A classic at the Imperial. Photo courtesy of Julep PR.
Certain classic dishes tend to make restaurant comebacks. Washington’s heart of the day? The Wellington – yes, that old-fashioned dish of beef tenderloin wrapped in mushroom duxelles and buttery puff pastry, then baked until crisp on the inside, golden on the outside and ready for ceremonial slicing. Of course restaurants riff–they fill them with seafood or veggies or, with Imperial at Adams Morgan (2001 18th Street, NW)delicious downsizing tradition with personalized beef wellies served with mini jugs of black truffle jus.
This isn’t Wellington’s first renaissance — although the dish’s origins are murky. Some link its origin to the 19th-century Duke of Wellington. Others claim it has French roots. Regardless, the entree’s popularity exploded in the 1960s thanks to the Kennedy White House cookery show and the Julia Child cookery show. gourmet The magazine dubbed the era “the Beef Wellington era.” One food historian called Wellington “the premier party dish of the 1960s,” noting that it “appeared to be rich, dramatic, expensive, and difficult and time-consuming to prepare.” . . everything a gourmet meal should be.” President Nixon, a die-hard Wellington native, is said to have demanded it for every state dinner.
2022 may not be a new Beef Wellington era, but the dish has done surprisingly well for the pandemic. Despite its awkwardness, a rubber boot travels beautifully in its pastry armor. It’s a struggle for guests to make one from scratch – so even more enticing for special occasion takeaways.
Fiona Lewis, owner of District Fishwife (1309 Fifth St, NE)She began selling individual frozen Wellingtons at her Union Market shop early in the pandemic. The pastry — filled with combos like mustard salmon and spinach, or Chilean sea bass with prosciutto and fried sage — is easy to pop in the oven. “Plus, they’re self-priming,” says Lewis, who dotted interiors with parmesan cream.
A welly is an eye-catcher, both decadent and comforting, which is exactly what many diners look for when they tiptoe back into a restaurant’s dining rooms. At Glover Park, a Michelin-starred Spanish restaurant Young (2404 Wisconsin Avenue, NW), Chef/Owner Danny Lledó prepares his Wellington with prized Ibérico pork loin wrapped in ham, duxelles (sautéed, finely chopped mushrooms and shallots) and homemade pastry decorated with a pig. It is carved at the table and doused with pork rib jus.
While the dish is rooted in tradition, the chefs get creative. Reid Shilling, Chef/Owner of Shilling Canning Company (360 Water Street, SE) at Navy Yard, toys with fillings like short rib or butternut squash. The latter iteration requires hours of prep: Shilling chars the squash in a wood-fired oven, cooks it in a sous vide bath to help it hold its shape, forms a mushroom mousse to hold the squash in place, and wraps it in a Dijon crepe before encasing it in brioche to keep the batter from becoming soggy.
“Wellington is fun for chefs because it takes a lot of skill and technique to do it right,” says Shilling, who recommends checking #Wellington on Instagram — specifically at Bozar Restaurant in Brussels — for inspiration. “Every time you create one, you look forward to editing it and seeing the result and then refining your process.”
Given their wealth, you might not see many Wellingtons in the summer, although DC will experience a deluge this fall when Gordon Ramsay – the self-proclaimed “Ambassador of Wellington” –opens a branch of his restaurant Hell’s Kitchen on the Wharf. It’s the British celebrity’s signature dish (his recipe consists of mustard-covered tenderloin wrapped in prosciutto, duxelles, herb crepe and puff pastry), and he sells 1,200-a-day Beef Wellingtons at his Hell’s Kitchen in Vegas and the two adjacent 1,200-a-day establishments . Ramsay’s love of this dish dates back 20 years. “When I was designing my menu for my first restaurant in 1993, I could only afford oxtail, and my dream was always a filet,” says Ramsay. It took him three months to get his version right. “When I started researching, I found that many chefs in the UK had forgotten about the Wellington because it looked old-fashioned. Now, of course, every chef on the planet makes their version.”
This article appears in the April 2022 issue of The Washingtonian.