Archive for November, 2008

Sketch Lecture Room and Library, London


I first visited the Sketch Lecture Room almost two years ago. It was a different time. I was a different man. Since then, the economy has shrunk, whilst my admiration and enjoyment of good food has grown. Thus, in keeping with my own habitually contrarian nature, today I decided to dine at the most expensive restaurant in the country. But, like Matthew Fort, ‘I am a curious and greedy fellow. I like to spend my money on great food’.

The Lecture Room and Library are just one fraction of the fairytale fairground, one part of the pleasure palace that is Sketch; there is also the Glade, Gallery, East Bar and Parlour, another restaurant, bar, bar again and patisserie respectively. It is the brainchild of Mourad Mazouz and Pierre Gagnaire. The former is a Berber’s son from Algeria turned Paris and London restaurateur (hip eatery 404, Paris and trendy Momo, London), the latter a French super-chef (five Michelin stars). Together, they shared an ambition to launch a ‘lieu’ for food, art and music, which was first formed in 1996 when the pair plus an anonymous investor purchased a derelict eighteenth century building on Conduit Street. Many years and many millions later (some say twelve, some say more), finally in 2002, Madonna unveiled Sketch with an opening-night party that straightaway set it up as an exciting, outrageous and fantastically fashionable ‘magnet for extraordinary people’.

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Pied à Terre, London

Pied à Terre - Ses Etoiles 2

Pied à Terre is the two star restaurant run by David Moore and Chef Shane Osborn. It also happens to be the big brother of l’Autre Pied, where I recently enjoyed Marcus Eaves’ talented cooking (himself formerly sous chef here). Moore has also been in the limelight lately having played sidekick to Raymond Blanc on BBC2’s The Restaurant. Actually, one episode was even set here, with contestants spending a service or two as members of the FOH. But the less said about that, the better.
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Hereford Road, London

Date: November 12th.

Place: West London.

It was a cool, crisp morning. The streets were clear and quiet. Suddenly, a solitary figure swiftly slunk out of Notting Hill Gate station. It snuck along Pembridge Gardens, before snipping over Pembridge Square. It then snaked its way up Moscow road, eventually stumbling onto Ossington Street. It stopped. It looked left. It looked right. It looked lost. From around the corner, someone else approached. The isolated soul stared at him. He slowly turned, starting towards the stranger. Soon they were face-to-face…

‘Excuse me, Sir,’ I enquired, ‘where is Hereford Road, the restaurant?’ ‘Oh, right there,’ he pointed just a stone’s throw further up the road we were already on, before abruptly adding ‘and it’s great!’ I thanked him and carried on, surprised at the out-of-the-blue outburst yet smiling because of it; what a ringing endorsement I thought to myself.

Hereford Road
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The Square (The Return), London

The Square

I am a sucker for a well-written menu. And boy does Philip Howard know how to write them. His dish descriptions are neither long nor short, neither exhaustive nor aloof; the reader is given a fair hint of what will happen on the plate, whilst allowing enough flexibility for a surprise or two. Both sempiternal and seasonal signature items, whose quality can always be relied upon, litter every course; not to mention the ever-present ‘Fish of the Day’ that adds a mizzle of mystery into the equation. As you may be able to tell, I am not one to suffer from menu ennui; I can read (and talk/write about) good ones all day. The corollary to this, of course, is that I cannot stand cartes that promise so much, but deliver so little.

The Square, after my August bank holiday dinner with W, came very close to falling into this contemptible category. There were mitigating circumstances, however, which I have, from that day forward, clung to in heartfelt hope that that meal was a one-off, freak misfire. As it was a holiday, Chef Howard and sous-chef, Robert Westin, were both, unsurprising, on holiday themselves and on this fact I blame everything that went wrong that day.
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The Greenhouse, London

The Greenhouse

The Greenhouse is a very interesting restaurant indeed. Since it began business back in 1977, under Brian Turner, it has been the stage from which a serious succession of seriously skilled chefs have showcased their talents. This was where Gary Rhodes – back when his spiky hairdo was still considered cool – made a name for himself with his Michelin star-winning born-again British classics. His successor and protégé, Paul Merrett, possibly the only person to win a star without having somewhere to show it off – his restaurant, Interlude on Charlotte Street, was bought and closed by investors as Le Guide Rouge went to press – returned to the Greenhouse to win his second star in 2003. Then, just six days after Merrett learned of this reward, Marcus Abela and his MARC restaurant group (who also own Umu) purchased the property from the Levin family (owners of the Capital), immediately closing it for a four-month refit. Before reopening, Merrett left to set up his own, less formal venture, the Farm in Fulham. In his stead, Antonin Bonnet, who was Abela’s man at Morton’s private members club, stepped in briefly before Bjorn van der Horst was found to take the helm. He held onto the Greenhouse’s star in 2004, even earning an espoir ranking in 2006. In spite of this, that year van der Horst left to join Ramsay’s empire at La Noisette; with his departure the espoir evaporated, but Bonnet reappeared.
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Corrigan’s Mayfair, London

Corrigan’s Mayfair

‘The first person I ran into at Richard Corrigan’s new restaurant was’ Richard Corrigan. As I arrived outside, about to walk in, he walked out, escorting another gentleman with him. Pointing across the street, he showed off the squatters that had moved into the £6.5m townhouse directly opposite. At 18 Upper Grosvenor Street, a black flag hung from the first floor, a neon turquoise light shone inside and members of the Da! Collective chilled on the balcony.

18 Upper Grosvenor Street - Squatters

The chef-patron seemed less than delighted, but maybe that was because these illegal occupants had attracted more media attention than the relatively quiet opening of his new flagship restaurant the previous night. Can you blame the man? With his name literally above the door (and on the cutlery), he clearly means business here. In fact he is so serious about Corrigan’s that he opened it the same day he announced the closure of his Michelin-starred Lindsay House – in May 2009 the Soho townhouse’s lease is up and it is not being renewed. Thus, he has moved both himself and Lindsay’s head chef, Chris McGowan, to his new residence in lavish Mayfair, where he will surely be more comfortable: ‘the Soho neighbourhood proved tough. Many of my staff were attacked, the restaurant was broken into…’
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Le Bouchon Breton, London

Le Bouchon Breton Le Bouchon Breton 2

Brasseries are the Can Can. For sure, this is not a place for refined haute cuisine and three course meals. [It] is a place for relaxed enjoyment…offer[ing] you simple, high quality food…The real origins of French brasseries are lost in time and probably in several litres of beer but nowadays in France they are the bastions of good eating and drinking, locally and informally.’

I (grossly) paraphrase here one Frenchman, perhaps presently more famous among the general public than ever before. Who else followed BBC2’s The Restaurant? Exactement, I refer to Raymond Blanc, whose show has recently concluded rather conveniently – lucky that – just in time to allow Monsieur Blanc to set off on a promotional tour for his new book, in addition to picking up an OBE from her Majesty for the ‘proud’ work he has done for ‘British palates.’

OK, let us forget about Raymond for a moment and refocus on brasseries. This week I decided to lunch at Le Bouchon Breton, the new Spitalfields restaurant, set up by Nicolas Laridan, Francois Betrand and Ian Stoppani; the first was head chef at Le Gavroche, the second, its chef-sommelier and the third, a former-stockbroker-now-restaurateur (It seems like last week’s memorable meal at Le Gavroche is still eating away at my subconscious). Oh, did I mention that Michel Roux Jr. is the consultant behind this venture? Well, he is.
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