Archive for November, 2009

Chef Interview: Alain Roux (November 2009)

Posted on: November 27th, 2009 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

 Alain Roux (above) is one of a rare band of Michelin Three Star chef/patron in Britain. Perhaps uniquely amongst such lofty heights, should you want to meet Alain then simply visit his restaurant – The Waterside Inn, Bray – where he cooks.

Having confidently taken the reins from his legendary father (Michel Roux) several years ago, Alain has taken the institution that is The Waterside Inn forward without a blink: With each season the classics seamlessly blend with new creations for the house, providing beautifully balanced menus.

Everything about the restaurant is impeccable from the greeting as you walk in, through pre-dinner drinks, the service, the food, the setting, the atmosphere and so on – a house run by passionate professional enthusiasts for passionate enthusiasts

Alain Roux kindly found time to sit down and talk to Simon Carter of fine-dining-guide, interview took place Friday 27th November 2009 in one of the terrace summerhouses at The Waterside Inn, Bray.

Tell us some of your fondest early memories of restaurant dining?

As a boy and a young man, I have many fond memories of eating out in restaurants – Le Dôme – a lovely brasserie in Paris, very nice, beautiful decor. Higher on the list perhaps, a couple of outings with my mum and sisters at Le Gavroche; the beautiful, rich food in a sophisticated atmosphere were really special memories: The silver service, the sip of wine, the taste of rich food. It was unusual for children to be in Le Gavroche as the clientele at the time were typically the top end business people from the city, so it was quite a memorable experience for a young boy.

As a teenager I particularly remember visiting Restaurant Boyer, Les Crayères in Reims: Beautiful house and the food was stunning.

What were the stages of your professional career development?

My father gave great advice when starting out in the profession. For the entire eight years that I worked in France, my father (Michel Roux) guided me through the various positions to take that would best teach me the craft.

He (Michel Roux) strongly advised me to start by training in the art of pastry so I entered an apprenticeship for a young pastry chef – a two year course – every four weeks you would spend a week at school and the other in the pastry shop working. With pastry you need to be precise, a gram is a gram, but you need specific skills, mixing in a certain order and so on. The rules are so important in pastry, the discipline you have to learn to get it right.

To those who say you can either be a pastry chef or a cook but not both, it may be rare to find those that have the all round flexibility of skills to excel in both but it is possible. Starting in pastry is a good way to achieve all round skills, as it instils the focus and discipline in a young man that helps in the future.

Today, my knowledge and strengths are more on the savoury cooking, however I have stayed very close to the pastry community, joining an international association in 2000 (Relais Desserts) which include 90 of the most talented and known pastry chefs around the world. The objectives are to share knowledge and practice as well as an understanding of how various businesses are run. I’m proud to maintain a number of relationships and friends in the sector. It’s a big part of our family heritage.

Over eight years I worked in five Relais & Chateaux property kitchens, these were typically father and son businesses (in the kitchen) as this would be the future. I also had the benefit of cooking in restaurants that were in different regions of France and so learned many different styles of cooking. The first was Pic in Valence, a three Michelin Star restaurant. In the middle of my time in France I did my military service – Francois Mitterand was the President of France at that time and I had the privilege of cooking at the Elysee Palace.

After military service, I cooked at Château Arnoux, La Bonne Etape , which at the time was two Michelin star and was father and son in the kitchen before going to Christain Germain’s restaurant at Château de Montreuil which still has a Michelin star.

Finally, I went to La Côte St Jacques in Joigny, which again was still a family run kitchen at the time. Then I came to The Waterside Inn and spent ten years working side by side with my father.

How would you describe The Waterside Inn?

A restaurant with rooms where food is the main focus for me and my brigade, however having top quality front of house to deliver the all round package: From having Diego (Masciaga) lead from the top through to having the best people at the door when you enter.

We have an extensive team, front to back, and having a mix of youth and experience is important. The younger generation bring new blood, enthusiasm and passion and bond well with customers of all ages.

The setting, service, ambiance and atmosphere all go hand in hand to make The Waterside Inn a positive and memorable experience for our guests.

In terms of the food, it is about sourcing the best possible ingredients and making the most out of them by delivering clear, deep natural flavours. We work very hard in the kitchen, still guided by my father who, from time to time, gives invaluable advice.

Describe the creative process at The Waterside Inn?

We do try to develop new creations for the house and be as innovative as possible in the context of respect for the tradition of the restaurant. It is a real team effort of thought and preparation; my head chef Fabrice Uhryn has been in that position for over three years and at The Waterside Inn eight years in total. In addition, there are two sous chefs who have some creative input in producing new dishes, so it’s a team effort. It’s good to see the brigade sharing their passion and gaining knowledge as they are learning the trade themselves and developing for the future.

Suppliers are important too, as they may offer the best quality seasonal ingredients of the day, where certain ingredients lend themselves to the very good value set lunch menu. This menu affords the kitchen team the opportunity to be more openly creative, which produces an on-going high quality lunch for our guests. Having said this, it is a balancing act, some of the dishes on the lunch menu are adapted from Waterside classics, perhaps with a slightly different ingredient or interpretation.

We may try a dish ten times or even twenty times before it goes on the menu. On other occasions, just once or twice and then decide it may not be in the style of the house, the family or my cooking.

Cooking in general is an evolutionary process, starting with the basics or fundamentals of classical French cooking then adding a personal twist or interpretation. At the same time, the kitchen must remember that ultimately, the objective is to cook for the guests and when they are brought pleasure, the kitchen is happy too.

The a la carte changes with the seasons four times a year and we have a mix of the classical dishes and the new, more adventurous creations. The restaurant is also sensitive to customer’s dietary needs – be it allergies, or a desire for a choice of lighter dishes through to a full scale vegetarian tasting menu.

Tell us about the kitchen brigade?

The size of the brigade changes as in the summer months we work Tuesday dinner service. The restaurant will also have visitors from around Europe who are learning their trade and will come and work for up to six months. The brigade will range from 15 to 20 chefs with a further 6 in pastry.

It is quite a large pastry section as The Waterside Inn does all pastry from A to Z in house. Perhaps it is rare for a restaurant to deliver 12 different petits fours, however the house is proud of the tradition of its mignardises and that will continue.

In other areas, supplies are brought in whole, on the bone, and we do our own butchery and fish filleting in-house. There is also an area in the kitchen where we make our own doughs and breads.

Tell us about the kitchen re-development

The kitchen re-development has brought the pastry section more into the team space – they are not hidden round a corner. Now there is also a natural clockwise working environment; from the moment supplies enter to the door of the kitchen to the finished dish leaving to the customer everything flows naturally clockwise round the kitchen.

The scale of the redevelopment was very significant, some extraordinary made to measure stainless steel kit was brought on site and we gained a lot of space through some excavation. The kitchen was empty for seven hours at the end of a three month development before the team had just four days to clean, cook, sample and rehearse for our guests. We were so excited to open the doors of the restaurant, we were happy to work long hours for those four days.

Naturally the new space and technology affords us great cooking opportunities and also a more comfortable working space.

You are often seen talking to guests in the dining room?

I learn a great deal from coming round the dining room and talking to guests, it helps to gather information about certain preferences and understand better which dishes are popular and why. For instance, those who prefer lighter choices of dishes and indeed this lead to our delivering a separate vegetarian menu including a tasting menu. These dishes can be labour intensive but most importantly are what some of our guests enjoy.

How has business been over the last few years?

Trade has been good over the last few years, numbers have steadily gone up. When the house is full it’s full! In terms of turnover it becomes a question of the choices of the guests once they are here – yes there have been difficult economic times and perhaps we have seen, for example, the wine choice becoming more conservative. At the same time the accommodation side of the restaurant has developed over the last few years, there is on-going demand for rooms. There were originally six rooms available when I first came to The Waterside Inn and, over time, added more and more suites and rooms.

People like to escape and treat themselves – they may not go out as often, but like to spoil themselves nonetheless and we have experienced on-going demand for both the restaurant and the rooms.

Tell us about The Waterside Inn and Relais & Chateaux

Relais & Chateaux is like a big family – beautiful properties. You also have les Grands Chefs where the food is of a little extra importance. The members of the association are proud to be a part of it and it is a good stamp of quality.

My father retired just last month from his position as first vice president and he has thoroughly enjoyed working with the association.

Tell us about the Roux Scholarship?

The Roux scholarship continues to give a springboard to young people and my father and uncle (Albert Roux) are stillenjoying helping talented youngsters make their way in the trade. My cousin (Michel Roux Jnr) and I participate in the scholarship more and more and are proud to support the development of the next generation.

What are hopes for the future?

Continuity – that customers keep coming to The Waterside Inn and enjoying themselves!

Interview: Andrew Turvil, Editor AA Guide (Nov 2009)

Posted on: November 27th, 2009 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

The AA Restaurant Guide has proven a leading authority to restaurants, customers and chefs for over seventeen years. Since the 1960s there has been an AA Hotel Guide and since 1908 The AA Handbook has touched on food and restaurants.

Andrew Turvil (left) is coming up to his first anniversary as editor and found time to speak to Simon Carter of fine-dining-guide.

Interview took place Thursday 26th November 2009 at Andrew’s home in Brighton.

Tell us some background about yourself?

Initially my background was in editorial. At the beginning of the 1990s I was lucky enough to get a position in a junior editorial capacity at The Which? Good Food Guide.

I grew up in a family with a passion for food and, like so many British people of my generation, it was holidays in France in the 1970s where I had my eyes opened to good food. We lived in Switzerland for a year, too. The food encountered in France was in stark contrast to what was typically available in the UK at that time.

At The Good Food Guide at the beginning of the 1990s, I was lucky enough to work with Tom Jaine, who joined the Guide as Editor at about the same time, and then Jim Ainsworth. I learned from them both about what constitutes good cooking, the importance of quality, seasonal produce, the attention to detail required to deliver first-class food, etc. And I started working as an inspector.

Over the last twenty years I’ve borne witness to the flourishing and almost revolutionary changes in dining out in Britain. From the mid-1990s I took over as manager of the Good Food Guide’s team of inspectors and also edited The Which? Pub Guide – more travelling and eating – at the time of the rise of the gastro-pub.

I moved into the hot seat as editor of the Which? Good Food Guide and after completing four editions (2004, ’05, ’06, ’07), I went freelance. I jumped at the chance to edit the AA Restaurant Guide when asked, and I’m very proud of the 2010 edition.

Tells us a little about the history of The AA Restaurant Guide?

The AA first started assessing hotels and restaurant in 1908. Over a century ago! The AA Handbook was initially the ‘vehicle’ for this, which was about quality ratings for Hotels but also touched on the food. A separate guide for Hotels was created in the 1960s and a further separate volume specifically for restaurants was launched seventeen years ago, just as the UK dining scene started to get very interesting.

What is your personal philosophy for the Guide?

First and foremost the clue is in the title – it’s a Guide book. It has to serve that function and be rock solid, reliable, credible and informative so that customers are happy to invest £16.99 in each edition. My team and I endeavour to write interesting and accurate reviews of restaurants and generally make it a good read.

I have a dual role. As editor, I am responsible for what is written about each restaurant. As an inspector, I am part of the team, eating out and awarding the rosettes.

Guides these days have changing formats – has this trend affected the AA Restaurant Guide?

The 2009 Guide went to a slightly bigger page size and simplified the way some of the information is presented. Over the years, the guide has certainly experimented with different formats. What we have now is clear, easy to understand, easy to navigate and colourful. We also have the space and opportunity to include a number of feature articles, giving the book a bit more scope and breadth, which is all part of making it useful, informative and a good read.

Tell us about The AA Restaurant Guide Awards?

It’s great to have the opportunity to reward and recognise restaurants that stand out in any given year. A significant achievement such as the 25th anniversary of Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons is certainly something worth rewarding. Raymond Blanc has received the maximum five rosettes in every edition of the AA Restaurant Guide, and this year we gave him the much deserved Lifetime Achievement Award. Then there’s the chance to highlight up and coming chefs and to acknowledge the fact that great restaurants can be found all over the country, not just in London. There’s also the Chefs’ Chef award – all chefs listed in the guide were invited to vote – which went to Marcus Wareing this year.

Tell us about the Guide’s internet presence?

The AA website is a fantastic resource, including information on travel and where to stay and eat. The printed book and the internet site complement each other very well. The book fits snugly into any glove compartment. The 2010 AA Restaurant Guide can also be purchased from The AA at

What is the set up for the inspection team?

The majority of the AA inspection team is full time, with approximately thirty regionally-managed inspectors. They have industry experience, top-notch training and follow strict criteria when inspecting hotels and awarding rosettes to restaurants. It is as objective as humanly possible.

Some of the inspection team are what we call ‘eater-writers’ – exclusively visiting stand alone restaurants.

How do new or existing addresses go about getting an inspection?

Simply enough we need to know they exist and, secondly, that they’re right for an inspection. The Guide will make a discerning decision, initially based on the menu, but also taking into consideration the background and experience of the people involved. Often a new opening will immediately be on the radar of the regional inspectors. In addition, restaurants can write to the AA Guide, email us, and our readers are more than welcome to recommend places.

How frequent might an inspection happen?

The ambition is to inspect as often as possible. I would suggest The AA Guide is very competitive in the area of inspections given the size and reach of the inspection team. The top places get multiple visits, especially when a promotion or demotion is being considered. We always inspect when a chef changes.

What is the decision making process for Rosette promotion or demotion?

The inspectors are all experienced in grading rosettes, bench-marking as it were, and awards are at their recommendation. At the higher levels (three rosettes and above) there are usually multiple visits and the award is ratified by our ‘Hospitality Awards Panel’ of independent experts. So, in the event of a recommendation to change Rosettes at the higher level, this panel will provide a layer of ratification. The AA Restaurant Guide has a robust, consistent and objective process and takes these decisions very seriously.

What role does reader feedback play?

The AA Restaurant Guide’s content is essentially based on the work of a team of expert inspectors. Its methods are robust and reliable. In that sense, although we welcome reader opinion, it is not the bedrock of the Guide. There are forms at the back of the book and we’re always happy to hear about our readers experiences in restaurants. You can have your say on the internet version, too.

What gains Rosettes – food on a plate or other factors?

Rosettes are purely about the food on the plate. The Guide entries cover other factors such as setting, atmosphere, wine and service and so on. So the quality of the cooking is the beginning and end of the Rosette awards.

Any plans to change the Rosette System?

Absolutely not. It is a brand that is strong in the industry – the public and chefs understand the Rosette system well. Chefs are rightly proud to put their AA Rosettes on their CVs or present them with a high profile at their restaurants, or on their websites. And the customers, our readers, seem to appreciate the clarity and reliability of the awards.

What is the situation regarding consultancy provided to chefs?

The AA does provide consultancy on everything from housekeeping to book keeping to the food. The objective is to help raise standards in the industry. This is separate to the research and inspection procedures, and, as Editor of Restaurant Guide, I have absolutely no involvement with the consultancy process.

The January interim awards is well received…tell us about that

One of the challenges with a guide book is that it makes a statement only once a year. The interim awards enable us to provide a ‘mid-term’ update. During the year, one and two Rosette entries are changed, when necessary, on an on-going

basis on the on-line version of the guide. As the three rosette and above awards may have multiple inspections, any changes were previously only revealed at publication of the guide. The January update means the readers – and chefs – don’t have to wait 12 months. This seems to have gone down well with all parties.

What are the plans for the AA Restaurant Guide?

To play to the AA’s strengths – the integrity of the brand, the size and reach of the organisation – and to make the Guide as innovative, informative and useful as possible. I want anyone who loves good food and restaurants to have it on their ‘must read’ list.

An A-Z of Michelin (2009 Press Release, GB)

Posted on: November 17th, 2009 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

January 17th 2009 – Throughout the year, from January to December, the MICHELIN guide team is fully focused on the forthcoming edition’s release date. The process involves a number of steps—visiting hotels and restaurants, checking information, writing the text and laying out the Guide.

Preparations for a new version of the MICHELIN guide begin with the editor-in-chief who draws up a schedule of visits for the team of inspectors. As the Guide’s orchestrator, he determines the territories to be visited and assigns inspectors to each.  Thus, every year each inspector is assigned to cover several French departments, which are not necessarily close to each other.

86 inspectors searching for the best places to have a meal or spend the night

A year in the life of a MICHELIN guide inspector can be summed up in a few figures. Traveling anonymously, each inspector eats approximately 250 meals in restaurants and spends around 150 nights in hotels and guesthouses. He or she also visits more than 800 establishments and writes 1,100 reports. For country guide inspectors, this represents around 30,000 km on the road. At present, 86 men and women are involved in this highly unusual work, of which 70 in Europe, 10 in the United States and, for the moment, 6 in Asia. They spend their time on the road and in restaurants and hotels, looking for just the right place—one that they know readers will appreciate. Averaging around 40 years old, inspectors may be married and have children or they may be single. Some are tall and thin, while others are short and stout. Most have attended hotel school, and then worked for five to ten years in the hospitality industry before applying for a job with the MICHELIN guide. Following a series of interviews and lunch with a senior inspector (after which applicants write a “fresh eyes” report, in particular to demonstrate their attention to detail), the new inspector embarks on a six-month training period during which he or she will learn about the criteria for awarding stars, assigning comfort categories and assessing other amenities. During these six months, new hires will test restaurants in the company of a senior inspector before being given an initial solo assignment in their country.

Three weeks a month on the road
Inspectors generally spend three weeks on the road every month, looking for good hotels and restaurants. They discover, test and confirm establishments that either will be included in the selection or, on the contrary, will be removed from the guide. For the fourth week, they return to the office, where they submit their reports and are debriefed by the editor-in-chief. Decisions are then made as to which hotels and restaurants to include in the selection, which should be removed because of a decline in quality, which will be awarded the Bib Gourmand or Bib Hotel pictogram, and which chefs have crossed a new threshold in their careers. As for stars, they are awarded in special meetings, held twice a year and attended by the editor-in-chief, the inspectors and the Director of MICHELIN guides. Decisions regarding the attribution of stars are reached by consensus. The week spent in the office also provides inspectors with an opportunity to prepare for their next series of visits, book their tables and rooms, and learn more about the establishments they’ll be visiting. In planning their schedules, they’re helped by the editor-in-chief’s assistant, who provides them with a wealth of information obtained from the press, directly from the restaurant or hotel manager, or from other sources.

Valuable information is also found in the 45,000 letters and e-mail messages received from readers each year. While 85% of the correspondence supports the selection, the remaining 15% comes from readers who don’t agree with the inclusion of a given hotel or restaurant or want to draw attention to an establishment omitted from the selection that they enjoyed very much and think might interest the guide. While these letters and messages may provide useful indications, obviously they are never a substitute for the indispensable work carried out by inspectors in the field.

In the offices on Avenue de Breteuil in Paris, the new edition of the Guide is drafted and laid out.  Once the inspectors have submitted their reports and gone back on the road, the information is processed by the administrative manager who uses it to update town plans and check other useful information, such as the name or address of a given establishment. For example, if a hotel or restaurant is to be withdrawn from the selection, it must no longer appear on the plan of the town in which it is located.

The information is also shared with the guide’s writers. Working with the inspectors’ reports, as well as with brochures and other documents brought back from trips in the field, the writers draft the comments to be included in the MICHELIN guide.  Generally three or four lines in the country guides, the comments are longer and more detailed in the city guides and the “Bonnes Petites Tables” and Guesthouses in France guides. The rationale is that a full description will arouse the reader’s interest. The ability to write well and synthesize information are the main qualities required of the staff members who, every year, write the comments in the guide’s national language for more than 45,000 establishments, representing more than 300,000 lines each.

At the same time, the editorial manager oversees the preparation of texts, maps, town plans, photographs and the other information contained in the guides, beginning with the layout and the organization of information. If a new pictogram needs to be designed or a new publication laid out, the editorial manager is in charge to ensure compliance with graphic standards.  Recent projects include the reformatted versions of the Paris and London guides, as well as the creation of the Guesthouses in France and “Bonnes Petites Tables” guides.

Once the information has been gathered, the texts written and the town plans updated, the publication then moves into the pre-press phase just prior to printing. That’s when the texts, town plans, photographs are brought together and integrated into the mock-up so that the entire guide can be re-read by the various people and departments concerned, including the inspectors and the map department. Once the guide has been validated, the files are sent to the printer. Several weeks later, shrink-wrapped pallets of the famous MICHELIN guide are ready for shipment to sales outlets throughout the country.

Every year, around 500 people are involved in preparing the MICHELIN guide
In the end, the MICHELIN guide represents a year of work for 500 people, including inspectors, graphic artists, writers, mapmakers and the Michelin production department. Regardless of their task, whether working in an office or on the road, they all share the same goal, which is to consistently satisfy readers and provide them with an attractive, accurate, easy-to-use guide. Quality, enthusiasm and precision are their top priorities. Because it’s not just by chance that, 100 years after its launch, the MICHELIN guide is the world’s number one restaurant guide and is sometimes referred to as the benchmark in gourmet dining.

Stars and the Bib Gourmand pictogram denote the quality of cooking, while pavilions and fork-and-spoon symbols indicate the level of comfort

The pictograms in the MICHELIN guide can be defined as follows: stars and the Bib Gourmand icon reflect the quality of the cooking, while pavilions and fork-and-spoon symbols signify the level of comfort.

From that point on, all combinations are possible. A restaurant may rate five forks and spoons (“luxury in the traditional style”) but not receive a star because the quality of the cooking does not warrant it. Conversely, a restaurant may have one fork and spoon (“quite comfortable) and yet receive three stars because of its outstanding cooking.

Investing in silverware and valet parking will increase the number of forks and spoons (for a restaurant) or pavilions (for a hotel) but will have no impact on the number of stars. Serving outstanding dishes will have no influence on a restaurant’s level of comfort but may have an impact on the number of stars. The two categories are totally separate.

The stars were developed gradually in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The first step came in 1926, when the first star was introduced. The second and third stars were then added, in 1931 for restaurants outside the Paris area and two years later for restaurants in the capital. Today, in the 22 countries worldwide currently covered by the MICHELIN guide, approximately 1,800 restaurants have been awarded one, two or three stars. To have earned one or more stars in the MICHELIN guide means that a restaurant is not only one of the best in its country but also one of the best in the world.

The Bib Gourmand symbol was introduced in 1997. This pictogram—the head of Bibendum, the Michelin Man, in red—denotes a restaurant that offers excellent value for money. The Bib Gourmand designation is appreciated both by readers, who know they will eat well for an affordable price, and by restaurant managers, who know that the distinction will attract more customers.

The Bib Gourmand selections for France and Italy are also featured in two “Bonnes Petites Tables” guides. The goal is to show that there is more to the MICHELIN guide then “starred” restaurants, which in fact represent only 10% of the overall selection.  The Bib Hotel symbol was introduced in 2003 to draw the reader’s attention to establishments whose services and amenities also represent very good value for money.

Lastly, the “two coins” pictogram indicates a restaurant that offers a three-course meal for less than €18 (in France). The latest edition of the MICHELIN guide France includes around 1,900 of these restaurants. While the Bib Gourmand, Bib Hotel, stars and coins are the most well-known pictograms in the MICHELIN guide, there are many others that provide readers with information about each establishment.

Etoile: the magazine for gourmets only!

Launched last April, Etoile, the magazine of the MICHELIN guide, is published bimonthly in partnership with Éditions Glénat. Not surprisingly, it focuses on gourmet dining.

In its pages, readers, gourmets and other food lovers discover restaurants, chefs, and fine-dining destinations, meet today’s culinary-trendsetting people and places, follow a Michelin inspector across France, wander the streets and neighborhoods of a city with a chef who knows all the best places to eat, and explore new horizons and new taste sensations.

Like the MICHELIN guide for more than a century, Etoile accompanies readers on their trips, guiding them toward unforgettable, unexpected, out-of-the-ordinary experiences… in short, enhancing the mobility and enjoyment of readers and travelers.

Co-published six times a year by Michelin and Glénat, Etoile provides readers with the very best of the world of gastronomy—the latest news, profiles of well-known and up-and-coming chefs, gourmet itineraries traced by Michelin inspectors in France and around the world, and articles on astonishing vineyards and wines that can be shared with friends. Intended for a broad audience, Etoile is the indispensable rendezvous for people for whom fine dining is a passing interest, a passion or a key criterion in planning their travels.

Each issue is organized into four sections: news, gourmet dining, travel and wine.

Published in French only and priced at €4.90, Etoile is currently available in France, Belgium, Switzerland, French-speaking Canada and Italy.

The MICHELIN guide’s international development

In 1900, the MICHELIN guide was confined to just one country: France.

Today, in 2008, it covers 22 countries: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the United States and Japan.

While the MICHELIN guide moved quickly to cover other destinations in Europe (publishing a guide to Belgium, its first venture outside France, in 1904), it wasn’t until 2005 that the Guide made its first entry into the United States with the launch of the MICHELIN guide New York City. That was followed the next year by the MICHELIN guide San Francisco, Bay Area & Wine Country and, in November 2007, the MICHELIN guide Los Angeles and the MICHELIN guide Las Vegas.

In late 2007, the first guide to Asia, and more particularly Japan, was released. The initial edition of the MICHELIN guide Tokyo was brought out in November 2007 and proved an enormous success, with more than 120,000 copies in Japanese sold in less than 24 hours and more than 290,000 in its first five weeks on the market.

The MICHELIN guide will continue to broaden its horizons, both in the United States, where guides to other cities will soon be  published (joining the four existing guides for New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Las Vegas), and in Asia, where Hong Kong and Macau will have their own guide, to be released in Chinese and English in December 2008. The People’s Republic of China will thus become the 23rd country covered by the MICHELIN guide.

Today, the MICHELIN guide covers 22 countries: Germany, Austria, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Portugal, Spain, France, Ireland, the United Kingdom, the United States, Japan, Greece, Italy, Sweden, Norway, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Hungary, Luxembourg, Poland and Finland.

When they launched the first guide bearing their name in August 1900, André and Edouard Michelin certainly never imagined that 109 years later their little red guide would cross borders and navigate the seas to become the global benchmark in fine dining.

Interview: Nicola Liddiard, UK MD Relais & Chateux (2009)

Posted on: November 15th, 2009 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Known originally as Relais de Campagne (1954), Relais & Chateaux was an association started by a small group of like minded hoteliers, who went on a journey south along the N7 from Paris stopping at eight places along the way – they called this their Route du Bonheur.

In similar spirit, some 56 years later, Relais & Châteaux customers seek their individual, tailored, route du boheur and the team at the London ‘maison’ is more than equipped to help.

Nicola Liddiard (left), UK Director, Relais & Châteaux at The London Maison, Beauchamp Place, Knightsbridge spoke to Simon Carter of fine-dining-guide on Tuesday November 24rd 2009.

Tell us some background about yourself?

I’ve been in the hospitality industry for more than 20 years, always at the luxury end of the market, working for five-star companies such as Sheraton, Luxury Collection , Meridien and Radisson. As well as regional experience in various UK and European destinations, I have also had on-property experience. My work has taken me all over the Middle East, Europe and Asia.

In 2006, I heard Relais & Châteaux was looking for someone to open and run the UK subsidiary of the French company. I was lucky enough to get the position and in April 2006 I started running the UK office of Relais & Châteaux. One of my first assignments was to find the right home for the company: I had six months to house-hunt for a permanent ‘Maison’ in the UK. I finally settled on Beauchamp Place in Knightsbridge. It suits the style and cosmopolitan luxury of our brand perfectly.  From start to finish, the project took a year and a half to complete. We opened the Maison in December 2007, and we’re about to celebrate our second birthday.

Describe your current roles and responsibilities

As UK Director, responsibilities include looking after UK & Ireland reservations on behalf of our 475 members world-wide for both inbound and outbound customers. The boutique here also provides a personal face-to-face service for reservations.

While customers can, and are encouraged to, make reservations online via, it’s vital to add value by offering every service we can, with efficiency, polish and expertise, from fielding calls via the toll free number to exploring itineraries face to face with clients, like a traditional travel consultant.

This office also handles all PR and marketing activities for Relais & Châteaux London Ltd, which includes events in the UK and around the world. To give you a couple of examples of our marketing activities, in the first week of February we are hosting show-cases in London, Manchester and Edinburgh to present our properties to prospective and existing clients – they do very much appreciate it when we go out to them. In March we go to New York to launch our new package ‘Charming British Escapes’.

Another recent project brought to fruition by the UK office was a beautiful coffee table recipe book, A Taste of Relais & Châteaux. All our UK chefs contributed recipes and we offered our Club 5C members (I’ll talk about that later) the opportunity to buy a copy of the book signed by their favourite chef.

The 2010 Relais & Châteaux Guide is launched on December 7th 2009?

Yes, at The Connaught, which we’re very excited to welcome to our association as a new flagship accommodation and destination hotel in the capital. We have not had a property in central London for some years, and we are obviously delighted that our London offering is one of the world’s most famous hotels. Part of the Relais & Châteaux strategy is to provide customers with world class travelling itineraries. For that to work, it is important to be able to offer the highest level of food and accommodation in a gateway city such as London or Paris.

Our customers typically travel around a country (or several countries) seeking the best on offer, and tailoring their itineraries accordingly. Having The Connaught join this year brings benefits to the hotel, the association, the destination and, most importantly, to the customers.

Tell us about Les Grands Chefs

Relais & Châteaux wants to bring to customers premium properties that offer fine food and we currently boast 23 Michelin stars across the UK & Ireland and have honoured many of our top chefs with Le Grand Chef status; Le Gavroche and Hélène Darroze at the Connaught in London, The Fat Duck, The Waterside Inn, Gidleigh Park and Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons, all boast stars and a Grand Chef at the helm. I believe we are the only hotel and restaurant association to hold more than 300 Michelin stars worldwide: undoubtedly the best starting point for committed foodies.

Les Grands Chefs were known as Relais Gourmands until recently. We altered the name for the sake of our international clients – we felt that ‘Grand Chefs’ expressed more simply and clearly what sets the particular property kitchen apart. Food is one of the most important components of a good holiday for all our clients and many will seek out those properties where Les Grands Chefs are working their magic.

What is the philosophy of Relais & Châteaux?

Relais & Chateaux has had its Quality Charter in place for many years. At the heart of it are what we call ‘the 5 Cs’, which are the essential requirements of membership. Fortunately the concept works in French and English! The 5Cs are:

• Courtesy – The quality of the welcome in a Relais & Châteaux is impeccable and the service is always attentive.
• Charm – member properties are stylish establishments with a relaxing atmosphere and elegant interiors.
• Character – Each Relais & Châteaux has its own style whether it is a château, manor house or abbey.
• Calm – every property offers a tranquil escape.
• Cuisine – food of the highest standard is essential

Properties generally apply to become members – we rarely solicit membership. But they are all still anonymously inspected and our inspectors look for much more than the 5Cs. We have another checklist that we refer to as the ‘Five Ideals’, which are all about the customer experience, and these go to the heart of our philosophy. Our five ideals are:

• Soul of the innkeeper – a personality at the heart of the property
• Taste of the land – a dining experience with a sense of place
• Celebration of the senses – harmony and balance in all aspects of the stay
• Awakening of the Art of Living – new discoveries in a life-enhancing stay
• Passport to Friendship – enjoyable and enriching human contact

Building on the 5Cs, we invite most regular customers to join our Club 5C. Naturally we want to recognise and reward their loyalty, and Club 5C members receive special benefits (I mentioned the exclusively signed copies of A Taste of Relais & Châteaux before) such as upgrades and gifts on arrival. They also receive a Club newsletter with exclusive special offers and suggested ‘Route du Bonheur’ itineraries. We also hold regular evening events in our Maison in London and invite the members to come and meet our hoteliers in person.

How does a customer acquire a copy of The Relais & Chateaux Guide?

All Relais & Châteaux properties stock complimentary copies. We also encourage people to break their shopping, sightseeing or working day in London to drop in to the Maison in Beauchamp Place for the chance to rest their legs and sample Relais & Chateaux hospitality. They can pick up a Guide there, and we also have a distribution list, which anyone can join via Naturally we will offer them a hot or cold beverage whilst we assist with their enquiries.

What’s new for Relais & Châteaux in UK & Ireland?

A new package called Charming British Escapes will include dinner, bed and breakfast in two categories across our members in UK & Ireland. We are always looking for third parties with the same market profile as ourselves with whom we can co-operate, and from January 25th to 31st we will be working with Harrods to promote three launches: the 2010 Relais & Chateaux Guide, the Charming British Escapes packages and the second edition of the UK & Ireland Guide.

It’s worth emphasising what an excellent tool the UK & Ireland Guide is. Each property has several pages dedicated to it, with a description of the character and activity options in the local area, and special insider tips from the local general manager. So it really serves as a travel guide and companion, and an inspiring source of ideas for future itineraries combining Relais & Châteaux properties to explore our beautiful islands.

Where did the new approach of route planning and itineraries come from?

It goes back to the founding principles of Relais & Châteaux, which was called Relais de Campagne when it was launched in 1954. A group of eight hoteliers travelled south from Paris along the N7, breaking the journey in eight places along the way. They called this original journey the Route du Bonheur. Relais & Châteaux has noted that most travellers are seeking multi- destination routes for their trips and may require two, three or four properties. The aim is to help them discover their own personal Route du Bonheur – in the spirit of the founders of the Association.

And this is a fundamental part of strategy for the future of Relais & Châteaux?

In terms of membership, there are three strategic objectives: to expand the number of member properties; to extend the geographical reach of Relais & Châteaux, for example in Asia and Latin America; and to develop the membership in key cities across the world. The latter is important as we are convinced that the right properties in these key city locations will act as gateways to all our other member properties when customers are planning their ‘Route du Bonheur.’ Again I must stress that these objectives work always within the context of our quality charter and philosophy.

From a promotion perspective Relais & Chateaux will be investing in its internet presence and taking this to another level. We recognise that 50% and more of bookings already come through this channel and it’s absolutely essential that online booking is as easy and appealing as possible. We have always moved with the times technologically, and most recently we introduced a new and significantly upgraded centralized reservation system in 2009, making the online reservation process faster and more efficient. .

I’d like to highlight the two important areas where we are concentrating our efforts. One is the promotion of our ‘5 Ideals’ which we have already discussed; the second is extending our involvement in training. We are developing relationships with all the world’s key hotel schools and regularly take trainees to give them experience of the best in 5-star luxury hospitality world wide. We view it as an investment in the future of our Association and the industry.

At Relais & Châteaux we are tremendously proud of the achievements of all our member chefs and hoteliers, and aware of our role in driving up standards and setting the benchmark for aspiring hoteliers fired by ambition and passion for the noble business of hospitality. The question of a formal youth training scheme, or even a Relais & Chateaux hotel school, is something I am often asked about, and we often discuss it. That’s all I can say on the subject at the moment. Watch this space!

The Square, Restaurant Review, November 2009

Posted on: November 11th, 2009 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Phil Howard, chef and co-owner of The Square in Mayfair, has much of which to be proud. Since 1991, this largely self- taught chef has presided over one of London’s most consistent high end restaurants, gaining numerous accolades of which two Michelin Stars is the most prestigious. Part of the secret of his success lies in his genuine passion for cooking and eating, (although his slim build would suggest he exercises well!) Shunning the glamour that could so easily be his if he opted for a higher media profile as a celebrity chef, Phil has devoted himself to his kitchen, rarely missing a service.

The Square exudes sophistication and elegance: entering through a small bar area, the large room is high ceilinged, parquet floored and spot lit, being decorated with colourful abstract art canvasses and frame beveled mirrors. Gilt silk curtains line full drop windows which are half screened off from the gaze of outsiders. The walls have a marble gold effect which adds to the luxurious feel. Generously sized tables are well spaced, with heavy floor length under-cloths topped with crisp linen. Dark brown and checked upholstered arm chairs make for a most comfortable dining experience.

Menus change with the seasons, with adjustments in early and late summer. Quality is impeccable, with the finest and freshest ingredients showcased across the three courses of the carte. Sustainability and distance from London are also major considerations when choosing suppliers. The nine choices for starters and main courses give an unusually generous choice, with fish featuring strongly: Icelandic cod, Cornish sea bass, halibut and turbot all appear on the autumn menu. As an alternative or addition to the six desserts, cheese is offered for a supplement, modest compared with other restaurants of this level. An eight course tasting menu (£100, £155 including wines) is also available for those who cannot choose amongst the embarrassment of riches on the carte ( £75 for three courses).

Whilst luxuries abound, the carte might also surprise with the inclusion of imaginatively prepared humbler ingredients: tartare of mackerel, emulsion of chicken wings (both starters) and caramelized pork belly with glazed trotter all feature on the autumn menu. The bargain lunch menu (£35 for three courses) is more likely to offer less expensive yet equally flavoursome ingredients, such Cornish anchovies and pigs’ cheeks.

Dishes often comprise several elements, yet the overall effect being one of a delicious harmony of tastes and textures. Quirky combinations are avoided yet creativity is retained: witness a starter trio of game consommé, with playful garnishes of wild duck club sandwich and a grouse and venison Scotch egg. Presentation is attractive, the clean lines lacking the contrived daintiness often associated with designer led compositions. Squiggles and smears are avoided, with puree garnishes being large enough to recognize the ingredient. Flavour and taste are, as always, paramount, with appropriate classic French cooking methods – largely eschewing faddish techniques – being employed.

Phil Howard claims he cannot live without langoustines; nor can many of his diners, who have made his starter a best seller. Three plump tails – the largest seen by this reviewer – are gently sautéed to retain sweetness and succulence, their soft texture being complemented by a parmesan gnocci and pumpkin puree and contrasted by onion rings and trompettes de la mort. The whole dish is lifted by the judicious addition of truffle, to produce a gastronomic tour de force.

A Tasting Plate of Langoustine with Parmesan Gnocci and Pumpkin Puree


Equally popular is another signature starter: discs of ultra thin spinach lasagne are sandwiched with delicate white Dorset crab meat and surrounded by a rich shellfish and champagne cappuccino, the lightness of which succeeded in complementing, not dominating the main element.

Lasange of Crab with Shellfish Sauce and a Champagne Foam


Other starters include a generous lobe of roast foie gras, the richness cut with a sweet and sour glaze, and textural contrast supplied by semi dried pineapple, honeycomb, puffed rice and confit of endive.

Foie Gras with a Sweet and Sour Glaze


Fish cookery is triumphantly exemplified in a main course of roast turbot with red wine sauce. Again, what might initially seem to be an excessive number of elements – cauliflower, parmesan and almond salad, truffled cauliflower puree, and a vacherin croquette – all proved compatible and pleasing bedfellows.

Autumn menus exhibit the joys of game cookery. A gentle, rather than pungent flavour pervades these dishes, whether in starters of game consommé and pigeon ravioli or more substantial main courses. Breasts of grouse are poached before roasting to produce a melting tenderness. Contrast is provided by a croustillant of farce meat, the whole dish being brought together by a luscious elderberry sauce.

Roast Breast and Croustillant of Grouse


Roast saddle of Lincolnshire hare was timed to a perfect medium rare which maximized its taste. A deep red wine sauce, a tarte fine of pear, and a celeriac puree, enhanced this rich, indulgent main course.

Desserts maintain the same excellent standards of composition and execution. Consider, for instance, the mille feuille: crisp rounds of feuillantine pastry are sandwiched by caramelized balls of apples and pears, the whole being topped with fine prune and armagnac ice cream. Brillat-Savarin cheesecake is rich but light, benefitting from the acidulation of passion fruit and lime. The only discordant element in all of the dishes sampled was the sauternes jelly – possibly too acidic – which surrounded a classically rendered crème caramel. The Florentines and chestnut financiers, on the other hand, were faultless.

MIllefeuille of Apple and Pear


Incidentals, from the salted and unsalted butter, the bread, the amuse bouches to the excellent coffee and petit fours, all show the quality and attention to detail that make The Square such a special restaurant. The impressive wine list – winner of the Good Food Guide Wine List of the Year in 2008 – ranges over the globe, but is particularly strong on Burgundies. Wines by the glass start at £5.75 for Sauvignon Blanc and £7.50 for a Sicilian Cerasuolo, although there are few bottles under £30. The Sommelier expertly matches wines to dishes for those who need assistance.

Service is helpful, unobtrusive, knowledgeable and slick, like a well oiled machine, but one with personality and humour. Restaurant Manager David O’Connor oversees the operation with a gentle charm yet firm grip, this being essential given the large numbers of waiting staff.

Superlatives should be used with caution in reviewing restaurants, but no apology is made here in saying that a meal at The Square is a total experience, excellent in every respect. Phil Howard insists he will remain at the Square, which is reassuring to his devoted and loyal clientele. That his efforts and those of his team should be rewarded with a third Michelin star is well overdue.

By Daniel Darwood, 6th November 2009

Chef Interview: Phil Howard (November 2009)

Posted on: November 6th, 2009 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood
Phil Howard

Phil Howard

Often referred to as a “Chef’s Chef” Michelin Two Starred Phil Howard (left) quickly cooked his way to the top of the profession.

Nearly twenty years on, Phil continues to go from strength to strength while remaining in the kitchen of his flagship restaurant The Square.

Phil found time to talk to Simon Carter and Daniel Darwood of fine-dining-guide. Interview took place Friday November 6th 2009, at The Square Restaurant.

Tell us some background about yourself?

I’ve been cooking at The Square since 1991, which has been a phenomenal journey!

It was actually at university that I got passionately into cooking – I didn’t go to Catering College but instead studied micro-biology, something at which I didn’t particularly excel but following on from what I was doing at school, it was the natural next step.

There was no particular cultural backdrop of cooking in the family, although my mum is a great cook, I would say an instant and obsessive interest in cooking just happened one day at university and has fortunately never left me.

Whilst I found micro-biology fascinating I had no particular desire to pursue anything in that area as a career. So after I graduated in 1988,I took a year out and went travelling – worked in a few restaurants in Australia – and generally had some space from any perceived pressure as to what I should be doing for a career.

In 1989, I returned home and decided that my passion for cooking was the right direction and picked up copies of the Which? Good Food Guide and Michelin and applied to what I considered were the top ten or so operators.

Fortunately, I quickly got a position working at the Rouxs’ contract catering arm at Kleinwort Benson in the city. I had a wonderful year there before going to dinner one evening at Marco Pierre White’s Harveys. It was one of those inspirational moments!

I worked for Marco for nine hectic months before heading off to work for Simon Hopkinson at Bibendum in South Kensington. He too was a great cook.

During that time I redeveloped a rapport with Marco and to cut a long story short, an opportunity arose out of the association with Marco and Nigel Platts-Martin to open The Square.

It’s been a long and meandering but progressive journey – we opened The Ledbury (Notting Hill) nearly five years ago and Brett (Graham, the chef and now partner) has gone from strength to strength. I have also just opened a new venture called Kitchen W8, which I expect to serve good quality food in a relaxed atmosphere and do well.

How did your association with Nigel Platts-Martin come about?

Well Nigel (Platts-Martin) was Marco’s (Pierre-White) original backer and then partner at Harveys. Around 1990 Marco went in a separate direction to open The Restaurant at The Hyde Park Hotel (now called The Mandarin Oriental Hotel) which left a window of opportunity to partner with Nigel in a new venture.

At that point the furthest I had been in my career was Chef de Partie – I had never run, managed or contributed to the running of a kitchen in any way, so consequently was vastly under qualified for the job.

There was a whole raft of skills I was missing, not that any skill in particular was complicated or difficult to master but en masse, (and combined with a busy restaurant) it was a very steep learning curve. The strength of youth (the lack of fear), enthusiasm and willingness to learn held me in good stead.

In those early days, the kitchen was producing some of the most blinding food in London, although with so few of us in the kitchen and the covers going through the roof, we were inconsistent. You might eat something sublime one night and then wait an eternity the next and receive something sub-standard the next. In hindsight, those were great days but all part of the learning process.

How do you balance life as a chef/patron?

It is an eternal struggle. It’s probably only in the last couple of years that I’ve let go of some of the sticks with which I used to beat myself.

Over the first ten years you learn lots of things – to communicate, to manage, to delegate, to take yourself less seriously (laughing) and so on. At the same time you’re evolving your ways of working, improving your employment standards and hopefully starting to make some money.

Yet this trade remains one of the few that continues to rely entirely on a brigade of manual labour to create and recreate the product every day.

So it’s a natural, evolutionary learning process on how to get the best out of people, the best out of your systems and the best out of yourself.

How often does the menu change at The Square?

It’s taken me eighteen years to finally introduce a system that allows us to print in house and change the menu progressively. I’ve found it essential for inspiration and personal development (as well as keeping the kitchen fresh) to make changes to the menu but it’s critical that it should happen in an ordered manner. Although nothing is perfect, any change equals hard work, pain and inconsistency for a period of time, which essentially balances out professional progress, motivation and satisfaction.

The menu changes significantly five times a year, we have the four regular seasons plus early and late summer split into two. In an ideal world I would like to take all the seasonal ingredients in a long list, explore various cooking techniques, and create (from within) a complete, new and totally balanced menu in one go: The kind of time consuming, fraught, risk ridden, birth giving process that you simply cannot do cooking in a restaurant at this level.

The system we employ allows us to develop the menu sensibly, bringing in change over a period of time, while doing the things we want to do, with a strong adherence to the seasons, and being true to our goals and standards.

How would you describe your gastronomy?

The style could be referred to as ‘modern progressive French’. After twenty years of cooking there is a fundamental ‘style of repertoire’ – the ‘signature’, but we are far from a strict old school kitchen. The last few years have witnessed the development of a number of innovative cooking techniques and technologies that can benefit delivering the end product on a plate.

Where the word ‘innovation’ differs at The Square is that we don’t want to cerebrally challenge customers with combinations of ingredients or types of ingredients or even extraordinary cooking techniques. I do visit other restaurants, at home and abroad, and will often come back enthused and ultimately evolve something, some small detail, that dovetails into the repertoire.

How do you go about constructing a dish?

Fundamentally, a stomach-led approach, with a strong adherence to the seasons. It becomes a second nature or intuitive process.

I never look at previous menus when constructing new dishes as that would immediately impact on my thought process.

I list all the seasonal ingredients on a piece of paper, then write down the ten ingredients in any season that have the biggest flavours. I do this because I believe that a big part of The Square’s reputation is that the food packs a real punch on flavour, while at the same time making the most of the seasons.

I tinker with concepts of dishes on paper, the last part is how the dish will look. Naturally presentation is an important part of the product but, in the order of things, is given focus once all the other elements are in place.

How long is the constructive process?

The seasonal nature of the menu means that we enforce a degree of change. In my book nature provides us with a set of ingredients that have a natural affinity with each other at any given time.

When I sit down to create the new menu I can usually get a dish right within a day or two. The inspiration comes from within, compared to those who might be inspired by things that they see or have elsewhere experienced. To me, either approach is valid and can take you right to the top of the profession – The constructive and creative processes at The Square happen to be intuitive, instinctive and from within.

How do you manage and maintain your suppliers?

At this level, I have the luxury of pretty much buying the best quality of whichever ingredient: This may involve, to an extent, small artisan producers.

However, running a busy seven day a week business, the supplier has to be consistent and reliable. The difference between a product arriving at 10.00am compared to 8.30am can make a big difference to your operation. So I look across the board at quality (for the price), consistency and reliability of delivery.

We’re in Mayfair and space is cramped for supplies – the space we have is at a premium and the customers have space priority. The net effect is that we rely on daily and prompt deliveries.

The vast majority of our produce is from the UK, there is some that may dip into temperate France (rather than Mediterranean) or perhaps occasionally Northern Italy. The only ingredient that does not come from mainland Europe is certain tropical fruit.

The sustainable fish debate is important and we won’t, for example, take British coastal cod. In other areas, rod and line caught goes in the ‘green box’ as far as I’m concerned.

Do you trial dishes on the set lunch for the a la Carte?

The set lunch is for keeping in tune with what’s current in the market. It is also priced at under half the cost of the a la Carte so we will use aspects of the ingredients that we would not otherwise use on the a la Carte – for example we buy thousands of kilos of langoustines a year and take the claws out and use them to make a lovely langoustine ravioli for the set lunch.

I’m a firm believer that The Square is packed through lunch services because the food is customer friendly – that is being responsive, to a degree, to the perceived need for simpler and more reassuring food at lunch time. There is of course a sprinkling of more sophisticated dishes as well as the opportunity for those that desire it, the a la Carte or Tasting menus.

What are the size of kitchen and front of house brigades?

There are twelve chefs per service where three are on pastry. We have a pool of twenty chefs to run a seven day a week operation. The front of house is a pool of about thirty.

We theoretically stagger the booking to help us run the operation smoothly but the reality is that we are staffed to meet all circumstances. When you have customers meeting up from several different offices for a table for six, the booking starts once they have all arrived, so it really is only a theoretical staggering.

What are your best sellers?

Consommé is something we do well here and is a good seller and comes with changing, playful garnishes. The langoustine dish is one of our star dishes and probably my personal favourite. There is also a lasagne of crab dish that delivers a luxurious taste punch and goes down well with customers. We also have a signature of foie gras with a tangy sweet and sour glaze. There’s always one of the lamb dishes on the spring menu that has been doing well for years.

We do a few things with pasta too and cooking with pasta is one of the most satisfying aspects of cooking at the moment.

What do you think of the apparent trend in tasting menus?

We have a tasting menu that runs to eight or nine courses and indeed sells very well. From an eating point of view my personal preference is to have a full three course meal with food I can connect with and indulge in and go back to.

We experimented for a while, trying different ‘styles’ of tasting menus, for example with several small courses and one main course. The Square has settled on an eight/nine course menu.

The tasting menu probably represents 50% of our business at dinner times and from the feedback that we get, the menu certainly delivers. From a cooking perspective the tasting menu provides more focus on protein and less on starch or carbohydrate, so it’s really ‘focused food’ and works well for the kitchen as it’s quicker and easier to plate – and people get to taste some of our seasonal favourites.

Do you eat out at other restaurants often?

Oh yes, I certainly try to – it’s all too easy in this profession to get introspective; saturated with your own thoughts and ideas from living in your own goldfish bowl. I think that professionally you’re duty bound to get into the ocean and see what’s going on and it would be an admission of ignorance to think that you know everything that you need to know to continue to develop; you never know where inspiration may come – it may be on the beach, on the tube or indeed, in a great restaurant. I ate at L’Arpege recently and had a staggering and magical tasting menu of around twelve courses; the service was quick, skillful and a fun experience.

On the other hand, the one mouthful type of courses served at certain temples of gastronomy, where you may wait fifteen minutes for something that takes considerably longer to introduce than to eat is not my preferred dining out option.

What is your proudest professional achievement?

I am most proud of maintaining a nineteen year friendship and partnership with Nigel (Platts-Martin) and the progress we’ve made with The Square. Long term partnerships in any business are hard work but I think in this industry in particular it is a real achievement. We received the first and second Michelin Stars along the way, which were big moments, not to be understated. Of course opening The Ledbury and Kitchen W8 have also come along.

What are your long term plans in the industry?

My culinary and spiritual home is at The Square and I would like to take the restaurant as far as it can go – everything we have achieved has been organic, progressive and over time and we will keep doing that into the future.

I will keep coming in every day and spending a professionally satisfying, productive day in the kitchen.

You are often referred to as a ‘chef’s chef’ how does that level of respect make you feel?

When I see that mentioned, it is incredibly humbling. Able, passionate and creative people are abundant in this trade. I am lucky in that I cook in the centre of Mayfair but I’ve had the privilege of judging in competitions that have taken me all over the country to meet budding cooks; sometimes from the most otherwise deprived of areas. It is after all, a practical skill, and real joy has come from discovering rough diamonds that become consumed by- and skilled in- this wonderful profession very quickly.

As far as this kitchen goes, we deliver honest food from the heart in an environment that is strict – it has to be – but at the same time carries a patient and developmental eye. Above all else I’m still here cooking, right where I want to be and right where I hope to be in the future.