How To Cook London’s Best Dishes: Burnt Cheesecake
Photograph by Ms Heather Taylor
Welsh heritage meets Basque Country-inspired dishes, by way of open-fire cookery, at Mr Tomos Parry’s restaurant Brat in Shoreditch, east London. It may sound like an unlikely culinary formula, but it works. The chef’s seemingly simple but insanely delicious dishes – turbot cooked slowly over flames until its skin is nutty gold and its flesh soft or just-charred bread with silvery anchovies, billowy from the oven – have meant the pared-back restaurant is packed out day and night since it opened last year.
Mr Parry, who ran a series of cult residencies at Climpson’s Arch in Hackney before a raved-about stint at Kitty Fisher’s in Mayfair, describes the food at his debut restaurant as “native produce, cooked directly over fire, with a Basque-influenced cooking style”. The wood-fired grill, also a feature at Kitty Fisher’s, is a crucial part of his approach. “It’s my favourite way to cook,” says Mr Parry. “It creates a complex, unique flavour.”
It’s the simplicity of the cooking and a fierce respect for ingredients that Mr Parry loves about Basque cuisine. “My favourite restaurants in the world are Elkano and Ibai,” he says. “Both are family-run and in the Basque Country.”
There were many contenders for Brat’s signature dish, not least the grilled turbot from which the restaurant takes its name (Brat is an Old English word for turbot). But many require flames, which makes them tricky to pull off at home. Happily, Mr Parry’s most memorable dessert – burnt cheesecake with a dark, cracked top and creamy filling, served with candy-hued rhubarb – can be recreated in an ordinary kitchen. “It’s directly influenced by the San Sebastián bar La Viña,” he says. “It’s famous for this style of cheesecake. I’ve eaten it many, many times. We’ve slightly changed the recipe – this is our interpretation.”
At Brat, the cheesecake is cooked in the wood-fired oven. “Cooking it this way adds a slight smokiness and the wood oven can get very hot, which means the top caramelises beautifully,” says Mr Parry. But you can achieve this at home under the grill. “Don’t be afraid of getting it too dark,” he says. “The bitterness works really well.” To achieve that perfectly creamy centre, “we always take it out a little earlier than you think. It keeps cooking as it rests.”
The cheesecake is served with forced rhubarb from Yorkshire’s famous Rhubarb Triangle. “We use this approach in many of our dishes,” says Mr Parry. “Basque in origin, but certainly British in terms of produce and ingredients.”
The only thing you should drink alongside the cheesecake, says Mr Parry, is sherry (at La Viña, it is sometimes poured over the cheesecake). “Amoroso works well,” he says, “but any of the sherries on our list at Brat would be good. This cheesecake and a glass of sherry works well at any time of day.” Try Mr Parry’s recipe below, which is bound to become your new favourite breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Burnt cheesecake with rhubarb and crème fraîche
The cheesecake has a light flan-like consistency with a delicious caramelised top. It is a fairly simple pudding, but is perfect with grilled seasonal fruit and crème fraîche.
- 360g cream cheese
- 160g caster sugar
- 1 orange
- 4 eggs
- 225ml double cream
- 20g plain flour
- 500g rhubarb
- 80g caster sugar
- Half a vanilla pod, scraped
- Crème fraîche, to serve
Heat the oven to 180ºC fan. Whisk the cream cheese, sugar and the zest from a quarter of the orange until it is light and glossy. Whisk in the eggs one at a time. Gently whisk in the cream, then slowly sieve in the flour and mix.
Line a 20-25cm cast-iron skillet pan with parchment paper. Pour in the mixture and bake for 30 minutes, then rotate and cook for a further 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, rinse the rhubarb, trim the ends off and cut it into 5cm pieces. Place in a bowl, toss with the caster sugar, remaining orange zest, juice from half the orange and the vanilla seeds.
Bake the rhubarb mix in a foil-lined baking tray for 15 minutes. It shouldn’t be too soft – just tender.
The cheesecake should rise up like a soufflé and caramelise, almost burning on the top. If it’s not browning, finish it off under the grill. Once out of the oven, leave to cool for one hour (the cheesecake will sink a bit), then slice and serve with the rhubarb and crème fraîche on the side.