Why pay restaurant prices?

I had a conversation with some work colleagues recently about the seemingly exorbitant prices charged in local restaurants for perfectly ordinary dishes. Ordinary to those of us who cook, of course. We discovered, on asking around that there are those who are not interested in cooking, don't know their roux from their roulade, and are therefore prepared to shell out quantities of hard earned dosh rather than have a bash themselves.

I'm not knocking this philosophy. I will pay for a decently cooked Chinese meal because I cannot, and I've tried, believe me, reproduce the same excellent cuisine at home. I've been known to pay for a restaurant curry when I can't be bothered to take the trouble to muck about with spices and marinades. It's a matter of each to their own. However, I digress. At work we have formed a couple of cliques - cooks and non-cooks. Those of us who do, cook and invite. Those of us who don't, eat and bring wine, chocolate and compliments. It works very well.

A few weeks ago, we were invited to the home of Mike Sully, sales manager and cook of some repute. He had surpassed himself on this occasion for no special reason other than he was 'in the mood.' Do we all know what he means by that? It can't just be me - and a handful of friends - who, having cooked a preconceived dish look round store cupboards and raid the freezer for possible ingredients because we have become inspired to carry on cooking.

Mike's banquet, for such this magnificent repast turned out to be, took him all day to prepare, with the valued assistance of wife, Barbara, and daughter Michelle - who made the chocolate torte, but we - who ate it - have to tell him that his time was well spent. I asked Mike to write out the lamb recipe for me, which he obligingly did, and I've reproduced it for you below - after a couple of corrections; Mike can't spell but who needs him to when he can cook like an angel!

Firstly, you must have the starter recipes both of which were equally as stunning as the lamb. All these recipes fed eight people who hadn't allowed a morsel to pass their lips, for several days, in anticipation of Mike's generous portions.

I like Mike a lot. He gives recipes in avoirdupois instead of all that metric malarkey that I can't understand. (For those to whom avoirdupois is double dutch, see our Conversion Table.)

French Onion Soup


  • 12oz red onions
  • 2oz butter
  • 1 tbspn olive oil
  • 2 pints of chicken stock
  • 2 bay leaves
  • salt and pepper
  • One huge French stick
  • Grated cheddar cheese


  1. Finely slice the onions and sauté in the butter and oil for 15-20 mins until soft and caramelised. Stir occasionally with a metal spoon but take care not to burn.
  2. Then add bay leaves, stock and seasoning. Simmer for about half an hour.
  3. Remove bay leaves.
  4. Slice the bread into 2 inch slices.
  5. Serve the soup into high-sided bowls, place a slice of bread on top of the soup. Cover with cheddar cheese and bake under a hot grill until cheese is bubbling with brown bits on top.
  6. Serve to a starving multitude.

Sully Mussels


  • 1 Box of New Zealand green-lip mussels
  • 2 banana shallots (finely sliced)
  • 1 garlic clove (finely chopped)
  • 1 large carrot (finely diced)
  • 1 stick of celery (finely diced)
  • bouquet garni
  • 2 wine glasses of dry white wine
  • 2oz butter
  • 3 tblspns chopped, fresh parsley
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 tblspn arrowroot
  • pint of fish stock


  1. Saute onion, carrot, celery and garlic in 1oz butter until soft. Do not overcook or burn. Add stock, bouquet garni and wine.
  2. Bring to the boil for two minutes to reduce.
  3. Add 1oz butter, arrowroot (mixed with a little water) and mussels. Cover with a lid and cook for another minute.
  4. Remove from the heat.
  5. Season with salt and pepper.
  6. Add parsley and serve in wide shallow dishes with liquor poured over mussels.
  7. Serve with crusty French bread and await 'over the top' compliments.

Morrocan Lamb with a Jardiniere of Roasted Vegetables

This melts in the mouth, trust me and try it!

Morrocan Lamb

  • Large leg of lamb (boned)
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 tsp each of cumin and coriander seeds
  • oilive oil
  • 4oz sliced apricots
  • 3 sprigs of fresh mint

For the jardinière

  • 4 parsnips
  • 8 small red onions
  • 16 small carrots
  • 8 halves sweet potato
  • 8 slices celeriac
  • 8 halves potato


  1. Spike lamb all over and insert garlic slivers into each puncture. Grind cumin and coriander seeds using a pestle and mortar. Add to this a clove of garlic, the mint and a small splodge of olive oil.
  2. Mix together with the apricots and stuff the whole lot into the bone cavity of the meat. Oil the outside of the lamb, cover with tin-foil and roast for two hours in a medium heat. (160 C)
  3. Put all the vegetables into a bowl. Sprinkle with olive oil, season and put into a roasting tray. Place on top shelf of the oven. At this point, uncover the lamb and increase the temperature of the oven to 170C.
  4. Cook until lamb is tender.
  5. Remove lamb and allow to rest.
  6. Allow vegetables to continue cooking until they are nicely coloured and soft. Knock up a decent gravy with the juices from the roasting tray.
  7. Arrange cooked vegetables on a large serving platter. Slice the lamb and place on top of the veg. Make sure everyone gets some of the apricot stuffing or there'll be ructions.

(Ed: Also, there is our BBQ Morrocan Lamb recipe, for those trying this when the weather is half decent!)

If you've got any room left there's more!

Spiced Pears in Red Wine


  • 8 Comice pears
  • 1 bottle of good red wine
  • 6oz sugar
  • 2 whole cinnamon sticks
  • 1 star anise
  • 1 vanilla pod
  • 1 clove
  • Grated nutmeg
  • 1 pint double cream (whipped)
  • Toasted almond flakes
  • Arrowroot (mixed with a little water)


  1. Peel pears leaving stalks on. Carefully core base to remove pips.
  2. Simmer for approximately 3 hours until soft.
  3. Transfer to fridge when cool. Remove spices.
  4. When ready to serve display pears on a dish. Warm through the wine sauce, adding arrowroot to thicken. Bring to boil until clear. Pour over pears.
  5. Sprinkle toasted almond flakes over the pears and serve with whipped double cream.

(Ed: Again, we offer our alternative recipe, Spicy Poached Pears with Sorbet and Blackberries. Hope you don't mind, Rosie?)

Chocolate Torte

Force some of this down even if you're stuffed. It's amazing.


  • 1lb luxury cooking chocolate (min 70% solids)
  • 5 tblspns dark rum
  • 4 tblspns liquid glucose
  • 1 pint double cream (at room temperature)
  • 1oz unsalted butter
  • 4oz Amaretti biscuits
  • 8 strawberries (sliced in half)
  • Amaretti liqueur
  • Single cream (chilled)


  1. Lightly grease a baking tin and line the base with the crushed biscuits.
  2. Crush the chocolate, place in a heat-proof bowl with the rum, liquid glucose and butter. Place the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water making sure the base cannot come into contact with the water.
  3. Leave until melted and smooth. Stir and remove from heat.
  4. Whip the cream until slightly thickened then fold in the chocolate mixture. When well mixed, pour into the biscuit base.
  5. Cover with cling film and chill overnight.
  6. When ready to serve cut around the side and remove to a serving plate. Dust with cocoa powder and decorate with sliced strawberries.
  7. Mix together a measure of Amaretti liqueur with the single cream and serve separately.

This little lot could have cost about £300 in a decent restaurant - for eight people, don't forget. Mike reckons he did it for fifty - not counting the wine which he already had.

Is it worth all the hassle. YES!

© 2002, Rosie Barham.