Article by Joanna Sarah-Freedman
Every now and then a meal becomes more than just a meal. It could be innovative and exciting – the kind that shapes your cooking going forward. But there’s something equally magic about the dish your mum used to cook you growing up, or even the reliable weekly staple you knock together on repeat.
In this new series, Time’s Table, we chat to people about the food that has left an impact on a time in their life – be it their past, present or future. Trust us, you can learn a lot about someone through what’s on their plate.
Time’s Table with… Carol Deeney
Carol Deeney has been bringing Scottish flavours to London since 2012 when she launched a street food stall flying the flag for the dishes she grew up with.
This isn’t your standard haggis, neeps and tatties, though. Alongside her husband, Paddy, Carol set out to carve a niche in a saturated market – and haggis toasties were her answer to that.
Carol Deeney is co-owner of Scottish cafe, Deeney's (Credit: James Byrne)
Their most famous is The Macbeth, stuffed with the lamb offal-filled sausage, mustard and caramelised onion, and absolutely oozing with cheese.
You’d have been forgiven for assuming that haggis would scare off many of those who hadn’t tried it, but almost immediately after launching, Carol’s instincts were proved correct – people were curious, and they had an appetite for the meaty delicacy when it was presented in an approachable way.
Before long, Deeney’s was seeing repeat customers, and in 2018 their market stalls were joined by a bricks and mortar Scottish cafe in Leyton (and even subsequent franchises in Thailand and Japan!).
With an extensive menu celebrating a bunch of Scottish favourites today, Deeney’s has more than proved that the food has a global appeal, but what inspired Carol to come up with such a patriotic concept?
To dig into her culinary influences, we asked her to share a special meal from her past, a present staple, and a dish that’ll inspire her future cooking.
Deeney's is famous for its haggis toastie (Credit: Deeney's)
Past - Mince and tatties
“I grew up living above the cafe that my parents ran in the north of Scotland, and our kitchen was also the kitchen for the cafe, so I was constantly around chefs and waitresses buzzing around.
“So, from day one I was very much entrenched in the hospitality industry and serving people Scottish food.
“My mum served lots of soups and salads and sandwiches. She was famous for toasted sandwiches, which is sort of where the idea for Deeney’s came from. But mostly just traditional Scottish food with a healthy, hearty theme.
“There was Cullin skink and Scotch broth, the first being a smoked haddock chowder, and the other a meat, pearl barley, and lentil broth. The Cullin skink was one of my favourites!
"We were only a few miles from the coast and the northeast is famous for its haddock. There was something so delicious about the creamy sweet milk with fresh smoked fish.
“If I had to pick one dish from my childhood it would be mince and tatties, though. It’s not very exciting on paper, but it was a staple in our house.
"It’s basically boiled beef mince with onions and gravy, mashed potatoes (or normal potatoes), and peas.
Mince is mixed with peas and potato as a classic Scottish meal (Credit: Getty)
“It’s just meat and two veg, piled high on one plate, basically, but it’s one of those dishes where if you've been out all day, you’d come home and have mince and tatties, because it was just our bread and butter. It comforted you.
“I wouldn’t say there’s a knack to nailing it, as such, because what's quite traditional about Scottish food is it doesn't tend to have a lot of ingredients or any spices beyond the basics. I remember the thickness of the gravy, though; the flavour of the onions and the quality of the meat.
“I would always be sent down to the local butcher to get a pound of mince, and there was an excitement to it. You’re buying mince, so you’re getting mince and tatties tonight, and you’re gonna be satisfied. You're going to go to bed happy.
“My mum always put leftover mince in sandwiches the next day – I'm not sure I could get away with that here, but I loved it growing up.
“Later, living outside of Scotland, I didn’t realise that not everybody had mince and tatties…and they certainly don't call it that! So, for me that became an iconic dish from childhood, and I still make it every week for my husband and my kids.”
Present - Goan fish curry
“I've got a really good recipe book from Mother India, which is a famous Glasgow curry house, and their Goan fish curry is one I make a lot.
“We make loads of fish curries because we get a fish box delivered from Peterhead, which is a fishmongers in Aberdeen. We got a fish sent down every fortnight from them, and love using fresh, Scottish produce in London.
Mother India is a Glasgow institution (Credit: Instagram/ Mother India)
“The Goan curry is a base of blended chickpeas, garam masala, ginger, garlic and green chillies along with the fish, and it’s a really nice staple to be able to batch cook. The chickpeas give it such a nice texture.
“I think a lot of people are emotional about food and how it can evoke memories of your past, and the likes of Glasgow… I hold it so warmly in my heart. I went to Glasgow uni, as did my husband, and Mother India was an iconic place to eat.
“I remember the fish curry, and they also did a really good tandoori salmon, which was quite unique – that wasn't the traditional curry house flavours of Scotland.
“That's what the cookbook tells you. When they opened the curry house in Glasgow, they found that they were asked for Vindaloos and Kormas and Tikka Masalas. So, they started doing that, and then they realised that actually, people just ordered those because that's what they knew.
“So they started introducing things like tandoori salmon and stuff like the Goan curry, which was just a little bit more adventurous and true to their roots.
"Especially in Glasgow, there’s a really good restaurant scene, and people were willing to try something authentic and decent. They managed to establish themselves that way.
Goan fish curry is another of Carol's staples (Credit: Getty)
“The cookbook is fabulous. Now, I use it quite religiously. It goes through a timeline of the owners’ restaurant experience, and it's quite like mine in that they grew up in their parents’ restaurant and then pivoted the business and expanded over time, putting their own spin on the flavours people expected.
“I think it definitely had an influence on Deeney’s, as did a lot of the Glasgow restaurant scene, for that matter. People are very innovative and generous, and really welcoming as well.”
Future - Decatur shrimp boil
“A dish that continues to inspire us and the way we cook at Deeney’s is the shrimp boil from Decatur, which is becoming very well known in London (and nationally) because of their exponential growth throughout lockdown.
“They’re based in Leyton, and Tom [Browne], from Decatur, did a pop up with us pre Covid, and it was one of the most popular pop-ups that we did.
“The shrimp boil is one of the dishes that we ate, and we’ve eaten numerous times since! I think it’s something very unique and delicious, because it’s quite a theatrical dish.
“It becomes very, very memorable, because you have to boil everything up in different stages, and you get these fumes of spices as you plunge in the spice mix with the potatoes and the prawns. So, all of the cooking process is really interesting.
Decatur's shrimp boil is one of Deeney's inspirations (Credit: Decatur)
“The way that you’re supposed to enjoy a shrimp boil is literally pouring it out at the table and getting stuck in. I’ve eaten this at home, with my family, at private dinner parties that my friends have held where we’ve all been given bibs and gloves…there’s a playfulness about it!
“And then there’s the fact the actual taste is delicious. You’ve got really juicy shrimp alongside really beautifully flavoured new potatoes and sweetcorn. You’re just mopping all of that extra juice up with a crusty white bread.
“What I love about Decatur, and Tom and his food, is that he brought this to London after spending time in New Orleans and Louisiana, because London lacked access to that style of Southern food – it’s still is kind of under-represented.
“I guess that’s similar to Deeney’s in that aspect as well. It’s something you know you recognise, but don’t get the opportunity to try, and haggis is one of those dishes as well.
Deeney's now has an outpost in Leyton (Credit: Deeney's)
“So, when we opened the cafe, we started the square sausage; we make our own tattie scones - again, a unique product that you wouldn't necessarily find in London but is very ubiquitous of Scotland, and everyone loves it.
“Then, we’re doing a Burns Supper this year, and I’m getting my mum to make tablet for everyone, so that they can all have a little square of the delicious Scottish fudge-style delicacy, which is very unique to Scotland itself.
“We bring that nostalgic memory back to people who have come from Scotland and travelled, or are related back to it.
“I think that Decatur’s shrimp boil just keeps reminding me that we really need to do that – we really need to keep bringing out little dishes here and there that will remind people [of these local food traditions].
“Decatur are another Leyton spot. They’re definitely up there with the best!”
Featured image: AMEX Shop Small/ Deeney's