With such a wide variety of recipes on offer, I asked Silvena which dishes she cooks most often at home. “The pilaffs, I love the pilaffs, I’m just so good with rice. I love it. I also do the kebabs, the meats, the pomegranate with lamb, the avocado hummus which I did for my Turkish friends, and they called it Turkish guacamole!”
There is a meze section in the book with dishes that are ideal as canapés, and Silvena has now expanded on this concept with yet another book, due on the shelves in 2011. “I have another book coming out next year in May which follows up on Purple Citrus, called Orient Express. The recipes there are even more unique, a lot more seductive, and it’s all recipes for sharing. While Purple Citrus has a certain simplicity and familiarity and is paving the path for this type of cuisine, Orient Express is more about lifestyle and entertaining. It’s like one huge meze section as a book, with lots of mains and lots of sweets.”
Talk turned to her forthcoming restaurant at The May Fair Hotel, which is stirring as much intrigue and gossip as her book. Despite its key location to the south of Berkeley Square, the hotel has never made an impact on London’s dining scene. But this will all change after the refit this August.
“I’m going to become the Chef Patron. Martin Brudnizki is designing it. The food will be British with a very strong Eastern Mediterranean accent. The flavours will be from Purple Citrus. It’s very exciting. It’s something that London hasn’t got and it’s a very different cuisine. The execution will be simple, with really amazing ingredients and flavours; the best of British produce in meat, fish, vegetables, paying attention to seasonality, and then I’ll add these Eastern Mediterranean influences to it.”
The restaurant will be called Quince, an ingredient that is quintessentially British but often used in Eastern Mediterranean cooking too, making it the perfect harmoniser between the two cultures, which is exactly what Silvena’s food does. I asked her why she is making the move into the kitchen as a fulltime head chef, putting her successful television career on the backburner. “I can’t just give another chef my recipes and expect them to know how to cook it. They wouldn’t know how to combine the smoothness of roasted aubergine with the sourness of pomegranate, the velvety texture of tahini and the coarseness of sumac. So that’s why I have to be there. I intend to eat, drink and sleep Quince, because I want to make sure the standards are as they should be. It’s my food and I’ll be cooking it.”
Silvena describes her food as having “pronounced, stunning, shocking flavours.” As Heston correctly states, it’s hard to resist her enthusiasm and the exotic promises of her cuisine. What a woman. What a book. What a restaurant this is going to be.
Purple Citrus & Sweet Perfume is available from all major bookstores, hardcover priced at £25. The new restaurant at The May Fair Hotel will be opening in the coming months, the date will be announced in due course.