I can never make French onion soup without remembering the menu at the long-gone Sam n Ella’s restaurant on Ecclesall Road, Sheffield, in (I think) the early Nineties. It was a minor sensation, mainly because of the cost. It was dirt cheap, even for then.
Starters and desserts were all £1 and main courses £3. As I said at the time, for a fiver you couldn’t go wrong. If you liked it then you had a bargain. If you didn’t, then you just shrugged your shoulders and put it down to experience. You couldn’t really grumble. You could also share in the jokey name which was a play on salmonella.
After I wrote about it the story was taken up by hospitality press and Caterer & Hotelkeeper had an article on the business. “How can this place make money?” asked the man from the magazine. “Search me,” I told him.
Oddly, I cannot remember a single thing from the menu, which I reviewed, other than the French onion soup. It was not a rich broth with long cooked caramelised onions. They were still raw and the stock tasted like Marmite dissolved in hot water, which is exactly what it was. “Well, what do you expect for a quid?” said the owner.
Sam n Ella’s burned brightly for a time then expired. It might have been full but no one could make a profit on those margins.
Today I was to be giving a talk to Stocksbridge Probus Club but it was snowed off. I was so keyed up I had to release the adrenaline somehow and went into the kitchen to make French onion soup, ideal for a cold, snowy day.
You don’t need a recipe for onion soup here but the dish, as served in Les Halles, requires a rich, beefy stock. I don’t know about you but that is not something you find very often in my kitchen. But after I’d cooked the onions with garlic, thyme and bay for a couple of hours I made a pint or so of stock with a couple of Italian cubes, a tablespoonful of kecap manis (rich soy sauce) and reached for the jar of Marmite . . .