The Unseen Restaurant goes Retro


This month at the Unseen Restaurant we decided to resurrect some old dinner party classics and I deliberately opted for the most clichéd dishes I could think of: prawn cocktail, beef stroganoff and black forest gateaux.

The guests arrived in full retro spirit – there was no dress code for the evening but I noticed significantly more velvet than is normal and one particularly wonderful Pippa Dee kaftan topped with a voluminous fake fur coat. There was also one truly authentic bottle of Mateus Rose wine and an hilarious moment when we tasted it and realised how incredibly unsophisticated we really were back then. This was reinforced even further by the sound track for the evening – a Top of the Pops 1970s compilation album – classy…

I was a little nervous about the food. Everybody knew the menu in advance and had chosen, a little tongue in cheek, to attend anyway but I felt it was incumbent on me to bring something fresh to these dishes – after all, they really were considered classics once upon a time. It turned out that I needn’t have worried too much. The key to making the food enjoyable was the same as always, source great ingredients, balance the flavours and treat the food with respect:

The prawn cocktail flavours were allowed to speak for themselves; great quality king prawns (rather than the shrimps I remember), soft, ripe avocado, a marie-rose sauce made with homemade mayonnaise and a few carefully selected salad leaves – not an iceberg lettuce in sight. The food was placed on a plate rather than piled in a martini glass and I hope it didn’t look out of place in 2012. One minor miracle occurred too – apparently (and I’ll take John’s word for it) the Mateus tasted pretty good with the prawn cocktail – maybe we did know a thing or two after all…

In my memory stroganoff consisted of a vaguely curdled sauce with some mushrooms and strips of chewy, grey, overcooked beef – all qualities I wanted to avoid. I decided not to cook the beef in the sauce at all. I gently softened chopped shallots in some butter and sprinkled them liberally with paprika then added some lightly browned slices of mushroom. I chose really flavoursome portabella and shitake as well as some tiny button mushrooms. As I wasn’t cooking the beef in the sauce I added some good quality,fresh beef stock for oomph and set the sauce aside. Just before serving I stirred through the sour cream and some chopped parsley. I had splashed out on some really good fillet steaks and these were flash fried, rested and served rare, in slices on top of the sauce. I served this, partially deconstructed, strog with the traditional Russian accompaniments of sautéed potatoes and pickled cucumber – lighter and more enjoyable than the waterlogged rice I remember.

Blackforest gateau has never really gone away but there is probably a whole generation who have only ever tried it from the supermarket freezer. I decided that individual gateaux would look more elegant and refined but in reality they were a little more robust than I planned – nobody seemed to object though and the plates were all scraped clean.

If you want to find a more modern way to present old classics try doing an Image search for your chosen dish adding the words “fine dining” to the search criteria. This is quite entertaining as some people have an interesting idea of what constitutes fine dining but you will also get some inspirational ideas about presentation. It may be a good idea not to get too ambitious, the image I had in my head for the gateaux didn’t quite match up to what I produced but I had fun making them anyway.

I spend hours flicking through magazines, reading cookery books and trawling food blogs in search of something new and inspiring but perhaps I am looking in the wrong direction – maybe the best food has already been invented and is just waiting for someone to resurrect it.

Marie Rose Sauce Recipe

Beef Stroganoff Recipe

Black Forest Gateaux Recipe






Marie Rose Sauce

Marie Rose sauce can be made by stirring tomato ketchup into ready made mayonnaise but it tatses so much better if it is made fresh.  Using tomato ketchup as well as the cider vinegar can make the sauce overly sharp and overly sweet.  I prefer to use tomato puree and to lift the flavour with a little lemon juice but you may like to try a mix of the two.  I haven’t given a quantity for the tomato sauce / puree because it is all down to personal taste.  As a starting point try one fifth tomato to four fifths mayo – you can always add more if you want to.

This sauce is great in a retro prawn cocktail but it also adds a bit of zing to a prawn sandwich.  If you have any left use it as a dip with some vegetable crudites.


3 free range egg yolks

1 tbsp Cider Vinegar

Tomato Puree / Tomato Ketchup

500 ml Sunflower Oil

A pinch of Sea Salt & Cayenne Pepper

1 or 2 teaspoons Lemon Juice


Place the egg yolks in a bowl along with the  vinegar and whisk to blend.

Slowly add the oil a few drop at a time to start with and as it begins to emulsify add it in a steady stream whisking continuously as you do.

When your mayonnaise is the consistency you would like it to be (it will take all the oil but you may prefer to stop before then) whisk in the tomato puree / ketchup. Season to taste with salt / cayenne pepper / lemon juice.

Alternatively this can be made in a food processor.

Place the egg yolks and vinegar in the mixer.

Blend for one minute then add the oil in a slow, steady stream whilst the processor is still running. When the oil is incorporated add the seasoning.


If you add the oil too quickly or don’t whisk it well enough the mayonnaise may split. If it does simply break another egg yolk into a bowl and slowly add the split mayonnaise, whisking as you do so. This should pull it back together.

This mayonnaise will keep, covered, in the fridge for up to 5 days.