t is a kitchen like no other, a towering cathedral to classical cuisine, both workhouse and work of art. Just walking into that vast, cool Windsor Castle Great Kitchen takes the breath away with its arched ceilings and fireplaces. They are big enough to roast a whole ox, the spits still very much intact. On the pristine white walls hangs a battalion of burnished copper stock pots, pans, jelly moulds and turbot kettles, some imprinted with the insignia of Queen Victoria. In alcoves sit metal ranges, while a metal-topped wooden table dominates the centre. On the far wall is a simple clock, above the inscription G.IV.REX 1838 to commemorate George IV’s renovation. Truly a kitchen fit for kings and queens alike.
Mark Flanagan, royal chef to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, says in Her Majesty The Queen: The Official Platinum Jubilee Pageant Commemorative Album: “History is everywhere here. It’s so inspiring to work in such a beautiful place. It has to be one of the greatest kitchens in the world.”
State banquets at Windsor and Buckingham Palace are far more than feasts, rather a subtle form of soufflé diplomacy — an event that mixes pageantry, pomp and circumstance with diplomatic power. Part of Flanagan’s brief is to ensure that everything is just right. “It’s so important to have those little things taken care of that make things more personal and positive,” he says.
Menus are written in French, a tradition stretching back many centuries. “Her Majesty loves the menu in French,” says Flanagan, “and if I get an accent wrong or mix up the masculine and feminine on the menus I send up for her approval, she’ll let me know. Her Majesty misses nothing,” he smiles.
Flanagan will offer five menus to the Queen but it is not, he admits, “the time for experimentation”. He will never serve food that is highly spiced and avoids bivalves for reasons of safety. As ever, seasonality is everything. But the menus are only ever a basic guide. “Her Majesty will make the final decision, interject her own suggestions, or remember that so and so really liked that the last time they came. Her memory is incredible. All the menus have her hand on them.”
Makes about 10 small scones
At Birkhall, the Scottish home of my stepfather and mother, tea is a big deal — as it is in all the royal households. We sit down at 5pm, and there are always a couple of cakes (fruit and chocolate or sponge), along with hot crumpets, loose leaf tea, sandwiches (smoked salmon, chicken mayonnaise, egg) and freshly made scones.
They’re best served split in half, with clotted cream and strawberry or raspberry jam, made from fruit picked from the garden. As to what goes on first, I don’t dare get involved, as the rivalry between Devon (cream first) and Cornwall (jam first) is as fierce as it is eternal.
- 225g self-raising flour
- 45g butter
- 1 tbsp caster sugar
- 150ml milk
1. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6.
2. Sift the flour then rub together the flour and butter with your fingertips until it looks like fine breadcrumbs.
3. Mix in the sugar, then add the milk (you may not need all the milk) and mix until the dough comes together. Try not to overwork it.
4. Tip out on to a floured surface and roll out to a thickness of about 2.5–3cm, then cut out with a pastry cutter.
5. Place on a greased baking tray, brush the tops with milk and bake for 12 minutes.
Rhubarb Fool with Ginger Biscuits and King’s Ginger
This fool has long graced the regal table, both sweetly satisfying and joyously simple. It is a quintessentially British dish, too. It brings together the joys of the pasture with the fruits of the walled garden. The key is the balance between thrillingly tart rhubarb, sweetened juice and whipped cream.
Oh, and a good glug of The King’s Ginger, which was created to “stimulate and revivify” Edward VII while driving his “horseless carriage”, better known as a Daimler.
- 1.5kg rhubarb, cut into 4cm lengths
- 300g caster sugar
- Juice and grated zest of 1 orange
- 600ml double cream
- 200g ginger biscuits, crushed
- 125ml The King’s Ginger liqueur
1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4.
2. Put the rhubarb in a casserole dish and sprinkle with the sugar. Add the orange juice and zest. Cover with a lid and cook for about 40 minutes until soft. Allow to cool. Strain the juice and reserve; pick out 18 pieces of rhubarb for decoration and set aside. Purée the remaining rhubarb in a food processor.
3. Whip the cream carefully until it forms soft peaks, not too firm. Fold in the rhubarb purée and a few dribbles of the reserved juice.
4. Put a layer of the crushed biscuits into six wine glasses, then a splash of the ginger booze. Spoon the fool on top and finish with three chunks of the reserved rhubarb.
Potted Shrimp on Hot Crumpets
Potted shrimp is the most English of dishes. Tiny brown shrimp (and they are the only crustacean we call shrimp, rather than prawn) with the very sweetest of flavours, covered in butter spiced with mace, bay and cayenne pepper. “Potting” (or covering in melted butter, which would then set) is an old technique which would make food last longer in the days before refrigeration. At Buckingham Palace and Windsor, there was usually some form of potted meat, beef and chicken, in particular — perfect for those convalescing and hearty appetites alike.
I think the very best brown shrimp comes from Morecambe Bay in Lancashire and although I’ve included the recipe below, you can also buy them ready-made from Baxters.
This is a dish I’ve eaten at Birkhall for tea and also for a starter at dinner, too. It’s a club classic and wonderful served cold on brown bread, or melted, as below, on hot crumpets.
- 175g unsalted butter
- 1 tsp ground black pepper
- ½ tsp ground cayenne pepper
- ½ tsp ground mace
- 1 small bay leaf
- 450g peeled brown shrimps
- 2 lemons, cut into wedges to serve
- Sea salt
- 6 crumpets, toasted
1. Melt the butter in a saucepan, add the black pepper, cayenne pepper, mace and bay leaf. Throw in the shrimp and stir to coat. Cook for a couple of minutes until warmed through, then remove from the heat. Remove the bay leaf and check the seasoning.
2. Divide the shrimp mixture between six ramekins and season with a little salt. The butter should cover the shrimp.Put into the fridge and chill until set.
3. Pile high on to hot crumpets and serve with a slice of lemon.
Baked Eggs with Asparagus
Baked eggs, also known as Oeufs en Cocotte, were an adored breakfast dish of royals from Queen Victoria onwards. The Duke of Windsor was a particular fan. In those days, breakfast was a lavish affair with the baked eggs followed by streaky bacon, grilled trout or turbot, cutlets, chops, steak and maybe a roast snipe or woodcock. No dreary cereals here. But when the First World War broke out, Queen Mary — a great gourmand — decreed that the royal household should also follow the strictures of rationing. This meant that breakfast was cut to a mere two courses. It may not have been a popular decision but it was certainly the right one.
This was also a favourite childhood dish, usually devoured when we returned home from our holidays and the fridge and larder were bare. I would collect the eggs from the chicken house while my mother (whose recipe this is) would use the cream from the top of the milk bottle. If asparagus is out of season, replace with cooked spinach or chopped ham.
- 3–4 cooked asparagus, woody ends discarded, sliced
- 4 eggs
- 2–3 tbsp double cream
- 4 tbsp butter
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Hot toast, to serve
1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4.
2. Divide the asparagus between two ramekins. Break the eggs into the ramekins, then add the cream, butter, salt and pepper.
3. Put in a small roasting pan and pour some just-boiled water into the pan to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins.
4. Bake for 7–10 minutes until the yolk is wobbling but the white just set.
Serve with the toast.
This recipe is a version of Purée de Pommes de Terre, dite Parmentier, and taken from Auguste Escoffier’s Le Guide Culinaire, one of the most influential cookbooks of all time. First published in 1903, it’s the bible of French haute cuisine and contains recipes inspired by royalty, including Cerises Jubilee for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, and Selle d’Agneau de Lait Edouard VII. Escoffier also cooked for Edward VII, among many other members of the royal family, at The Savoy.
Named after French pharmacist and potato evangelist Antoine-Augustin Parmentier, this is a classic leek and potato soup passed through a fine sieve. It was also a favourite of Queen Victoria’s and appears on the menu of “Her Majesty’s Dinner” in honour of her Diamond Jubilee on June 22, 1897.
I’ve adapted the recipe slightly for the modern cook.
- 2 white parts of washed leeks, finely sliced into rings
- 25g butter
- 3 medium-sized floury potatoes, peeled and quartered
- 500ml fresh chicken stock
- A glug of double cream
- 2 tbsp croutons
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Fresh chervil, to garnish (or use a big pinch of chopped chives)
1. Gently cook the leeks in the butter for about 10–15 minutes until soft.
2. Add the potatoes, salt, pepper and stock and bring to a simmer, cooking for about 10–15 minutes until the potatoes are soft to the touch.
3. Put the mixture into a blender and whizz until smooth. Pour into bowls, add cream and garnish with croutons and chopped herbs.