Paul Flynn: This grilled fish dish is springtime in a bowl

Three satisfying dishes - mackerel with peas and lettuce, pork belly, and baked sweet potato with feta

Paul Flynn’s grilled mackerel with peas and lettuce

I’m in the bar of a hipster hotel in Hoxton, London, waiting for the boss. We have two squeezed days in a city that I lived in for 10 years. I feel strange, like a tourist. I need to feel my way around as the city has changed so much since the 1980s and 1990s.

I’ve no tattoos and I’m a good bit older than everybody else here. I’m visiting restaurants that I’ve admired from afar. Narrowing them down was torture, a truly first world problem. I veer towards good simple cooking. Nothing fancy, no tweezers involved. It’s an age thing.

Cooking over fire has been here for a while, a really long while you could argue. A whole John Dory eaten in Brat was a standout dish. It came with a little butter and its own gelatinous juice pooled around it. It was like a still life.

Richard Corrigan, the ringmaster of all things delicious, fed us till we popped in his new restaurant Daffodil Mulligan. There was fire cooking there too, and among many lovely things a humble mackerel stood out.


Louche and full of literary history, the French House was a tiny joy. Its freshly baked madeleines would melt the hardest of hearts.

So I’m here waiting to go to the last of our chosen restaurants. I don’t need any more food to be honest, my buttons are groaning, but we’re going to the Quality Chophouse tonight. I’ve had my eye on it for a while. Its robust simple cooking belies a wealth of considered craft.

We’re meeting a journalistic hero of mine, the food critic of the Sunday Times. A surreal encounter some years ago in Dungarvan that involved much craic, a lock-in and Fleetwood Mac sealed an unlikely friendship. When AA Gill passed away, this woman became a more than worthy successor. I am a fanboy.

Now to this week’s recipes. The mackerel dish, prompted by memories of that outstanding dish at Daffodil Mulligan, is springtime in a bowl. The wilted lettuce in this is a great addition, just don’t overcook it. The pork belly is a pop it in the oven and forget about it dish. The sweet potato is creamy and deeply savoury, and the spinach truly shines here.


Serves four

2 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper
4 large butterflied fillets of mackerel with bones removed (feel free to substitute another fish if you like)
300ml vegetable stock
500g frozen peas defrosted – petits pois are best 
4 spring onions, trimmed and cut into 3cm pieces. 
1 Little Gem lettuce, washed and shredded
1 tbsp butter
1 tsp Dijon mustard

Preheat your grill.  
2 Brush a tray with a little olive oil, add salt and pepper to the tray and place themackerel fillets on it, skin side up. 
3 Brush the skin with a little more olive oil and season again. 
4 Bring the stock to the boil and add the peas and spring onions. 
5 Put a lid on the pot, bring it back to the boil and simmer for three minutes. 
6 Add the lettuce, mustard and butter, then season with salt and pepper. 
7 Meanwhile, grill the mackerel for four to five minutes, depending on size. 
8 Spoon the vegetable mixture into warm bowls along with some of the juice. Serve the mackerel fillet on top. This is lovely with some new potatoes.

Melting pork belly with ginger, spring onions. Photograph: Harry Weir Photography


Serves four

500g pork belly strips 
100ml soy sauce 
50ml water 
1 tbsp honey 
2 large cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced 
1 knob ginger, about 3cm, peeled and finely shredded 
Salt and pepper 
6 spring onions, shredded as finely as possible 
Bunch of coriander, chopped

Preheat an oven to 140 degrees, or equivalent. 
2 Place the pork slices in a roasting tray. Add the soy sauce, water, honey, garlic and ginger and a little salt and pepper. 
3 Bring to a gentle simmer on the hob. 
4 Cover with foil and transfer into oven for two hours or so, or until the pork is completely soft and tender. 
5 Meanwhile place the shredded spring onions into some cold water in a bowl in the fridge. This makes them extra crisp. 
6 Serve the pork and its juice on top of rice, with the spring onions and coriander sprinkled on top.

Baked sweet potato, with feta cheese and spiced pumpkin seeds. Photograph: Harry Weir Photography


Serves four

4 tbsp olive oil 
Salt and pepper 
2 large sweet potatoes, scrubbed and halved lengthways 
A generous knob butter 
2 cloves of garlic, sliced finely 
A pinch of chilli flakes 
2 tbsp pumpkin seeds 
250g baby leaf spinach, washed 
200g feta cheese

Preheat an oven to 180 degrees, or equivalent. 
2 Drizzle the olive oil onto a roasting tray, season the oil and place the sweet potatoes on it, cut side down. 
3 Cover with foil and put in the oven for 60-75 minutes, depending on the size of the potatoes. 
4 When the sweet potatoes are soft, melt the butter over a medium heat and add the garlic and chilli, followed by the pumpkin seeds. Cook gently for three to four minutes. This can be done ahead of time. 
5 When you are ready to serve, add the spinach and wilt for one minute. 
6 Season the mixture with salt and pepper and spoon over the sweet potato (cut side up) then crumble the feta cheese on top.