“When I die I don’t want to go to heaven … I want to go to Claridge’s.”
Claridge’s is a famous London hotel founded in 1812 in Mayfair by the father of the biologist, St. George Jackson Mivart. In 1854 Mivart sold the hotel to his neighbouring hoteliers, Mr and Mrs Claridge. Success was assured a few years later when the French Empress Eugénie came to the capital on an extended stay, and invited Queen Victoria to visit her at the hotel.
As the century drew to a close the hotel was bought by rival hotelier, Richard D’Oyly Carte, owner of the Savoy group. Many other stellar celebrities have darkened its doors since, including Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, Alfred Hitchcock, Brad Pitt, Joan Collins, Mariah Carey and Mick Jagger. And Jade Jagger, who checks in occasionally for ‘a treat’.
According to Laura Fowler, writing in Condé Nast Traveller,
“Marlene Dietrich checked in for weeks, a succession of lovers slipping up to her room, one of whom was Douglas Fairbanks Jnr.”
Rather more respectably, when Winston Churchill lost the election at the end of the war and found he’d lost his London home, he moved, temporarily, to Claridge’s.
In 2004 Claridge’s was sold to the Maybourne Hotel Group, which also owns two other iconic London hotels, The Berkeley and The Connaught.
Chicken Pie has been a stalwart on the menu at The Connaught for decades. Of course the recipe has developed over time – Gordon Ramsay’s version included leeks. This version came to me via the chef of a private bank in London, and predates Gordon Ramsay (who ran Claridge’s restaurant for 12 years). For those readers who are chefs I suggest you buy Claridge’s:The Cookbook, by Claridge’s new executive chef Martyn Nail, and food writer Meredith Erickson, for the latest, most accurate version as well as some stunning ideas for food presentation.
This is the Saucy Dressings’ version. It’s a huge hit with the Chief Taster because it is very juicy, the sauce cascades out over any accompanying vegetables – baby sweetcorn perhaps.
Recipe for a simplified Claridge’s chicken pie
- 6 small chicken breasts, skin on
- 250g/8 oz/about five banana shallots
- 200g/7 oz bacon lardons
- 200g/7 oz button mushrooms – cleaned and ready to cook
- 240 ml/1 cup dry vermouth – Noilly Prat for preference
- 480 ml/2 cups chicken stock – or, ideally, put in a whole 500 ml/½ pint pack of fresh stock
- A few sprigs of thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- 500 ml/½ pint double cream
- 320g/11 oz all-butter puff pastry sheet
- 1 egg, beaten
- A few stems of flat-leaf parsley
- Olive oil for frying
- Salt and pepper
- Brown the chicken breasts on both sides in an oiled thick-bottomed large saucepan.
- Remove from the pan, remove the skin, cut into bite-sized pieces and place in an oven-proof pie dish.
- Meanwhile peel and chop the shallots.
- Add to the frying pan together with the bacon lardons. Fry gently.
- When the shallots are just beginning to turn transparent, add the mushrooms and sweat for a few minutes.
- Add the contents of the saucepan to the chicken.
- Deglaze the pan with the vermouth, add the stock, the thyme and the bay and reduce to about half the volume. Adjust the seasoning.
- Preheat the oven to 180ºC.
- Take out the herbs from the stock and add the cream. Reduce again, to a good rich sauce.
- Pour over the chicken and allow to cool a little before you cover with the pastry sheet – you may wish to use a pie bird to keep the pastry up. Make a couple of small slashes to allow the steam to escape.
- Brush with the beaten egg, and bake for 40-45 minutes, until the pastry is golden.
- Serve with the parsley snipped over the top.