl), a hand whisk (electric recommended), a saucepan.

Ingredients

490g caster sugar

8 egg whites (you can use the yolks to make Gemma’s Portuguese custard tarts in the December issue)

500g butter (2 blocks)

Vanilla extract

Method

Pour the sugar and egg whites into the mixing bowl of your mixer. If it is plastic, you will have to find a ceramic or metal one as we are going to use it as a bain marie.

Put 2cm of water into the saucepan and bring to the boil.

While you are waiting for it to boil, bring the sugar and egg whites together with the electric whisk.

Once the water is boiling, place the bowl onto the saucepan and continue to whisk in a circular motion. Be very careful of any steam rising from beneath. The mixture will start to whiten.

Continue to whisk for about 5 minutes or until the mixture is fluffy like a white cloud.

Take off the boil and place the bowl onto your mixer with the whisk attachment. Full speed ahead, grab a glass of wine.

Drain your wine glass over the next 7 minutes, topping up where you feel it is necessary.

Check to see if the meringue is set. It should look silky and smooth. Try the upside down over your head test if you dare.

Swap the whisk for the paddle on your mixer. Take the first block of butter, and make sure it is slightly softened. Cut about 50 grams (a fifth) and place into the bowl. Set the speed on a low to medium setting, and keep adding the same 50 gram amount from both blocks of butter over the next 10 minutes. Once all the butter has been incorporated into the mixture it should look a bit like a Mr Whippy ice cream.

Add a capful of vanilla extract and continue to mix for a couple of minutes.

You can add any flavouring instead of vanilla should you wish, but be careful not to add too much liquid if you do.

Mike is co-director of Gastrono-me or more commonly referred to as Lord Protector of Gastrono-me and is known for his colourful shirts as much as he is for his customer service.

gastrono-me.co.uk