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CHAT : Melrose & Morgan

The past ten years have been fairly crazy for the food industry, countless grains, vegetables and pieces of confectionery have been gentrified into ‘must-have’ foods. And as a result of this it has seen us get really educated as eaters but educated as customers too.

Melrose and Morgan are a high-end, forward-thinking deli and grocery with two plots in London — one in Hampstead Heath, the other Primrose Hill. The stores are airy, they provide a tranquil retreat amid the bustling London streets, and they produce and stock a very specialist offering of foods — British artisan being their forte. They’ve been referred to as ‘Prada for the Larder’ which, for me, is perfect.

During that decade, Ian James and Nick Selby, the founders of Melrose and Morgan, have built themselves this boutique deli we see before us. But their success comes as no surprise; as we become more and more interested and educated in different food, nutrition and produce, it’s the educated and experienced that shine through.

We chat to Ian and Nick, covering the eternal question that is: how to master the ultimate blend of sea salt and chocolate; which pieces of kitchen equipment are actually essential, which are nonsense, and what their ultimate solo foodie treats are.

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Where did the concept for Melrose and Morgan spring from? 

10 years ago getting hold of artisan food through my local shops was difficult during the working week. The London Farmer Markets at the time were starting to thrive but this was only really at the weekend. We saw a gap in the market to work with producers from the British Isles supplying great food to take away seven days a week. On top of our stable of suppliers, we decided to work closely with a team of in-house chefs, so we built a kitchen in our first shop in Primrose Hill. To head that kitchen up we employed Rose Sykes who had an excellent pedigree, being the Food Doctor at the Guardian, and brought a wealth of experience and knowledge to our customers about how to cook in a proper way. The menu was far reaching with seasonal produce being a focal point. From that small kitchen, housing only two chefs, we made a range of soups, salads, pies, pastries and preserves. We now employ 15 chefs in an offsite kitchen in nearby Chalk Farm and still use the footprint of the food offer we created when we very first opened.

Do you have plans for another shop?

We are very excited about expanding our online shop. It’s the longest and most competitive high street in the world and we want to carve out some space on it. We have seen growth in this area and we have had a very successful Christmas and Valentine’s Day sending food out to customers UK wide. We will be growing our online offer over the next year to provide a range of store cupboard essentials, preserves, seasonal baked goods, gifts and hampers and a carefully chosen selection of cookware and kitchen accessories.

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I love that you retain a perfect balance between old and new, you’re not afraid to serve traditional pies alongside super-food salads, and I think that shows a very modern, sustainable approach to eating — but what do you feel the next big food adventure or product exploration you will move into?

We can see that our customers diets are changing. They are eating less sugar and are conscious about what their food contains. There is a big interest in raw food, power juicing and an emphasis on good fats. To stay ahead over the next 10 years we will be offering a wider range of healthy, but still very tasty food. This won’t be about calorie counting necessarily but eating fresh well cooked food that is in season and well balanced. We will be exploring ways to replace sugar in our baking with healthier alternatives. We don’t want to become a health food shop but we have a responsibility as a food retailer to offer choice and transparency so customers can make up there own mind about how to feed themselves.

If I handed you a persimmon now, what would you do with it?

We would wash it and slice it laterally on a mandolin to reveal the star shape inside this beautiful fruit. Dress lightly in lemon juice and lay the discs on a sheet of parchment paper and dry them on a very low oven (100oC) for a few hours until crisp. The length of time would depend on fruit quality and how thinly you have sliced, so keep an eye on them and test every 30 mins until they snap when bent. Store in an air-tight container and snack on them when you’re needing an energy boost.

Is there a must have piece of kitchen equipment that you would recommend?

Pestle and Mortar, for sure.

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You serve one of the best coffees in London  (Paris nods enthusiastically) and one of my ultimate indulgences is a flat white, served with a salted, dark chocolate nibble. Could you divulge us with any details on how to perfect the balance between chocolate and sea salt within home cooking? 

Chocolate comes in many strengths, as you know, the higher the percentage of cocoa the more bitter tones come into the flavour profile. We were asked by Selfridges to develop a range of Salted Chocolate Florentines last Christmas and to our surprise the milk chocolate married more successfully with the salt than the dark chocolate we tested. We just sprinkled a few flakes of Maldon Sea Salt over the top of the Florentine after coating the underside with milk chocolate, so every now and then you got a little flavour burst from the salt flake. They had an 800% increase in sales.

After a long shift in the kitchen, you’re dining alone, what is the most satisfying meal you make for yourselves?

Nothing beats a simple bowl of pasta when you need a bit of comfort at the end of a long day. One of our favourite’s is the Oregano and Nut Crumb pasta from our book Good Food For Your Table: A Grocer’s Guide. Cook some pasta til al dente – we think this works best with an artisan produced, slow air dried spaghetti. As the pasta is boiling, make a nut crumb by blitzing together equal amounts of toasted pine nuts, almonds and pistachios in a food processor. Fry dried oregano with finely chopped shallots until soft and season well. Add the nuts and serve over the cooked, drained spaghetti. Sprinkle with a peppery extra virgin olive oil and grated Parmesan cheese, if you like – but it’s just as good without.

Interview & Words: Paris Bielby | Images: Melrose & Morgan

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