Thursday, 5 February 2015

Perfect Cucumber Sandwiches

This week we're covering an Afternoon Tea staple: the Cucumber Sandwich. The execution of a perfect cucumber sandwich is more difficult than you would think. The bread needs to be perfectly fresh and whether to peel the cucumber is a hotly-discussed topic. Luckily, we've got it covered, here at Elena's L'Etoile!

(Makes 9)
1/2 cucumber, peeled
6 thin slices of good white bread
Unsalted butter, at room temperature
White pepper

1) Cut the cucumber into slices as thin as you can make them, and put in a colander or sieve. Sprinkle lightly with salt (don't go overboard) and leave for 20 minutes. Taste to check you haven't oversalted them: you can rinse them at this point if so.

2) Lay out a few pieces of kitchen paper on the work surface, place the cucumber slices on them, and pat dry with more paper.

3) Lay out the bread and butter each slice generously. Arrange the cucumber on half the slices, overlapping each round, and sprinkle with ground white pepper. Top with the remaining slices.

4) Pressing down firmly, cut the crusts off, and then cut into neat fingers, triangles or quarters of roughly equal sizes. Serve immediately, with good tea.

Cucumber sandwiches: are you a fan, or are they a silly Victorian affectation that deserves to go the way of the top hat and the whalebone corset? And if not, what do you like to do with this most refreshing of vegetables?

Thursday, 29 January 2015

The History of Afternoon Tea

As of the 15th January, we have been serving Afternoon Tea at Elena's. Afternoon Tea is one of our favourite classic British pastimes and we thought it would be fun to examine the history behind it.

Tea consumption increased dramatically during the early nineteenth century and it is around this time that Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford is said to have complained of "having that sinking feeling" during the late afternoon. At the time it was usual for people to take only two main meals a day: breakfast, and dinner at around 8 o'clock in the evening. The solution for the Duchess was a pot of tea and a light snack, taken privately in her boudoir during the afternoon.

Later, friends were invited to join her in her rooms at Woburn Abbey and this summer practice proved so popular that the Duchess continued it when she returned to London, sending cards to her friends asking them to join her for "tea and a walking the fields." Other social hostesses quickly picked up on the idea and the practice became respectable enough to move it into the drawing room. Before long, all of fashionable society was sipping tea and nibbling sandwiches in the middle of the afternoon.

Occasionally you will see hotels serving a 'high tea'. Traditionally, the upper classes would serve a 'low' or 'afternoon' tea around four o'clock, just before the fashionable promenade in Hyde Park. The middle and lower classes would have a more substantial 'high' tea later in the day, at five or six o'clock, in place of a late dinner. The names derive from the height of the tables on which the meals are served, high tea being served at the dinner table.

Many visitors from overseas still imagine that we are a nation where, in the words of the well-known song, 'at half past three, everything stops for tea'. Sadly, these days Afternoon Tea is usually only an occasional luxury for the British; a birthday treat in a country house hotel, or a welcome break from a hectic days shopping 'in town'. That said, it has remained such a popular phenomenon that it has spawned its own website, a handy help for any tourists still hoping to indulge in a little bit of British tradition for themselves.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Afternoon Tea at Elena's

We're very excited to announce, that, as of 15th January, Elena's will be serving Afternoon Tea from 12.30-17.30 Monday - Saturday.

We'll be serving the finest selection of teas together with freshly baked scones and sandwiches. In fact, you should check out the menu for yourselves!


Ham Sandwich with Grain Mustard Mayonnaise on White Bread
Scottish Smoked Salmon with Lemon Butter on Rye Bread
Cucumber, Dill and Cream Cheese Roll
Chicken on a Puff Pastry

Duo of Plain and Raisin Scones with Baked Clotted Cream and Strawberry Preserve

Fruit Tart
Bird Nest Meringue with Cream and Strawberries
Chocolate Éclair

White Chocolate Mousse

Monday, 29 December 2014

Mince Pies

The mince pie is the quintessential Christmas food! This small fruit-based mince meat pie was traditionally served during the Christmas season. Its ingredients are traceable to the 13th century, when returning European crusaders brought with them Middle Eastern recipes containing meats, fruits and spices. Christmas would not be the same without mince pies, but please don't buy them! You must make your own, and, with our recipe, you can make perfect pies every time!

1 large jar mincemeat (about 600g)
2 satsumas, segmented
1 apple, finely chopped
zest 1 lemon
little icing sugar, for dusting
For the pastry
375g plain flour
260g unsalted butter, softened
125g caster sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
1 large egg, plus 1 beaten egg for glazing
Place the flour and butter in a bowl and rub together to a crumb consistency. Add the sugar and the egg, and mix together. Tip out onto a lightly floured surface and fold until the pastry comes together, be careful not to over mix. Wrap the pastry in cling film and chill for 10 mins.
Scoop the mincemeat into a bowl and add the satsumas, apple and zest.
Heat oven to 220C/200C fan/gas 7. Roll out the pastry to 3mm thick. Using a round cutter (about 10cm), cut out 16 bases and place them into muffin trays. Put 11⁄2 tbsp mincemeat mixture into each. Brush the edge of each pie with a little beaten egg. Re-roll out the pastry to cut 7cm lids and press them on top to seal. Glaze with the rest of the egg, sprinkle with caster sugar, then make a small cut in the tops.
Bake mince pies for 15-20 mins until golden brown. Leave to cool before releasing them from the muffin trays and dusting with icing sugar. Serve.

The Legend of St. Nicholas

The image of Santa Claus has become synonymous with Christmas but not many people know the origin of him and his name. Let our blog fill in the blanks!

The legend of Santa Claus can be traced back hundreds of years to a monk named St. Nicholas. It is believed that Nicholas was born sometime around 280 A.D. in Patara, near Myra in modern-day Turkey. Much admired for his piety and kindness, St. Nicholas became the subject of many legends. It is said that he gave away all of his inherited wealth and traveled the countryside helping the poor and sick. One of the best known of the St. Nicholas stories is that he saved three poor sisters from being sold into slavery or prostitution by their father by providing them with a dowry so that they could be married.

Over the course of many years, Nicholas’s popularity spread and he became known as the protector of children and sailors. His feast day is celebrated on the anniversary of his death, December 6. This was traditionally considered a lucky day to make large purchases or to get married. By the Renaissance, St. Nicholas was the most popular saint in Europe. Even after the Protestant Reformation, when the veneration of saints began to be discouraged, St. Nicholas maintained a positive reputation, especially in Holland.

The name Santa Claus evolved from Nick’s Dutch nickname, Sinter Klaas, a shortened form of Sint Nikolaas (Dutch for Saint Nicholas). In 1804, John Pintard, a member of the New York Historical Society, distributed woodcuts of St. Nicholas at the society’s annual meeting. The background of the engraving contains now-familiar Santa images including stockings filled with toys and fruit hung over a fireplace. 

In 1809, Washington Irving helped to popularise the Sinter Klaas stories when he referred to St. Nicholas as the patron saint of New York in his book, The History of New York. As his prominence grew, Sinter Klaas was described as everything from a “rascal” with a blue three-cornered hat, red waistcoat, and yellow stockings to a man wearing a broad-brimmed hat and a “huge pair of Flemish trunk hose.”

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Manuel Interview

Today I interviewed Manuel, our wonderful floor supervisor that has worked at Elena's L'Etoile for almost twenty years!

Originally from the small town of Tabuasco in Portugal, Manuel moved over to London in 1985. Although he was initially reticent, the promise of a good job was more than enough to sway him. Manuel started out as a comi waiter (someone who brings food from the kitchen to the table) before working as a bar man. Since then he's been working as a supervisor at Elena's L'Etoile for the past 16 years!

Manuel becomes misty eyed when previous manageress Elena, and namesake of our wonderful restaurant, is brought into the conversation.

He tells me the following: 'Elena started work at 14 years of age. She got to know all the customers and shared their secrets with her. She knew everybody and everyone knew her. She, personally, brought a lot of custom to the restaurant'.

Undoubtably this lead to Elena's tenure at L'Etoile being so very long. When asked about his own tenure at Elena's and whether he would ever wish to move on, Manuel's answer is a passionate NO!.
'I love this place!' he exclaims, 'if you're happy with your job, why would you move on?'

When asked why should people go to Elena's, Manuel is emphatic in his reply 'good food and good service - what more could you want?'. Manuel says that the most difficult thing about his job is the long restaurant hours - sometimes as many as 14 hours a day!

'So why do you stay, Manuel?' He answers with the following: 'anyone that works in industry accepts that long work hours are an integral part of it! But when you enjoy it as much as I do, and when you have a restaurant full of happy customers, you are happy and that makes it worthwhile.'

Indeed, Manuel can see himself here for the next 16 years!

Manuel then goes on to explain that Charlotte street has changed a lot in recent years. Many of the old restaurants have closed, and Elena's is the one of the only which still remains. Elena's orignally opened in 1896 and is still here today, over 100 years later.

In addition to his hectic life at Elena's, Manuel is also a father of two children - 10 month old baby boy, Tiago, and 6 year old Gabriel.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

The Sound Track to Christmas

Now that Christmas is just around the corner, it's time to get those Christmas tunes going! If you're struggling for inspiration, then look no further than our Christmas playlist!

White Christmas - Bing Crosby
Rudolph, The Red Nosed Reindeer - Gene Autry
I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus - Jimmy Boyd
Jingle Bell Rock Bobby - Helms
The Christmas Song - Nat King Cole
Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree - Brenda Lee
You're All I Want For Christmas Brook - Benton
Santa Claus Is Coming To Town - Bruce Springsteen
Do They Know It's Christmas - Band Aid
Step Into Christmas - Elton John
Have yourself a merry little Christmas - Judy Garland 
Jingle bell rock - Billy Idol
All I want for Christmas is you - Mariah Carey 
Fairy Tale of New York - The Pogues and Kirsty McColl