You think you know potatoes and chops, and then you discover what The Quality Chop House does to them. Wise Living spoke to the team about how to cook pork chops and roast potatoes the right way.
Meet the Chop House Kitchen
Chef Shaun Searley began putting confit potatoes on the London restaurant’s menu back in 2013 but they weren’t a guarantee to begin with – you might have been in luck on any given day, or crushingly, you might not.
Then punters cottoned onto these crisp, boxy, deep-fried layered potato inventions, striped with mustard dressing, and refused to give them up, meaning the Chop House kitchen is now utterly “held ransom” by them. If Searley takes them off the menu, or heaven forbid runs out, “it causes mayhem. We can’t not have them in,” he says wryly.
He’s explaining this – let’s be honest, quite welcome – problem, in the porch-sized kitchen of the Farringdon restaurant, where one of his chefs can thinly slice and layer a tray of these golden bars of starch in 30-45 minutes. A normal human? You’re looking at an hour-and-half’s work, he reckons.
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How to cook pork chops the Chop House Kitchen way
But at least you can now actually make them at home too, thanks to the restaurant’s new, eponymous cookbook. It’s an ideal development if you don’t live in London but need a confit chip fix. Or if you do live in the city but are too ashamed to return to the Chop House night after night, after night…
Ostensibly a recipe collection, the book also tells the story of The Quality Chop House, which has been a restaurant in various guises (including a “meatballs only” one, prior to its current incarnation) for 150 years. It’s all vintage crockery, wood-panelled church pew booths, original ceilings and black and white chequered tiles you want to tap your feet on.
Will Lander and business partner Daniel Morgenthau took over the Grade-II listed Victorian building in 2012 and wrote the book together, alongside Searley. It’s mostly a restaurant but it also has what Lander calls “tentacles”, including a wine bar, shop and butchers.
“We were slightly in awe of it,” he says of the building itself, but that’s not a feeling you need adopt when attempting Searley’s recipes.
Professional recipes at home
“We’re trying to translate what a team of eight chefs can do with six hours, into what a parent with two screaming kids can do in 40 minutes, and make it work for them,” Lander explains. “What we really didn’t want to do was a slightly self-reverential book – ‘Look at all these great recipes, exactly from our menu!’ I’m not sure that’s useful, or interesting.”
Instead, they’ve tried to rethink them for a domestic setting, and woven in the importance of their suppliers (“Anyone who says British produce isn’t good is mad”).
While some of the dishes are a little more “cheffy and more ornate”, Searley’s cooking is “certainly not about over complexity” says Lander. And Searley agrees, saying the Chop House’s food is about “simple but not simplistic” cooking.
They take something simple and everyday, like a potato or a chop, and elevate it. So the book might detail nine or so steps for cooking a pork chop, rather than the one step you might think there is, but, says Lander: “We like to think that if you follow that, you’re rewarded.”
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How to cook chops – the secret’s in the thickness
And their chops are really something. Back in the kitchen, Searley is explaining fat-to-muscle ratios, and why you ought to focus on thickness when you’re picking a chop, rather than weight – it’s the thickness that stops it drying out. And the 2-3cm wedge of yellow-white fat holding it all together? “You want to spend 10 minutes just on that,” he says, rendering it down in the pan until it’s completely burnished.
It’s only 11am, but as he slices the finished chop into wide strips, everyone in the buzzy kitchen leans over to grab a bite. Turns out chops make quite an amazing late breakfast.
On the top of the stainless steel pass there’s a notebook Searley jots down recipe ideas in. He flicks through and says, satisfied: “If it’s not crossed out, it worked.”
He laughs when asked how he feels about sharing his recipes with the world, and notes with a grin: “I didn’t share all of them!” He was persuaded on some though, like his capezzana (olive oil) ice cream, which his wife had suggested he keep to himself. So use it wisely, people!
“Choosing this career, you don’t leave your emotions at the door,” muses Lander, considering the reputation cheffing can have for being gruelling, high pressure work. “It’s an emotive industry. When you’re in the kitchen, on the restaurant floor, you have to give quite a lot of yourself, you can’t just go through the motions.
“But it’s worth it,” he adds with a smile. And it’s difficult to not get emotional over those confit potatoes.
THE QUALITY CHOP HOUSE: Modern Recipes And Stories From A London Classic by William Lander, Daniel Morgenthau & Shaun Searley, photography by Andrew Montgomery, is published by Quadrille, priced £30. Available now from Amazon.
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