Much of the food at Lord Jim’s seafood restaurant takes the modern art school approach to presentation. They use a palette of colourful blobs and smears and vegetable twirls on plates of deep marine blue or decorated with sea urchins. But, today, German chef David Morell, who has previously worked with the Michelin-starred Thomas Neeser, has something different in mind.
The cooking mainly happens in a large, open kitchen, opposite the sweeping, full-wall bay windows that overlook the river. Chef leads the way past jars of oils infusing with herbs to a cluster of stainless steel worktops.
“Today, I am going to cook seabass in salt crust,” he says. “It’s Lord Jim’s signature dish; a very old-fashioned traditional recipe. You stuff herbs in the belly of the fish and cover it with a thick layer of salt.
“It works like pastry to isolate the fish and really retains the moisture. It’s one of the best things you can do to a fish to display its own flavour. You need about double the weight of salt to fish. It’s in big grains, not processed or bleached. You add some water and mix it together, and it becomes workable, like wet sand in a sandbox.”
He pats it into a fish shape with a hollow at the centre. Then, he takes the beautifully fresh, glistening seabass and places whole herbs inside a slit in its stomach: “Parsley; a bit less rosemary – it’s a very dominant flavour – more thyme; and, finally, lemongrass.”
Then, he pops the fish inside and packs more salt on top, so the fish is encased like a mummy in a casket, complete with its likeness on the surface – tail, fins and eyes carved on with a knife. He carefully slices along the side of the crust: “Doing this, it will bake in two halves and be easier to open. Now, it goes into the oven at 200 degrees for 35 minutes.”
At the table, with boat traffic gliding past the twinkling fairy lights on the hotel’s terrace, the fish arrives on a trolley, the salt grains sparkling like tiny crystals.
It’s simply served an oval plates with crispy green salad, creamy potato gratin and a tower of sauces, including olive oil and garlic, white wine and butter, tamarind, and everyone’s favourite (at our table, at least) spicy seafood. The flesh is velvet soft on the outside, meaty within, and the herbs give merely a subtle taste variation. As David promised, the main flavour is just top-quality, sea-fresh fish.
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