Chain Review: Langan’s Brasserie Saturday, Aug 18 2012 

Having experienced a shoddy breakfast during our early-morning get-up at the hotel we were staying at in northern France, by the time we’d driven to Calais and got on the ferry to set sail for England we were keen to refuel. We therefore decided on the Langan’s Brasserie option, which has since evolved to cover several branches on board P&O ferries as well as locations scattered throughout west London.

Even if our breakfast in France had been poor, I had ultimately already eaten (cereal and bread) so did not want much. I therefore ordered a rack of toast and enjoyed the complimentary orange juice that was served to every customer and turned out to be of very high quality. My husband plumped for the brasserie’s fuller breakfast option: this offered a starter, full cooked breakfast and additional drink for £13. He ordered a pot of tea as his drink, which I promptly stole. He then went on to feast on porridge and a full English, which consisted of egg, sausage, bacon, black pudding, tomato, mushrooms, and bubble and squeak. As if that wasn’t enough, for your £13 you also get a generous basket of mini bread rolls and pastries served with butter, honey and different types of jam. This was all filling, satisfying, and generally really hit the spot. The portions were large and you could easily do as we did – share one £13 breakfast menu and then order extras if needed. Service throughout this experience was discreet (sometimes too discreet as the staff were not always prompt), friendly, and overall added a touch of class to proceedings.

We were therefore keen to take refuge there again from the ferry’s hustle and bustle during our return crossing about 10 days later. On this occasion it was around tea-time, and unfortunately we had a very different experience. Staff were standoffish almost to the point of being rude when they discovered we weren’t going to be wanting a full meal (and who does want a full meal at 4pm – seriously?) – and in any case it’s not as if they had customers bashing down the door wanting full meals ahead of us, as we along with another party were the only customers in the restaurant (which was a large venue with plenty of covers).

When we did come to order, we had difficulty choosing, as we had hoped for something more along the lines of afternoon tea, which it appears that Langan’s does not offer. Trying to order something remotely appropriate to tea-time, I ended up ordering a cheese plate while my husband ordered a bowl of strawberries and cream (both of these dishes, by the way, turned out to be mediocre and not to the standard of the breakfast we’d enjoyed the previous week). We also then ordered tea, because the weather was miserable and we fancied it. This (I admit) somewhat unconventional order raised a few eyebrows with the staff, but I was not impressed by their reaction, having worked in the service industry previously and knowing that no matter what a customer does, says, or orders (unless you get into the territory of hitting and swearing etc) it is your job to comply and be as polite to them as to any other customer. This did not seem to be a priority at Langan’s on this particular day, where we also heard them make an uncalled-for comment relating to members of the other party’s clothes (I admit they were dressed ridiculously for the venue, but again, this is not staff’s business; they are paying customers like any other). As a result of these reactions, and the generally slow service that followed (despite, again, the fact that the restaurant was practically empty), we were keener to leave as soon as possible, rather than lingering and enjoying the food (as during the first visit).

It seems to me, as someone who used to visit Langan’s aboard P&O Ferries regularly as a child and remembers queues stretching out the door (you used to have to reserve a time for later in the sailing and come back if you weren’t quick enough to get a table at the start), that their reputation has gone downhill in the intervening years. Service and food are inconsistent, and can prove either very good or truly terrible. Langan’s projects a very good image through the presentation of its menus and restaurants, and indeed through its competitive pricing, but at time lets itself down through average food and lacklustre service. It’s possible that its London restaurants provide a sparklier experience, and that indeed the P&O branches vary according to who is running them (meaning perhaps that we got lucky on one day and not on another). However, as a result of the second experience we now feel that we cannot rely upon them adequately for the welcome and high quality promised by the brand. We are now convinced that P&O’s club lounge – which, at £12 per person, promises champagne, tea, coffee and soft drinks included in the price, along with luxurious facilities (which we have now seen, as we went to inquire about the service immediately upon leaving Langan’s), newspapers and snacks. We’ll know what to do next time – and I almost feel sorry for Langan’s that their service is now so inconsistent and has gone downhill in this way.

http://www.langansrestaurants.co.uk/brasserie.html

Langan’s London locations can be found here: http://www.langansrestaurants.co.uk/booking.html

for information about Langan’s Brasserie on the Dover-Calais route, follow this link:http://www.poferries.com/tourist/content/pages/template/onboard_dover_-_calais_langans_brasserie_onboard_-_the_brasserie_DOCA.htm

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Floral cupcakes Saturday, Jun 23 2012 

Now that summer is (kind of) upon us, the bakist is faced with their yearly dilemma: how far is it criminal to spend time hovering around a hot oven when the sun is out?

There are several ways around this so that, happily, we can all carry on baking. There are dishes such as panna cotta, which require very little time around a stove (we’re having a ginger and tangerine version tonight), and of course the almighty cheesecake (as in the English version, which doesn’t need any time in the oven. We recently concocted a lime and limoncello cheesecake, which perhaps inevitably could have done with more limoncello).

But another great summer treat for a cooler day is the idea of the floral cupcake. I use a recipe from the Hummingbird bakery, and while they make rose, lavender and jasmine versions, I have expanded on the theme to create my own violet and calendula cakes too. What’s more, there are still numerous possibilities that I have not yet explored, like elderflower, camomile, and linden flower (yes, all of these flowers are really available online and at places like Lakeland for your delectation).

So how would one go about this in the event of wanting to create these cupcakes at home? First you need the basic recipe (the below is the one I’ve casually lifted from the Hummingbird Bakery’s Cake Days book). To this, you add your flavourings (more on this in a moment):

(makes 12-16 cupcakes)

80g softened unsalted butter

280g caster sugar

240g plain flour

1tbsp baking powder

1/4tsp salt

240ml milk

2 large eggs

Mix together the dry ingredients. To the milk, add 1tbsp of your chosen flavouring (see below; I’m coming to it, I promise). Then add this with the eggs to the dry mixture. Put the mixture into muffin cases and bake for 18-20 minutes at 190°C. Simples!

NOW for the flavouring. In France, it’s very easy to come by various flavoured syrups in the supermarket, so this is definitely something to add to your trolley next time you’re over on a booze cruise: the syrups (chiefly made by Monin, but there are other brands, including supermarket own brands) can regularly be found in such flavours as caramel, candy floss, cocktail flavours (such as blue curacao), hibiscus, and violet. Sometimes what I do, therefore, is to add the syrup to the milk where flavouring is talked about in the recipe above.

Another great idea for the flavouring is to use tea. For the Hummingbird Bakery’s jasmine version, they use jasmine tea, and I can confirm this works well. It therefore stands to reason that it would work with other teas too. Try Twinings’ Rose Garden or Lavender Earl Grey teas to impart those recognisable floral flavours into your cake mix. Whittard also has interesting options – why not infuse the milk in the recipe above with their Jubilee blend of tea (which contains marigold, apricot and peach) and top your cupcakes with edible marigold petals as decoration? Alternatively, you could buy your own dried flowers online and infuse these in hot water (make sure they are marked as being edible by the seller).

So that’s the flavouring sorted – and while your cupcakes cool on the window sill, you can think about the decoration. How, for instance, did I make my rose cupcakes look like this?

Furry friends, I will tell you.

The crystallised rose petals came from the food section at Parisian department store Le Bon Marché (known as La Grande Epicerie). While I was there I collected some crystallised violet petals too. You *can* crystallise your own flower petals (the Hummingbird cookbook mentioned above tells you how) but this is only for those on the short of money and long of time. However, you don’t need to go all the way to Paris to buy these beauties: Melbury and Appleton (who are located in London, but also sell online) are just one retailer flogging them to UK bakers. You can also decorate with sugar flowers (buy ready-made, or make your own), sprinkle with the edible fresh or dried flowers I mentioned earlier (I use edible lavender sometimes), or finish off with sugars that already have the dried flower in question running through them (I use these, but you may want to try the Ethical Community shop online; they stock organic fairtrade rose and lavender sugars to name just a few). For a funkier take on it, smash up some Parma violet sweets or throw on some lime crystals.

But all of these decorations need something to stick to! I hear you cry. (And you’re right.) And now my cupcakes have gone completely cold thanks to your lengthy blethering! (Sorry. I know they taste good warm. But they need to be cold for you to ice them properly.)

SO. Hummingbird give the full frosting quantities as follows:

500g icing sugar

160g softened unsalted butter

3 tsp of your flavouring

50ml milk

Decorations

However, even when making the full amount of cupcakes I tend to find this to be far too much, so I often reduce it by half (so if making half the amount of cupcakes, make a quarter of the amount of frosting).

All you need to do is cream the butter and icing sugar, then add the liquids. If you want to add food colouring as well, then you can (but just a few drops!).

Once you’ve spread or piped the frosting onto the cakes (if spreading, keep a glass of warm water on standby to dunk the palette knife or spoon in from time to time; it makes sure the icing ends up on the cake and not just stuck to the cutlery!), you can add your decorations (flowers, sugar, sugar paste…). Then wait for the frosting to dry before you eat your cakes…if your willpower is better than mine, you’ll be able to.

If the British weather is up to it, take these floral fancies on a picnic with you. Or, alternatively, eat them inside over a pot of tea of your choice (ideally a tea to go with your cupcakes! A flowering tea in a glass teapot would be ideal – such as Whittard’s carnation plum flowering tea, which contains jasmine.), and watch the typical British rain come down. Perfect.