Thursday, October 10, 2013

Mayfair Memories: Tiddy Dols & Welsh Rarebit

Welsh Rarebit is so much more than just fancy cheese on toast. One of the ultimate comfort foods, Welsh Rarebit, or Welsh Rabbit, is a savoury dish made with melted cheddar cheese and various other ingredients, served hot and poured over thick slices of toasted bread. I was first introduced to Welsh Rarebit in the early 70's at Tiddy Dols Eating House, a charismatic cluster of restored 18th-century Georgian houses on Hertford Street in Mayfair's Shepherd Market, looking much like a remnant of Dickensian London. 

Tiddy Dols was closed in 1998 and remained derelict for many years until being purchased by Robin Birley, heir to the London club empire of Mark’s, Harry’s Bar and Annabel’s

The charismatic exterior featured small paned windows which exuded a warm glow from inside and the front door pinged like an old sweet shop as you entered. One was immediately transported into another world, a warm and inviting world full of wonderment, charm and great character. The cosy interior was dimly lit with black shaded brass lamps, old prints illuminated with small picture lights, and a huge buttoned maroon leather porter’s chair stood sentry in the front vestibule. Named after a famous gingerbread seller who frequented Mayfair in the 1700s, and immortalized in an engraving by William Hogarth, Tiddy Dol can be seen in a crowd holding a piece of gingerbread cake in the air singing "Tiddy Diddy Doll" as he sold his hot spiced gingerbread, a special recipe which Tiddy Dols had on their menu until they closed in 1998.

Tiddy Dols old menu which featured their 18th-Century Welsh Rarebit, made with crumbly red Cheshire cheese, rustic ale, mustard and pepper stewed with an egg yolk and served on buttered toast

 Hogarth’s 1747 engraving ‘The Idle Prentice executed at Tyburn’ 
features Tiddy Doll, a famous itinerant gingerbread seller

Since Tiddy Dols sadly closed, the three-storey block backing onto Trebeck Street lay empty and became quite dilapidated with one corner still bearing the antiquated signboard of Tiddy Dols Eating House. However in 2012, Robin Birley, heir to the London club empire of Mark’s, Harry’s Bar and Annabel’s, renovated and transformed the block of Grade-II listed Georgian townhomes into Loulou’s, a private member club which has become the hotspot for London’s upper crust. Named for his aunt and Yves Saint Laurent muse Loulou de le Falaise, Birley entrusted fashion designer Rifat Ozbek with the £30 million renovation of the former Tiddy Dols, and the rest is history. 

The current exterior of Tiddy Dols- Robin Birley's private nightclub Loulou's, 
a hotspot for London’s upper crust 

Loulou de le Falaise, Birley's aunt and Yves Saint Laurent muse, after whom Loulou's was named

Robin is the son of Mark Birley and Lady Annabel Goldsmith, who own several members’ clubs in London. The venue is the epitome of glamour. A doorman welcomes you upon arrival and you must be a member, or the guest of a member to get in. "What Rifat Ozbek and Robin’s millions have come up with is a series of rooms of sublime, dazzling beauty. Light, bright and glittering, they are elegant and debonair, collections of wit and exuberance like Diaghilev wrestling with Jackie Onassis in scented risotto. There's a giraffe’s head and neck rising out of the floor, a bar made of shells, and an illuminated peacock. Effulgent, glamorous wallpaper, bathrooms in which you would happily spend a first date, and a restaurant of deep, glowing crimson with scarlet shaded lights. It is a joy to be surrounded by so much color and pattern, so much élan and panache. It’s like sitting in a fairy story."

An intimate dining banquette, 
with all of the interior photographs by Jonathan Becker

 The Madagascan Bar and stuffed giraffe at Loulou's

The Bakst dining room

Loulou's African Bar

Today Loulou's is the favourite bolthole of London’s biggest celebrity names and has become one of those rare places where royals, tycoons and movie stars come to let their guard down and party. Among the club's regular guests are Mick Jagger, Daphne Guinness, Kate Moss and the list goes on. Loulou’s is hands down the hottest place to be in London at the moment. It's come a long way from the more humble Tiddy Dols of my youth when dressing up and dining on Welsh Rarebit was a big deal. It still is.

Welsh Rarebit
Serves 4
Recipe courtesy of Le Caprice

The essential British savoury and the one that everyone eats at home with or without Worcestershire sauce, which Le Caprice recommends. No one really knows any more how cheese on toast came to be called 'rabbit' or 'rarebit', but what we do know is that both Escoffier and Brillat-Savarin gave a recipe for 'Lapin Gallois' and a 'Wouelsche Rabette', which first appeared in Antoine Beauvilliers’ L’Art du Cuisinier in 1814. This trusted recipe is not quite as old, but it is the Rolls Royce of cheese on toast!

6 oz Cheddar cheese, grated
2 medium sized free range egg yolks
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp English mustard
1/3 cup Guinness
1/3 cup double cream
4 thick slices bread, from a round country-style or bloomer loaf 
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Simmer the Guinness in a saucepan over medium heat until it has reduced by half. Add the cream and reduce by half again until it becomes thick. Remove from the heat and leave to cool.

When cool, add in the cheese, mustard, Worcestershire sauce and egg yolks and season to taste. Toast the bread on both sides, then generously spread the cheese mixture on top to about 3/8-inches thickand right up to the edges so the ends don't burn. Grill over medium heat until it is nicely browned and serve with the bottle of Worcestershire sauce on the side.