Please, please read on. I know hearing or reading the word ’Westminster’ is a turn off for most of us – certainly for this writer. Only ‘Whitehall’ comes a close second.
I’m writing about The Westminster Hotel in Le Touquet – one of my friend Joe’s favourite home-from-home’s – and a hotel I last visited at the start of the 80s before a quite remarkable rock gig at nearby Montreuil-sur-Mer. Researching the amazing Label Rouge accredited ’Pompadour’ potato variety which is grown exclusively around Le Touquet, I came across a short clip of chef William Elliott from The Westminster showing a simple technique. Elliott is a man at one with his terroir, I read.
His potato technique is not a million miles from what the Germans would call ‘salz kartoffen‘. You must have waxy potatoes – do try Pompadour, but you’ll only find them in Northern France, so buy Charlotte, Annabel or Nicola which are all available in England. Did you know most French potato varieties have girl’s names?
Choose firm, mid-sized ones, about the size of a medium hen’s egg. If they’re grown in France all the better. Peel them and slice length-ways, about the thickness of your little finger – you’ll get about 4-5 pieces per potato.
Drop them into boiling water to which you’ve generously added sweet butter (ie not salted) and coarse sea salt. Cook at a gentle rolling boil for just 6-8 minutes, maybe a minute or two less even - drain and serve with more melted butter. So simple and so splendid too. We ate a kilo bag between four last evening and our boys were asking for more.
Elliott is of Canadian descendency, according to The Westminster’s website. He’s partner too in Froggy’s Tavern in Montreuil-sur-Mer – where his co-chef and owner comes from the area’s first starred restaurant, the Auberge de la Grenouillere at La Madeleine-sous-Montreuil. Instinctively, I would never visit a restaurant that calls itself ‘Froggy’s Tavern’ and yet the reviews are good, very good. Their web site is enticing too. A French couple who run a smart fish business in Boulogne raved to me about Froggy’s – saying it was currently one of the best tables in the region for informal dining.
The gig I mentioned was when the late, great Rory Gallagher headlined the Fete de Cote Opale – the concert was in the grounds of the Chateau de Montreuil and I was along to act as his interpreter – or so said my backstage pass.
My tag ‘Last of the Independents’ is an homage to Rory. He’d have loved William Elliott’s potatoes for sure. He cared as much for good food as he did for music, film noir and world affairs. Blues Collar Gastronomy then?
Postscript on Potatoes: Lots in the media now about new season Jersey Royals – I haven’t tasted a good one in five years or more. I’ll try some this week and then call up the Jersey Royal people and ask some questions. Why are some creamy coloured and others white fleshed for example?