How To Cook London’s Best Dishes: Truffle Baron Bigod Toast
Photograph by Ms Heather Taylor
When it comes to sourcing ingredients, Mr Robin Gill has a self-confessed “maniacal” approach. The chef leases a plot of land to grow food on a farm in West Sussex, harvests fresh produce and honey from gardens and beehives on the roof of one of his restaurants, and name-checks the country’s finest food producers. “It’s a 10-step back process,” says Mr Gill, who made his name running three critically-acclaimed London restaurants – The Dairy, Sorella and Counter Culture. “We go direct to farmers, fishermen and purveyors, and build up trust and relationships.”
Mr Gill’s latest opening is his most ambitious project to date. Darby’s is a sprawling space inside the city’s new Embassy Gardens development, complete with an emerald-hued oyster bar, on-site bakery (using organic grain flour from Gilchesters) and open-fire grill. It’s named after Mr Gill’s musician father, Mr Earl “Darby” Gill, and the interiors are inspired by his time spent touring jazz bars in New York during the 1950s and 1960s.
The setting at Darby’s may be somewhat grander than his other restaurants, but when it comes to the food, Mr Gill is keeping it simple. “The menu is about crowd-pleasers – think lobster rolls and oysters – done very well. It’s very product-driven,” he says. “A lot of expensive places are charging a fortune for mediocre crap. I wanted to go to great lengths to find the best ingredients and elevate them. So, there’s smoked salmon from Max’s Secret Smokehouse in Hackney, seaweed from Ireland, British caviar from Exmoor and Dooncastle oysters.”
If there was a dish on the menu which best sums up Mr Gill’s food philosophy, it’s the creamy, brie-like Baron Bigod cheese on house-made fig and walnut bread with fresh truffle and some of that honey, made on the roof of The Dairy. “The idea for the dish came during my time as a young chef at The Oak Room,” says Mr Gill. “I remember eating brie stuffed with truffle mascarpone on Poilâne bread – it was one of those experiences where you taste something and it knocks you senseless. So, I wanted to recreate it. Then we found this fantastic cheese supplier that makes Baron Bigod – it has this amazing long-lasting flavour.”
The cheese, which Mr Gill advises to pick up at Neal’s Yard Dairy, is stuffed with mascarpone and Wiltshire truffles, then left to infuse overnight. “It’s great for dinner parties, since you can prep everything the night before,” says Mr Gill. At Darby’s, the bread is made in-house, but if you don’t want to bake it yourself to recreate this dish at home, the restaurant also sells loaves to take away. All that’s needed, says Mr Gill, is “a nice light sparkling English wine, such as Nyetimber.” Try it yourself with Mr Gill’s recipe below.
Truffle Baron Bigod, Fig and Walnut Toast
For the cheese:
Note: This is best prepared 24 hours in advance to allow the cheese to take on the truffle flavour.
- 200g Baron Bigod cheese
- 80g mascarpone
- 20g fresh black truffle, grated
- 2-3 drops truffle oil
- Maldon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- A drizzle of honey, to serve
For the fig and walnut bread:
(Makes one large or two small loaves)
- 75g walnut halves
- 300g Campaillou bread flour or other strong white flour
- 75g strong wholemeal flour
- 50g chestnut flour
- 10g fresh yeast
- 10g salt
- 30g honey
- 30g full-fat plain yoghurt
- 120ml semi-skimmed milk
- 50ml apple juice
- 75g dried figs, soaked in green tea for 30 minutes, then drained
- 75g golden sultanas
Cut the Baron Bigod in half horizontally. Season the mascarpone with 10g of the fresh truffle, truffle oil, salt and pepper. Spread this mixture across the bottom-cut side of the Baron Bigod, then put the top half on to make a sandwich. Wrap in clingfilm and store in the fridge for at least 24 hours.
Meanwhile, make the bread. Lightly toast the walnuts in a dry pan, then crush them slightly.
Put the flours, yeast and salt into a large stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix for three to four minutes. Add the honey, yoghurt, milk and apple juice and continue mixing on a low speed for 10-15 minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl if the mixture catches. The resulting dough should be sticky but retain its shape and have a slight bounce to the touch. Add the figs, sultanas and walnuts and mix for three minutes. (Alternatively, you can mix and knead the dough by hand.)
Using a dough scraper, tip the dough on to a floured surface. Divide in half if you want to make two loaves. Fold the dough and tuck the ends under to create a rectangular loaf. Dust with Campaillou flour and slash the top with a sharp knife. Place on a floured baking tray and leave in a warm place to prove until almost doubled in size.
Preheat the oven to 250°C fan or its highest setting. Bake the bread for six minutes. Transfer from the baking tray to the oven rack. Lower the oven temperature to 180°C fan and bake for a further 20 minutes or until the bread sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. Cool on a wire rack.
Remove the cheese from the fridge about one hour before serving to allow it to soften.
Preheat the grill. Slice the bread and toast the slices. Top each piece of toast with a slice of the cheese and melt under the grill for about 30 seconds. Drizzle with honey and grate over the remaining fresh truffle, then serve.