Like most people working a 12-hour day as standard, coffee is as essential to my survival as Kim Kardashian is to the MailOnline. So when the Nespresso team invited me down to their new boutique on Regent’s Street to sample a coffee-based menu devised by Phil Howard of the Square, my ailing nerves could barely refuse.
Cooking with coffee is something that I’ve dabbled in previously – I’m not much of a baker and so on the sweet side it rarely extends much further than a good dousing of sponge fingers in espresso for tiramisu a la Heston. However, being of savoury tooth I’ve occasionally used some espresso when making vats of chili or for a mole sauce – it adds a richness and always seems to complement smoke and spice easily. However, that’s where the experimentation begins and ends because I’ve usually just poured the espresso into an intravenous drip before it gets anywhere near the cooker.
I therefore didn’t much envy Phil Howard’s challenge of incorporating coffee into a multiple course taster menu – no mean feat. What we got was a seriously impressive parade of courses that played on the subtler notes of the various Nespresso Grands Cru (otherwise known as that smorgasboard of shiny capsules), pairing citrus notes or berry undertones with elements of each dish. Whilst they’re known for more classic French cooking, the task of incorporating coffee into several dishes whilst maintaining a variety took the team from the Square down a number of avenues, from Asian-influenced roast langoustines with pineapple to full-on American BBQ short rib (the picture does not do the unctuousness justice).
The coffee influences were very delicate and subtle – incorporated in various ways from marinating with espresso to baking with the grounds. The full parade stretches out below (try heading back into the office after that. seriously) but the most successful dishes were the ones that fell into the more traditional camp – the short rib’s sweet sauce was enriched by the background taste of the coffee and the caramelised coffee bitterness of the braised chicory added a twist to a dish that’s a hallmark of the Square’s repertoire.
Everything was, of course, helped by having Phil himself talking us through each dish – it was particularly interesting to see a more traditional chef taking on a challenge like this when you might have expected it more of a Ferran Adria fanboy instead.
The conclusion: coffee is a lot more versatile than you might think – that is, if you can get a little creative and have a palate refined enough to pick up the finer flavours of a roast (I’m working on it – see the coffee masterclass post I’ve got coming up). To help you out, here are a few of Phil’s tips:
- Add coffee at the start of the cooking process rather than the end to allow it to harmonise with other flavours
- Coffee works well in savoury dishes that have a sweet element within them or a sweet accompaniment
- For desserts, more intense coffees partner the textures and flavours of cereals or toasted ingredients
- Combine coffee with nut oils for dressing for both sweet and savoury food
- For chocolate, pair intense and bitter coffees with milk chocolate and mellower roasts with bitter dark chocolates to allow the pairings to balance
- Marinate meat for chargrilling with a few coffee grounds for an aromatic finish
- Use coffee in pastry work or desserts by adding a small amount of grounds to biscuit mixes, pastry dough or cakes.
Nipp’ntuck attended the Nespresso Boutique as a guest of Nespresso UK.