The Modern Menu: Margot Henderson cooks barbecue lamb, borlotti beans and green sauce at Rochelle Canteen ICA
Assured, generous and emphatically likeable: words that can be applied to Margot Henderson’s personality and food with equal accuracy. Like her husband Fergus Henderson’s St. John, Margot’s restaurant Rochelle Canteen champions nose-to-tail, seasonal British fare cooked with a lot of love, time and tradition; her menus often read like nostalgia-inducing lists of dishes too prosaic-seeming for less confident kitchens to put out— think mince and tatties, chicken pie, lentils, and baked rice pudding.
After chatting with Margot and Fergus at their house in Lambeth about what makes a good meal in and out of the home, we felt inspired to explore the subject a little deeper. So, in our new series ‘The Modern Menu’, we’re going behind the pass at our favourite restaurants to ask chefs what it means to cook, eat and dine out in a modern way, while also asking them to share a dish that can be cooked at home.
First up is Rochelle Canteen, the first of which is to be found in a converted bike shed of a Victorian School on Arnold Circus in Shoreditch. Last year a second outpost was opened at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, which is where we met Margot for a lunch of barbecue lamb, borlotti beans and green sauce.
Margot, how did Rochelle Canteen come about?
“Well, Fergus and I started The French House Dining Room in Soho in 1992. He went off to start St. John two years later, and I stayed with my business partner, Melanie Arnold. It was such a small restaurant that we needed to find other ways of making money, so we started catering.
“We originally did that from home – I once cooked for 500 people in my flat. God, it was hell!”
“Then, a friend of ours bought Rochelle School and asked if we wanted to come and cook from there, which we did. We opened the canteen with just a trestle table and wondered who on earth was going to come.
“But there were quite a lot of fashion studios nearby, and so that world started coming and writing about us, so did Japanese magazines, which helped.”
How would you describe the food at Rochelle Canteen?
“We’re a British kitchen, taking a bit from French and Italian food but using native ingredients. We keep things straightforward, not using foreign words on our menu.
“We cook food that is quite simple, and a bit like home cooking. It’s comfort food, often the result of gentle cooking.
“I love fancy food, but it’s not what I’m about and it’s not part of my character. It’s food that women cook all over the world that I really love, and peasant food.
“There are none of what I call ‘smears’ on our plates, which is when food is spread with the back of a spoon. They’re too old fashioned. I like the food to not be on top of each other, but to nestle in, or, as Fergus says, to be friends, not lovers.”
What has been your interior approach at Rochelle Canteen?
“We follow the Fergus Henderson white walls and Shaker pegs policy, like at St. John, but which I feel is very much a part of my life as well.
“I’m a little bit more confident now with what I like, so there are pot plants, and, really, just like home, it’s about figuring out what works and what doesn’t.
“We have cushions now because some people found the chairs too hard. We want people to be comfortable, but it’s not a really lush restaurant; it is a canteen and part of a gallery. It has to last so we’re looking for things that are permanent and don’t go out of fashion, and suit the space.
“We’ve used Aalto tables and chairs, which seem appropriate and can be moved and rearranged; a moveable feast!”
How does home cooking differ from restaurant cooking?
“People say ‘oh, I could cook that at home’, and yeah, they could, but try doing it every day to a high standard. Restaurant cooking is not just cooking, it’s cleaning, ordering produce, it’s keeping that whole feeling of making something great and perfect alive all the time. That’s the difference.
“Cooking at home is often about the amount of time you can dedicate to it. Everyone has busy lives, so it’s about planning. If you’re having friends over, you don’t need to do anything elaborate, just make your life as easy as possible. Roast a chicken, cook some lentils!; I’ve spent years serving that to huge tables of our friends at home.
What do you eat at home?
“Last night we had sausages and mash for dinner, using pretty ordinary sausages. If I served that here at Rochelle Canteen, I’d make sure they were really great sausages, either made by us or sourced from a good supplier.
“I cook a lot of Asian food at home. Sometimes it’s quite labour intensive and I start to wonder why I can’t sit down. That’s the good thing about British cooking: you can put something in the oven and then sit!
“I’m quite lazy if it’s just me. I’ll have Ryvita with cheddar cheese or brown rice with miso soup. I’m not going to cook myself a meal and sit down to eat it on my own; I just wouldn’t do that. I’d eat baked beans on toast, roast tomatoes on toast, Marmite on toast … toast! Toast is good.”
Do you eat out a lot, or do you prefer to eat at home?
“We do both. We entertain a lot because we like being social. It was great when we had small kids because they can be, well, sort of boring! They’re lovely but they seem much chirpier when there’s a lot of people around and there’s a bit of an atmosphere.
“Some restaurants are so glorified that the act of going to one has turned into an ‘event’. I love the ‘event’ restaurants, like going to Noma and all those places; I get totally overexcited about it. But there are other ways of eating out as well.
“It should be about the people you’re with and having good food and great wine. Just going out of the house and having someone cook for you is such a treat.”
Margot’s recipe for barbecue leg of lamb, fresh borlotti beans and green sauce
1 leg of lamb
1 lemon, roughly cut up
6 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
1 handful of thyme
1 handful of rosemary
1 tbsp fennel pollen (optional)
A generous drizzle of olive oil
Sea salt and black pepper
Remove the bone from the leg of lamb or get your butcher to do it – it’s always good to make friends with your butcher.
Marinate the lamb with all the other ingredients. You can do this the day before.
Build your barbecue by getting the coals good and glowing, but not flaring. You don’t want the meat to cook too quickly.
Cook the leg for about 20 minutes on each side, then leave it to rest for 15 minutes or longer, unless you’re on an Hebridean Island. In that case, better to slice and serve straight away, before it gets cold.
Fresh borlotti beans
1 kilo of fresh borlotti beans
4 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 tomato, chopped
Extra virgin olive oil
Pod the borlotti beans and cover in water with a big dollop of olive oil, then add the garlic and tomato.
Simmer for 40 minutes until cooked but not collapsing. Season with Maldon sea salt, black pepper and another drizzle of olive oil if needed.
4 tbsp mint
4 tbsp flat parsley
2 tbsp tarragon
2 tbsp chervil
2 tbsp capers
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 tsp Dijon mustard
140 ml extra virgin olive oil
Wash your herbs and shake dry, pick the leaves and then chop. Add to a bowl with garlic, mustard, capers and olive oil, salt and fresh black pepper. Mix together, check seasoning and serve with slices of lamb and beans.
Making this at home? Show us the result using the #themodernhousemenu