Paul Flynn: Spice up your life with these three dishes

Putting the word ‘spice’ on a menu can put diners off. But it doesn’t always mean heat

Cauliflower and chickpea roti. Photograph: Harry Weir

Cauliflower and chickpea roti. Photograph: Harry Weir

 

Menu writing is a mysterious art. A glimpse at one person’s menu might make you salivate, hop into the car and pound on their door insisting on being served immediately, whereas another might make you roll your eyes at the self-indulgence.

Long ago, when I was a young chef, the best restaurants had long, flowery descriptions, almost always written in French. It was often intimidating for the customers, the pretentiousness of it. These restaurants were all crisp shirts, asphyxiating ties and arse-clenching bills. Thankfully, things chilled out over the years and now you don’t have to go to the Sorbonne to understand your dinner.

Then came the opposite. Clipped precision. No extraneous information. Sole, barley, hogweed, or something like that. It would nearly put a fella off.

Some menus leap out at me, such as Kai in Galway and Chez Bruce in London, just to name two that are wildly different but captivating and unique nonetheless. Kai’s menu identity starts with the font, a replica of Jess Murphy’s handwriting. It is as singular as the food. Chez Bruce is full of old-school French classics, my first love. The menu is unfashionably long, and I spend an inordinate amount of time poring over it.

A single word on a menu can put people off, for example “spiced”. Often when I put it on my menu, some people think they will have to be hosed down by the fire brigade and immolation is imminent. It can mean the death of a dish on a menu.

These dishes showcase some of the myriad spices. There are so many, few of them with heat, all with different characteristics. The chicken is gentle and easy, soft sweet flavours that are at once complex but simple. The aubergine adds a lovely, sticky depth of flavour.

The cauliflower dish is warm and luxurious; you could make the roti if you are inclined. They are buttery and delicious. Or you could buy wholemeal wraps to cradle everything inside.

I can start to use cinnamon again now it is autumn. I am a careful fan. This is a family pleasing tray bake. The maple syrup complements the sausages admirably. The croissants add texture and sop up any wayward juices. There’s no scaring the horses here.

Recipe: Chicken with yogurt, mild spices and sticky aubergine

Chicken with yogurt, mild spices and sticky aubergine. Photograph: Harry Weir
Chicken with yogurt, mild spices and sticky aubergine. Photograph: Harry Weir

Recipe: Cauliflower and chickpea roti

Cauliflower and chickpea roti. Photograph: Harry Weir
Cauliflower and chickpea roti. Photograph: Harry Weir

Recipe: Baked sausages, cinnamon onions, crispy croissants

Baked sausages, cinnamon onions, crispy croissants. Photograph: Harry Weir
Baked sausages, cinnamon onions, crispy croissants. Photograph: Harry Weir
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