Archive for November, 2008

Interview: Andy Hayler, Restaurant Critic. (Sept 2008)

Posted on: November 29th, 2008 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood
Andy Hayler

World-Renowned Food Critic, Andy Hayler

For over twenty years, Andy Hayler has been passionate about fine dining. He has travelled the world in search of perfection and on occasion found it. His journey to all 49 Michelin three star restaurants in Europe was an extraordinary one; could he possibly go one better and cover the new global Michelin map? And yet there is so much more; a published book, a pioneering website, TV appearances (home and abroad) and professional freelance writing.

Andy found time to speak to Simon Carter of fine-dining-guide. The Interview took place at the Andaman Restaurant, St James’ on September 5th 2008.

Tell us a little background about yourself?

Well I suppose I have a double life really (smiling). From a work view point I’ve spent most of my time in the technology industry and had a number of jobs with Esso and Shell before starting a software company called Kalido and now an analyst company, Information Difference.

Over a similar period I’ve had a strong interest in food. I grew up in the west country where food opportunities growing up were basic and when, after university, I first came to London, the restaurant scene was a revelation.

Was there a particular Guide you used to help you in your choices?

Well when I first started eating out I found the Good Food Guide the most interesting and reliable. As you know most other guides the entries are paid for either indirectly or directly through undisclosed fees or advertising – the Good Food Guide wasn’t and still isn’t. I began writing in reviews to the guide and found this quite rewarding. This extended into pulling together reviews for a newsletter that was originally intended for my circle of friends.

Is this how your London Restaurant Guide book came into being?

Sort of…I used to visit a bookshop called Books for Cooks in Ladbroke Grove that was run by a lady called Clarissa Dickson Wright (who later became much more well known as one of the Two Fat Ladies on TV). I was a regular in the shop and showed her a copy of the newsletter and she suggested that I get it published.

I had no idea of how the publishing industry worked and naively sent off copies to only two publishers with a covering letter. Fortunately one of them contacted me almost immediately and said they’d be interested in publishing a book. In 1994 the book was published with London Transport organised as a sponsor.

And was there ever an updated version?

I was certainly asked about a next version. I had no plans to produce one but still maintained diaries every evening of all my eating experiences. I decided the best way to keep this up-to-date and published was via the fledgling internet.

I started the original site in 1996, which I guess was fairly early in internet terms. Over a period of time I kept updating the site and maintained it as a newsletter concept for family and friends.

From around 2003/2004, when internet technologies like Google were starting to become very successful, I noticed that I was getting emails from strangers who had found the site from surfing. The interest in the site grew quite quickly.

Didn’t the Guardian Newspaper recognise your site in 2006?

Yes, I was amazed and flattered. They (The Guardian) ran an article on the top ten food websites. I was surprised to be contacted by them and they recognised the site as the second best food resource on the internet. One of the things that I was curious about was how they came across the site. The journalist told me that it was from feedback from chefs who had read the site, which was again very flattering.

There were a couple of other interesting points: the first was they were particularly positive about the content: the second that it looked as though it had been written on a 1930s typewriter and stapled to the internet! (Laughs).

This prompted you to move to

Yes. I also took step back at the design and content that I wanted to present. I added a photo gallery and some maps for London and Michelin three star restaurants around the world. I mark restaurants that I visit out of 10 for food and also give a value rating out of ten, I also started a weekly food blog that has done well. The site now gets around 140,000 page views a month with typically 1,400 unique visitors a day. I’m pleased that I continue to get a lot of correspondence, including a great deal from chefs.

Why do you think that so much of your audience is from the industry?

I guess its because I don’t have any contraints, that is to say I write almost exclusively about the food. Most broadsheets and magazines have entertaining writers that perhaps (for their audience) pay as much attention to décor, fashion, service and so on. One of the themes of the site that I’m very proud of is the focus on the food on a plate.

What started you eating at the great restaurants around the world?

In the mid 1990s The Good Food Guide ran a one off article about two or three great restaurants from around the world. One of them was called Jamin in Paris and written up in the article as probably the best restaurant in the world.

I decided that if I spent £100 a head or more on a meal there (which was a great deal then and still is now) I’d think it wasn’t worth it and not have to do it again – this proved to be a risky strategy that backfired. The article in the Good Food Guide got it spot on; Joel Robuchon was cooking at the height of his powers and the experience was absolutely stunning. I think it’s been widely acknowledged that the real debate is about who is the second best chef that has ever lived! This sparked an interest in eating at other up market restaurants and realistically most of those were not in the UK.

So your journey of eating at all Michelin three star restaurants began?

I was lucky enough with Shell to be travelling all over the world on business so I figured why not try the best restaurants in those places. I started keeping notes of my visits and noticed that by 2004 I had been to quite a lot of the 49 Michelin three star restaurants in the world (the world being Europe at the time). I realised that with a bit of effort that I could get round all the remaining restaurants by the end of the year – which I did.

A friend of mine suggested that this was quite some feat and I put together a paragraph for the newspapers. Originally the Metro ran an article which then got reprinted or referred to in many places – The Sydney Morning Herald, The Melbourne Age and various publications in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore.

In France it made it from a little regional paper and ultimately to Le Figaro. I found myself on French national television, I think the French were amazed that one of “les rosbifs” (Laughs) could do something so gastronomic.

I know you’ve been to Tokyo, what did you think of the Tokyo restaurant scene?

Very interesting. We had two weeks there in May and I visited all the Michelin Three Star restaurants. I think Michelin has done a great service in dishing out 191 stars to 150 restaurants in Tokyo and raised the profile of the dining scene in Japan. In my opinion this is well deserved, there is a real foodie culture with an obsession for the best ingredients. I think Michelin are just scratching the surface of what is out there and will take time to fully appreciate the relative qualities of high end dining establishments.

The reason France has the best restaurants is basically because they have a wealth of extremely high grade produce; the same is true in Japan. For example, the Tokyo fish market Tsukiji, which is the largest in the world, employs 14,000 people and stocks 700 varieties of (very) fresh fish!

And now there are Guides for the United States and Tokyo so is it possible to visit all the Michelin Three Stars again? Well I’ve been pondering that – I haven’t been obsessively going to all the three stars, partly because my wife needed some non-food holidays (laughs). There are currently (2008) 68 three star restaurants in the world. I have been visiting them periodically and found (September) that I have nine left to visit. The last reservation that I’m waiting for is Per Se so fingers crossed I’ll finish the journey in November in New York.

Over your travels do you have any top experiences that really stand out?

Well the best food I’ve ever eaten was at Jamin and also when it moved a short distance in Paris and was called Robuchon. I used to go there at least twice a year. It wasn’t necessarily that any one dish was better than anything anyone else could cook: It was that each visit there would be several dishes that were truly exceptional even at the three star level. Elsewhere you may get one dish, from time to time, that stands out in category.

I don’t find that there is one obvious outstanding three star today in the way there was when Joel Robuchon was cooking. My personal favourite is probably Louis XV in Monte Carlo. Over the years I’ve been there a dozen plus times and I find the food excellent. Essentially the trick at Louis XV is a brilliant chef-to-customer ratio (almost one chef per diner) coupled with amazing local produce. It also helps that allegedly Prince Reynier subsidises the restaurant as a loss leader for Monte Carlo.

And what are your current thoughts about the top end of the London Restaurant Scene?

I think its refreshing that in the summer of 2008, we have three of the most exciting new openings since Tom Aikens, namely L’Ambassade de L’Ile, Helene Darroze and Andaman. Jean Christophe Ansanay-Alex (Ambassade) is spending a lot of time at his London outpost and I find the cooking of the savoury courses there as good as anything in London at the moment. Helene Darroze, who has a two star restaurant in Paris, is producing excellent food, particularly when she’s there…and the brand new Andaman Restaurant at St James’ where the three star chef Dieter Muller has opened a new venture. My early experiences there are very positive.

And so it was time to stop, the interview had gone by in a flash – a mere 30 minutes of tape for all this transcript – a fine- dining-guide record. Andy will be appearing as a critic for the programme Professional Masterchef on BBC2 6.30pm Friday 12th September 2008.

Book Review: Food For Thought by Alan Murchison

Posted on: November 16th, 2008 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

For for Thought CoverAs cookery books go Alan Murchison ’s first book “Food for Thought” is neither a cook’s recipe book nor a ‘gastro-porn’ coffee table book.

Most recipe books either fall into the Delia (and pretty much every other TV chef) camp – the aim is to provide a collection of easy to follow recipes with a picture of the finished dish so you know what to aim for. Or into the multi-starred Michelin, serious chef, camp – where there are recipes of immense complexity that professional kitchens produce day-in day-out, using sophisticated kitchen equipment and techniques, which only the most serious amateur cook would even attempt.

Alan Murchison may not be as well known as chefs who appear on television regularly, cooking or otherwise, and so his book will have a limited appeal. It is
most likely to appeal to those who know him by reputation or have sampled his cooking.

At this point I should admit to a vested interest: I have been going to L’Ortolan for more than a decade, since the John Burton-Race days, and have enjoyed many excellent meals cooked by Alan Murchison and his team. I am constantly impressed by the quality, reliability, inventiveness and apparent simplicity of the food that the L’Ortolan kitchen produces

At this point I should admit to a vested interest: I have been going to L’Ortolan for more than a decade, since the John Burton-Race days, and have enjoyed many excellent meals cooked by Alan Murchison and his team. I am constantly impressed by the quality, reliability, inventiveness and apparent simplicity of the food that the L’Ortolan kitchen produces.

Murchison’s book is a labour of love. He admits it took more than two years to write and together with Mark Law’s stunning photography he expects to be able to look back in a few years time and feel it is a book he is proud to have produced. This is a book you are unlikely to find in a best sellers’ list or in the ‘75% off’ remnants pile in your local bookshop; this is a self-published work of art.

As I turn the pages admiring the recipe pictures in “Food for Thought” I keep recognising elements, or whole dishes, that I can remember eating and I think this is how most buyers of the book will use it. I hope that having seen the picture and read the recipe the more adventurous will decide to cook some dishes themselves. But this style and level of cooking does not lend itself to a spur of the moment decision to make a meal based on what you have in the house. Murchison’s recipes rely on preparation and buying good quality produce. At first glance the recipe can look straight forward with a manageable number of ingredients and not too many steps in the process. But read carefully and you will see the reference to the ‘Basics’ section and this is where the flavours that will carry the dish start. Many recipes have half a dozen ‘basics’ incorporated – which can be stock, herb crust, garnishes or a whole sub-dish. A number of the recipes open with the assumption that you are starting preparation 24 or 72 hours in advance of serving the meal. Theses recipes will reward those willing to accept the challenge.


Photograph by Mark Law

The book begins with Murchison’s background and the influences that brought him to become chef patron at L’Ortolan accompanied, mainly, by black and white photography of the kitchens at work. Then with the ‘Starters’ the brilliant colour photography kicks off: Recipes accompanied by pin sharp pictures and the occasional page featuring the top class ingredients, in various states of preparation, like truffles! The ‘Mains’ continues the visual feast with a mouth-watering array of fish, fowl and flesh. Although I know Alan Murchison can produce splendid vegetarian main courses they don’t get a look in here. Next, we are into the ‘Cheese’ course, no cooking just an explanation of some of the best cheeses available and their pairing with wine and food: Epoisses is teamed with Confit Red Onion and Gewurztraminer. The ‘Desserts’ complete the list of photographed recipes. After the acknowledgements, with photographs of suppliers and produce, we are into the no-nonsense heart of Murchison’s wonderful recipes – the ‘Basics’. No colour photography, just 233 basic recipes that
underpin the cuisine. These are the building blocks of the great dishes that Alan Murchison produces.

‘Passion’ is an overused word in many walks of life – I have heard it used by many chefs when describing their motivation and it is used in the foreword, by Raymond Blanc, to describe Alan Murchison . I’d say Murchison’s passion really shows through in “Food for Thought” – this is not a book to accompany a television series or a collection of seasonal recipes to be promoted alongside produce in a supermarket. This is Alan Murchison putting a stake in the ground and saying this is me, this is what I do and this is how I do it – passionate about his vocation.

Whether you just enjoy the artistry of Murchison’s presentation, you marvel at the effort that goes into producing the dishes, or you decide to take up the challenge to cook some recipes yourself – this is a book you will keep returning to especially if you dine at either L’Ortolan or la Becasse.

In conclusion, I’d like to say I am about to start preparing the Duck Terrine on page 35 to be followed by the glorious Oxtail on page 81 – but after checking what is involved I think I’ll take the easy option and just book a table at L’Ortolan and have Alan Murchison cook it for me!

Aubergine, Marlow, Restaurant Review (November 2008)

Posted on: November 11th, 2008 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Nestled on the banks of the Thames by Marlow bridge, The Compleat Angler, a leading hotel of the MacDonald group, has rarely offered a level of cuisine to match its luxurious accommodation. Guests could usually choose from informal or formal restaurants inside the hotel itself or choose from the variety of – until recently mediocre – eateries in the town itself.

This is all set to change with the arrival of Augberine, the latest addition to the Thames Valley restaurant scene; and not just for a limited season, but the start of a (hopefully) fifteen year lease. Executive Chef Billy Drabble, who gained a Michelin star for his Fulham restaurant, now divides his time between London and Marlow.

This is an ambitious transition that will test the most dedicated restaurateurs and chefs. Coinciding with the beginning of an economic recession, in which restaurants have often been the first casualties, it will need to make a bigger impact than usual to survive. This part of the Thames Valley, on the Bucks / Berks border is replete with stiff competition. In Marlow itself, the well established Vanilla Pod and the Michelin starred Hand and Flowers have attracted a loyal following, whilst Danesfield House has hosted a succession of distinguished chefs. Moreover, a few miles away lie the three-starred Waterside Inn and the Fat Duck at Bray.

On arriving at Aubergine, one is immediately impressed by its spectacular setting overlooking the weir on the Thames, the well spaced tables, and the tasteful refurbishment. Whilst the original paneling has been retained, Aubergine is everywhere else: the colour of the wall decoration, carpet, lampshades and menus; the still life painting and the decorative plates. There is a complete sense of welcoming calm and assured professionalism. The attention to detail drills down to the aubergine embossed cutlery handles.

A previous visit, which sampled the bargain lunch menu (£29), gained a positive impression of the high standard of cooking, firmly rooted in the French classical cuisine. Warm foie gras mousse, braised pigs cheeks and raspberry soufflé all showed great technical skill, strong earthy flavours and a delicacy of touch.

The tasting menu (seven courses for £65) is the best way of sampling William Drabble’s repertoire: it is generous both in the number and size of the courses. As with the carte, there are no major surprises: no attempts are made at molecular gastronomy and only one dish mixes meat and fish (in the carte only) and no foams (although the ubiquitous smears appear here as in any fine dining establishment.) The emphasis is on precise cooking producing depth of flavours, balance of textures, and clean presentation.

The amuse bouche comprised a sweet, caramelized scallop offset by drops of aged balsamic and a base of celeriac puree.  Tortellini of Lobster was a brilliantly executed dish of great refinement. Delicate pasta encased succulent nuggets of the crustacean, bound in a light mousse of intense flavour. The lobster butter sauce enhanced with saffron added even more richness, making this a tour de force.

Seared foie gras with black pudding provided a luxuriant earthiness that worked well with the caramelized apples. A perfectly timed roasted fillet of sea bass had a crisp skin which contrasted well with the soft flaking flesh. It stood up well to the robust flavours of the braised Jerusalem artichokes, parsley puree and red wine reduction.

Best End of Lune Valley lamb was cooked to a perfect pink of melting tenderness. The roasted garlic puree provided a muted and subtle sweetness to the dish.

Cheeses were offered but not accepted as the succession of dishes had left the diner fully satisfied.

Puddings were first class: chocolate mousse with a dark ice cream were exemplary in smooth textures and intensity of taste. A warm blackberry soufflé was complemented by a dark chocolate sauce.

Seasonality extends to a special truffle tasting menu at £140. Otherwise, celeriac puree, girolles, Jerusalem artichokes and bramley apples all gave an autumnal feel to the tasting menu. Regionality of sourcing has yet to be established, but it would be hard to improve on his current suppliers: Lune Valley for lamb, Scottland for hand dived scallops and langoustines and Brixham for fish.

In this age of innovative modernity, Aubergine is not a restaurant at the cutting edge of gastronomy – nor does it aspire to be – but one which delivers an individual style based on classical techniques. Its chef has held a Michelin star at his Fulham restaurant for ten years. It is this very consistency that will provide the key to the success of this new venture. Even in times of

economic recession, people will still want to escape by eating at such establishments, which can guarantee excellent food and drink.

Aubergine is certainly an exciting new addition, offering as it does generous new classical French cuisine in the most beautiful of settings. Should Billy Drabble’s passion and commitment be a signal to his team, as well as to the outside world, then this venture is sure to succeed.

Review by Daniel Darwood, 31st October 2008

Michelin: Eating out in Pubs 2009 Review

Posted on: November 7th, 2008 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Hello and welcome to Fine Dining in the UK episode 9 – the podcast brought to you by

Today we discuss the Michelin: Eating Out in Pubs Guide 2009. The public house, or pub, is quintessentially British – the ‘ye olde England’ image of a social meeting place in a country village with a roaring fire and a pint of ale.

Indeed, each of the British long running social commentary soaps has a pub at its heart: Coronation Street, Eastenders, Emmerdale and The Archers. Literature famously says that were a church the soul of England then the pub is her heart (Samuel Pepys)

Britons have allegedly been drinking ale since the Bronze age but it was not until the Roman Empire and the development of the Roman road network that tabernae or pubs became commonplace. A brief flirtation, or craze, for Gin in the eighteenth century aside (when over half of the 15,000 drinking establishments in London were Gin shops), the pub has gone from strength to strength.

The concept of a pub being the venue for fine dining is a relatively recent one: The 21st Century term ‘Gastropub’ has been widely used to describe this new trend – pub grub diversifying upwards and gastronomy diversifying downwards.

An economist might argue that the pub is naturally product differentiating to maximise its market potential by taking advantage of the growing number of consumers who have become more knowledgeable and particular in their dining aspirations.

The natural result is a significant and growing overlap in the marketplace for fine dining restaurants and pubs: A trend that must have vexed the executives at the Michelin ‘Red’ Guide.

The Michelin Red Guide has been around for over a century and has been awarding the coveted stars since the mid 1920s. For decades these establishments were plush, lavish affairs, out of the affordability and comfort zone of the many and accessible only to the few.

Michelin have been at pains to point out that the criteria used for awarding stars have always revolved around the same principle: the food on a plate, the food on a plate and the food on a plate. Over the last ten years, the rise in quality of the food on a plate found in pubs, left Michelin with little choice but to research a whole new field for potential inclusion in their Red Guide. This need was amplified by the other Michelin guiding principle of value for money.

The impact of these overlapping markets has been significant. Fine dining restaurants have become more informal, relaxed, approachable and affordable. Many pubs on the other hand have become slightly more formal and expensive – the latter naturally so as the sheer cost of fresh, high quality, raw ingredients has dictated price increases.

Michelin made the recent ground breaking decision to award a Michelin Star to a pub; today there are a handful including the Starr Inn in North Yorkshire, the Masons Arms in Devon and The Hand and Flowers in Buckinghamshire.

Naturally, these three pubs, for example, are found in the 2009 Michelin: Eating out in Pubs Guide. So, in a way, Michelin have taken a potential problem and turned it into an opportunity. Like pubs, they are part product differentiating and part diversifying into a new market.

In Michelin terminology the line between pub and restaurant fine dining is blurred further – perhaps as a deliberate reflection of the overlapping market – by the Red Guide introduction of the ‘Bib Gourmand.’

Bib is short for Bibendum, the character created in 1898 from the imagination of the Michelin brothers, André and Edouard, and the pen of cartoonist O’Galop. Over the years, Bib—the one and only Michelin Man—has become the Group’s “mascot.” In the Michelin Guide, Bibendum’s head is a familiar, widely recognised red symbol.

The Bib Gourmand symbol was created in 1997. It indicates a restaurant offering good food at moderate prices. For the 2008 Guide, the price of a full meal (excluding drinks) is under £28 (40 euros in the Republic of Ireland).

The Michelin Guide Great Britain & Ireland 2008 includes 133 Bib Gourmand restaurants with a significant proportion of them pubs.

A natural next step for Michelin was to take all the pub data that had been collected in conjunction with production of the Red Guide and use it as a springboard to diversify completely into a new pub guide. Hey Presto! The Michelin: Eating Out in Pubs Guide was born.

The 2009 Edition contains information on 550 pubs. Each pub has a full A5 page including colour photograph, concise and accurate 200 word description, ales served, cards taken, address, web address, phone number, typical dishes served (usually a signature starter, main and pudding), serving times, directions, guide prices and room availability. There are also useful symbols for whether there is an interesting wine list, al fresco dining and even whether dogs are allowed.

One might argue that it would add rather than detract to show whether the pub has a Bib Gourmand or Michelin Star among the collection of symbols. Michelin choose to tread a different path and invent a new symbol – the “green Bib stamp” with “Inspectors Favourite”. This is a very interesting departure as its award is not exclusively dictated by food on a plate.

The Guide states that these pubs have at least one extra quality that marks them out and that quality may be “the delightful setting, the charm and character of the pub, the general atmosphere, the pleasant service, the overall value for money or the exceptional cooking.”

In a way this new criteria of excellence – especially for pubs – is the Michelin way of underscoring that this is a unique piece of work to be viewed in it’s own right, completely separate from the Red Guide. This impression is re-enforced by reading the Guide introduction, where the only detailed explanation given is of the production, type and quality of beer!

Still, should a pub have a Michelin Star or a Bib Gourmand – brands that are well known and trusted – one may argue that it is worth advertising in the guide. No doubt, over time, the Green Bib Stamp will come to have the same quality and trustworthy feel to it and join its currently better known cousins in the ranks of Michelin folklore.

Overall, the Michelin: Eating Out in Pubs Guide 2009 is a worthy companion and one that I sense will become an annual fixture on the bookshelf.

That concludes Fine Dining in the UK episode 9 – the podcast brought to you by

Until next time. Happy eating!

November 2008: Fine Dining Guide November Newsletter

Posted on: November 4th, 2008 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood is pleased to announce the continued success of a (free) podcast series. Each episode is around 10 minutes in length and can be found by typing “fine dining uk” into the main iTunes search box.

We’ve been delighted to find that the series has peaked inside the top 20 Audio Food and Wine Podcasts (out of about 500)

Should you prefer to simply read the transcripts then the latest episodes are New Chefs on the Block, What ReallyHappens in the Kitchen? and An Introduction to Burgundy.

We had the recent pleasure of an exclusive interview with successful food critic, author and traveler Andy Hayler.

The 2009 Which? Good Food Guide and 2009 AA Restaurant Guide have been published and our popular lists have been updated. These include The Top Restaurants in London, The Top Restaurants in Scotland and The Top Restaurants in Wales.


Our Restaurant Picture Gallery Collection has some recent new editions too; with The Andaman, Gordon Ramsay RHR and Aubergine (Marlow).

The simple to navigate and fully linked Sitemap continues to be updated as does the site wide News (RSS) Feed.

The site as a whole enjoyed around 18,000 page views during October and the focus continues to be around the Michelin Home Page – The site is the number one Google search result for “Bib Gourmand” has some exciting features planned for the coming weeks leading up to Christmas, which we look forward to bringing you in due course.

Until next time….happy eating!

Chef Interview: Billy Drabble (November 2008)

Posted on: November 1st, 2008 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

For over 10 years Billy Drabble has held a Michelin Star at Aubergine. A to Z restaurants – now London Fine Dining – were thrust into the limelight in 1998 when Gordon Ramsay packed his bags and set up on Royal Hospital Road.

They found a new chef – Billy Drabble – to take on the media spotlight and he has shone ever since, gaining a Michelin Star for Aubergine.

Confident in their brand and with a feather in the cap of their long standing head chef, London Fine Dining have taken Aubergine to Marlow. They could not have found a happier setting than The Compleat Angler, replete with fantastic views of the Thames and a beautiful dining room.

Billy found some time to speak to Simon Carter and Daniel Darwood of fine-dining-guide. Interview took place: 1st November 2008.

Postscript: Billy Drabble has subsequently moved to Seven Park Place, St James Hotel Restaurant London (Septemeber 2009).

Billy Drabble

Tell us a little background about yourself?

I started many years ago doing a three year course at Norwich City College. Upon leaving I went, for the following three years, to the Grand Hotel in Eastbourne to work for Keith Mitchell at The Mirabelle.

Then I went to London, where for a year and a half, was working for Philip Britton at The Capital Hotel. Next on my CV was Chez Nico at Ninety Park Lane where, over a three year period, I became a junior sous chef and did the fish section. It was a good time at Nico’s, I started about a month after they got the third Michelin Star.

From there I went to Pied a Terre and worked under Tom Aikens as sous chef: Tom and I have crossed paths a few times – he was the year above me at college and worked at the The Mirabelle the year before me too. It was a really hard kitchen; the hours we did we insane but we kept the two (Michelin) stars.

Then a job came up at Michael’s Nook as head chef, I left Pied a Terre in the July, started at Michael’s Nook in the August and received my first Michelin Star in the January. July 1998 came around and Gordon Ramsay had left The Aubergine and I started there just over 10 years ago on 1st September.

Which of your restaurant experiences proved the most inspirational?

They were all different and each brought something to me: Mirabelle at Eastbourne was good because it was a small and fairly quiet restaurant, this allowed the chef to take time out to teach the basics of what was required to be a proper chef in the real world.

The capital was good because Philip’s food was different from anything being done elsewhere – the way he made his sauces, the way he cooked. We also went down the market twice a week to buy vegetables; I remember sorting through Girolle mushrooms at 5am in the morning trying to pick out the small ones (laughing).

Nico taught the need to do the simple things well, less is more and preparation is key – you don’t need too many garnishes on a plate, just let the ingredients speak for themselves.

Tom (Aikens) was tough, I remember we would be in at 5am going down the market and finishing at 12.30am to 1am. At the time, Tom’s food was very complicated, I remember being on the pastry section, we made around 50 different Petits Fours and a dozen different breads. Everything was labour intensive and multi-layered.

It was important experience to work on the pastry section, most chefs shy away from it but those who work in my kitchen have to do their time on all the sections. After all, I say to them, “If you want to be a head chef one day you have to have done everything well to be able to teach and show others how to do them well and that includes pastry”.

Michael’s Nook taught me how to be a Head Chef, which was a learning curve in itself. Then of course, The Aubergine, where the whole world is watching and asking “Gordon Ramsay has left what’s going on there?”

Who owns Aubergine?

The owners are London Fine Dining, that used to be called A to Z Restaurants. There’s been some juggling of ownership over the last ten years but the restaurant group is basically, The Aubegine, Zafferano, L’Oranger, Alloro, Edera and Memories of China.

How would you describe your cooking style?

It’s kind of new classical French with English ingredients as much as possible.

How do you source your ingredients?

I spend a lot of time sourcing the ingredients: for example, I have an excellent fish supplier in Brixham who phones me every morning and tells me what’s come off the boat that day. I have another in Dorset that I can phone up at 11pm to midnight every night and find out what they’ve got for the next day. Langoustines and hand dived Scallops come from Scotland. I have a great supplier for meats in Cumbria and I’m on the phone to them two or three times a day, I was on the phone this morning and he said he’d have some great Gloucester Old Spots in the next three weeks so I should plan a pork dish. I have great relationships with them and trust them implicitly.

What about local suppliers?

Yes, we’re planning on researching sourcing locally from after Christmas. I think it’s important to have strong local relationships – its good for the community and good for business. Naturally it’s a balancing act, I won’t source something for the sake of it being local, we can’t compromise on needing the best but at the same time we have to support each other in the community.

How do you conceive a dish? Do you have a taste memory?

Broadly speaking from drawing on experience, including, if you want to put it that way, a taste memory. Essentially I cook from the heart rather than the head, although the trial and error element 90% is in my head, the conception comes from the heart.

If you have regulars coming in once a week it’s important to turn over the menu fairly frequently and for real regulars I will try and occasionally cook something off menu.

Is Marlow the new Ludlow?

I don’t think about it really. There’s The Waterside and The Fat Duck not too far away and on the other side Danesfield House, Vanilla Pod and The Hand and Flowers. Hopefully we sit somewhere in the middle and meet the needs of the local dining public. People might ask about the competition but in Chelsea I’m used to having Tom Aikens and Gordon Ramsay just down the road. We’ll just cook what we cook and hope that people like it and keep coming back. I haven’t seen such a beautiful setting for a restaurant as this room in the Compleat Angler.

How do you split your time between the two restaurants?

I’m quite lucky in that the two restaurants are closed on different days, I will tend to split my time according to where needs must. I have absolute faith in Miles here; Miles knows my food and has been with me as sous chef for four years. He heads a brigade of five that may become six. Martin in Chelsea has been with me for four years and was with me as a commis at Michael Nook, he too heads a brigade of five. So I’m very lucky in knowing that I can delegate and if I say how I want it then that is how it will be done. It’s a good thing for the team because you push them, nurture them and respect them and then they see Miles become a head chef and ask themselves “could that be me in a few years time?”

How would you describe the kitchen environment? Is it quiet or noisy?

It’s fairly quiet, everyone knows what they’re doing and they get their heads down and do it. I think if you shout and scream all the time people go deaf to it. I think if you teach people and stay calm you get much more from them. Having said that I will show people, show them again and then again but if they’re still not getting how to put a piece of fish in the pan then I may say “Come on, wake up.” So if I do shout, they’ll know there’s a reason – they need to get moving.

When I was younger I did from time to time lose my temper; I was 26/27 years old when I took over at Aubergine and to begin with the systems were not in place and there was a pile of pressure. Over time you get older and wiser, better organised and develop other perspectives in life – like starting a family – it all helps to mellow you in your approach.

You have a PR company Cooke and Brand, what campaigns are they doing to ensure people come to restaurants of this calibre in this economic climate?

They’re very good, I speak to them often. We have an official meeting once a month to see how we’re drip feeding awareness into the market and keeping the name “out there.” For example, we had the first organically certified Oysters in England and were looking for an article about that – just to get placements in magazines and so on.

Throughout your career the guides have smiled upon you, what do you think of the guides?

I think they’re important. As you get a little bit older you lose a little less sleep over them. Yes Michelin is very important, yes AA is very important, yes I’d love to get two stars and five rosettes and the rest of it but that’s not my decision. So long as customers are coming through the door and they’re happy that’s the main thing. The Guides sure help bringing people in but it’s a balance, the people who come through the door are the most important. We like to think we treat everyone the same; if a Michelin inspector comes in we would treat them exactly the same, we wouldn’t be true to ourselves should we treat him or her any differently.