Archive for November, 2004

Foliage Restaurant Review, London (2004)

Posted on: November 10th, 2004 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Low Profile but High Powered. (June 2004) by Simon Carter, Co-Editor

It wasn’t so long ago that Marco Pierre White was a ‘meteor hurtling through the firmament’ at Harveys (now the site of Chez Bruce). We saw the precocious would-be-rock-star preparing ‘semi-reality’ televised meals for each of his mentors – Raymond Blanc, Albert Roux, Nico Ladenis and Pierre Koffman. A rare young talent taught by the best, destined to become the best. And there, in his kitchen, he barked his orders to “Gordon”, a lad who would follow, in turn, to Michelin Three Star greatness.

You may not see Chris Staines doing a ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ or a fly-on the-wall but this media shy talent does share something with these bastions of the art – Chris has served an apprenticeship with the best. Time in the kitchens of Nico Ladenis and Marco Pierre White and time well spent. When Marco ‘gave back’ his Three Stars at The Oak Room, Chris was instrumental in regaining two of them.

In March 2002, at the tender age of 27, he took over from Hywel Jones at Foliage and has subsequently pushed the restaurant to the verge of a second Michelin Star.

I’ve always associated The Mandarin Oriental Hotel with travelling celebrities, particularly from the music industry, looking for a fashionable retreat. This impression is reinforced by the media as well as the loud, trendy and high profile Mandarin Bar.

The irony is not lost as you walk through this din to get to Foliage (and again each time you take a comfort break). The contrast is exaggerated by the open archway to the hushed gastronomic dining room.

On this occasion we were running late after a torrid journey on the M4, thankfully a table was provided at the furthest point from the bar. The new Assistant Manager (Nick Liang) organised a much needed drink while we considered the menu.

I started with a brandade of frogs legs raviolo, poached langoustines, shallot tempura and a vegetable nage.

Like the amuse-bouches before, this proved luxurious, labour intensive, generous and understated. As with great artists, something so apparently difficult and complicated was made to feel easy – in this case the sensation was delivered to, rather than from, the palette – a natural harmony of ingredients executed perfectly with a touch of genius in the collaborations on the plate.

Bresse pigeon with foie gras, puy lentils, Savoy cabbage and vegetable confit followed. This was similar to a dish I had at the Oak Room in its hey day (the combinations of pasta and shellfish on the menu also remind of Marco). Here, the pigeon and generous slab of foie gras were steamed and wrapped in a blanched cabbage leaf. An inspired coupling of textures with the richness balanced by the earthy cabbage and puy lentils.

For pudding I opted for the concoction that included a chocolate fondant – I was not disappointed. This section, like the rest, was on form.

All in all, a truly memorable experience. A modern spin on classical French cooking with a theme of understated bold brush strokes that mask the complexity from the customer. The hallmark of a master of his trade; everything natural and just so…

Media profile or no, Chris Staines and Foliage can look forward to Two Michelin Stars, and for what it’s worth, my patronage for some time to come!

Staines Delivers without a Blemish. (June 2004) by Daniel Darwood, Co-Editor

If asked what is the greatest meal I have ever eaten, my reply would be Marco Pierre White’s gastronomic menu at The Oak Room: Ballotine of Salmon with crayfish tails and caviar; grilled lobster with sauce mousseline; breast of Bresse Pigeon with foie gras and pomme puree; brie with truffles and feillantine of raspberries with sauce Cardinale. The quality of these luxurious ingredients, the precision of the cooking and the intensity of the flavours made me return several times to indulge in these heavenly creations, or others from the Carte. However the Oak Room closed abruptly and all foodies must lament the passing of this great restaurant and of Marco’s inimitable style of cooking.

And yet his legacy is still evident on the national eating scene, not just in his surviving restaurants – Criterion, Quo Vadis, Belvedere, et al – and in the phenomenon that is Gordon Ramsey, but also in more quiet, understated but equally talented proteges.

Chris Staines is an excellent example of this. He used to be Sous Chef at the Oak Room and has succeeded Hywel Jones as Chef at Foliage, in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. Indeed many of the staff from the Oak Room joined Foliage when the Oak Room closed. With one Michelin Star to its credit, but deserving of more, this restaurant is the natural successor to The Oak Room in the quality of its cooking, value for money, and efficiency of service, if not in the grandeur of its setting – No oak panelling, grand chandeliers or Louis XV style chairs. Nor are they needed. The food speaks volumes.

Everything is top notch, from the salted or unsalted butter offered, the trio of canapes – which included a deep fried frogs leg with curried mayonnaise – through to the pre puddings and petits fours. Attention to detail is immaculate in all the courses, which often embrace five or six components. Consider, for instance, my starter: a dome of exquisitely light scallop mousse topped with truffle, encased in an open raviolo of perfect freshness, was surrounded by seared scallops of caramelised sweetness and three plump, freshly cooked langoustines. Tiny al dente asparagus spears and a foaming artichoke veloute completed this magnificent dish. Similar skill and care was lavished on the main course of saddle of rabbit with wild mushroom pithivier, Alsace bacon and vanilla cream. Pot roasting the rabbit retained its moistness, whilst the accompaniments enhanced its natural blandness. Overall the dish was a triumph of tastes and textures. The puddings are architectural in structure but harmonious in their combinations. The tangy dentelle of lemon and passion fruit, a caramelised citrus tart and mascarpone sorbet proved a refreshing final course.

This is serious cooking of the very highest order and reasonable prices for the West End (£50 for three courses for dinner). I hear the set lunch including wine is a steal at £32. My only – minor – grumbles are chairs without arms and mineral water at £5 a bottle.

Nevertheless, Foliage deserves much more recognition than its fashionable but noisy neighbour, the Bar, and the hotel itself, both of which have attracted more publicity.

All those involved in cooking and serving are to be congratulated on maintaining what must be one of the best restaurants in London, and certainly the best hotel restaurant in the capital.

Chef Interview: Steve Love, (November 2004)

Posted on: November 5th, 2004 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood
Steve and Claire Love

Steve and Claire Love (Left) and Daniel Darwood and Steve (Right)


Postscript 2009: During 2009, Steve and Claire Love opened a new venture in Birmingham: See, Love’s Restaurant

Steve and Claire Love are enjoying a personal and professional year to remember. The hard working couple, each with humility and charm in equal measure, recently celebrated their wedding. A shared passion extends to their restaurant in Leamington Spa; one of those establishments that reach the culinary heights and deserve the greatest admiration. Why?

As a member of the small but exclusive club of husband a wife teams who (with a couple of helpers) work every service their restaurant is open and make just enough profit to maintain their business. Scant rewards for their talents.

Love’s is at last enjoying the type of national recognition that it fully deserves. By sheer serendipity I discovered the restaurant shortly after it opened and have never been disappointed, easily proving worth the occasional special journey north.

Steve is the newly crowned Craft-Guild National Chef of The Year. An honour which proved a significant staging post for the likes of Gordon Ramsay, David Everitt-Matthias (Le Champignon Sauvage) and Mark Sargeant (Claridges). Less than a fortnight later, The 2005 Which? Good Food Guide saw fit to promote the restaurant to 6/10 and award Warwickshire Restaurant of The Year. The Editor of the guide, Andrew Turvil, made reference to the restaurant in the Consumer Association press release which resulted in some welcome national press coverage. The start of November saw yet more momentum when the trade magazine Caterer & Hotelkeeper ran a five page masterclass piece. Better still, Jan Moir of The Telegraph made a rare trip north of Watford and was suitably impressed. Quite a feat as she’s one of the most discerning food critics and notoriously hard to please.

Somewhere in between all this, Steve Love kindly found time to sit down with Daniel Darwood of

Tell us about your background prior to starting your own restaurant?

For two years, I was head chef at a restaurant local to Leamington Spa called Mallory Court. Prior to that I spent six months with Gary Jones at Waldos, Cliveden – Gary’s now back as head chef at Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons. I learned so much

from him and not just the cooking – his natural enthusiasm and man management qualities. Before that I was at Ettington Park in Stratford upon Avon.

What are your memories of The Roux Scholarship and what it has meant to you?

It was back in 1997 when I was at Ettington Park. That was really the start of a new career, having previously worked in maximum two rosette country houses, I had the opportunity to consider the profession differently – as an exciting career.

Among other things, I had the chance to spend three months in the kitchen of Alain Ducasse in Paris. (I believe I was the second to do so after Jonathan Harrison) – a truly amazing experience, you would start at 5.30am and work right through to 1am.

I’ll always feel indebted to the Roux Scholarship for that experience. The time there was a real education; just understanding what three Michelin Stars meant was an eye opener. For example, one of their biggest sellers were three and half langoustines steamed, cut in half then covered with a layer of caviar. I was expecting complexity on the plate but in fact it was about the preparation, flavour and execution of the ingredients. Some of the spicing I’ve never managed to source since.

The start was quite intimidating – a young English guy coming into a kitchen of 30 chefs for 50 covers – a different culture to the UK where you’re lucky to find 6 or 7 for 80 covers. What is more, all the chefs were passionate and dedicated, they rightly saw it as a privilege to work in the Ducasse kitchen.

I arrived just after their summer break, Alain Ducasse came in and muttered something to each member of the team, when he spoke to me, I said, “sorry chef I don’t understand” – he realized I was the Englishman on the Roux scholarship and was immediately friendly – I could feel the daggers going into my back! (laughing). Actually, a couple of the guys in the brigade were very helpful, one in particular was Claude Bosi (now of Hibiscus): Claude was a Chef de Partie on the sauces. He can seem an imposing kind of guy when you first meet him but he was very friendly.

The industry has had more exposure in recent years?

There are chefs on TV that have done great things for the industry, then there are also those that create the perception among younger entrants that high earning head chef jobs come by the age of 21 – quickly followed by making a fortune doing TV advertising. The reality is a long apprenticeship and hard graft. Those that really want it soon come to the surface.

Which chefs have influenced you the most over the years?

Just about every head chef I’ve worked with for any period of time. The four year apprenticeship at the Welcome Hotel in Stratford developed my skills significantly. Chris Hudson taught me about kitchen management and how to make money.

Glynn Hughes, a pastry chef, is someone I’ve stayed in touch with and always appreciated his experience.

Michel Roux is someone I really admire and I speak to him as often as possible. I’m really flattered when someone like him, who I put on a pedestal, asks to see our latest menu and chats to me about it. Taking advice from masters like him is such a great help; he also gave me a reference for the head chef job at Mallory Court.

You now have your own restaurant with a relatively small brigade?

My dream was always to start my own restaurant and when this property became available we took the lease. There’s Jacqueline on pastry; on a Friday and Saturday night, Greg from Warwick University comes in and helps out. We’re open from Tuesday through Saturday and I have to be here every service, if I’m not here we don’t open – simple as that.

What are the essential qualities of your dishes?

In starters we look for something flavoursome but relatively light. One of the better sellers is a multi-layered, multi-textured Salmon dish. We also want to create a wow factor in that we produce something that people couldn’t reproduce at home.

Keeping it clean and simple has really helped my cooking develop – ensuring there are no more than two or three clean flavours on the plate and keeping the garnishes to purely those that complement the dish. I find that creating my own style or signature has evolved from experience – drawing on creations at other restaurants and working with other chefs but stamping my own personality on the menu. I also appreciate having the basic grounding in butchery skills which helps put on dishes that would be too expensive if bought in pre-prepped.

And what about the pastry side?

Garnish and sauce chefs are typically stronger in the marketplace but desserts seem to be more of a dying art. On my first day at Cliveden, Gary Jones put me on Pastry which was an experience I really enjoyed. It’s quite an exact science. I firmly believe that people remember the last thing they eat, so we want to ensure the desserts and petits fours are something special. Particularly as a head chef, or chef patron, you have to know and understand pastry to be able to instruct others as to what you want.

What are your views on Molecular Gastronomy?

I don’t understand it, so I don’t cook it. When you run a business and have a young family finding the time to step back and try and learn such things is difficult. I’ve not been to the Fat Duck but would love to visit. Heston really knows what he’s

doing, the trouble is with those chefs that see what he’s doing and try to recreate it but don’t understand how it is done. The results can be quite shocking.

What are your plans for the future?

We’ve been here three years and we’re now looking for a freehold property within the area. We did some refurbishment quite recently but feel that this is a sunk cost in a leased property. We’re keen to get a silent partner who will share some

profit but allow us to run a business autonomously. Ideally we’d go for a place with rooms.

Tell us about the Craft-Guilds National Chef of the Year?

I’ve been through to the finals three times. The first time I came third and was delighted. The second time I felt confident but we’d just opened the restaurant. This proved very challenging – driving back and forth to cook service in the restaurant while giving my best to the competition proved impossible. This year we decided to shut the restaurant and were delighted to win the heats, we also decided to stay over in London. Brian Turner, Jean Christophe Novelli and John Burton-Race were part of the panel of around 20 judges. You were given a list of ingredients to produce a menu. I cooked a Lobster Ravioli with a Langoustine on top with a Celery Broth and Lime Jam to cut through the fish. Main course was squab pigeon.

I boned the leg and along with a farce from the livers, some white pudding and chicken, made a mini ballontine. This was on some braised lentils with a pumpkin puree, a mild garlic broth and a jus made from the pigeon bones. Dessert was a tempered chocolate collar, poppy seeds, raspberries macerated in whiskey to help cut through the sweetness of the chocolate with a banana and whiskey ice cream. As well as the overall first prize, the squab pigeon was awarded best main course.

So it was time to leave – Steve had spoiled us with his time and his food. They were planning a series of dinners to celebrate the Craft-Guild National Chef of The Year award. The winning menu being reproduced with a generous list of wines.