Archive for April, 2010

Chewton Glen, Hotel Review. April 2010

Posted on: April 27th, 2010 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

The Beautiful Grounds and Property of Chewton Glenn


For over fifty years the name of Chewton Glen has been synonymous with the highest standards of accommodation and service in the world of luxury country house hotels. From modest beginnings, when Martin Skan bought the eight bedroom property in 1966, it has expanded into a Spa hotel and resort with fifty eight bedrooms, and under new ownership since 2006.

Chewton Glen is a member of the prestigious Relais & Chateaux group, being a leading exponent of its values. It also boasts five red AA stars, with three rosettes for the Marryat Restaurant, both held continuously since 1993. However, these are just two of many national and international awards gathered in its distinguished history. Amongst the eleven accolades received in 2009/10 was the Walpole Award for the Best British Luxury Service Brand for Excellence.

For over fifty years the name of Chewton Glen has been synonymous with the highest standards of accommodation and service in the world of luxury country house hotels. From modest beginnings, when Martin Skan bought the eight bedroom property in 1966, it has expanded into a Spa hotel and resort with fifty eight bedrooms, and under new ownership since 2006.

Chewton Glen is a member of the prestigious Relais & Chateaux group, being a leading exponent of its values. It also boasts five red AA stars, with three rosettes for the Marryat Restaurant, both held continuously since 1993. However, these are just two of many national and international awards gathered in its distinguished history. Amongst the eleven accolades received in 2009/10 was the Walpole Award for the Best British Luxury Service Brand for Excellence.

Andrew Stembridge

Chewton Glen MD, Andrew Stembridge

Andrew Stembridge (left), who succeeded Peter Crome as Managing Director in 2003, has a clear vision of how to move Chewton Glen forward, and the dynamic energy to motivate his staff of 230 to do so. His previous experience as the hotel’s Operations Manager (1997-2001), along with positions on the Steering Committee of the UK and Ireland delegation and the International Board of Relais & Chateaux, will stand him in good stead. Never complacent with the enormous success of the hotel, he appreciates the need to adapt, but without losing the essence of the Chewton Glen brand. Appealing to a younger audience, whilst keeping the loyalty of regular guests, is a delicate balancing act. Maintaining the unique and harmonious blend of accommodation, meals and service is essential. The current divorce of ownership from control has freed Andrew from the need to follow any personalized vision of the proprietor, giving guests what they want.

The theme of “family” in its broadest meaning is central to his philosophy. Not only are families welcome – a policy resisted by the previous owner – but excellent facilities are also provided for them. Whilst avoiding over familiarity, staff serve guests with a friendly, relaxed formality. Angela Day, the Public Relations Manager, stresses the importance of individual service, the willingness to go that extra mile, exceeding expectations. This is an important reason why 70% of guests are not on their first visit.

Returning to Chewton Glen is also a feature of the staff: Andrew himself returned after two years opening the Scotsman in Edinburgh. Angela Day also comments on how ex -staff return, benefitting from the good opportunities for career development and the excellent support of the HR team who treat them as individuals – rare in the leisure industry.

Length of service is also impressive, especially in the management team of over twenty: Angela has held her post of ten years; Luke Matthews has served in the kitchens for over sixteen; and Andrew Stembridge has been with Chewton Glen for over ten years.

True to a regime of attention to individual needs, important changes have already been implemented. The restaurant dress code has been dropped. Outsiders are now welcomed for the highly popular afternoon tea. Comments from guests – Andrew writes to them personally after their stay – are followed up. For instance, internet access is now included in the room price, as is the use of all the facilities including the Spa. Generally, guests prefer the hotel’s all inclusive price structure.

Andrew’s comment that “We are not a trophy hotel” reflects his strong business acumen applied to all aspects of the hotel. He relishes the buzz of enjoyment which comes from excellent facilities and high occupancy rates. This includes the corporate market, the hotel being popular with incentive and blue chip management groups. The income helps provide investment for the Spa, restaurant and rooms. Unrivaled conference facilities, which include nine function rooms and meeting capacity for 110, have helped the hotel win the coveted Relais & Chateaux Corporate Trophy for 2010. Not that Chewton Glen has a corporate feel, as most of the group rooms are discretely located beneath the Spa, well way from reception, lounges, bar and restaurant.

Leisure facilities are also of vital importance in the capital spending programme. The Spa and hydrotherapy centre draws in a large clientele, both as residents, day visitors, and as members of the Sports Club. Attracted by the wide range of on site features, including the 17 metre indoor pool, 4 tennis courts, 9 hole par 3 golf course, and clay pigeon shooting, guests can also luxuriate in the comprehensive programme of health and beauty treatments offered by the Spa.

Andrew has strong views on the dining front. Despite the loss of a Michelin star for the Marryat restaurant, there is no specific aim to cook for the guides. Indeed, a broader range of simpler dishes is being planned. To balance this, the expanded role of the sous chef as development chef, to assist the Head Chef with new creations, shows that fine dining is not being neglected. However, unlike many top level establishments, there are no plans for separate gourmet and casual dining restaurants. Indeed, the aim is for the Marryat restaurant to provide the whole range of dining experiences, from gourmet menus to club food. This is a bold move, unique amongst hotels at this level, but indicative of Andrew’s priority in providing what the guests want.

Investment in interior design for the public rooms and guest accommodation has been ongoing since 2000. Acclaimed designer Anita Rosato has been refurbishing with a “respect for heritage with a very real commitment to modern luxury, working with existing antiques …modern pieces and timeless classics.” No expense is spared: the three lounge areas have been refurbished for £400,000. The bar in particular, decorated in warm shades of red, retains the traditional elegance and comfort reminiscent of a gentleman’s club.

Rooms are individually designed. A stay in a junior suite (Room 54), with a double balcony overlooking the garden, confirmed the excellence of the refurbishment programme.

Decorated in varying shades of violet and purple, it had a contemporary feel with the modern amenities of flat screen televisions, dvd player, iPod docking station and flexible bedside spotlights. These were balanced by the antique mahogany tables, deeply cushioned Louis XVI style chairs and a comfortable two-seater settee. The bathroom featured a double walk-in shower, a deep bath and a good selection of toiletries, adding to the sense of luxury. Next door (Room 52) was a more traditional suite in shades of green and yellow, but with the same amenities and luxurious feel. Indeed, there are rooms of all sizes and décor to suit varying tastes. Categories of bronze, silver and gold rooms exist alongside three types of suite and four specialist suites.

A stay at Chewton Glen is a truly memorable experience, one which clearly many guests want to repeat. From the champagne, fruit and chocolates on arrival, to the bottled water and shortbread provided on departure, the guest is pampered with friendly, efficient and seamless service. The hotel continues to thrive under the helm of Andrew Stembridge, carefully steering a course between tradition and modernity that will ensure its leading place in a highly competitive field.

-Review by Daniel Darwood, April 2010

Le Manoir Cookery School Review, January 2010

Posted on: April 20th, 2010 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

My sauce for a main course of confit guinea fowl legs lacks depth and flavour. Not that my tactful instructor uses such explicit comments, but the message is clear! Impatience and lack of confidence mean I had not sautéed the shallots and mushrooms for long enough before adding the Madeira, port and chicken stock. Nor have I tasted as I go along, a cardinal sin in the kitchen. This, along with my heavy hand with pastry, over salting of dishes and many other shortcomings are revealed in this one day cookery course, along with – thankfully – ways of avoiding and correcting them.

Manoir Cookery School

Le Manoir Cookery School offers of a range of courses designed to suit a variety of interests and levels of skill. Whilst beginners should head for the “Learn to cook in one day” option, those with more developed skills might well choose a residential specialist course. The Winter Dinner Party Course – there are also Spring, Summer and Autumn versions – involves the preparation of two soups, one salad, one starter, two mains and three desserts, from which a three course menu can be devised. Pitched at competent and fairly confident amateurs, the aim is produce delicious French home- cooked dishes rather than attempt to imitate restaurant style creations.

With a maximum of ten participants, there is no danger of the revamped Cookery School kitchen becoming overcrowded. Sitting on comfortable high stools on three sides of the instructor, a clear, close up view of the demonstrations is available to all. There is ample opportunity to look, listen, smell, taste and practice, with team work being encouraged by working in pairs. Whilst accommodating state of the art technology, the kitchen is small enough to promote a sense of domestic informality and camaraderie, with everything needed close at hand. We are spared the chore of washing up by the help of a “magic fairy”, and are also assisted by Mark Peregrine, who was one of Raymond Blanc’s original apprentices in Summertown. Lunch of starter and main course, partly cooked by the participants, is consumed with a quiet air of self- satisfaction.

The emphasis is on demonstrating and encouraging essential techniques and skills across of variety of dishes, hot and cold, savoury and sweet. The making of stock, pastry, simple soups, sautéing, blanching and poaching, are amongst the methods covered. There is also a refreshing avoidance of gadgets; whilst blenders and food mixers are used in the preparation of soups and brioche, food processors were eschewed in favour of knife skills.

Teaching is at a brisk pace, the whole day being intensive but not oppressive. Course tutor is Steve Lyons, who has had considerable experience in the kitchens of Le Manoir and Le Champignon Sauvage in Cheltenham. He has a natural charm and excellent communication skills to match. He gives clear demonstrations of technique with knowledgeable and helpful commentary. Questions are answered in depth with no reluctance to refer to specialist reference books – such as an encyclopaedia of vegetables – if necessary. We are encouraged to improve our performance in the practical sessions without feeling embarrassed.

Cookery School Teachers

From left to right, Steve Lyons, Emily Sneddon and Mark Peregrine: The Team of Instructors That Oversee The Raymond Blanc Cookery School


Steve’s sense of humour often enlivens the proceedings. This is shown in the light – hearted banter with his assistant Emily Sneddon, who demonstrates some of the dishes, and in wry his comments on the participants’ skills. For instance, my cooking partner, whilst making a particular mess of rubbing in pastry, was reminded that he should try to keep most of the flour and butter IN the bowl rather than on the floor.

Following the Blanc philosophy, “ethical, environmental, seasonal and regional values”, are shown in the use of “organic, free range or artisan produced” ingredients which are fundamental to the success of the finished product.

The choice of dishes avoids too much last minute cooking, the downfall of many dinner parties; indeed, this is only needed for the wild mushroom fricassee. Two soups, Jerusalem artichoke and Hampshire watercress, can be reheated and are prepared the Blanc way, with simple ingredients and without the use of stocks. Chicory, walnut and Roquefort salad has the advantage of not wilting when dressed, so can be plated in advance. The main course of confit of guinea fowl legs and fondant potatoes won’t spoil if kept warm the oven. Moreover, all three desserts can be served cold. Where one might have appreciated a little more advice was over menu composition and balance. Which starters go better with which main courses and desserts? Which combination of textures, temperatures and tastes would optimise the dining experience?

All the dishes are demonstrated and cooked from beginning to end, thus avoiding any “Here’s one I made earlier” nonsense. Gateau a la crème, involving the proving and rolling of brioche dough, takes the longest time to prepare through multi stages, whilst wild mushroom fricassee takes the shortest time of the cooked dishes. Emma makes one of the desserts, Apple Tart “Mamam Blanc,” look very easy. Following a diktat that this recipe must not be adjusted in way, she produces a delicious but simple family favourite with pastry, apples, butter, sugar and calvados.

Professional cooking tips are liberally given during the course of the day. In pan frying chicken wings for stock, avoid the temptation of turning them too quickly as they will not brown. Wet your wrists with cold water to avoid warm hands in pastry making. Use a ball of surplus pastry to help mould the pastry the closely to the ring. Raise the rim of rolled and lined pastry with pinching movements of thumb and forefinger to allow for shrinkage in baking. When skimming stock, add cold water to collect the impurities. Duck fat for confit can be used several times, provided any gelatinous juices are removed. Adding ice to briefly boiled watercress and spinach stops the cooking whilst retaining colour and nutrients.


Finishing the course with a tasting of the three desserts over tea and coffee, and with a gruyere and Swiss chard tart each has made to take home, a calm sense of achievement is felt by all. A lot has been covered in eight hours, which includes breaks for lunch and a short tour of the hotel. This is a demanding course, both in terms of participants’ attention and the ambitious coverage of a range of dishes. However, we do not feel exhausted at the end. Instead, our enthusiasm has been further stimulated and our confidence boosted. Grateful to have taken part, and genuinely appreciative of the meticulous attention to detail given by the organisers and instructors, we can depart with our easy- to- follow recipe book, Cookery School jacket and certificate of achievement, knowing that the course fee has been well spent.

-Review by Daniel Darwood, January 2010

Marryat Chewton Glen, Restaurant Review April 2010

Posted on: April 10th, 2010 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood
Luke Matthews Chef

Luke Matthews

Luke Matthews (above) leads a kitchen brigade of twenty seven. They are busy throughout the year, with an annual food bill of £1,000,000 to provide for maximum of 140 covers in each of the Marryat Restaurant and Banqueting Suite. The Health Club Café is also supplied by the main kitchen.

With seven years as Head Executive Chef and six years as Pierre Chevillard’s sous chef, Luke could be seen as a permanent fixture, a position which he loves. He is grateful for the extensive support he has received. Investment in the well equipped and spacious kitchen has been generous, including a bespoke induction range, separate bakery and excellent air conditioning. These facilities, along with sensible working hours and Luke’s agreeable management style, make for a pleasant working environment, resulting in staff staying longer with the “family”

Given his busy, multi faceted role, Luke has also welcomed the assistance of his sous chef Cameron Rutherford in the development of more innovative dishes. Nevertheless, Luke cooks “food that people want” rather than to boost his ego. The abundance of returning customers, especially for the good value lunches – there were ninety covers on the day we visited – is a testament to his success.

Cooking with the best of local and regional ingredients wherever possible is important, as shown by the list of local and regional suppliers proudly displayed at the back of the menu. The menu, which changes with the seasons, is in a state of transition to add more variety to both fine dining and simpler, casual eating.

The conservatory of the Marryat restaurant is a long, bright room with generously spaced tables and contemporary carver chairs.

The Menu Gourmand, featuring the Chef’s signature dishes, was taken with selected wines. An amuse bouche of tomato soup with a touch of balsamic had a light freshness which served its purpose of exciting the palate.

Anjou pigeon, slowly poached in a water bath to retain its juiciness, was served cold to accentuate its gentle gaminess. The accompanying sauteed foie gras gave contrasting temperature, texture and richness, whilst pumpkin puree and verjuice jelly added balancing elements of sweet and sour.

(Served with 2008 Les Murieres, Mas Brugieres, Coteaux du Languedoc, France)

Seared hand dived scallops were precisely timed to a medium rare and came, thankfully, with their coral. (Why is this delicious morsel not served in so many restaurants?) A lightly curried crust lifted shellfish without overwhelming its natural sweetness. The cauliflower beignet gave a contrasting crispness which seems more appropriate than the ubiquitous puree encountered elsewhere. Parmesan veloute provided a welcome savoury note to the accomplished dish. (Served with 2008 Tiefenbrunner Sauvignon, “Kitchleiten” Alto Adige, Italy )

Each of the alternative meat courses successfully featured cuts requiring short and long, slow cooking.

A well flavoured aged Scottish fillet was partnered with a serving of ox cheek that was bursting with rich beefiness. This understated dish also featured a fabulously rich bone marrow croquette alongside new season’s ceps and tangy horseradish emulsion. Laverstoke Part pork fillet came with braised pig’s cheek which had a delicate, melting texture. This highly satisfying combination was garnished with piquant white onion and caper fondue and earthy mushroom duxelles.  The addition of truffle oil elevated this dish without masking the other flavours.  (Served with 2007 Paddy Northwick Pinot Noir, Wairapa, New Zealand)

We could not resist the impressive board of British and Continental cheeses, not on the tasting menu. The chosen selection of Epoisses, Mont d’Or Livarot and Gaperon proved to be in perfect condition.  (Served with Tawny port or Madeira)

A pre-dessert Lemon grass panacotta with mandarin granite and rhubarb combined creamy smoothness and icy texture with a sweet and sour taste.  Chocolate Nemesis was predictably decadent with its ganache, soft fondant covering and gold leaf decoration. The honey and cherry ice cream helped to make this a rich but not overly sweet dessert.  (Served with 2004 Domaine Cazes “Grenat” Revesaltes, France)

Other aspects of the meal were first rate. Service was efficient, with dishes were presented briefly but knowledgeably. Deputy sommelier Craig explained the selected wines in a lively, informative manner, avoiding the grandiose pomposity one so often encounters. The wine matching was particularly impressive, reflecting the quality of the cellar.

Overall, this was a highly accomplished meal, demonstrating skilful cooking, careful balance of flavours, textures and temperatures, refined creativity and conscious artistry in presentation. Why achievement of this quality fails merit a Michelin Star defies comprehension, although in lesser surroundings it doubtlessly would be awarded one.

The Greenhouse, Restaurant Review, April 2010

Posted on: April 10th, 2010 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Located in a quiet residential area in the heart of Mayfair, The Greenhouse is the flagship of the MARC group of restaurants, where no expense is spared in creating an understated sense of comfort and luxury. Entering by a discrete gate in Hay’s Mews, and passing through the delightful Japanese style garden that runs alongside the restaurant, diners begin to feel an elevated sense of importance as they walk along a canopied, carpeted path towards the main door.

In keeping with its name, the recent refurbishment undertaken by Virgile and Stone reflects natural themes and colours. The décor is primarily in shades of green and brown. Pale green leather chairs and banquettes, vine leaf motifs on glass screens and a trellis of twigs and branches all help to produce a serene, calming effect. The long, low ceilinged interior has a slate floor, with spotlighting, chic standard lamps, and well spaced tables.

Chef Antonin Bonnet’s fruitful association with owner Marlon Abela, first as his personal chef, then in charge of the kitchens of Morton’s Club in Berkeley Square, has culminated in his being given free rein at The Greenhouse.

Passion, Precision and Purity are hallmarks of Antonin’s approach. Passion is reflected in the adventurous, contemporary French menus which display creative combinations, occasionally with Asian and Middle Eastern influences. Precision is seen in the meticulous, systematic preparation and accurately timed cooking that ensures consistency. Purity of flavour, allowing impeccably sourced seasonal ingredients to speak for themselves, is abundantly evident in the finished product.

Although classically trained under Michel Bras, Antonin is not afraid to innovate both in composition of dishes and cooking techniques. However, this is not taken to extremes, with due weight being given to harmony of tastes and balance of textures. Clean lines and elegance typify the presentation of all the dishes.

Fine Dining Guide was privileged to experience a tasting menu with accompanying wines on a recent visit. An amuse bouche of squid ink toast with foie gras parfait demonstrated brilliance of concept, marrying innovation with classical roots. This certainly excited one’s appetite, as did the other amuse bouche –gravadlax with beetroot.

A simple starter featured the humble Cornish mackerel. The utterly fresh fish was enhanced by a gentle marinade and enlivened with cooling cucumber, crisp radish and a citrusy ponzu sauce. This dish would not be out of place in a high end Japanese restaurant. (See above)

(Served with Dveri-Pax Renski Rizling M, Maribor-Perkel, Podravje, Slovenia, 2005)

There followed a more luxurious, complex dish that revealed perfect timing to preserve texture and flavour. Saint-Vincent asparagus, steamed al dente, was partnered with earthy morels and sweet, delicate crayfish. The cep mushroom sabayon complemented these ingredients perfectly. The whole dish, with its vibrant green, pink and brown colours, looked stunningly beautiful on the plate. (above)

(Served with Giant Steps Vignerons, Tarrayford Vinyard, Chardonnay, Yarra Valley, Victoria, Australia, 2005)

Next, a tarte fine with warm spring vegetables, proved to be master class in vegetarian cookery, as each ingredient retained is true taste and crisp texture. The Parmesan cream added an element of richness without being overwhelming.

(Served with Cline Pinot Gris, Central California, USA 2007)

A generous fillet of brill retained its flavour and moistness through careful, exact steaming. The accompanying pork consomme was inspired, being delicate enough to allow the fish to shine, but complementing it with an underlying richness. The shellfish and seashore salad added textural variety without cluttering the dish with excessive garnishes.

(Served with FX Pichler Gruner Veltliner Loibnerberg Smaragd, Wachau, Austria 2007)

Stuffed saddle of rabbit, savory, braised romaine lettuce and tapenade exemplified once again the skilful bflavours and textures, with precise timing. This was another refined dish in which the individual tastes stood out. Especially impressive was the way in which the tapenade – a strong taste was needed in what was potentially a bland combination – did not mask the subtle flavour of the rabbit.

(Served with Max Doix Salanques, Priorat, Spain 2002)

A pre-dessert of almond blancmange, pomelo and basil chutney and grapefruit sorbet could easily have been a full size dessert, given the quality and attention to detail. Here the rich creaminess of the blancmange contrasted against the mild astringency of the pomelo and grapefruit.

(Served with Daniel Vollenveider. Wolfer Grube Reisling Spatlese, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Germany 2005)

Finally, the aptly named dessert “Bounty” was a playful twist on the popular chocolate bar. A perfect sphere of dark chocolate, spiked with coconut flakes, encased a white chocolate and rum mousse. Toasted coconut ice cream added richness to this already indulgent creation.

(Served with Madeira Verdelho, Barbeito10 YO Reserve, Madeira Island,Portugal)

Other details of the meal, from the fine breads to the delectable petit fours, were equally impressive. Overall, it is hard not to admire the attention to detail, the sheer labour intensity, the skilled execution, ingenuity and conscious artistry of Antonin Bonnet’s food.

The highly professional service was attentive, helpful and informed without being intimidating. The Sommelier expertly matched wines from the celebrated 3,300 bin cellar to complement the food.

A meal at the Greenhouse is a total gastronomic experience, a magnet for true foodies, but one where the diner can also feel cosseted and relaxed. The restaurant will doubtlessly go from strength to strength, led by the inexhaustible creativity and refined skills of its head chef Bonnet, who has recently been made partner in the restaurant.

Chef Interview: Antonin Bonnet (April 2010)

Posted on: April 10th, 2010 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Antonin Bonnet has travelled a long journey with his current employer and soon to be business partner Marlon Abela.

Over nearly eleven years Antonin has worked in three entirely different capacities; as personal private chef to Marlon Abela; as chef at the MARC Group’s Morton’s Club; as Head Chef of the flagship restaurant The Greenhouse where, over the last near five years, he has garnered an ever increasing reputation.

Antonin has a great pedigree, too. “Three years of magic” spent in the kitchens of Michel Bras. Here’s what he had to say to Simon Carter of fine-dining-guide. Interview took place April 2010 at The Greenhouse Restaurant, Mayfair

Tell us some background about yourself?

I am from Lyon, from a family where the main focus of the day was the food we were having to accompany our daily family gatherings. My mother, aunties and my grandmother were all interested in food so it was natural and easy for me, in this family environment, to gather an interest in cooking.

The first spark of doing something with cooking professionally came from visiting a bistrot in Marseille.

It was a fascinating place – twenty years ago – and probably one of the early restaurants where half the space was an open kitchen and the other half was the dining room for customers. I was just glued to what all the chefs were doing in the restaurant.

At the time, I was 14 years old and asked if I could do a stage in the restaurant; they said yes and for the following two summers I spent a week learning in their kitchen. That was the beginning.

From my parents’ point of view, they wanted me to remain in school and achieve the best qualifications that I possibly could – like most parents they like the idea of their son becoming a ‘professional’, meaning a lawyer, a doctor or an architect.

A chef was (and is) a highly regarded profession in France but it is less straightforward – on the one hand, you always have work but on the other, you make many sacrifices. In addition relatively few are “successful” to point of being regarded in the same breath as a doctor or lawyer (to the parents of a young person). So basically my parents wanted to make sure that it was a job and not just a passing passion for me before giving their blessing.

I started cookery school at 18 and went on a number of stages through every holiday and thoroughly enjoyed every experience. I knew it was what I wanted to do permanently. It was a four year course and I finished with the top marks in the region, so my abilities were being channelled in the right place.

In my first job there were 60 chefs and it was slightly crazy; we worked ten days in a row, double shifts and at the end of it to say you were exhausted was an understatement. I stayed a year and learned a lot; about discipline, punctuality, rigour and respect. It was very difficult but an important experience.

For my next job I went south and spent two years working my way up to chef de partie in a high quality restaurant. Each year that I was there I was applying for a position at Michel Bras – the first year, couldn’t get a spot, second year, no good so by the time the third year came along I decided to try somewhere else.

I went for an interview with Marc Veyrat; at least I had called and arranged the interview with Marc Veyrat. I drove for four hours to get to the meeting, however when I arrived he was nowhere to be seen! I remember going out of the restaurant to phone home to get advice my mother said “I think someone called Michel Bras has called and left a message for you, here’s the number…” So from that same telephone cabin I called Michel Bras and he was so friendly and said, come up next weekend, I’ve got a position for you at the restaurant.

The following weekend I went to Michel Bras’ with a friend, we were invited in and Michel said he couldn’t see me right then but to have lunch on him! It was the most incredible food and I will remember every mouthful for the rest of my life! After that lunch, we sat down and chatted for thirty minutes and Monsieur Bras said that I would start at the beginning of April. I worked there for three years – three years of magic!

How did your association with Marlon Abela come about?

Well originally, directly after leaving Michel Bras, I decided to expand my horizons and move to England. I did a few bits and pieces to make some money, including a stint in the kitchen at Marco Pierre White at The Oak Room under Robert Reid, before joining up with Mr Abela.

It has been a ten year association: Three years as his personal chef, three years as the chef of Morton’s Club in Mayfair and now nearly five years as Head Chef of The Greenhouse restaurant.

How have you found the three different roles and how would you compare them?

As a private chef you have to put yourself in the shoes of the person you are working for and realise that having freshness and variety is very important. Anyone who works closely for Mr Abela will tell you that you have to dig deep, to be passionate and enthusiastic, to give a 100% and, as a personal chef, renew yourself every day in your food.

Flexibility is the key as you are feeding the same or a similar group of people all of the time, so having a flow of new dishes is very important. The role may have ranged from what I do here at The Greenhouse – a full fine dining repertoire – three times a week, through to weekend barbecues.

At Morton’s it was about providing food that is reassuring to the members. It was not about showing what you have inside, being clever or creative, but giving the customer what they need and want from a meal. For me, it was a learning process, to understand more of the first principles of food, of what is involved in the building blocks and foundations of creativity that would help me in the future.

The Greenhouse came about by complete surprise. It was 10am one morning and I was in the bar at Morton’s. I got called down and told I was taking over at lunch time at The Greenhouse. There were 45 covers. That day and indeed for the first six months I didn’t have a clue, in fact it took me about two years to reach a point where I fully understood how everything worked and figure out what I personally would like to achieve.

After the first year we retained the Michelin Star. When you have a ‘machine in place’ like the Greenhouse that has a high Michelin and media profile then you cannot make radical changes.

You have to stick to the style and product that the customers, the media and the guides are used to, before gradually bringing in your own ideas of how the kitchen should function, what the end product should be and develop a personal customer base.

You also have to look at the kitchen habits and processes of the team, changes to a ‘machine’ have to be made gradually to ensure a smooth running operation at all times.

How would you describe your gastronomy today?

I saw a new term for gastronomy – “hybrid” – where you bring together the best product with the best techniques with the best preparation. This may involve many classic recipes but with a modern twist.

The essential factor is to respect the ingredient, which means respect for the flavour. An ingredient must taste as cleanly and accurately of that ingredient as possible. If you eat Rabbit it should taste of Rabbit and so on. There is beauty in simplicity; a purity in going back to nature and perhaps those that have had the greatest genius have demonstrated the wonder of natural flavours.

From a technical perspective, a process that started at Michel Bras, is to ensure that the proportions of a recipe are exact. To gain consistency you need precise measurements of ingredients and proportions of ingredients to get the chemistry side right in the preparation of a dish. This is also helps build up a kind of reference library of building blocks and processes.

Once the process and the recipe are nailed right down, there’s the human factor: If you don’t taste, you can’t cook! Your hands, eyes and mouth are vitally important to capture the variations in product to deliver the best finished dish possible for the customer.

There may be variations in speed of the pan, the heat, the ingredient itself. So twice a day, one of the three sous chefs will go round and taste everything in the kitchen, just as a check that we are delivering consistency.

How do you go about sourcing ingredients?

We get the best that we possibly can at a price point that customers will tolerate. I have some great suppliers and will do tastings two or three times a week.

What do you think of the trend in tasting menus in high-end restaurants?

You can look at it two ways. First the tasting menu approach – where you have say a twelve course and an eighteen course menu and no a la Carte. This is easier to bring consistency and quality because the repertoire is limited to a relatively small number of items. The produce is very fresh because it is all you stock every day and the consistency will be there because it is all your team do day in, day out. You may change the menu regularly and so customers might make return visits on that basis.

Other restaurants, for example, have customers who make regular return visits and they are looking for perhaps more variety from the food, so the repertoire has to be wider. There’s plenty of room for both types of restaurant.

I like the idea of the Michelin Two Star chef in Honfleur who goes to the market and produces a tasting menu with a brigade of seven chefs that is the freshest and best tasting menu of the week. That would be ideal and I guess in Honfleur you have the product and the market to achieve that successfully.

What are your views on sous vide cooking?

For colour, texture, preservation of flavour with long slow cooking then for meat fantastic. For me, certain fish proves unsuccessful cooked in this way as there can be a kind of fermentation that changes the product. The method is good for some vegetables, for others not so good. It’s really just another tool or technique that can help get the best out of an ingredient, which may work for some kitchens and not for others…

What are your long term plans for the future?

We would like people to come to the Greenhouse and feel they are in safe hands to have a good time. In many years, perhaps be considered as one of London’s great dining institutions.

The customer always comes first but any further guide recognition would be warmly received and welcomed!

See The Greenhouse Restaurant Review




Interview: Gary Jordan, Jordan Wines (2010)

Posted on: April 2nd, 2010 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood


Gary Jordan (left) is a man on a mission: A mission to produce world-class wine that proudly represents his homeland of South Africa. To date, The Jordan Wine Estate has proved more than successful, garnering awards across the international board, and being enjoyed across broader and wider geographies than ever before…

Gary has also expanded into the restaurant business with the emergence of High Timber as an increasingly popular destination ‘wine-dining’ restaurant for London city folk and tourists in equal measure.

Gary spoke to Simon Carter of fine-dining-guide at High Timber, interview took place, April 2010.

Tell us some background about yourself?

In the 1800s my family emigrated from Leicester, England to South Africa. My great grandfather had been a shoemaker: a business that had been passed down from father to son for generations.

I’d always loved working with my hands, planting things, being with nature and in particular had spent a significant amount of time in wine regions. So it became a natural next step, when in 1982, in partnership with my parents, I bought a derelict farmhouse on the outskirts of Cape Town with a view to planting grapes.

I trained as a Geologist, learning a lot about soil, rocks, mining, prospecting and so on but in actual fact, the experience helped gain a significant handle on which grape varieties would work in which parts of the new estate.

While the land we bought at that time was not expensive, it was also not seen as the most sensible investment – farmers could not make ends meet. It was still the height of apartheid and that business type was not sustainable. However, my family has always enjoyed a challenge! Looking back now, today we spend three times more on corks than we paid for the land in 1982 (laughing).

From the top of our farm we can see from Table Mountain to the Stellenbosch mountains and the situation of the farm is within one of the seven biomes of the world (one of the seven wonders of the world) where you can see more species of plant life than you would find in the whole of Europe. Amazing! Stellenbosch is like the green lung that sits between Cape Town and the interior. Truly beautiful!


We replanted the whole estate and decided to specialise in four main grape varieties: While this may not seem possible orsensible, we happened to own the only farm in the region that uniquely encompasses a North, South, East and West facing slope. In addition, the slopes start at 60 metres above sea level and go up to about 410 metres. This substantial difference in elevation coupled with really well drained, lean soils affords us the opportunity to make first class wines with several different grape varieties.

For our top end wines we import all our barrels from France. Each barrel costs about as much as a return trip to South Africa from the UK. You can only use each barrel about five times before you cut it in half and use it for pot plants (laughing). So you certainly have to focus and think about costs and appreciate that only the very best wines will go to barrel.

What is the KWV?

The KWV was originally a state controlled regulatory body and winery set up by the South African government in 1918 to manage surpluses of grapes. They determined all the fundementals in South African wine production. The predominant use of the surplus grapes was to make Brandy which, for many years, probably represented the main international image of South Africa in terms of alcohol production.

How would you describe the history and development of wine in South Africa?

Wine has been made in South Africa since the 1680s – so there’s a rich tapestry of history and culture in grape growing and wine making – perhaps placing South Africa much closer to the Old World than the New. In those early days, apparently fine Constantia (original South African wine growing region) wine graced the tables of the nobility, before unfortunately South African wine production fell into the dark ages for a couple of hundred years.

It was the 1960s or 1970s when a standards system similar to appellation controlee was introduced whereby each bottle of wine was given a number that could be traced back to a particular batch, barrel or vineyard. This also provided a quality stamp.

Cold fermentation techniques were pioneered in South Africa but New World areas such as California, Australia and later New Zealand were able to forge ahead with such techniques, while South Africa remained isolated from the world through the sanctions associated with Apartheid.

During the 1980s and into the 1990s Nelson Mandela was released and apartheid came to an end. At this time the world became South Africa’s oyster as the country was welcomed back into the world at large and she has subsequently taken great national pride in the quality of her wines on the international stage.

Historically 98% of production was around Semillon. This was followed (more recently) by Chenin Blanc; a grape with naturally higher acidity, thereby lending itself to a warmer climate. So much has developed so quickly from a viticultural point of view. All manner of exciting grape varieties have been introduced that match the variety of climate and richness and sophistication of available terroir.

Describe the wine map around Cape Town

Stellenbosch is perhaps the most internationally renowned region situated around Cape Town. Jordan wines were fortunate to be at the forefront of this development from the early 1980s. There is the original, historical Constantia region and others like the Paarl Region.

Because of the proximity of all these estates and regions and the diversity of grape varieties, you can travel a wine route in a day which will allow you to sample the equivalent of the best of burgundy, Bordeaux and the Loire! New visitors to the region are always bowled over by the extraordinary, beautiful landscape and the sheer quality and variety of wines to be found.

Tell us more about Jordan Wines and the Stellenbosch

A journalist called John Platter started an independent guide which you may think of as the ‘Michelin Guide to Wineries’ inSouth Africa and awards one to five stars – he’s like the Robert Parker of South African wine. He gives great detail on the wine and Stellenbosch and Jordan wines have appeared in that guide for a number of years.

A little bit of my heart and soul goes into every barrel and every bottle. The watchword is quality, not quantity. The unique nature of the terroir on the Jordan Wine Estate coupled with focus on the quality of production has enabled the estate to win a number of international awards across a number of wines. In fact, it is unusual to be able to achieve this with both red and white wines. Some estates may have planted a variety of grapes but only have success with one. This comes back to the uniqueness of the Jordan estate and those North, South, East and West facing slopes that have the mix of elevation and the right quality of soil.

How has the export business stood up during a global recession?

Generally speaking South African wines have stood up well – in export terms to the UK – better than say French and Australian wines.

Naturally the UK and Holland are the traditional export markets for South African wine but in recent years this has extended to the US. In August 2008, the US was 16 barrels away from being our (Jordan’s) largest export market but for us this dropped away within a period of weeks of the credit crunch.

In addition, the large supermarkets have done wonders in putting wines from all around the world onto the radar of the general public, however when you do business with a supermarket buyer you are putting your production in the hands of effectively one person – when the supermarket buyer changes you might be in some trouble!

As a little piece of us goes into every bottle we like to deal with independents individually who will likewise put a little of themselves in the sale of the wine – be it to consumers or high end restaurants. In operating this way, our export figures have stood up well.

Do you see the forthcoming football world cup in South Africa as having an impact on the wine business?

Yes, most definitely. Anything that is followed by at least a billion people is bound to have a positive impact on what we do. There’s a whole bunch of promotional activity planned leading up to, during and after the competition and, like all South Africans, we’re very excited by the World Cup.

Tell us about your restaurants – At the Jordan Estate, South Africa and High Timber, London.

Opening restaurants was a natural progression: We’d spent so much time engaging with restaurants as part of our business, we thought that introducing some ‘wine-dining’ would be a great step forward.

On our estate in Stellenbosch, we have a great chef, George Jardine, who is originally from Scotland and is producing wonderful food. The Restaurant at Jordan has gone from strength to strength and we’re delighted with the progress.

In terms of London, we’ve had a long and very dear relationship with Neleen Strauss who has long been a successful restaurateur. We found such a great site on the banks of the Thames, overlooking the Millenium Bridge with the Tate Modern and Shakespeare Globe Theatre on the other side of the river we just had to take the plunge.

The city has changed so much just over the last ten years, with both tourists and city folk extending out to this part of the river,as well as significant accommodation developments. These factors help ensure that a restaurants like High Timber thrives in this location. We have a passionate chef – Justin Saunders – who with his team have the vision and talent to provide quality, consistent food and what a better place in the world to showcase a cellar collection of 40,000 bottles of wine!

What are your plans for the future?

We’ve had the strength of character to open two new restaurants in a year during a recession and it has been the best thing we could have done!

We’re currently negotiating in South Africa about the potential to expand the Jordan Wine Estate. At the same time we’re looking at new export markets for our wine – China and Russia as examples. Currently 50% of wine produced at Jordan is consumed in Africa and 50% exported outside the continent, that ratio may change, as it’s increasingly a global business.

Who knows, we may even be looking at new restaurant sites – watch this space!