One of the fascinations of programmes like Hotel Hell or Hotel GB is that they give us a glimpse behind the scenes; something that appeals to the same part of us that wants to find out how magic tricks are performed, or that makes us stop and look through any door marked ‘no entry'.
I find kitchens a particularly interesting place to go behind the scenes. That's in part because chefs have so many interesting little secrets – like one who told me he dips his hands in ice to keep them cold when making chocolate truffles.
Partly too because I like food, and what could be more interesting than seeing food being made?
Some hotels now give you a little ‘behind the scenes' information on websites, by providing recipes or interviews with their chefs.
English-Restaurants.com will delight the lover of traditional English cooking ("If it's called cuisine it's not traditional English", a crusty gent once told me), with recipes from the Goring Hotel and the Dorchester Grill, as well as from traditional restaurants such as Simpson's and Rules.
Potted shrimp, salmon fish cakes, and lamb and apricot pie all figure on the menu.
Apex Hotels has a few recipes on its blog, for instance smoked mackerel pate and winter Waldorf salad. However, the recipes are strung out among lots of other information – a London what's on, menus, and events; so you couldn't really use the blog as a recipe book.
The May Fair Hotel also keeps recipes on its blog, and seems to have a number of seasonal ideas at the moment, including Christmas canapes with a decidedly Mediterranean flavour. You could try quick cumin borek as an alternative to cheese sticks, or "the ultimate chicken wings recipe" with Ottoman spices and pomegranate seeds and syrup. I think the May Fair blog reflects a canny business strategy; having read the recipes, I want to try the restaurant (you could regard these recipes as a sort of shareware – try them out for free, but pay for the chef-delivered version!).
I was amused by the recipe by Flemings Hotel for Fleming the Frog biscuits. These are the cutest biscuits I've ever seen and even better, the recipe is specifically intended for children to bake for themselves – Flemings prides itself on being a child-friendly hotel, so it's another bit of canny marketing.
Some hotels go even further. The Red Carnation Hotels blog features several recipes; for instance, a recipe for a barbecue basting sauce (nicely seasonal in South Africa where it comes from though not here in London at the moment!). Then there's a fun recipe for Wimbledon pistachio cupcakes which look like tiny tennis balls.
And that's not all; Red Carnation president and founder Bea Tollman has actually published a cookery book, ‘A Life in Food‘, which contains many of the recipes for dishes served in its hotels like The Milestone pictured above. It's intended to be easy to follow with useful everyday recipes – not just signature dishes of great complexity or cost.
One of the best hotel blogs for recipes is the one by Guoman Hotels. You won't find much ‘good solid food' here; it focuses on frivolity – cocktails and cupcakes – but it's all absolutely original and reflects what Guoman is all about. For instance, how about trying to make strawberry daiquiri macaroons – apparently the favourites at a recent event for food bloggers? Or you might try a Mole chocolate cocktail – a chilli and chocolate tequila based cocktail that will certainly keep out the winter cold!
However, recipes aren't the be all and end all of a chef's life. I'd love to see some other food related posts on hotel blogs. What about taking a market trip with the chef? I'm sure many hotel chefs could give readers good tips on how to buy – choosing the right cuts of meat, or getting the ripest and best fruit. A ‘ringing the changes' section would be interesting – getting chefs to take old favourites and refresh them with a little new inspiration.
I'd also love to see chefs doing videos or photo-blogs on food presentation; most home cooks I know can put together a tasty meal, but the best chefs know all sorts of ways to make a meal look as good as it tastes.
Meanwhile, I must go; I have a cocktail recipe to make and I need to buy a bottle of tequila before the shops close…Photo credits: Rafayel Hotel, Apex Hotel, Milestone Hotel, The Grosvenor Hotel.www.londonhotelsinsight.com