My Summer. By Merlin Labron – Johnson

Merlin Labron-Johnson. Photo: James Marcus Haney
Merlin Labron-Johnson. Photo: James Marcus Haney

I recently had the pleasure of spending a few days on holiday in Italy on the beautiful Amalfi coast. During my stay I travelled around the coast and visited many local restaurants. I had many great meals but there was one that stood out and which I will remember for a long time. It was at a restaurant called ‘’Da Adolfo’’ on a beach just outside of Positano. I arrived there on a small boat which we rented for the day. Two hundred yards away from the restaurant I dropped the anchor and waved frantically at the staff until I was spotted by one of the waiters. He jumped into his boat, pulled us from our boat into his and took us to the restaurant – I call it restaurant, but basically it was a corrugated iron shack with a kitchen inside, which cooks for about 20 tables on the beach. The waiter bought to our table a jug of cold white wine full of sliced local peaches and presented the specialties of the day: raw local tuna with olive oil and lemon, grilled red snapper and spaghetti with clams. We tried it all and it was delicious, but what we loved best was the tuna. It was of an exceptional quality, thinly sliced and drenched in a good olive oil that has been infused with the peel of Amalfi lemons, a little garlic and some parsley and there was absolutely nothing you could add to that dish to improve it. It was a perfect match with the peach wine and at the end I mopped up all the oily, lemony fish juices with some good bread. We stayed on the beach for most of the afternoon drinking peach wine and swimming before sailing drunkenly off into the sunset.

Char and bread with lemon infused olive oil. Photo: Keiko Oikawa
Char and bread with lemon infused olive oil. Photo: Keiko Oikawa

At Clipstone, our new restaurant, we serve olive oil infused with Amalfi lemon peel with our home made sourdough bread and there is also a dish which was inspired by that lovely day on the beach. It is a crudo of arctic char with lemon oil, unripe peaches and watercress. The fish is raw and thinly sliced, dressed with lots of lemon infused olive oil, some very thinly sliced peaches which are intentionally unripe to have a crunch and are not too sweet yet still have the aroma and flavour of peaches, some watercress and a little sea salt. For me it’s summer on a plate.

Arctic char is an incredible fish that I used to work with a lot when I lived in the Alps. It is a cold-water fish native to Alpine lakes that I had never dreamt of using in the UK until I heard of Hans Hoff who has started farming it sustainably in Dorset. It has a texture of salmon or trout but a much milder flavour and tends to go quite mushy when direct heat is applied to it, that’s why I prefer to serve it raw.

Merlin Labron – Johnson, Portland Restaurant & Clipstone Restaurant (London, UK)

Char with peaches, water cress and lemon infused olive oil. Photo: Keiko Oikawa
Char with peaches, water cress and lemon infused olive oil. Photo: Keiko Oikawa

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