Skate with Lemon, Capers and Mustard

Ingredients

  • 4 small-to-medium skate wings, about1 kg (2lb 4oz) in total
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 50 ml (2fl oz/¼ cup) fish stock
  • 50 ml (2fl oz/½ cup) crème fraîche
  • 1 tablespoon dry vermouth
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon capers
  • 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
  • salt and pepper

Method

Season the skate with some salt and place the fish, on a plate, in a steamer. Steam for around 10 minutes or until done – test the thickest corner, the meat should lift away from the cartilage. Sprinkle the fish with a little lemon juice.

Pour any liquor that has gathered on the plate into a small saucepan. Add the stock, crème fraîche, vermouth, mustard and capers. Bring to the boil, stirring continuously. Add a little lemon juice and the parsley, then pour the sauce around the fish.

The difficulty with a new restaurant is that no one knows quite what to expect, people might read that a good restaurant has opened but find that their own definition of excellence differs radically from that of the reviewer or the restaurateur. The opening months can have awkward moments while people, some of whom like the style and some of whom do not, pay a visit. There is an element of natural selection at work, and if there are not enough yes votes in the form of return visits, the restaurant will be in trouble.

Our outlook was simple: we would spend much more than the usual percentage of the menu price on food and wine so that there need be no skimping on quality ingredients, and we would compensate by employing a minimum of staff. This meant that fine Cornish lobster and sea bass could be on the menu, but we would be washing pots at the end of each evening rather than hobnobbing with the customers. It also meant that once the chosen wine was opened and tasted, people would be left to fill their own glasses.

These so-called drawbacks suited me for I’m not convinced that everyone wants the chef coming around fishing for compliments at the end of the meal, nor do I want anyone to pour my wine. Our gamble was that there would be enough people in agreement to make The Merchant House a success. An article in the Guardian newspaper in advance of our opening and coverage in a key trade magazine meant that the telephone started ringing and, for the first few weeks at least, we attracted both the curious and the competition.

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