Stephen Harris: a soup-er dish to pep up dire dinner parties

Chilled tomato ‘soup’ with cheese scones
A chilled broth may be an unlikely menu choice for a dinner party, but on hot summer days it can steal the show Credit: Andrew Twort & Annie Hudson

I’ve given myself a tough job this week – to sell a recipe idea that combines two things many people seem to dislike. Namely, dinner parties and cold soup. “I went to a dinner party and had a lovely bowl of cold soup,” is not a sentence you are likely to hear by the water cooler on a Monday morning. 

I might be in the minority, but I actually like dinner parties. My tip for sceptics is to always host the event (then you can ensure the food is good), and only to invite people you like, and who are likely to be fun after a couple of drinks.

If it turns out still to be a deathly dull affair (as many claim dinner parties are), then I can only assume you are inviting the wrong people and should either drink more or think about getting a new batch of friends.

Before I became a chef I looked forward to the weekends when I could spend most of the day shopping and cooking.

I got up very early on a Saturday and drove around London in a black Mini Cooper to gather the ingredients. This often meant picking up the meat from a butcher in Hampstead, calling by the fishmonger in Islington, and once or twice having to drive down to Harrods food hall to score a particularly obscure ingredient.

I can remember having to drive all the way to Knightsbridge just to get a particular type of French butter because my pastry didn’t taste as good as the one I was trying to emulate.

I often cooked my guests dishes that I had eaten in my favourite restaurants in London. This was back in the early Nineties so I chose dishes I had enjoyed at Chez Nico on Park Lane, Marco Pierre White’s, or La Tante Claire, and then found the recipe in their cookbooks, when the memory of how the dish should taste was still fresh and clear in my head.

It seems obvious to me that, just as a photograph can help to guide you towards what a dish should look like, the flavour memory should remind you of exactly how a dish should taste. It made so much difference for me to know how the dish actually tasted in the restaurant.

I can remember the feeling of being exhausted but happy at around 10pm on a Saturday night, having fed eight hungry friends, and it was this feeling that first made me question whether I was in the wrong job.

There are obvious reasons why we don’t have a strong tradition of chilled soups in this country, and this dish is only best served for one or two weeks of the year when the weather is hot

My recipe this week channels this spirit – a theatrical, savoury “afternoon tea”, with mini cheese scones and an intensely flavoured tomato broth that, at The Sportsman, we pour from a glass teapot at the table.

It isn’t a million miles away from gazpacho, with its use of tomato, cucumber and pepper, but the broth is slightly more technical to make.

There are obvious reasons why we don’t have a strong tradition of chilled soups in this country, and this dish is only best served for one or two weeks of the year, but when the weather is as hot as it has been recently I can think of nothing better.

Nowadays I neither give nor go to dinner parties, since as a chef I play the host every night, but I still experience the same feeling of trying make sure everyone has a good time.

The only difference is that back then I didn’t charge my friends at the end of the night.

Try Stephen's savoury afternoon tea: chilled tomato ‘soup’ with cheese scones

This intense soup of tomato essence, which is poured from a glass teapot at The Sportsman, is a fun idea for a dinner party  Credit: Andrew Twort & Annie Hudson