He’s a legend in his own pie crust: Calum Franklin’s pastry work at Holborn Dining Room is all over Instagram. Not just snaps by happy diners who’ve just demolished a slab of beef en croute on “Welly Wednesday”, or a delicate veggie pithivier, but Franklin’s own photographs and videos which show the forensic detail with which he makes his pies.
Franklin, 35, is classically trained and has been head chef at the restaurant within the Rosewood London hotel for four years, overseeing a huge, elegant room which regularly serves 200 diners in a day. The menu is diverse, but it is the pies that have made Franklin famous, so famous that he and his team now make upwards of 100 a day.
Earlier this year, the much- heralded Pie Room opened in a corner of the dining room. It has windows that open directly onto High Holborn and has made such a spectacle of the pastry constructions that passers-by stop to gaze in. They can, of course, buy the pies too.
It’s a symphony of wood and marble, with antique copper moulds glinting from every wall. High up are detailed drawings of cross-sections of the Rosewood’s pastry dishes. Here Franklin and his team roll and cut, shape and adorn their pies. The room – and the pies - may look traditional but some very modern thinking has gone into what you see.
My core kit
Scissors, a small paring knife, a pastry brush and a finishing brush, for painting. We’ve got about 30 of these in different sizes, from large to superfine – that’s for a miniature chimney. We use a lot of art tools. I go to a lot of art shops and blow my money! Then there’s a cranked tool which is for lifting small detailed pastry off the mat.
That’s an antique silver ruler that I bought in Copenhagen - it was a gift to my sous chef. We try to use more and more stuff like that because it just suits the room, although it’s not just decorative. That ruler is an upgrade because I had these wooden ones before which are beautiful and fit the room... but they’re Paperchase!
This next thing looks a bit Ann Summers but it’s quite a cool little trick, this one. If we’re doing a pie or a pâté en croûte and we’re making a lid, we cut it out beforehand, egg wash it a few times till it’s dry, then the final thing you do is roll that tool over the top and you’ll get that beautiful lattice shape on it.
I use a wooden roller for the pastry. It’s super-important to have a really nice roller.
Behind me is this antique box that I found in a market in Greenwich – it’s what I keep the tiny, very detailed cutters in. I have minute ducks, and a Victorian tomato jelly mould that I won’t ever use. The ivy leaf cutter links with the ivy growing outside. Every morning we sweep up the leaves that have drifted under the door – and we use that shape cutter on the veggie pies.
The mould on my mat is by Matfer Bourgeat. They’re a French company – the oldest kitchen company in France, actually - and I’m the first British chef they’ve ever worked with... because they’re French! I’ve got an amazing relationship with them - I go to Paris and have meetings about things I want to do and they’ll go off and design them.
For instance, there’s something that we do here, we cut an absolutely miniature lattice by hand and we have to stand in the walk-in fridge with a ruler and a tiny knife and cut at half centimetre increments all over a full sheet of pastry - we do that every day. In the world I promise you there is not a cutter that does that job, we definitely looked. When I first did it I could see all the senior chefs looking at me and at each other in desperation, like “Is he serious? You know, we’re probably going to sell a hundred of these pies a day” and I was deadly serious that, yes, we are going to do it, because things like this separate you from the competition and push you forward.
But I’ve asked them to design a tool that does that, because now I think we’re at a point where it’s in our interests, to help us move forward.
These are just nice cutters to cut chimneys out with. We use one to cut holes in the pastry, then make a chimney with them.
When we make a fluted pie or whatever, one of the things we focus on is the farce. It’s as important as what’s on the outside - so we emulsify the farce, we add water to the fat, and in doing that, in the cooking process it stays super-juicy, but that adds loads of complications.
If you cook it at too high a temperature the water splits from the fat and you get these fountains spurting out the top, but also what it does mean is that you have more moisture, so if you don’t have the chimneys that fat needs to go somewhere so it will either burst a hole or split your tart ... So if you have a chimney, your fat will roast and it will travel up the chimney as it cooks and as it cools down it will go back into the meat again to moisten it, and as it’s roasted meat fat, it’s beautiful.
Some of these I bought for the chefs, some I brought in from home - I thought it would be nice to get a little library going for everyone, because I’m not one of those chefs who says I’ll cut myself off from everything - to say “everything is mine, no influences” is utter rubbish.
I want my chefs to be influenced by everything walking down the street... The only thing I will enforce isifIsayIwantthem to come up with a new pie, for the next week or fortnight I tell them not to look at Instagram, or search on it at least, because I want them to come up with something creative.
So I might tell them to visit London Zoo, find some inspiration there instead, or go to a church, or go to a train station instead, and it works really well.
The marble counter
This was the most important thing for us to build when we created the Pie Room - the dimensions were built on what I thought was right for us. When you go to a baker, they weigh out everything for their croissant dough dependent on the size of their table because they know exactly how wide they can roll things out and how many portions they will get and we did kind of the same process here - the space we would need to get four chefs around, the number of pies we’d be making. I’m really happy with that, and it stays nice and cool all year round. This room can be turned into a dining space and we had really beautiful chairs made that we bring in. For diners, you know your in a kitchen but at the same time it’s like the most beautiful home kitchen.
There used to be a lot of pie rooms in Victorian times - we are losing that part of our history and so that that’s why I decided to build this room. This was the design I had in my head and actually this is how I pictured it from day one.
One of the reasons we have the glass front here is because I want people to see the work that goes into all – in the restaurant unless we put the whole pie or wellington on a trolley, the diners only see a slice. Here they see it all, it’s important that people have that connection.