fête (& food) for a queen

In honor of Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee, a menu of right royal pedigree is reigning supreme inside London’s Roux at The Landau. Through June 9th, Executive Chef Chris King – with the input of father and son chefs Albert and Michel Roux Jr. – is showcasing a Jubilee option at the celebrated eatery, marked by a crown on each of the daily lunch and pre-theatre menus, reflecting traditional dishes with blue-blood backstorys that have been given a twenty-first century spin. I recently got a glimpse of three of the dishes, but I’d expect there’s going to be a few more sovereign surprises up this King’s sleeve.

In 1952, the year of Queen Elizabeth’s coronation, Albert Roux moved to London from France and worked as an apprentice at Cliveden, the illustrious Berkshire country house where he often served soft Cotswold Legbar Hen’s Egg à la Reine  to the likes of Lady Astor. Sporting the title à la Reine, meaning “to the Queen,” the dish is a combination of chicken and foie gras poached in Madeira then bound with truffled mayonnaise and used to fill a traditional brioche a tete. A soft-poached Cotswold Legbar hen’s egg is perched on top and garnished with slices of summer truffle. Roux went on to earn three Michelin stars at Le Gavroche, yet still recalls the dish as one of his most refined – and who can blame him.

Often referred to as the “King of Chefs and the Chef of Kings,” the great Chef Escoffier was born in France but resided in London for many years. He took great delight in naming his dishes after famous people or places, but one dish in particular proved to take the fancy of royalty: Gewürztraminer Poached Var Salmon Royale. And not just because of the royal honorific – when any of Escoffier’s fish dishes ended with the word royale it meant the garnish was crayfish. In this version wild Var salmon is poached in an aromatic Gewürztraminer court bouillon and served with a kingly version of Escoffier’s original garnish – shelled crayfish tails, tiny quenelles of herbed salmon mousseline, and a parisienne of potatoes flavored with crayfish essence.

Hereford Strawberry Queen of Puddings sounds like a champion bitch at the Westminster Show but it’s actually a dessert made famous by Queen Victoria – Britain’s longest-serving monarch – following a trip up north to Manchester. The local residents felt their custard and strawberry jam pudding was too plain for the Queen so they added meringue to dress it up. Her Royal Highness loved it so much it became a staple. The Roux version is much lighter than the original recipe yet calls for rich custard thickened with brioche crumbs. It’s offset with a lightly-set fragrant jam of Hereford strawberries from Oakchurch farm and a mound of glazed Italian meringue.

Roux at The Landau  is in the legendary Langham, which opened in 1865 as Europe’s first Grand Hotel. The hotel also happens to serve one of the swankiest afternoon teas in town in collaboration with luxury goods brand Asprey – yet another excuse to toast British heritage and 60 years of The Queen.

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victoria and albert

The National Portrait Gallery may make for a favored hourlong stroll but for more substantial peregrinations the Victoria and Albert Museum is pretty close to perfection. Less a proper museum than a Kunstkammer, or cabinet of curiosities, the V&A – as it’s commonly called – is an ode to Empire and a monument to the benevolent side of the Industrial Revolution. (The side that believed technology would, if not save us, at least pull us up out of the gutter.) Cherry picked from the furthest reaches of the UK’s sphere of influence, you’ll stumble on everything from medieval French tombstones and Spanish altar carvings to German stylings in wrought iron and English adventures in chased silver and blown glass. There’s an entire chancel and transept installed from a church in Perugia, majestic carpets which once graced the palace of Ottoman Sultans and the whole of the Music Room taken from the 18th century London residence of the Dukes of Norfolk. The Cast Courts, two great halls dedicated to the uniquely Victorian penchant for plaster casts, are unlike anything you’ve ever seen: yes, that’s Giovanni Pisano’s great pulpit from Pisa; yes, that’s Trajan’s Column in striking detail; yes, that’s Michelangelo’s David towering at almost 17-feet tall; and most outstanding of all, yes, that really is the late 12th century Portico de La Gloria from Santiago de Compostela. Before the internet, before photography, this was as far as many a Londoner got to seeing the treasures of antiquity and the Renaissance. Today the plaster casts are rightly viewed as stunning achievements in their own right. Despite the current fad of grave robbing claims and calls for the return of cultural patrimony, so, too, is the endless curiosity on display at the V&A.

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