Placed right between Regent Street and Wigmore Street, buzzing London traffic roaring past both its ends, Little Portland Street lies quiet, narrow and unassuming in the heart of Fitzrovia. At its centre are two really inspirational foodie finds that punch way above their weight. Testimony to the sayings that size is not everything, small is good and bespoke is best, a foreign, female food entrepreneur has carved a very successful niche in a competitive market.
Rosalind’s Kitchen is the brand new offshoot of Rosalind Rathouse’s Cookery School, a hole-in-the-wall takeaway lunch haven. Here you can get freshly made salads of the day, pies, tarts, cakes, biscuits, coffees, soups and bread rolls, all ready to go and freshly wrapped in front of you. Mushrooms are roasted in garlic and fresh herbs, there is crunchy, moist panzanella salad being spooned into plastic containers and fresh out of the oven are crispy, baked Pollock fishcakes.
“We love baking and roasting food in the oven, we don’t really do a lot of frying, just to keep things healthy. This chicken sausage roll, for example, has just come out of the oven, as has the chorizo tortilla,” Rosalind offers customers a few slices to taste before they buy.
The soup of the day is creamy cauliflower and you can take your pick between chocolate fudge cake, chocolate and almond cake, orange curd cake, spice cake or passion cake for your sweet treat. For breakfast you can have freshly made compotes, fruit salads, buns, teas and coffees or sourdough rolls.
Master baker Ghalid Assyb, who is also one of the teachers at the Cookery School across the street, starts very early in the morning to ensure the cake stands are full by the time Rosalind’s opens for breakfast every morning. From 7.30 am till 4 pm they feed hundreds of office workers, tourists and shoppers, all eating on the hoof.
“We take really excellent, organic raw ingredients from Sheepdrove Organics, Brindisa, Shipton Mill, Abel and Cole and La Fromagerie, and we produce simple, fresh, home cooked dishes. We think of every detail, like, for example, we know that people do not want raw onion in their food at lunch time so we omit that ingredient from our salads. We make sure we do not use excess packaging, we source fish from sustainable sources and we do not serve tuna, cod or skate. We make real cakes that are then served in cups: so much nicer than normal cupcakes,” Rosalind explains.
On the wall is a bright, funky pink graphic design by Kate Moross and the surfaces are shiny, sparkly and uncluttered. The look is clean, contemporary and minimalist.
And as we enter the Cookery School the same aesthetic has created a very light, bright, functional space. There are two cookery classrooms on two floors, and the bigger of the two is designed across a long and thin basement room with all the work tables in a long line. Rosalind explains the thinking behind the layout:
“Our approach is very much one of team work. The cookery teacher is at the front, and explains all the recipes, the methods and the special techniques, but then everyone works together in teams and we all show one another what we have done, how we did it and if there are any questions we can all huddle round and explain something in greater detail.”
The fundamentals of comparing, contrasting, repeating and learning from mistakes form the basis of the core teaching philosophy.
The stainless steel work benches are all being prepared for tonight’s cookery class, ingredients weighed into small bowls and utensils lined up on trays. The school’s environmental focus is unwavering: clingfilm has been abolished in favour of sealing containers with proper lids and stoppers are used in the sink so that water does not just flow out through the drain when washing up. The recycled, re-used and re-loved approach avoids wastefulness and the use of landfill.
Originally from South Africa, Rosalind has lived in Great Britain since 1988 and set up the Cookery School 8 years ago. From absolute beginner lessons, to children’s classes to French, Italian, Spanish, Middle Eastern, Thai and Mexican cuisine, you can learn seafood, baking, knife skills, pastry making and how to feed your family for a fortnight from simple batch cooking ideas. Christmas is all wrapped up with a whole range of dishes that can take you right through into the New Year and you can also take part in the current, national craze for baking with a whole course just dedicated to muffins, scones and pancakes.
There are no less than 12 freelance chefs that now teach in the school, among them Dan Lepard, the bread guru, and Kemiko Barber, the Japanese food expert. Teachers are not chosen for their celebrity status, but rather for their expertise and knowledge. Many of them are published authors on their specialist subject.
Owing to its location, right in the middle of the business heartland of central London, the Cookery School offers corporate team building events in the evenings. They can create individual courses to suit each particular company’s needs.
“Cookery is an art and a science, but the preparation of good food is also an extremely effective tool for bringing people together. Skills such as leadership, team working, communication and sharing can also be demonstrated very effectively. Our ethos is very much that we want people to relax, to enjoy and to learn: preparing and eating a meal, starting from raw ingredients and finishing at a laid table, unites everyone and in these difficult times that is a much more effective and cheaper way of bonding than playing golf or an away-day in a hotel,” Rosalind tells me.
Bringing together all her decades as a teacher, a cook and a caterer, Rosalind is putting together the recipes and stories for a cookbook, to be published in 2012.
“We find that the most popular courses are always the home cooking ones, where feeding your family and friends is turned into something fun and easy. That is what the book is going to represent. We are going to piece together the Rosalind’s Kitchen and Cookery School dishes in a small book, which home cooks can use as a tool to make entertaining, special occasions and daily life much simpler and less daunting. My job is to inspire confidence in people: that is what we try to do here every single day.”
Cookery School: www.cookeryschool.co.uk
Follow the team on Twitter: @cookeryschool
Rosalind’s Kitchen: www.rosalindskitchen.co.uk
Follow the team on Twitter: @rosalindsw1