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John Lewis Coronation Afternoon Tea with Gizzi Erskine

Published 7 July 2013

2nd June, 1953 the day the then 26 year old Queen Elizabeth II was crowned, and also the day the coronation chicken was first introduced. Invented by Rosemary Hume and Constance Spry, the dish was served as the main course at the Queen’s Coronation banquet. Fast forwarding to sixty years later, John Lewis, in collaboration with celebrity chef Gizzi Erskine, are presenting their take on coronation chicken as part of John Lewis Oxford Street’s special commemorative “Coronation Afternoon Tea” this Summer to celebrate the Queen’s 60th coronation anniversary.

There is no meal more quintessentially British than afternoon tea so John Lewis serving it to celebrate a momentous British historic occasion seemed very fitting. I was very excited to go along to their Oxford Street store to preview the meal and get the opportunity to talk to Gizzi Erskine about her interests and inspiration in coming up with her new coronation chicken recipe.

The Coronation afternoon tea was being served in the Brasserie, on the third floor of the store. Here I was met with crisp white tablecloths, modern white tea sets and none of the quaint, fussy or even slightly dated crockery I was expecting to see. This was very much about John Lewis providing a modern touch to a British classic.

john lewis coronation afternoon tea

My attention quickly turned to the elegantly arranged array of cakes and sandwiches. I personally believe that half of the joy of afternoon tea comes from the presentation of the food and taking part in such a beautiful-looking meal. John Lewis’s Coronation afternoon tea was well-presented and prettily arranged: the topmost tier of the cake stand was full of scones, the middle tier full of mini desserts, and the bottommost tier contained the savoury sandwiches. The mini scones, accompanied by a dish full of pots of butter and jam, were a lovely size – more than a mouthful but small enough not to be too filling. The second tier contained an assortment of tea time desserts including pretty, dainty mini Victoria sponges which were absolutely delightful, and small regal looking fruitcakes soaked in Dubonnet (which I am told is the Queen’s favourite tipple), embellished with the lettering ‘EIIR’ to tie in with the coronation theme. Alongside these there were triple-tiered macaroons, coloured blue red and white after the Union Jack. I must confess ignorance as far as macaroons are concerned, the macaroon I tasted was soft yet slightly crunchy as I bit into it and was much sweeter and chewier than I was expecting. The texture made a lot more sense when I found out that what I was eating was basically meringue filled with almond paste, yet I was pleasantly surprised that I did not experience an overpowering almond smell as is usually the case with almond based desserts.

Royal EIIR fruitcake

After coming to terms with my first macaroon encounter, I continued on to the different savoury sandwiches, some of which contained classic fillings and some of which contained Coronation chicken with watercress and mango salsa. The sandwiches fillings were served in milk roll rather than bread. I have to say I felt a slight sense of disappointment with the cucumber sandwiches, I was expecting the kind of sandwiches that Algernon Moncrieff would have served to Lady Bracknell in ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ (delicate, white bread, no crusts) instead there was a few pieces of cucumber inside a much larger roll, which meant I was predominantly getting a much greater ratio of bread to filling. Saying that however, the milk rolls worked perfectly well with the other sandwiches which contained a larger portion of the fillings, and the use of the rolls did give a more modern looking presentation, making the sandwiches handier to pick up while eating and less likely to become soggy and droopy. The Coronation chicken with watercress and mango salsa sandwich seemed very popular, being one of the first things to be devoured at each stand.

Coronation chicken tray

milk roll afternoon tea sandwiches

Shortly after arriving I was introduced to celebrity chef Gizzi Erskine, best known for presenting Channel 4’s Cook Yourself Thin, and had a chance to chat with her. Gizzi came up with the new Coronation chicken with watercress and mango salsa recipe for John Lewis Oxford Street to serve as part of their coronation afternoon tea.

Me: How does your recipe of Coronation chicken differ from others?
Gizzi: I wanted to progress coronation chicken, I wanted to evolve it by using better quality ingredients. I have used real spices instead of curry powder, and real mangoes for the watercress and mango salsa. My mayonnaise based sauce [for the chicken] is made from half Mayonnaise and half Greek yoghurt.

Where do you get the inspiration for your new recipes from?
As a young child I travelled a lot and become confident with working with world ingredients. I am equally as comfortable with seasoning with garlic as I am with salt and pepper. I like to take classic recipes and evolve them, I value authenticity but I also like to use flavours that work to progress dishes.

Where does your passion of cooking come from?
My passion for cooking comes from my mum, who was a bohemian butterfly. She was extremely well travelled and loved cooking.

What is your favourite type of cuisine?
Japanese and Korean.

Do you ever eat comfort food?
Yes! I think fried chicken is great hangover food. I also like shepherd’s pie and when I’m home I’ll eat bowls of spaghetti.

Although there are many female cooks, why do you think the top of the culinary industry is dominated by male chefs? What advice would you give a girl wanting to ‘make it’ in this sector?
One reason that the best chefs tends to be men is that it’s at the age of 35 that people tend to break through the chef scene, and at that age a lot of women are having to make a career versus family decision, but recently there have been an increasing number of female chefs rising to the top.

 I don’t like to look at it as a competition between girls and boys. If you want to be a chef I would say get your head stuck in, get lots of experience working in different types of restaurants and working with different cuisines.

And lastly, other than cooking what do you enjoy?
I enjoy listening to music: 50’s and 60’s music, rock’n’roll and going to see live bands. I like eating out, going to galleries, spending time with family, I enjoy street food and culture.

gizzi erskine at afternoon tea

After speaking to Gizzi I thought I would get John Lewis’s opinion on what they believed made their 60th anniversary coronation afternoon tea special. A John Lewis spokesperson said:

The Head Chef wanted to capture the traditional elements of the British afternoon tea whilst paying homage to the occasion. Gizzi has created a fantastic modern twist to coronation chicken which works wonderfully as a celebration of the original recipe served at the Coronation banquet in 1953.”

On the whole I found the coronation afternoon tea to be a good balance of sweet and savoury, and had enough variety to be interesting but not heavy enough to be too filling before dinnertime. I feel that the coronation tea for two was cleverly priced, at £20.13 (to symbolise the year 2013!), one of the most affordable Coronation afternoon teas in London and kept up the coronation theme very well.

Gizzi Erskine’s coronation chicken recipe can be found exclusively at John Lewis Oxford Street as part of the Coronation afternoon tea. The celebratory tea is being served for a limited time this summer, from now until August 30th.

To sample John Lewis’s coronation afternoon tea, visit them at: Brasserie, Third floor, John Lewis Oxford Street, 300 Oxford Street, London, W1A 1EX.