insight - London Restaurant Week
Written by Craig Butcher
London restaurants get in the festive spirit
With 47 Michelin stars across London vying for attention in the world’s most vibrant restaurant scene, this October chefs from across the British capital will come together to celebrate the London Restaurant Festival. Oryx met three of the brightest stars to talk about what’s on the menu.
Roast’s Head Chef Lawrence Keogh is something of a modern London institution. With time at London’s big-hitters, including The Ritz, Kensington Place, and The Goring, Lawrence has been impressing diners with hearty British fare since Roast opened nearly five years ago – an eternity in London restaurant terms.
Born in West London to Irish parents from Dublin, Lawrence had a tough time growing up on a council estate. These days he’s on the right side of the tracks in London Bridge, and a regular on UK television. “We’re very lucky with the location overlooking Borough Market,” he says. “It’s New Britannia meets Britain’s oldest food market. Everywhere there’s a view – of the market below, St. Paul’s Cathedral, or the open kitchen”. All enjoyed through windows originally from Covent Garden’s Royal Opera House.
After a hectic Friday night service, Lawrence is passionate about the festival. “It’s great to be in-volved in the restaurant festival of the year, showing all that is great on the London food scene,” he says. “It’s a great opportunity to showcase what we do.”
What Lawrence does is celebrate British produce. He’s equally as famous for sourcing rare-breed meats from great small-scale farms as he is for ensuring fantastic seafood fresh from the coast.
“We are dedicated to serving classical British cooking using the finest seasonal produce from all over the British Isles,” he says. And evidently Lawrence plans to make the most of it all during the festival.
“We’ll be running a special three-course London Restaurant Festival set menu (and hope to pick up an award at the Festival awards night!). We’re also at the Festival Market in Old Spitalfields, which is a chance to meet and chat with people who share a passion for food and are interested in British cooking.”
On the menu, you might be treated to a starter of corn-fed duck breast with blackberries and soured cream, and a main of spit-roast Goosenargh chicken with lemon and thyme. Wrap things up with a steamed damson pudding with vanilla custard.
Over in upmarket Mayfair sits Italian newcomer Babbo. At the helm is the passionate Douglas Santi from Bergamo in northern Italy who’s worked in kitchens since he was 13. He’s travelled the world launching restaurants under the great chef Alain Ducasse in Monaco, Paris, and New York. Now, he’s in London.
“It’s an amazing place to work,” says Santi. “There are a lot of knowledgeable people here who love Italian food. When they have an opinion about food, they know what they’re talking about.”
At ease and ahead of service, Santi is looking forward to the festival. “It’s going to be amazing. I know a lot of people in British gastronomy who are going to be there. I’ll try to explain to them what we’re doing here. And for me to learn more about British gastronomy too, that’s the point.
“I’m going to prepare a very special Festival menu with a lot of care, alongside our normal menu. The sommelier will choose wines to complement the dishes.” With an exclusively Italian menu influenced by the French Mediterranean, Babbo makes everything from scratch – breads, pasta, desserts, you name it. Cheeses are Italian, wines are Italian.
“I’m really proud of the quality of all my products,” says Santi. “I went to markets, I tried the products, I met suppliers in Italy, friends who sent me ingredients. The burrata and pecorino cheeses, the Tuscan beef – I’m proud of all of it.
“For me, VIP customers don’t exist – everybody’s VIP here,” he says. “We are a small restaurant with 40 seats – I take care of everybody, that’s my way of cooking.”
If you only ask for one dish, make it the 100-year-old lasagne recipe – you’ll make Santi’s night. “It’s not a recipe, it’s a family history. My grandmother, my mother, it’s now with me. I’m going to teach my son or daughter that recipe. I love preparing it!”
“People’s expectations when they walk in are high,” says Nick Cuadrado, Head Chef at Battery, in his broad northern accent. “The views are incredible.” He’s not wrong. The single-room restaurant is perched atop a seriously gorgeous Philippe Starck riverside building in Canary Wharf, east London.
“A diner’s first response is ‘wow!’,” says Nick, “so the food has to meet those expectations – the views raise everybody’s game. Chefs want to work in this environment – even the kitchen has great views. But we’ve softened it so people want to relax into it.”
Nick’s cooking style owes much to his Spanish grandfather, who landed in Britain having fled the Spanish civil war in the late 1930s.
“I’m really into sharing food,” he says. “It’s always been a part of my background. I don’t use the word tapas – that’s not what we do here. Dishes are designed to be shared or eaten on their own. We also do feasting menus of whole joints of meat for entire tables, including a blow-torched beef for six people.”
Nick’s ‘Feasts’ are built around the central dish – including sea bream (?35 per person), chicken (?35 per person), and lamb (?40.50) – with complementary ingredients used in courses either side, rather than overloading diners with the same ingredient from start to finish.
“London’s fine dining scene is changing, towards sharing,” believes Nick. “People like to eat like that.”
Nick agrees festival time is a great time to be a diner in London. “Chefs are putting on special menus, they know lots of people will be coming in so chefs are gearing themselves up – no head chef or sous chef is going to take a holiday. Diners know that when they dine out, everyone’s at the top of their game.”
Five Festival Highlights
American Express 10-10-10
The festival also celebrates British regional restaurants. On October 10, 2010, ten great UK chefs pair up with ten of London’s finest chefs to create a special Sunday lunch menu at their London restaurants, showcasing individual styles and collaborative flair. The pick of the pairings are:
Find out more
Key to the event (October 4–18, 2010) are the Festival Menus at over 800 different restaurants across the capital, some for as little as 10. For full event details, visit www.visitlondon.com
39 Albemarle Street
34 Westferry Circus
The Floral Hall,