By Ella Walker
All of Max Halley’s sentences end with either a massive, joyful exclamation mark, or a boom of laughter.
The London-based sandwicher is the proprietor of cult restaurant Max’s Sandwich Shop – and has now decided to take on the state of the picnic, with his new cookbook Max’s Picnic Book, co-authored with Ben Benton.
Don’t get him wrong, Halley absolutely loves a picnic, but he reckons the time has come: it “needs a hand. It’s become this sort of Sound Of Music, Mary Berry’s birthday party, chintzy thing covered in rose-tinted goo, when lunch on a train is a picnic! Lunch in the motorway service station car park is a picnic! Lunch at your desk is a picnic!” he rages jovially. “And these are all opportunities for deliciousness that we too often let pass us by!”
The book itself is a little incongruous, surrealist and goofy at first – it features a meat trifle, a picnic dedicated to the sausage, one picnic menu is ‘hosted’ by Mary Berry and Hunter S. Thompson, and another by Ringo Starr and Debbie McGee. But as you start reading and Halley’s radiant enthusiasm seizes you, it begins to make a whole lot more sense – and more importantly, makes you question the very notion of traditional picnicking.
The problem, Halley says, is when it gets to the food portion of the picnic. “We often accept substandard things just because it’s a picnic. We think hummus and pitta is enough – and it’s not. There’s also carrot sticks in a bag and if you’re extremely lucky and really going for it, cucumber sticks in a bag. An innovative approach to hummus does not a picnic make.”
We need instead to look at picnics differently. “We need to think about how good a friend of ours the thermos flask really is, and why aren’t we putting tinned beef, consommé and supermarket tortellini into a thermos flask and having that at our desk for lunch? I mean, that’s picnicking like a boss.”
The real truth is, you can buy a pack of dark chocolate digestives, some ricotta and cherry jam from the supermarket “and you’re making mini cheesecakes!”
Makes 2 martinis
2tbsp fine-cut marmalade
2tbsp triple sec or Cointreau
2tbsp lemon juice
1 slice of bread, toasted
Put a few lumps of ice in a martini glass and fill it with water to chill.
Put the marmalade in a cocktail shaker with the gin and triple sec and stir and stir until the marmalade has dissolved.
Fill the shaker with ice, add the lemon juice and stir and stir and stir making sure the spoon goes right to the bottom of the shaker. Don’t shake it like that philistine Bond, it will only water it down.
Stir 50 times – count them. The shaker will have become so frosty and cold you will hardly be able to touch it.
Sling the iced water from the glass and pour the sparkly liquid through a sieve into it. On the side of your martini, have a slither of cold, heavily buttered toast with marmalade on it. Why should the toast be cold? Because as my mum says, ‘Butter should be ON toast, not IN toast’.
Makes enough for 8–10 lettuce cups
200g beef (ideally something lean, such as fillet)
2 little gem (bibb) lettuces, leaves separated
1 shallot, finely diced
1tsp white wine vinegar or lemon juice
1tbsp capers, finely chopped
1tsp ground black pepper
½tsp Dijon mustard
Optional extras: 1 egg yolk, a small handful of chopped parsley and a dash of Tabasco sauce
Chop your steak at home, add all the seasoning ingredients and mix well, then store in an airtight container until you are ready to eat.
When the time comes, simply spoon the tartare into the lettuce cups and serve with the ‘optional’ extras alongside.
12 medium free-range eggs, at room temperature
2 sprigs of thyme
2 bay leaves
A few whole black peppercorns
About 500ml distilled vinegar
Bring a saucepan of water to the boil. Gently spoon the eggs into the pan and simmer for exactly seven minutes before running the pan under the cold tap until the eggs are cool enough to handle.
Peel off the shells and pack the eggs into a sterilised Kilner (Mason) jar or similar container (you’ll want something that’s airtight and big enough to hold all the eggs snugly). Add the thyme, bay leaves and peppercorns, then pour in enough vinegar to completely cover the eggs.
Seal the container and leave the eggs to mature for at least a week.
Max’s Picnic Book by Max Halley and Ben Benton is available now