Gemma Simmonite, of Gastrono-me in Bury St Edmunds, reflects on the re-opening of her restaurant and shares a recipe which she says expresses the feeling of hope and familiarity
The rules and landscape of the restaurant scene in recent weeks have literally moved faster than a tyre change in an F1 pit lane.
First, we were closed down abruptly on March 23rd, a day that never in our wildest dreams we could’ve predicted. And along with most restaurateurs we negatively started to predict that it could probably be at least October before we could open our doors and our ovens again – which seemed unfathomable on so many levels. But then on June 23rd it was announced that on July 4th we were all allowed to open our businesses again for indoor dining! It was the most glorious and terrifying news to digest all in one go.
From that moment we had just ten short days to prepare. We had to Covid-19 proof the entire place, follow every bit of legislation diligently with a fine tooth comb, awaken our staff from their furlough slumbers and then we had to actually remember how to get back into the business of running a business again!
We announced to the world on that exciting day of our plans, and the bookings thankfully flooded in. We were brought to tears by so many of the phone booking messages and notes on the booking diary system – many “whoo hoos” “can’t waits” and “welcome backs” one message from a dedicated customer even warned us to prepare the kitchen as he was going to probably order most things twice! Such gorgeous confirmation that we had been missed, and that we wouldn’t be twiddling our thumbs anxiously on re-opening day, something that we had, of course, envisaged in our darker moments.
Our team responded in the most incredible way when their call to arms was announced. They had clearly missed each other and their work home. They told us they were chomping at the bit to “just get back to normal”. And yet, as owners, we knew it was probably going to be anything but normal.
Through this devastating pandemic, we’ve witnessed relatives admitted and discharged from hospital, and friends’ relatives sadly not be as lucky. It has wiped through the world with its calculated and evil precision. The thought of taking the re-opening Gastrono-me lightly was never an option, and we felt the weight of customers and staff safety firmly on our shoulders.
We had to immediately achieve that level of making everyone feel safe and protected. But at the same time, we were very aware we didn’t want to scare anyone – after all isn’t dining out when you’re meant to forget your troubles? A place to retreat to and be treated? And by god we knew you all needed treating! Four months of being cooks, teachers and carers is no easy task. So, in our July 4th opening we knew we wanted safety to be paramount, but it had to travel alongside our usual carefree vibe.
We have a saying, Mike and I, and we’ve always said it when we’ve especially needed a full and vibrant restaurant – you know for a special day when we want to impress a client, or some precious friends or family have come to see Gastrono-me for the first time, or even just to reach that end of month touchstone target – the saying is “Bury didn’t disappoint today” and on July 4th it was just the case! Boy, it was busy, but because of preparation it wasn’t overwhelming, terrifying yes, but managed and firmly controlled. I watched from the sidelines. I watched Mike, Rick and the fabulous front of house team take a deep breath in as they surveyed nervous customer faces appearing in the quirky queuing system we’d created. But with their calm and practised handling it really wasn’t long before those nervous faces were replaced with smiles and laughter.
And, luckily, so far it has been like that ever since. . . tables have been full, albeit with quite a few removed, and customers have just been pleased to be able to spend time with us again.
Whilst quietly wandering around the entirety of Gastrono-me, I have been reminded of the part in Sleeping Beauty when the evil witch’s spell is lifted, and the sleeping kingdom reawakens and comes to life again. Peeping in on the kitchen, I can see the chefs have smiles of contentment again as their talented hands have a direction once more. Front of house has a hum of chatter and gentle teasing easily floats through their conversations. It is all blissful to see and I’m very, very thankful.
There are new measures on the way once again to bolster the restaurant community, vat cuts for businesses to help ease their opening months, and an ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ voucher discount scheme in August. It’s for customers to use wherever they wish to eat, and we hope it will encourage the public to take the first steps into using the high street again. There are, of course, plenty of opinions on all these decisions, but if it can help awaken our town centres and breathe life into restaurants again then we wholly support it. We haven’t forgotten about those people who can’t or don’t feel like it’s time to leave home yet, and as a small measure towards that we’ve reintroduced our takeaway menu and hope that it’s some way of reminding them of happier times. I know we are a long way from this damned disease being obliterated, but I feel there’s the beginning of hope and recovery for all.
I pondered as to which recipe I should use to express this feeling of new hope whilst wanting to retain a familiarity. My mind landed on our Masala Scramble. As the name suggests it’s, of course, scrambled eggs that even a novice could whip up, but it has the delicious surprise of chilli and a warming comfort of garam masala. It’s perfect for brunch if you’re not that sure of an early morning kick of spice, but I do promise it will kickstart your day!
The dish is based on the traditional Indian Eggs Akuri, or Eggs Parsi, but I have tinkered with it and found its Gastrono-me style. I hope you enjoy it and that it adds a little mysterious decadence to your brunch repertoire.
I think the song lyrics “How do you like your eggs in the morning?”, should definitely be changed to “I like mine with some spice”.
Try it, I guarantee you won’t look back xx
1 teaspoon of double cream
¼ teaspoon of garam masala
A small pinch of turmeric
A small pinch of chilli flakes
Chunky Chaat (an amazing ingredient I discovered – it’s a tantalising ground blend of spicy, sweet and sour, and hits just the right spot in this dish)
Butter for frying
2 x naan, roti, paratha or bread of your choice
For the Kachumber
1 tomato, deseeded and diced
½ green chilli, deseeded and diced
A small end of a cucumber, deseeded and diced
½ small red onion, finely diced
A dash of lemon juice
To finish and serve
I enjoy a blend of Raita, and Mango Chutney, but any favourite Indian chutney would work fabulously
I start with the Kachumber first, Kachumber is a simple tomato salad, similar to a Mexican Pico de Gallo, I love that its name literally translates to ‘beat someone up nicely’! I promise it’s not as aggressive as that, and its freshness and tang really lifts the richness of the eggs.
Simply combine the chopped ingredients, tear the coriander and mint and toss the leaves into the salad with a little olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste.
Start warming your Indian breads of choice, as the eggs are going to cook very quickly.
Now beat your eggs with the cream in a jug, adding a pinch of salt.
Melt the butter in a frying pan and when the butter starts to bubble, pour in your eggs.
Move the eggs gently around the pan with a wooden spoon and add the turmeric, garam masala, chunky chaat and chilli flakes.
When just under set, remove the pan from the heat and let the eggs cook in the residual heat.
Remove your naans or whichever bread you chose from the grill, and smear both with a little mango chutney or your chutney of choice.
Pour your scrambled eggs onto the warmed breads and then take a handful of the Kachumber to sprinkle on top of each delicious egg mound. Drizzle with a little of the cooling raita and garnish with a little more fresh coriander.
Gemma is executive chef and co-creator of Gastrono-me, Abbeygate Street, Bury St Edmunds
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