The Fork in the Road: Clare Smyth

In the latest of a series of interviews with top chefs for The Caterer, in which I examine the turning points that led them on their path to success, Clare Smyth talks about her journey to becoming the UK’s first three-Michelin-starred female chef

7718153Things happen by chance, and it just so happened that when I was 14 and working at a local restaurant in Northern Ireland, my head chef gave me a book on classical sauces. It was this book that ignited my interest in reading about fine food. It spurred me on to read more and more cookbooks and ultimately led me on my path to becoming a chef.

The very first cookbook I bought for myself was Anton Mosimann’s Cuisine à la Carte. From there I went on to read the Roux brothers and the more I read, the more I came to understand what fine dining was. That really inspired me and made me realise I wanted to be a chef at the top level.

As soon as I left school, I went to England to go to Highbury College in Portsmouth. I got an apprenticeship and worked four days a week at Grayshott Health Spa in Surrey. I was lucky enough to have a great mentor there and I remember him being really surprised by my knowledge given my young age. But everything I knew, I had learned from books.

After working at Bibendum and the St Enodoc hotel in Rock, Cornwall, for a while, I decided to go Australia for six months and did a number of stages at restaurants around Sydney. When I returned to the UK, I knew I wanted to get into a top kitchen. I applied for positions at most of the two- and three-Michelin-starred restaurants and did trials at the Fat Duck, the Waterside Inn, Le Gavroche and Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, which had just got its third star. I knew from the moment I set foot in the kitchen that it was the place for me. I felt like I belonged right from the start.

It was by far the toughest kitchen I had ever been in. Gordon was there every day and the standards were incredibly high. It was like a military operation and almost like boot camp; you were either good enough or you weren’t. But I had expected it to be hard and that’s why I went there: I wanted to learn from the best. I loved the discipline; there was an energy about it that was just incredible and I knew that if I could handle it and thrive in this tough environment, I would be good enough to make it one day.

WORKING WITH ALAIN DUCASSE
After three-and-a-half years and working my way up from demi chef de partie to senior sous chef, I decided that I wanted to go and work in another three-star kitchen. One of the chefs I had always been drawn to was Thomas Keller, so I went to the US and did stages at Per Se and the French Laundry in 2004. After that, I knew I had to go and work with Alain Ducasse and I managed to beg my way into the kitchen at Le Louis XV in Monaco.

Working at Louis XV was the second biggest turning point in my career. Again, right from the moment I arrived, I knew it was where I was meant to be. I stayed for 18 months and it was an amazing place to work and a completely different environment from Restaurant Gordon Ramsay. The head chef, Franck Cerutti, was a really happy, gentle soul who would come into the kitchen every day with a big smile on his face. He was as passionate as Gordon during service – especially when something went wrong – but he was just a totally different spirit and very much himself all the time.

The brigade was much bigger, with 26 chefs, but we were like a big family and I’m still in touch with many of the chefs I worked with back then. The produce was phenomenal and some of the finest I have ever worked with to this day. And while the cooking was very, very classical in its roots and most things were cooked à la minute, the simplicity but precision of the cooking, coupled with the passion for the product, was simply incredible.

7718152RETURNING TO LONDON
When Alain opened his restaurant at the Dorchester in London, he offered me the position of executive sous chef. But at the same time, Gordon was opening his restaurant in Paris and asked me to come back to Royal Hospital Road as head chef. It was a difficult decision to make, but I knew I had to take the head chef position with Gordon – it was too good an opportunity to pass on. Alain was very angry when I told him and I remember feeling down about having upset the best chef in the world. But then one of the other chefs said: “You’ve just been offered jobs by two of the best chefs in the world – you have nothing to be down about!”

Until I started at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, I didn’t quite understand what would happen and the amount of pressure I would find myself under. I was the first woman in the UK to head up a three-Michelin-starred kitchen, so there was a lot of interest from the media. I knew there was also a chance I could be the first woman in the UK to lose three stars. I was never really confident about retaining the stars and it was something I was very nervous about for a long time.

I didn’t take holiday for the first two years, as I was so determined to make sure that every single plate of food that left the pass was right. It wasn’t until a few years after retaining the three stars that I started to feel comfortable. I slowly managed to find the confidence to put my own touch on the restaurant, to make changes and evolve things. When I became chef-patron in 2012, I began to feel like I could own the three stars.

Now, after eight years at the helm, I feel like I have done most things I could have done. I have been awarded an MBE, received five AA rosettes, three Michelin stars, won Chef of the Year and achieved 10/10 in the Good Food Guide. But on a personal level, I have a lot more I want to achieve. That’s why I am opening my own restaurant.

2013: The Culinary Year in Review

As the year is drawing to a close, here’s a snapshot of what happened in the world of restaurants over the past 12 months. It’s my round up of the biggest stories of 2013, the year of big openings and closures, in which the food world said good bye to great icons and celebrated new ones. Here’s the culinary year in review.

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bocuse d'orJANUARY: France wins the Bocuse d’Or
2013 kicked off with the world’s most prestigious culinary competition: the Bocuse d’Or, which takes place every two years in Lyon, France. Founded in 1987 by the godfather of classic French cuisine, Paul Bocuse, this year’s contest saw 24 countries from five continents compete for the title. In the end, Thibaut Ruggeri of France triumphed, with Jeppe Foldager Andreseen of Denmark and Noriyuki Hamada of Japan taking second and third place respectively. Adam Bennett achieved Great Britain’s best ever result, placing fourth and picking up the special award for the best meat platter, while his assistant, Kristian Curtis, won the prize for best commis chef. Richard Rosendale, who cooked for the USA, finished in seventh place.
Looking ahead, Bennett, chef director of The Cross, in Kenilworth, will compete for Great Britain once more at the next Bocuse d’Or in 2015, while Team USA will be represented by French Laundry executive sous chef Philip Tessier.

In other news: UK team disappointed by ninth place in Coupe du Monde de la Pâtisserie; Gordon Ramsay Holdings returns to profit; Richard Caring’s pilot killed in London helicopter crash; Mackerel deemed unsustainable by Marine Conservation Society

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Keith McNallyFEBRUARY: Balthazar London fails to impress critics
February saw one of the most eagerly anticipated restaurant openings of the year: Balthazar London. A collaboration between Caprice Holdings owner Richard Caring and iconic New York restaurateur Keith McNally (pictured), it is, of course, modelled on the legendary all-day brasserie in New York. But unfortunately unlike the original, the London outpost failed to win over the local critics. The worst review came from The Times’ food critic Giles Coren, who gave Balthazar a zero rating for food and told diners to expect “the best restaurant in London, but the worst food in Europe”. Not used to such harsh criticism from New York, where he is the toast of critics and celebrities alike, McNally hit back by telling The Independent: “My pet hate is the London food and restaurant community which, with two notable exceptions, is a petty, self-regarding, back-stabbing bunch of narcissists who should be put through a meat grinder and dumped into the Indian Ocean.” Ouch!

In other news: Horsemeat discovered in processed beef products sold by UK supermarkets; Claude Bosi opens Malt House pub; SRA names Café-ODE in Devon the UK’s most sustainable restaurant; Rainer Becker’s Zuma announces plans to open in New York in 2014

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Rene Redzepi of NomaMARCH: Noma hit by food poisoning outbreak
It’s a chef’s worst nightmare but even the most highly rated restaurants in the world aren’t immune to it: food poisoning. In March, Noma, Rene Redzepi’s famous restaurant in Copenhagen, made headlines not for winning awards but for a food poisoning outbreak, in which nearly 70 diners fell ill with norovirus, aka the winter vomiting bug. Fødevarestyrelsen, the national food authority in Denmark, blamed “poor hygiene” for the outbreak and criticised Noma for failing to react to emails from diners and a member of staff who had reported falling ill. Its report added that the restaurant did not provide hot water in the taps used by staff to wash their hands and also failed to disinfect the kitchen properly before the virus spread. Fødevarestyrelsen gave Noma an official warning and ordered it to pay for a follow-up investigation. At the time, Noma’s managing director, Peter Kreiner, said: “We are in the business of making people happy and taking care of our guests, so this is the worst thing that could happen to us.”

In other news: British authors triumph at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards; Silvena Rowe quits Quince at May Fair Hotel; Eric Chavot opens Brasserie Chavot; Michelin-starred Crown At Whitebrook closes

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APRIL: Big chefs descend on London
World's 50 Best RestaurantsThe World’s 50 Best Restaurants
Celebrated chefs from all corners of the globe gathered in London in April for the announcement of S Pellegrino’s coveted list of the best restaurants in the world. A new champion was crowned this year, with El Celler de Can Roca in Spain clinching the top spot and replacing three-time winner Noma. Run by brothers Joan, Josep and Jordi Roca, the three-Michelin-starred Girona restaurant was praised for “creating magic without undue theatrics” and offering a “truly uplifting” dining experience, with the warmth of the family dynamic all-pervasive.

Relais & Châteaux’s Diner des Grands Chefs
Just a few weeks later, 45 Grands Chefs du Monde came together in London for French luxury hotel and restaurant consortium Relais & Châteaux’s annual Diner des Grands Chefs. Held at Old Billingsgate overlooking the Thames, the event saw chefs from 12 different countries cook for 600 guests in aid of charity Action Against Hunger, raising more than £100,000.
Here’s a short video of the culinary spectacle.

In other news: Hakkasan Group closes Chrysan; Jason Atherton opens Social Eating House; Roux Scholar Adam Smith leaves the Ritz for Devonshire Arms; Private equity firm LDC buys majority share in D&D London; Mark Sargeant joins Great Northern Hotel as chef director

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olive_oilMAY: EU tries and fails to ban refillable olive oil jugs
The European Union announced its ludicrous plans to outlaw the use of unmarked olive oil jugs on restaurant tables. The proposal instantly provoked popular loathing across Europe, with Dutch PM Mark Rutte calling the ban “too bizarre for words”. So big was the public outcry, it eventually led to the EU making a humiliating U-turn by scrapping the plans altogether. Dacian Ciolos, the European commissioner for agriculture, admitted that the proposed ban had caused “misunderstanding” from the people it had wanted to protect. “It was a measure intended to help consumers, to protect and inform them but it is clear that it cannot attract consumer support,” he said.

In other news: Medlar’s Clement Robert named Sommelier of the Year; Rainer Becker and Arjun Waney open Oblix at the Shard; David Chang and Paul Kahan share James Beard Outstanding Chef award; Tom Kitchin and Dominic Jack open Scran & Scallie pub in Edinburgh

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Anthony FlinnJUNE:  Anthony Flinn’s Leeds business goes into administration and Chef Jockey leaves the Fat Duck
Anthony Flinn’s mini empire of Leeds restaurants collapsed into administration. The chef-restaurateur, who has widely been credited with putting the city on the culinary map, was forced to shut his flagship Anthony’s, plus Piazza by Anthony and Rib Shakk – all located in the historic Corn Exchange – as well as Anthony’s Patisserie in the Victoria Quarter, with 70 people losing their jobs.

June was also the month in which James Petrie, head of creative development at Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck Experimental Kitchen, announced that he was leaving the company after more than a decade. The Scottish chef, who is widely known as Jockey and worked with Blumenthal for 11 years, announced his departure on Twitter: “After 11 great years working with Heston Blumenthal, I have decided the time has come to move on to explore other opportunities,” he said. “[I’m] looking forward to many new food adventures ahead.”

In other news: Little Chef drops Heston Blumenthal after six years; Paul O’Neill named 2013 Roux Scholar; French MPs approve bill forcing restaurants to label home-made food; Bruno Loubet opens Grain Store

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David CollinsJULY: David Collins dies and Marcus Wareing hits out at Westminster City Council
One of the most influential restaurant designers of his generation, David Collins passed away in July, aged 58, after a “short but valiant” battle with skin cancer. Credited with putting the taste into Britain’s restaurants, he developed the interiors of some of London’s most celebrated establishments, including Nobu Berkeley, J Sheekey, the Wolseley, Restaurant Gordon Ramsay and the Connaught Hotel’s bar. His death marked a huge loss for both the hospitality and the design industries.

Meanwhile Marcus Wareing hit the news after his two-Michelin-starred restaurant at the Berkeley hotel scored just one out of five in a food hygiene rating. However, the chef instantly lashed back at the Westminster City Council report, insisting it highlighted a ‘technicality’ and that he would appeal against the rating. “My kitchen is a bloody Rolls-Royce that has customers in it, on my chef’s table, daily,” he said.

In other news: Simon Rogan wins Chef and Independent Restaurateur Catey; Gordon Ramsay closes restaurant at Claridge’s; Andre Garrett leaves Galvin at Windows to join Clieveden; Shake Shack and Five Guys open in Covent Garden

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Santi SantamariaAUGUST: Can Fabes closes
Can Fabes, the former three-Michelin-starred restaurant in Catalonia in northern Spain, closed after 32 years. Formerly run by iconic chef Santi Santamaria (pictured), who died of a sudden heart attack aged 53 in 2011, the restaurant’s demise marked another blow for Catalonia’s celebrated food scene after the closure of El Bulli last year, which will reopen as the El Bulli Foundation in 2014. Can Fabes, which first opened in 1981, was the first restaurant in Catalonia to gain Michelin’s top accolade of three stars in 1994 and it retained the rating until 2012, when it was demoted to two stars. Its closure came just a year after the Santamaria family shut their restaurant at the Marina Bay Sands hotel in Singapore, where Santi died after collapsing in the kitchen.

In other news: Hawksmoor sold to private equity firm Graphite Capital for a reputed £35m; chefs Ashley Palmer-Watts, Paul Foster and John Freeman and maitre d’ Paulo de Tarso climb Mount Kilimanjaro; Waitrose becomes new publisher of the Good Food Guide

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Tom KerridgeSEPTEMBER: The month of Tom Kerridge
September traditionally heralds the start of the restaurant awards season and this year, Tom Kerridge, the chef proprietor of the Hand & Flowers in Marlow, was the star of the show. Not only was the Hand & Flowers – the world’s only two-Michelin-starred pub, which the chef runs together with his wife Beth – named both Restaurant and Gastropub of the Year 2013 in the National Restaurant Awards, Tom also picked up the Chefs’ Chef award at the AA Hospitality awards, which is voted for only by AA Rosette holding chefs in the UK. And if that wasn’t enough, Tom became a household name after hitting TV screens across the country with his very own programme Tom Kerridge’s Proper Pub Food on BBC2, which also includes an accompanying cookbook. Go Tom!

In other news: L’Enclume voted  best restaurant in Britain by the Good Food Guide; Jason Atherton opens Berners Tavern at the London Edition Hotel; Tramshed, Kitchen Table and the Atrium Champagne Bar among UK winners at Restaurant & Bar Design Awards; Alain Ducasse takes over Le Meurice in Paris

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Michelin_2014OCTOBER: Michelin awards new stars across the world
Michelin
season got into full swing in the autumn as the famous French restaurant guide handed out new stars across the world, including 10 new three-stars. Sadly there were no three-star additions in the UK or the USA this year, but Dinner by Heston Blumenthal and the Greenhouse, both in London; Sixteen and Grace, both in Chicago; Quince in San Francisco; and Jung Sik in New York, all celebrated winning their second star. Meanwhile Gordon Ramsay at the London in New York lost both its Michelin stars.

The 10 new three-star additions were:
La Vague d’Or in Saint-Tropez, France
Ristorante Reale in Castel Di Sangro in the Abruzzo region, Italy
Restaurant Überfahrt Christian Jürgense in Rottach-Egern, Germany
Diverxo in Madrid, Spain
De Leest in Vaassen, Netherlands
Bo Innovation and Sushi Shikon in Hong Kong
Mizai and Kichisen, both in Kyoto; and Nakashima in Hiroshima, in Japan

There are now 117 three-Michelin-starred restaurants in the world, including 33 in Japan; 27 in France; and 11 in Germany.

In other news: Iconic London restaurants Elena’s L’Etoile and the Gay Hussar put up for sale; Angela Hartnett, Neil Borthwick and Canteen founders launch Merchant’s Tavern; BaxterStorey’s Hayden Groves wins National Chef of the Year; Albert and Michel Roux Jr announce two new restaurants; New York’s Ken Friedman and April Bloomfield relaunch Tosca Café in San Francisco

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charlie_trotterNOVEMBER: Charlie Trotter dies
The food world paid tribute to iconic Chicago chef Charlie Trotter, whose sudden death shocked restaurateurs and chefs across the world. The 54-year-old chef died of a stroke on 5 November. Charlie Trotter was the chef-owner of his eponymous restaurant in Chicago, which he closed last year after 25 years. The restaurant was world-famous for its innovative approach to American cuisine and set a standard for chefs in the USA and beyond. He won 10 James Beard awards and trained some of the USA’s most acclaimed chefs, including three-Michelin-starred chef Grant Achatz of Chicago restaurants Alinea and Next. His restaurant won two stars in the inaugural Michelin Guide to Chicago in 2011 and Trotter wrote 14 cookbooks, a television series and three books that translated his philosophies of excellence into business-world instructionals. Fellow US chef Thomas Keller said of his passing: “Charlie Trotter was a visionary; one who exemplified what a young American chef could do to influence a generation. He’ll be greatly missed.”

In other news: Michael Caines tops Sunday Times Food List; Alan Murchison Restaurants put into voluntary liquidation; Simon Rogan to take over restaurant at Claridge’s; Heston Blumenthal to open restaurant at Heathrow’s Terminal 2

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roca brothersDECEMBER: El Celler De Can Roca to embark on world tour and Oud Sluis closes
Spain’s three-Michelin-starred restaurant El Celler de Can Roca announced it is to embark on a world tour next year. Starting in August 2014, the entire team of the Girona restaurant will hit the road as part of the Roca&Roll World Tour 2014. The first destinations will be Mexico, Colombia and Peru. According to the restaurant’s blog, brothers Joan, Josep and Jordi Roca (pictured) made the decision to go on tour as the result of numerous requests for them to open restaurants in other parts of the world. However, the brothers are yet to reveal details on exactly what the travelling El Celler de Can Roca will comprise and where the world tour will take them after South America.

Sergio HermanMeanwhile over in Holland Oud Sluis, the three-Michelin-starred restaurant run by chef Sergio Herman (pictured), is to hold its final service this Sunday (22 December) after 25 years in business. Herman said he wants to focus on “new, fresh projects”, including his other restaurant businesses, Pure C in Cadzand and La Chapelle in Antwerp, as well as his publishing company Minestrone. “I’ve literally and figuratively reached my peak at Oud Sluis,” Herman said in an interview posted on his website. “I’ve spent years refining flavours and perfecting dishes and now feel that I’m at the top of my abilities here; I don’t think I can achieve a higher level of cooking with Oud Sluis.”

In other news: Jamie Oliver could axe Union Jacks; Burger and Lobster plans move to New York; Jean-Georges Vongerichten to open vegetarian restaurant in New York; Steven Edwards from South Lodge Hotel wins MasterChef: The Professionals; Fired chef Jim Knight highjacks former employer’s Twitter account

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These are just a few highlights of 2013, which has been a brilliant year for chefs and restaurants across the globe. For me personally it has been a year of big change as I left London and moved to Los Angeles, where I am discovering a whole new and very exciting food scene. I’m taking a few weeks off now to go to South Africa for the holidays. But I will be back writing about restaurants, chefs and the LA food scene next year and hope to see you again then. In the meantime have a wonderful Christmas and a very happy New Year! Kerstin

Michael Caines at Gidleigh Park tops 2013 Sunday Times Food List

holly nov 08Michael Caines at Gidleigh Park in Devon has been named the best restaurant in Britain by the Sunday Times.

The two-Michelin-starred restaurant has topped the 2013 Sunday Times Food List, which ranks the best 100 restaurants in Britain. It is run by Michael Caines, one of just seven Relais & Châteaux Grands Chefs du Monde in the UK, who lost his right arm in a car accident in the 1990s but soon returned to the kitchen, his passion and drive undiminished.

Michael Caines at Gidleigh Park has reclaimed the first place in the 2013 Sunday Times Food List, having previously topped it in 2010 and come second last year. It beat last year’s winner Restaurant Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles, which is placed second this year.

The Sunday Times Food List – published in full today – ranks Britain’s top 100 restaurants by the quality of their food. It is compiled together with the Harden’s restaurant guide and based on 80,000 reports from 9,000 regular diners 2,000 of which are Sunday Times readers.

In third place is the Yorke Arms in Ramsgill-in-Nidderdale, North Yorkshire, where Frances Atkins is head chef. She is one of just a handful of female chefs to be included in the list – the second highest ranking is Angela Hartnett at Murano in London, in 46th position – while the Yorke Arms is the only Yorkshire restaurant to be featured in the top 100.

In fourth place is the two-Michelin-starred Restaurant Nathan Outlaw in Rock, Cornwall, with Restaurant Martin Wishart in Edinburgh taking fifth position as the second Scottish restaurant in the top five. In sixth place is the list’s highest re-entry, Fraiche in Oxton, Cheshire, which was last included in 2011.

le manoirRaymond Blanc’s iconic Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons (pictured) is in seventh place, while in eighth place is London’s only representative in the top 10, Brett Graham’s the Ledbury in Notting Hill. Simon Rogan’s L’Enclume in Cartmel, Cumbria, and Restaurant Sat Bains in Nottingham complete the top 10.

London is home to 51 restaurants in the Sunday Times Food List, with Edinburgh having the second most with four. However, London only has four restaurants in the top 20: Le Gavroche (15), One-o-One (16) and Pied à Terre (17). Birmingham is the next best represented English city, with three entries: Simpsons (28), Purnell’s (56) and Lasan (91), while only one Manchester restaurant makes the top 100: Simon Rogan’s the French (68).

All but one restaurant in the top 20 (One-o-One) are Michelin-starred, with seven of the top 10 restaurants holding two stars.

In terms of different cuisines, 26 of the restaurants in the 2013 Sunday Times Food List serve French food, down from 30 in 2012, while modern British cooking now accounts for 39 of the restaurants, compared to 34 last year. The third most popular cuisine is Japanese, with nine restaurants, the highest ranked of which is the Shiori in London (30).

TomSellersThere are 20 new entries to the list this year, including Story in Bermondsey, whose 26-year-old head chef Tom Sellers (pictured) is one of the youngest in the top 100. There are also 10 re-entries, including the Latymer at Pennyhill Park in Surrey (26), and Read’s in Faversham, Kent (41).

Editor of the Sunday Times Food List, Karen Robinson, said: “The Food List is essential reading for food lovers. It’s a fantastic achievement for chefs to make it into our top 100, because our scores are based on the opinions of thousands of diners, mostly spending their own money. This makes the Food List an unbiased and definitive guide to the finest restaurants in the country.”

The Top 20 restaurants in the 2013 Sunday Times Food List:

1. Michael Caines at Gidleigh Park, Devon
2. Restaurant Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles, Perthshire
3. The Yorke Arms, Yorkshire
4. Restaurant Nathan Outlaw, Cornwall
5. Restaurant Martin Wishart, Edinburgh
6. Fraiche, Cheshire
7. Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons, Oxfordshire
8. The Ledbury, London
9. L’Enclume, Cumbria
10. Restaurant Sat Bains with Rooms, Nottingham
11. The Kitchin, Edinburgh
12. The Fat Duck, Berkshire
13. Mr Underhill’s, Shropshire
14. The Waterside Inn, Berkshire
15. Le Gavroche, London
16. One-o-One, London
17. Pied à Terre, London
18. Midsummer House, Cambridge
19. Drake’s, Surrey
20. Hambleton Hall, Midlands

The full Sunday Times Food List is also available online.

Beneath the Whites – Pascal Aussignac

Pascal AussignacFrench chef Pascal Aussignac is the chef-patron and co-owner of the Gascon Connection group of restaurants, which comprises seven outlets in London, including the flagship Michelin-starred Club Gascon in Smithfield, as well as the recently opened Chip + Fish at Trinity Kitchen in Leeds. Earlier this year, he was named Restaurant Chef of the Year by the Craft Guild of Chefs, while Club Gascon won the Test of Time award, for the most consistently excellent restaurant of the decade, in the 2013 Tatler Restaurant Awards

What’s your earliest food memory?
Cooking crêpes with mummy when I was four.

What’s your favourite smell?
Pine trees – it immediately feels like summer!

What’s your favourite cookbook?
Ma Cuisine by Alain Dutournier. It is a genuine book dedicated to the world of Gascony and it is a reference of what I do here in the UK.

Who’s had the biggest influence on your cooking?
Ferran Adrià by far. I went to elBulli in 1999, a year after opening Club Gascon. The experience was out of this world and after 24 courses when I left the restaurant, I was emotionally shocked by what I had had, which was an act of poetry with cleverness and fun. I wanted to stop this job after that because I felt I was so far away from him and it took me few months to recover. The legacy of elBulli is global and has influenced and shaken up the world of gastronomy.

Have you ever kicked someone out of your restaurant?
Yes, someone from the industry who tried to copy us too much.

When are you happiest?
When I wake up.

What makes you sad?
The amount of garbage per day in the bins in general makes me angry and sad about the system.

What do you most dislike about yourself?
I’m too impatient.

What would your superpower be?
Invisibility.

What is your guiltiest pleasure?
Cats – I love them if I could I would have many… At the moment, I only have three.

What’s the most disgusting or weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten? Would you eat it again?
Rice pudding and Weetabix. Never, ever again.

How do you like your eggs in the morning?
Definitely scrambled.

Who would you most like to be stuck in a lift with?
With the Dalai Lama. I believe he would help me to put things into perspective.

Where did you have your best meal this year?
At Quay in Sydney. Earlier this year I was invited as a guest chef on the judging panel at Taste of Sydney. On the last night of my trip, I had dinner at Quay and it was fantastic – the cooking was faultless, great techniques and a magnificent view.

If there was one restaurant you wish you’d opened, which would it be?
Colbert in Sloane Square. It’s in a prime location and to me creating an instant classic restaurant like Colbert, which is full every day, is really amazing. In 10 years’ time, I might not be here anymore but I bet Colbert will be.

If you could travel in time, where would you go?
To 1990 when I lived in Bora Bora. Paradise does truly exist.

Follow Pascal on Twitter @lechefpaski

The Hand & Flowers triumphs at UK National Restaurant Awards

Tom KerridgeThe Hand & Flowers in Marlow has been voted the Restaurant of the Year 2013 in the National Restaurant Awards.

The two-Michelin-starred pub, run by husband and wife team Tom and Beth Kerridge, was also named Gastropub of the Year in the National Restaurant Awards, which are organised by Restaurant magazine. It replaces The Ledbury in London’s Notting Hill, which had held the title for the previous three years.

The award comes just two weeks after Kerridge, who currently stars in his own BBC series, Proper Pub Food, won the Chefs’ Chef award at the AA Hospitality awards.

The annual National Restaurant Awards recognise and celebrate the 100 best places to eat out in the UK – as voted for by industry experts.

Other awards included the Chefs’ Chef of the Year, which was handed to Stephen Harris of the Michelin-starred Sportsman in Seasalter, Kent, while the Clove Club in London’s Shoreditch was named the highest new entry, after placing fifth in the list of the UK’s top 100 restaurants.

The awards list in full:
National Restaurant of the Year and Gastropub of the Year – The Hand & Flowers, Marlow, Buckinghamshire
Highest New Entry – The Clove Club, Shoreditch, London
Chefs’ Chef of the Year – Stephen Harris, The Sportsman
Best Restaurant in Scotland – The Kitchin, Leith, Edinburgh
Best Restaurant in Wales – The Hardwick, Abergavenney
Best Restaurant in Northern Ireland – Shu, Belfast
Sustainable Restaurant of the Year – Grain Store, Kings Cross, London
Wine List of the Year – 10 Greek Street, Soho, London
One To Watch – Manchester House, Manchester

The top 20 UK restaurants are:
1. The Hand & Flowers
2. The Ledbury
3. Pollen Street Social
4. L’Enclume
5. The Clove Club
6. Restaurant Sat Bains
7. The Sportsman
8. The Square
9. Grain Store
10. Dinner by Heston Blumenthal
11. Dabbous
12. The Fat Duck
13. The Kitchin
14. Hedone
15. Bocca Di Lupo
16. Brasserie Chavot
17. Restaurant Andrew Fairlie
18. 10 Greek Street
19. Le Gavroche
20. The Hardwick

You can view the full top 100 list here.

Michelin releases 2014 guide to Great Britain and Ireland

Michelin_2014Two restaurants in London have been promoted to two Michelin stars: Dinner by Heston Blumenthal and the Greenhouse in Mayfair, as the French tyre company has released its 2014 guide to Great Britain and Ireland.

Despite industry rumours there were no three-star additions yet again to the new Michelin guide, which also awarded 15 establishments their first stars.

In London there were eight restaurants celebrating their first Michelin star: Armetsa with Arzak Instruction, Brasserie Chavot, Bo London, HKK, Lima, Outlaw at the Capital, Story and the Social Eating House, while in England there were four new stars: Adam’s in Birmingham; Ormer by Shaun Rankin in Jersey; The Samling in Cumbria; and Wilks in Bristol.

There were two new additions in Ireland: Campagne and Lady Helen both in Kilkenny, but no new stars in Scotland or Wales.

L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon in London was demoted from two- to one-star status, while 10 establishments lost their stars most notably the Petersham Nurseries Café in Richmond, following the departure of chef Greg Malouf.

The results mean there are now 167 starred establishments in the UK and Ireland, including four with three stars; 21 with two stars; and 142 with one star.

Here are the additions and deletions of the 2014 Michelin guide to Great Britain and Ireland – you can also read the full set of Michelin stars here.

New three star restaurants:
None

New two-star restaurants:
Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, London
The Greenhouse, London

New one-star restaurants:

London:
Ametsa with Arzak Instruction, Belgravia
Angler, City of London
Bo London, Mayfair
Brasserie Chavot, Mayfair
HKK, City of London
Lima, Fitzrovia
Outlaw at the Capital, Knightsbride
Social Eating House, Soho
Story, London Bridge

England and the Channel Islands:
Adam’s, Birmingham
Ormer by Shaun Rankin, Jersey
The Samling, Cumbria
Wilks, Bristol

Ireland:
Campagne, Kilkenny
Lady Helen, Kilkenny

Deletions:
L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, London (down from two to one star)

Devonshire Arms Country House Hotel, North Yorkshire (chef left)
Dining Room at Mallory Court Hotel, Leamington Spa
Hamborough, Isle of Wight (chef left)
Crown at Whitebrook,  Monmouthshire (closed)
Locks Brassserie, Dublin
Rhodes Twenty Four, London (closed)
North Road, Islington (closed)
Petersham Nurseries Café, Richmond (chef left)
Rhodes W1, London (closed)
Semplice, London (closed)

Tom Kerridge named AA Chefs’ Chef of the Year 2013

Tom KerridgeTom Kerridge has been named the AA’s Chefs’ Chef of the Year at the hotel and restaurant guide’s annual Hospitality Awards.

The chef-proprietor of the Hand & Flowers in Marlow, Buckinghamshire, the only two-Michelin-starred pub in the world, joins an elite group of chefs to have been honoured with the award, which is voted for only by AA Rosette holding chefs in the UK. Previous winners include Michel Roux, Heston Blumenthal, Marco Pierre White, Gordon Ramsay and Raymond Blanc.

Michel and Alain Roux’s three-Michelin-starred Waterside Inn in Bray, Berkshire, won the AA’s inaugural Food Service Award, which recognises restaurants that deliver excellent standards of service and hospitality.

The AA Restaurant of the Year awards went to The Artichoke in Amersham, Buckinghamshire for England; Medlar for London; Ondine in Edinburgh for Scotland; and Ye Olde Bulls Head in Beaumaris for Wales.

AA-2-rosette-logoThe AA also handed out new Rosettes, with the two-Michelin-starred Gidleigh Park in Devon and Midsummer House in Cambridge winning the top accolade of five AA Rosettes. The new awards bring the total of five AA Rosette restaurants in the UK to 11 – including Tom Aikens Restaurant, Hibiscus, Marcus Wareing at The Berkley and Sketch in London; as well as The Fat Duck in Bray, Berkshire; L’Enclume in Cartmel, Cumbria; Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in Oxfordshire; Michael Wignall at The Latymer in Bagshot, Surrey; and Restaurant Sat Bains with Rooms in Nottingham.

Meanwhile Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester, Launceston Place and Murano, all in London; as well as the Hand and Flowers; L’Ortolan in Berkshire; and the Cliff House Hotel in Ardmore in Ireland picked up four AA Rosettes.

A total of 29 restaurants celebrated winning three Rosettes, including newcomers Eric Chavot’s Brasserie Chavot, Jason Atherton’s Social Eating House and Nathan Outlaw’s eponymous restaurant at the Capital in London; as well as The French by Simon Rogan in Manchester, and Pompadour by Galvin in Edinburgh.

The AA’s 2013 Hospitality Awards were announced at a ceremony at the London Hilton Park Lane and come just days before Michelin’s new stars will be unveiled on Thursday (26 September).

For the full list of AA awards and Rosettes, visit hospitality bible Caterer and Hotelkeeper.

London on verge of overtaking New York as most diverse dining destination, says Zagat

Zagat_London_2014London is on the verge of overtaking New York as the city with the most diverse restaurant scene, a new survey has claimed.

According to the 2014 Zagat London Restaurant Survey, the capital’s restaurant market has undergone a revolution in recent years that could see it nudge ahead of the Big Apple as the top dining destination in the world.

Tim Zagat, co-founder (with his wife Nina) of the Zagat restaurant guides, said: “In terms of diversity and depth of restaurants London passed Paris eight to ten years ago. I still think New York is ahead. I used to say New York was way ahead but I think London could pass New York soon, it is coming on strong.”

However, with the average restaurant bill in London at £37.35 a head, down 14% from last year’s £43.40, eating out in London remains more expensive than New York, where the average cost for a meal is $48.56 (£31).

The 2014 Zagat London Restaurant Survey, which covers 1,290 restaurants rated and reviewed by 10,271 diners, showed Londoners are eating out more than ever before at an average of 3.7 times a week, compared with 2.2 in 2012.

Honest_BurgersIt found that the arrival of burger joints such as Honest Burgers and meat shacks like Pitt Cue Co. has reduced the cost of high quality eating out in London, while at the same time highlighting a trend towards more informal dining.

Tim Zagat added: “There are more younger people looking for good food but not in in places with fancy decor and linen tablecloths. Eating out has become almost like eating in another room in a house, people are looking for a good meal but not looking to dress up.”

However, despite this trend towards informality, the Zagat Survey rated Michel and Alain Roux’s three-Michelin-starred Waterside Inn in Bray as the best restaurant in the wider London area both in terms of food and service.

Japanese restaurant Yashin Sushi in Kensington was named best for food in London, where the Ledbury was rated top for service. The Wolesley remained London’s most popular restaurant, beating Hakkasan, while barbeque restaurant Pitt Cue offers London’s best value meal for under £25, according to Zagat.

2014 Zagat London Restaurant Survey Awards:

Top Food:
1. The Waterside Inn
2. Yashin Sushi
3. Barrafina
4. Gauthier Soho
5. The Ledbury

Top Service:
1. Waterside Inn
2. The Ledbury
3. Le Gavroche
4. Restaurant Gordon Ramsay
5. Mosimann’s

Most Popular:
1. The Wolseley
2. Hakkasan
3. Hawksmoor
4. J. Sheekey
5. Dinner by Heston Blumenthal

Best Buys (£25 or less):
1. Pitt Cue Co.
2. Honest Burgers
3. The Pepper Tree
4. Spice Village
5. Morito

Top Décor:
1. Sketch Lecture Room & Library
2. Sketch Parlour
3. The Ritz London
4. Mosimann’s
5. Bob Bob Ricard

 

Simon Rogan’s L’Enclume tops list of best UK restaurants in the 2014 Good Food Guide

Good-Food-Guide-2014Simon Rogan’s L’Enclume has been named the best restaurant in Britain by the Good Food Guide, knocking Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck off the top spot after five consecutive years.

The two-Michelin-starred restaurant in Cartmel, Cumbria has topped the 2014 edition of the country’s oldest restaurant guide, which is now owned by Waitrose, after scoring 10 out of 10 for the second year in a row. L’Enclume and the Fat Duck remain the only two restaurants in the Good Food Guide to have been awarded a perfect cooking score.

Elizabeth Carter, consultant editor of the Good Food Guide, said that despite the pressures of the past year – from opening the French at the Midland Hotel in Manchester to overseeing a pop-up restaurant in London – Rogan and his team have not missed a beat.

Simon_Rogan“Rogan rightfully takes his place as leader of the pack when it comes to modern British cooking. His fantastic way with seasonal ingredients from the Cumbrian land and coast brings dishes that are a joyful celebration of this county’s magnificent diversity. L’Enclume is truly deserving of the number one spot,” she said.

The list of the top 10 restaurants from last year’s Good Food Guide has remained unchanged in this year’s guide, although the order has moved around slightly, with Restaurant Nathan Outlaw in Cornwall jumping to third place from fifth; Restaurant Sat Bains dropping to fourth place from third; and Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in London falling from fourth to fifth place.

Jason Atherton’s Pollen Street Social in London has remained in sixth position; while Claude Bosi’s Hibiscus; Phil Howard’s The Square and Brett Graham’s The Ledbury, all in London, have each climbed one spot to place seventh, eighth and ninth respectively. Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in Great Milton, Oxfordshire completes the top 10.

There are six new entries to the Good Food Guide’s top 50 this year: Simon Rogan’s The French in Manchester (12); Hélène Darroze at the Connaught in London (37); Freemasons at Wiswell in Lancashire (42); OX in Belfast (43); The Red Lion in East Chisenbury (45); and The Clove Club in London (48).

The top 50 includes restaurants from all around the UK but 43 are from England.

There are five Scottish restaurants listed in the top 50, with the two-Michelin-starred Restaurant Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles placing the highest as 20th. The Kitchin (21), Restaurant Martin Wishart (26) and Castle Terrace (46), all in Edinburgh, and the Peat Inn in Fife (27) were also included.

Only one restaurant in Wales made the top 50 list: the Michelin-starred Tyddyn Llan in North Wales in 40th position; as well as one Northern Irish establishment: OX in Belfast in 43rd place.

The 2014 Good Food Guide top 50 UK restaurants with cooking score in brackets:

1. L’Enclume, Cartmel, Cumbria (10)
2. The Fat Duck, Bray, Berkshire (10)
3. Restaurant Nathan Outlaw, Rock, Cornwall (9)
4. Restaurant Sat Bains, Nottingham (9)
5. Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, London (9)
6. Pollen Street Social, London (9)
7. Hibiscus, London (8)
8. The Square, London (8)
9. The Ledbury, London (8)
10. Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, Great Milton, Oxfordshire (8)
11. Le Champignon Sauvage, Gloucestershire (8)
12. The French, Manchester (8)
13. Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley, London (8)
14. Midsummer House, Cambridgeshire (8)
15. Le Gavroche, London (8)
16. Whatley Manor, The Dining Room, Wiltshire (8)
17. Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester, London (8)
18. The Waterside Inn, Berkshire (7)
19. Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, London (7)
20. Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles, Tayside (7)
21. The Kitchin, Edinburgh (7)
22. Pied-à-Terre, London (7)
23. Fraiche, Merseyside (7)
24. Gidleigh Park, Devon (7)
25. Michael Wignall at the Latymer, Surrey (7)
26. Restaurant Martin Wishart, Edinburgh (7)
27. Murano, London (7)
28. The Peat Inn, Fife (7)
29. Fischer’s Baslow Hall, Derbyshire (7)
30. Hambleton Hall, Rutland (7)
31. Artichoke, Buckinghamshire (7)
32. Paul Ainsworth at No. 6, Cornwall (7)
33. The Pass, West Sussex (7)
34. The Old Vicarage, Ridgeway, Derbyshire (7)
35. The Hand & Flowers, Buckinghamshire (6)
36. Mr Underhill’s, Shropshire (6)
37. Hélène Darroze at the Connaught, London (6)
38. Purnell’s, West Midlands (6)
39. The Sportsman, Kent (6)
40. Tyddyn Llan, Denbighshire (6)
41. The Yorke Arms, Ramsgill, North Yorkshire (6)
42. Freemasons at Wiswell, Lancashire (6)
43. OX, Belfast (6)
44. The Royal Oak, Paley Street, Berkshire (6)
45. The Red Lion, East Chisenbury, Wiltshire (6)
46. Castle Terrace, Edinburgh (6)
47. Simon Radley at the Chester Grosvenor, Cheshire (6)
48. The Clove Club, London (6)
49. The Box Tree, West Yorkshire (6)
50. Tuddenham Mill, Suffolk (6)

 

In-Digestion – a summary of the latest UK restaurant reviews

In-DigestionMarina O’Loughlin has a remarkable dinner at the two-Michelin-starred Le Champignon Sauvage in Cheltenham, where the prices are as gentle as a caress. The Guardian’s food critic is wowed by chef David Everitt-Matthias’ confidence in his abilities and techniques, as well as his wife Helen’s front of house skills, where she distributes welcome, knowledge and warmth.

Both Fay Maschler of the London Evening Standard and Time Out’s Guy Dimond review Smokehouse, where barbecue aficionado chef Neil Rankin has taken over the kitchen. Maschler says Smokehouse is the place to show us why man discovered fire and one she would most definitely return to, while Dimond adds that Rankin’s on-trend and interesting dishes might be reason enough to visit Smokehouse but the service is also excellent.

Andy Lynes, writing for Metro, says Paesan in Exmouth Market may never deliver a sophisticated gastronomic experience but it’s all about good food and hospitality, and it’s none the poorer for that.

Writing for the Independent on Sunday, Lisa Markwell says Mark Sargeant’s new London restaurant Plum + Spilt Milk at the Great Northern Hotel in King’s Cross is “an amenable place to spend an evening”.

The Daily Telegraph’s Matthew Norman fails to get into the Parisian spirit at 63° in Manchester, a restaurant with a sense of languid contempt hanging over it.

Giles Coren reviews Picture for The Times, a new restaurant from a former Arbutus and Wild Honey team, where he finds “decent modern grub that’s a little bit fancy”.

In Scotland, Richard Bath of the Scotsman says the Applecross Inn in Wester Ross in the Highlands, may no longer be a hidden gem but it remains as idyllic and as popular as ever, while the Sunday Herald’s Joanna Blythman says Italian restaurant Vecchia Bologna in Bridge of Allan seems stuck in an unimproved rut.