“A gin and tonic says a lot about you as a person. It is more than just a drink, it is an attitude of mind. It goes with prawn cocktail, a grilled Dover sole, Melba toast and Black Forest Gâteau.”
Nico Ladenis, My Gastronomy
St Patrick’s day is in March and that got me thinking about Irish coffee – one of my favourite drinks – warming, sweet, strong, smooth… I remember it as being the last, essential component to the classic ’60s Berni Inn meal.
A lot of people were… still are…. quite snobby about those hackneyed, clichéd maybe, dishes. We’re talking about prawn cocktail, steak, and black forest gâteau, all dishes I positively relish. I thought I’d hit upon a very novel idea in my plan to fight the wave of negative opinion. But about five seconds into my research I found legions of other, rather more heavyweight, champions of ‘60s cuisine.
Heston Blumenthal, a chef about whom I knew very little, except for his proclivity to surprising combinations of food, has made an in-depth study into the construction of the classic, traditional Shwartzwälderkirschtorte, producing an impossible, improbable masterpiece…. and he’s made a similar study into steak.
Meanwhile Simon Hopkinson and Lindsey Bareham have even written an entire book entitled The Prawn Cocktail Years which includes all the recipes for the dinner menu above and a whole host more. I take some of these recipes so much for granted I didn’t even know they’d been given the hackneyed sixties classification… dishes such as spaghetti bolognaise, coq au vin, and quiche Lorraine. Rather than food of ‘enduring ridicule’, that decade must have been a gastronomic golden age. Other classic, and also enduringly excellent ’60s and ’70s dishes were Smacked Mack and tournedos Rossini.
In fact that gastronomic ‘decade’ really had a span of some twenty years, starting in the mid-fifties when the first Berni Inn was established by brothers Frank and Aldo Berni and their business partner, Paul Rosse. The most commonly ordered meal was prawn cocktail, steak ‘garni’, and Black Forest Gâteau – aka the still-popular Great British Meal. By all accounts the standards were high, but deprecation crept insidiously into the perceptions of customers due to the mock-tudor architecture, and the sheer ubiquity of the chain. The brand failed to reinvent itself as society developed more sophisticated tastes and fell into decline.
As you prepare these dishes the music to listen could very appropriately be the soundtrack to the film, The Boat That Rocked, about a fictitious ‘sixties pirate radio station. The track includes songs from The Kinks, The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Procol Harum, The Beach Boys, Dusty Springfield, The Seekers and The Who to name but a few. The soundtrack to Made in Dagenham (see below for the plot) includes further treats by Sandie Shaw, Desmond Dekker, Lulu and the Small Faces. Alternatively buy the new The Solid Silver 60s Greatest Hits, and, if you are really keen go to one of the gigs on the UK tour of the same name which kicks off in April 2016.
Watch The Boat That Rocked (see the clip below if you need tempting), and also watch the wonderful Made in Dagenham, about 1968 strike at the Ford factory when 830 women walked out in protest against sexual discrimination (bottom clip) which contains quite a few references to Berni Inns.
If you have an opportunity, visit the Robert Rauschenbert exhibition at the Tate Modern. Rauschenbert’s collage-like silkscreens of John F Kennedy embody the very essence of the sixties.