WHETHER you’re tucking into a meaty minestrone in Milan, chicken noodle in New York, hot’n’sour in Singapore or ham and lentil in Lenzie you are experiencing one of life’s great one-pot-wonders.

But let’s talk about French onion soup with toasted cheese, one of my restaurant Red Onion’s signature dishes that is cheap, easy and filling.

The perfect onion soup – I believe – should be rich, beefy, peppery, caramelised onion packed, ever so slightly piquant with a hint of red wine and topped with a raft of bubblin’ roasty toasty strong cheese.

The onions have to be strong, acidic and sweet at the same time – the key is the slow caramelisation of the onions, take time to do this as it adds a rich base note to the broth.

The stock varies from chicken to beef. Booze gives it more back bone and while white wine and a strong dry cider work, I believe red wine is a better partner.

My first French O was in a Parisian brasserie and was topped with a slab of pure melted Gruyere ... amazing! However, I prefer a pre-toasted thick cut slice of baguette and a strong cheddar, ideally Mull.

A good rule of thumb is if you can see the soup, you need more cheese! For a final flourish splash in some cognac for a kick. This perfect french onion soup serves four as a starter and takes about three hours to create.


80g butter, plus extra for the toasts

Four onions, peeled and thinly sliced

One tbsp plain flour

Three sprigs thyme, leaves picked

One tbsp balsamic vinegar

400ml red wine

600ml good-quality beef stock

Dash of brandy

Eight slices of baguette

One clove of garlic, halved

100g strong cheddar, grated


1. Melt the butter in a large, heavy bottomed pan over a low heat. Add the onions, season and cook, stirring regularly, until caramelised and deep brown. (Once they’ve softened, you can turn up the heat a little, but keep an eye on them.) This will probably take between 90 minutes to two hours.

2. Stir in the flour and thyme and cook for a couple of minutes, stirring, then add the vinegar and a third of the wine, stirring and scraping all the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Whisk in the rest of the wine and the stock, and bring to the boil.

Simmer for about an hour. Meanwhile, heat the grill and rub the baguette slices with the cut side of the garlic clove. Brush with melted butter, and toast on both sides.

3. Add the brandy to the soup and check the seasoning.

To serve, ladle into ovenproof dishes and top with two croutons and a mound of cheese. Grill until golden, then serve immediately.