Now it’s ongoing, rather than a pop-up, Upstairs at the Ten Bells is, for our money, even more fun. There’s less of a feeling of desperation and precarity when you book, for one thing – though weekend tables do still get booked up in a flash. The set-up has changed since they reopened in June: James Lowe is off doing his own thing (watch this space), and Isaac McHale is preparing to open a new restaurant in Shoreditch, along with front-of-house aces John Smith and Daniel Willis. Isaac still runs the show at the Ten Bells, but the chef with his hands on the pans is Giorgio Ravelli, previously at the Ledbury and fresh from a long stint at Noma.
Isaac’s food is accessible but with lots of technique behind it – he has fine-dining experience in spades – so we’re wondering what the boys will come up with for Editer readers. Their gnocchi recipe (Giorgio is Italian-speaking Swiss) seems ideal, since it’s elegant and accomplished, but not too tricky to make at home. It is both utterly traditional, cooked in every region of Italy for centuries, and very Ten Bells, with its balanced, delicate flavours and seasonal British ingredients such as Cornish samphire, and Scotttish girolles and dulse.
‘Choosing the right potatoes is key,’ says Giorgio. ‘They have to be floury, not starchy, or the dough gets too sticky. I’m using Chippers Choice [Maris Piper], which are excellent for mash and baking, too.’ It’s also crucial, he explains, to act while the potatoes are hot from the oven. ‘Test them with a small knife, then cut them in half and pass them through a sieve, discarding the skins. Or you can use a Mouli.’ When you come to work the dough, treat it a little like bread dough, though take care not to overwork it or the starches will become gluey. You just want a nice even mixture.
We’re delighted with Giorgio’s gnocchi. Five minutes after the photos are taken, there’s no evidence of them at all. The flavours are fantastic together: the salty crunch of the samphire, the earthiness of the mushrooms, and a subtle vinegar kick that cuts through the buttery sweetness of the gnocchi. If you can’t find baby leeks, use the sweetest part of normal leeks. You can substitute trompettes de mort or chanterelles if you see them, or try a variation with squid or prawns. Giorgio suggests a dry, fruity white wine to drink with this dish: a Riesling or a Pouilly-Fumé.