Our two most requested recipes, part 2: sesame and ginger dressing

This is a truly delicious dressing and it’s no surprise to me that people are always asking for the recipe. If I were more commercially minded I might make my fortune creating a supermarket version of it. The two magic ingredients are stem ginger in syrup and soy sauce, Be sure to buy good quality soy sauce; I prefer the stuff labelled shoyu or tamari (the latter for wheat intolerance) that you can get from health food shops.

There are two slightly different ways to make it. You either whizz everything together except the sesame seeds and then add them at the end. This looks a bit prettier and is the way we make it at the cafes but you have be sure to stir it each time you take some or else you’ll end up with a ladelful of oil and nothing else. Alternatively you can add the sesame seeds to the mixture along with all the other ingredients when you blend it. The whole thing then ends up a murky brown colour, but it emulsifiies and gets a uniform creamy texture which makes it simpler to use.

Like many good things that we do at our cafes the idea for this recipe came originally from Frances Tomlinson (now Frances Short) who cooked at The Place Below in the 1990s.

Makes about half a litre of dressing

  • 3 blobs stem ginger in syrup with a bit of the syrup
  • 50 ml white wine vinegar
  • 75ml soy sauce
  • 300 ml sunflower oil
  • 50 ml sesame oil (ideally cold pressed but toasted is o.k. if that’s all you can get)
  • 4 tbs sesame seeds

Whizz everything together in a blender except the sesame seeds and then stir in the sesame seeds. (See above for alternative method) This will keep for several weeks in the fridge.


Amongst restaurateurs and cafe owners – not to mention hotel owners – Tripadvisor is a highly controversial site. In our trade magazines such as the Caterer and Hotelkeeper, a mention of Tripadvisor will provoke an endless stream of ‘yours disgusted’ letters from restaurant owners who are certain that they have been targeted by local rivals who have posted fake & negative reviews about their business. And of course the reverse is also possible: there’s not much to stop me asking Aunt Mabel and Cousin Cuthbert to send in stonkingly good reviews of my cafes.

This sensitivity is partly a concern for the wellbeing of our businesses but more than that a negative review can feel like a personal attack. I don’t think that I’m unique in having been attracted to the cafe/restaurant business by the immediate feedback you get from customers who like what you do. If you’re an architect or a novelist you might have to wait years for someone to tell you that they like what you do – in my business you just have to serve your next really delicious squidgy chocolate brownie to get some positive feedback.

So currently my enthusiasm about Tripadvisor has reached new heights. Lownz, our chef at Michaelhouse who’s obviously a bit more web-aware than I am, said that I should take a look at recent reviews of the Michaelhouse Cafe on the site. I’ve just been doing that and I feel completely bowled over. There are clearly a lot of people out there who really like what we do – and like it enough to bother writing about it. I then looked up the reviews for All Saints and found the same story there. Hooray! Of course the moment will come when someone says something truly horrible about us and then it will be up there in the ether for ever and I will no doubt be writing my own ‘disgusted’ letters to The Caterer.

But for the moment I’m basking in the praise. Go and have a look yourself – search on Tripadvisor for Cafe @ All Saints, Hereford or Michaelhouse Cafe, Cambridge. And if you’ve visited one of the cafes and you want to add your own thoughts then go on…..and I’ll be brave and keep reading whatever you’ve got to say.

Our two most requested recipes, part 1: healthbowl


Our two most requested recipes - part 1- healthbowlIt all started with Dharmapala. Actually his name was Paul but when you were a macrobiotic chef in the early 1980s then ‘Paul’ simply didn’t cut the mustard so he re-christened himself – or whatever the Buddhist re-naming equivalent is.

When I left Cambridge in 1982 I went to work at Wilkins Natural Foods in London’s Marsham St. It was set up and run by Pam Wilkins who had been a manager at Cranks and she took with her many of the best things about Cranks, in particular their insistence on making absolutely everything themselves from raw ingredients: from their bread to their juices. As well as being a superb place to learn the basics of cooking and running a cafe Wilkins was a mecca for faddish cooks and eaters and Paul/Dharmapala was one such. When he wasn’t making salads at Wilkins he was meditating and making food for the astonishingly bland menu at the East West centre on Old Street. The saving grace of a meal at the East West centre was that they always had good quality soy sauce, wasabi and pickled plums on the tables with which to enliven the plates of over-cooked vegetables and brown rice.

However, at Wilkins Paul/Dharmapala used to make a delicious rice and lentil salad which he called a healthbowl and I remembered this dish fondly. In the early days of The Place Below we started experimenting with this idea and gradually came developed our version of this salad which is delicious and has that key quality of being something you can eat every day without getting bored of it. We now serve masses of it every day both at All Saints and Michaelhouse, either on its own or as part of a salad plate. The reason it’s called a ‘healthbowl’, apart from being a shameless marketing ploy to get health-conscious eaters buying it, is that it ticks a number of nutritional boxes. It’s relatively low in fat; it has well-balanced plant based protein (complementing amino acids from the rice and the lentils) and lots of fresh vegetables. But don’t let that put you off. It’s also very tasty.

The recipe given below is a basic version but many different variations are possible. Grated or cooked beetroot, other fresh herbs, blanched broccoli or halved cherry tomatoes can all be added – or almost any other vegetables you have to hand. The advantage of the vegetable selection given here is that the roast sweet potato, mushrooms and celery will all put up with being stored in the fridge overnight. If you start adding, for instance, blanched broccoli or halved cherry tomatoes you want to be sure to finish the salad on the day you make it. For more exotic presentation in tune with the origins of the recipe try serving each portion on a sheet of toasted nori (the kind of seaweed used to make sushi rolls) brushed with soy sauce – and if you’re a real seaweed fan garnish the top with a little arame. If you like things a bit spicey add a few drops of tabasco to the dressing.

Makes a big bowl – serves 6 generously

150g puy lentils
60ml shoyu or other good quality soy sauce
60ml balsamic vinegar
20ml sesame oil – cold pressed is best but not as easy to get hold of as the toasted sesame oil
40ml sunflower oil
1 blob stem ginger in syrup plus a bit of the syrup from the jar
10g sesame seeds
250g brown rice – either long or short grain; my preference is for long grain

300g sweet potato, peeled and diced
1/2 head of celery, diced quite small
200g closed cap mushrooms, finely sliced
1 bunch fresh coriander or parsley, finely chopped (We use coriander in the cafes but parsley is also good)

1. Cook the lentils in plenty of unsalted water. Drain well. Put to one side.

2. To make the dressing: In a blender, whizz together the stem ginger, shoyu, balsamic vinegar, sesame oil & sunflower oil, and then add the sesame seeds and stir into the puy lentils while they are still warm.

3. Cook the rice. Put the water into a large pan with a little salt and bring to the boil. (You need just over 1.5 times the volume of water as rice). As soon as it is boiling rapidly, tip in the rice and bring the water back to the boil. Immediately the water comes back to the boil for the second time, turn the heat right down and simmer, covered, until all the water is absorbed and the rice is cooked (about 30 minutes).

4. Allow the rice to cool.

5. Whilst the rice is cooking roast the sweet potato: Toss the diced sweet potato in enough olive oil to coat it and with a little salt. Spread out on to a baking sheet and roast in a hot oven for about 25 minutes until the sweet potato is quite tender and beginning to brown.

6. Mix everything together thoroughly but gently and serve. Like most salads it’s much nicer at room temperature than straight from the fridge.


Our two most requested recipes - part 1: healthbowl

An Ending and a Beginning

Cafe Below - formerly The Place Below

Cafe Below - formerly The Place Below

Last Friday I sold Cafe Below in London’s Cheapside, the restaurant I opened 23 years ago in March 1989.  And today I’m doing my first ever blog post.

The Place Below, as it was called until I foolishly re-branded it as Cafe Below a couple of years ago, was my baby, my first born (sorry Jonathan). I know every corner. I can find any light switch in the dark. It’s a part of me and it was very strange to walk away last Friday having handed the keys to the buyers Anthony and Rachel Middleton and walk off down Cheapside with all connections severed.

More than anything The Place Below means people to me. My Mum and Dad who were so proud of their son setting up on his own. They had piles of my business cards lying around hopefully in their antique porcelain shop in Kensington Church St. I tut-tutted at my Mum’s suggestion that we should sell anything as old-fashioned as quiche only to find that a couple of years later Time Out was calling ours ‘the best quiche in London’. We now sell more quiche in our Cambridge and Hereford cafes than any other dish. Mother knows best! Then there was Ian who was my employer a few weeks before I opened the cafe; a customer on our first day; a member of my team a few days later and the manager of the cafe a short time later. Ian’s other half Nick who continues to work in the church upstairs to this day. Victor Stock the flamboyant rector of St Mary-le-Bow who conducted his famous dialogues upstairs in the church with the likes of Diana Rigg and Tony Benn. Victor’s housekeeper Ruth once came and helped with the washing up in the restaurant but she was too short to reach the sink and we had to provide here with an up-turned soup pan to stand on. Victor took charge of Sarah and my wedding and our son’s un-christening. And Sarah and my courtship was conducted in and out of The Place Below: early morning lemon tart delivered to her barristerial chambers; dinners at the restaurant with her friends and colleagues and our 59th birthday party (I was 30 and Sarah 29).

And many wonderful people have come and gone since then. Frances Tomlinson who got our recipes organized in a way that we’re still using 20 years on. Ashley Mackie who wrote out an early version of our Leek and potato soup and after the ingredients wrote helpfully ‘If you don’t know what to do with this lot you shouldn’t be in the kitchen’; Jean Strachan, a glaswegian who I simply had to pretend to understand what she said. Vero, Luke, Jo, Jenny, David….and later Rupert, Dorian and Emily….right up to the present day and the current crew who have looked after me for the last few months whilst I’ve been back being a full-time manager in London. Thank you to all of you. You’ve been not only my team and my helpers but also my teachers. Most of what I know both about food and about business I’ve learnt from the teams at my cafes and the first of them were the team at The Place Below.

So it’s out with the old and in with the new. And The New is this blog. It will have a mixture of news about our cafes (Cafe @ All Saints in Hereford and Michaelhouse Cafe in Cambridge). recipes and general chat about food and no doubt some random chit-chat because I’m told that that’s allowed in blogs.

In the next post I’m going to write down the two most requested recipes at all of our cafes. You’l never have to ask again!