The Modern Menu: Jon Rotheram and Tom Harris cook a festive feast at The Marksman in Hackney
Since 2015, when chefs Jon Rotheram and Tom Harris took over The Marksman in Hackney, a Victorian pub dating from 1865, the pair have been putting out homely, timeless and emphatically tasty pub fare. Their modern definition of a ‘proper neighbourhood’ pub has been met with much applause, with The Marksman picking up the Michelin Pub of the Year in 2017.
With Christmas around the corner, we’re bringing you a festive helping of ‘The Modern Menu’, our series that takes us into restaurants owned by our favourite chefs to talk to them about how home cooking has influenced their food.
Here, Jon and Tom tell us about their childhood memories of food and what they like to cook at home, and share a recipe for roast duck, quince and walnut.
Jon: “Home cooking was an important part of both our childhoods and I think those formative experiences were the main reason we both got into food – because it was a really important part of family life.”
Tom: “My family all lived on the same street, with my nan opposite us and my uncle up the road. My nan had a small house so, on Thursday nights, when we all went over, we would have to take it in turns on the dinner table.
“There were always big trays of lamb chops with mint sauce. On Sundays we would have a big Jewish feast. We weren’t religious, but my grandfather was Jewish, and he’d go to delis in north London and Stepney Green to buy bagels, rye bread and smoked sprats.
“Part of opening The Marksman was about doing a sort of London food, the kind of food we grew up with and is specific to London, rather than being just British cookery.”
Jon: “My family come from east London, near the pub. My mum was quite an adventurous cook for the time and she loved to do French cooking, so we were kind of guinea pigs for that.
“But then I’d go to my nan’s house and it was very much an East End affair with salt beef and lots of shellfish.
“It was very homely food. There were always cakes and tarts for Sundays, and sometimes fruit pies. It was amazing, and never boring. I remember going to my friends’ parents’ houses and thinking the food was a bit boring and generic!
“I always loved cooking with my mum. The smells coming out of the kitchen were a natural draw on a Sunday.”
Tom: “Good English food has always been based in domestic cookery. Traditionally, our cuisine has not been held in high esteem, but I think that’s more English restaurant food.”
Jon: “I’m always surprised to see chefs cooking completely different food to what they were brought up on. Obviously, the food we make here is for a restaurant environment, but it’s not a million miles away from what we’d cook at home.
“We often have conversations about cooking a lovely piece of fish at home, for example, and then ask how we can work that into the menu. A lot of the great ideas that we’ve had come from that process.”
Tom: “Domestic cookery is important as a starting point, but also as a reference point too, I think.
“I used to work at Nobu, a Japanese restaurant. I loved it and learnt so much about technique there. But when we were writing menus, I’d struggle to find a reference point because I’m not Japanese.
“I suddenly realised I was lost, and that’s when I went to work at St. John. Fergus [Henderson] was incredibly brave and just wanted to cook the sort of stuff that his mum had made him.
“It was a rare and wonderful thing. I felt like I had a link to the food I was making, and that emotional connection is really important.”
Jon: “We opened The Marksman as a local pub and restaurant. We want people to feel comfortable and come away with a sense of being fed. And that you can have this sort of food every day – good food, for me, is food that you want to eat every day.”
Tom: “We find it very difficult to eat fancy, elaborate food – we struggle with it. I can’t remember anything at home or at my friends’ houses that had some sort of foam or jelly on it.
“We have a dish on the menu at the moment that’s roast mallard breast, chicory and quince paste, and that’s it. We celebrate each flavour because, when you spend as much as we do on good produce, you don’t need to do a lot to it. And that’s really the essence of home cooking.”
Jon: “I’m not a chef at home; I cook like a domestic cook. I don’t go through the faff of extensive preparation, and all the mess that comes with it. If it’s in one pot, I’m a happy man!
“On Sundays, I do a classic roast chicken. Then, leftover cold cuts with a jacket potato and coleslaw make me happy on Monday. The next day, I’ll make a stock with a bit of spice and noodles.”
Tom: “My little boy loves chicken soup. There’s a Maurice Sendak poem called ‘Chicken Soup and Rice’ which is one his favourite poems, and also his favourite thing to eat, so I make him it a lot.”
Jon: “We both have kids now and, for the first time in 20 years, we can be at home at evenings and weekends. We’re still in the kitchen three or four times a week, and we have just opened a bun shop in Victoria, so that keeps us busy.
“We also like to come here with our kids and I love the idea of our children growing up in pubs, dining with us.”
Tom: “That’s why we wanted to open a pub, rather than a restaurant. I love restaurants, but it’s very hard to recreate the immediate, natural ease and warmth of a pub. This place has years of life in it, and hopefully many more to come.”
Jon and Tom’s recipe for roast duck, quince and walnut.
1 large Aylesbury duck
Salt and pepper
500g caster sugar
250ml dry white wine
100g toasted walnuts
2 bay leaf
1 star anise
500ml good chicken stock
Start by seasoning the duck with salt and pepper. It’s best to do this the day before and leave it to dry in the fridge, or season at least a couple of hours before cooking.
Set the duck on a cake rack in a roasting tray and roast the duck in the oven at 200ºC for 1 hour, then drop the temperature to 170ºC for another 45 minutes.
While the duck is roasting, prepare the quince by peeling and cutting them into quarters, removing the core.
In a pot, mix the sugar, water, wine and spices and bring up to the boil. Add the cut quince and cook until they just start to get soft. Remove the quince from the pot and put to one side.
In a pan, gently fry the quince, the toasted walnuts and sage in the butter until golden brown. Add a little of the quince syrup to the pan.
Once the duck is cooked, make gravy by removing the duck from the tray and leaving it to cool. Pour off any excess fat from the roasting tray into a bowl and put aside for future use, taking care to leave any meat juices left in the tray. Add the chicken stock and Madeira to the tray and reduce by a half, until it is a lovely gravy consistency.
To serve, put the whole duck on a platter with the roasted quince, and the duck gravy in a jug on the side. This dish works very well with crispy roast potatoes and bread sauce.
Making this at home? Show us the result using the hashtag #themodernhousemenu