Archive for September, 2011

Interview: Thierry Tomasin, Angelus (Sept 2011)

Posted on: September 10th, 2011 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Thierry Tomasin is the owner and restaurant director of Angelus. With a long and distinguished career, having served as both restaurant manager (Aubergine) and Head Sommelier (Le Gavroche), Thierry shared some of his insights and philosophies with Simon Carter of fine-dining-guide. The Interview took place in the comfortable lounge at the back of Angelus restaurant, on one fine late summer morning.

Thierry Tomasin

Thierry Tomasin

I am from South West France and my passion was rugby, I played to a good standard but had injuries and that had to stop. My grandmother ran a small hotel/restaurant and was a very good cook. This inspired me to cook myself and I spent six years working as a chef. I went and did my military service in the navy in Africa and unfortunately came back with very little money. A friend of mine said there was an opening in a resort in Monaco as a waiter and room service manager so I took the job.

At the turn of the 1990s I applied to four restaurants in the UK, the one I wanted to come to was Le Gavroche. Silvano Giraldin (the restaurant director at Le Gavroche) taught me almost everything – he made me cry and he made me laugh, he will always be like a second dad and it was the start of a wonderful relationship that lasts to this day.

The trigger for my passion for wine came at Le Gavroche.There was a wine importer – Richards Walford – who did a lot of business with the restaurant. One day Roy Richards and Mark Walford (the two directors) came into Le Gavroche and offered me a blind tasting of two white burgundies. The first was a 1971 Meursault. The second was extraordinary – rich, buttery, fatty but still with a hint of acidity, it was a 1921 Meursault. Wow! I was blown away! I still remember the taste experience from that day and that was the start of my love affair with wine.

I was so lucky to open so many fantastic bottles of wine at Le Gavroche – from £20 to £10,000.

I enjoyed every day of sharing the excitement of these great wines with the customers. I always wanted those on the team to be inspired, lifted and to share in my passion and enthusiasm for the subject. I later became chairman of Sommeliers for five years, having earned an Award of Excellence from the Academy of Culinary Arts, whose patron is Prince Charles. I remain the youngest person to have won this award at 26 and a half years old.

Despite being monumentally happy at Le Gavroche in order to see what else was out there, I tried and failed to give notice 4 times. It was very hard to leave, but I felt that if I was going to gain wider experience it had to be at that time. So I joined Aubergine. We did well there for a period of time; built up some good regulars and doubled the numbers. There was a customer who had followed me from Le Gavroche, who I have known for many years and he is now a financial backer in Angelus. The restaurant started in 2007 and has been doing very well.

What is your restaurant Philosophy?

The restaurant business is a team effort from front to back. I went to the Academy of Culinary Arts Awards Dinner and Heston Blumenthal gave a speech – he lamented how front of house gets so little time in the media when the end product is so clearly a ‘whole team’ effort. In my opinion it is important for everyone from the waiter to the kitchen porter to have knowledge of the business – this provides motivation, enthusiasm and a sense of pride in the end product. It is also important to come to work with a smile on your face – to exchange ideas and share your passion; the more people at every level that are involved in the process, the better for any business.

The host is the conductor, he may have his or her name above the door and take ultimate responsibility, but that’s what the head chef, Maitre d’ or restaurateur are – the conductors, everyone else is a musician and each must be participating in harmony. The chef’s table at Angelus is a classic example where guests may meet everyone from the host at the door to the porter in the kitchen. Each and every person in the team will have a part to play in the overall experience of those guests. It is also important for people to realise that the fine dining restaurant trade is not a 12 ‘till 3 and 7 ‘till 11 business.

The amount of sourcing and preparation for each service is phenomenal and again that ranges across the whole team (which can lead to very long days for many people). This hard background work enables Angelus to be (during service) not just waiter or chef but sales people of pleasure!

Customers must also appreciate that the restaurant business is an interactive one and customers who have the best time are those who ‘participate in the theatre of fine dining.’ This means getting to know the staff if you are a regular or just engaging in conversation if it is your first time. The experience will be all the better as each side of the service – customer and waiter – feed off of each other’s attitude and approach in a positive manner.

We have something between formal and informal service at this restaurant – it’s so difficult to get the right balance but for me, Angelus is everything a restaurant should be. A place where you do not compromise on service, food or wine, but you can be at ease as if you were in your own home. From the responses and relationships we have with our customers, I am delighted to see we have achieved that.

The beauty of Angelus is our honesty – in that we have nothing to hide – should a customer come into the chef’s table they will see a clean kitchen, fresh produce and hard work and hopefully enjoy some fine wine and good service at the same time! The restaurant is perhaps a reflection of the characters whose life and soul is in the business – we take our customers at face value and they can take us at face value, too. What you see at Angelus is what you get.

What is your wine and food style?

I like to think we have 20th century food with a touch of the 21st century. I say this in the sense that you will not find liquid nitrogen or fifteen ingredients in dots or smears – you will get bistrot style food from the heart, where the chef has spent more time with the pan in his hand than decorating the plate. At the same time, we are not blind to the customer, should they wish to have their lamb cooked in a certain way we will aim to do it – the customer must walk out thinking he had a great time at Angelus and want to return.

Wine and food are similar in that people should respect them; the heritage, the craftsmanship and the culture. To say you do not like someone’s food or wine is not quite right, to say it is not to your taste and then move on is more appropriate.

What are your views on the market for fine wine?

In terms of the wine market, I think it was 2008 that Hong Kong removed VAT and taxes from imports of fine wine. The Chinese market had been dominating for some time but this only added to the upward pressure on the en primeur pricing. They say if you buy shares and the market crashes all you have left is the tissue to wipe your eyes, if the market for wine collapses, at least you have the wine to drink! (Laughing)

Whilst the Chinese markets are predominantly buying a few selected brands in the top end of Medoc (Such as Ch Lafite), the price pressure has extended to cru bourgeois and then outward to other regions of France. Even wine growing areas such as the Cote du Rhone are seeing inflated prices nowadays. This has made French-led restaurants to stop and think about their wine list strategy – I have even contemplated taking Bordeaux completely off the wine list! At the same time we are looking at areas such as Languedoc-Roussillon en primeur for quality wine at the right price.

At the beginning of my time at le Gavroche there were 12,500 bottles at £250,000 cost, at the end of my tenure there were 66,000 bottles at £1.3m. At Angelus we currently have around £220,000 stock in a four year old restaurant. This sounds a lot but is because I am here for the long term and wine will improve with age, giving customers the opportunity to buy something mature, that they will appreciate, at a reasonable price. The price will be good because I bring the wine in en primeur or while still young and let it mature in the Angelus cellar, the list price of the wine will remain the same and not get marked up further each year.

How would you describe your personal philosophy?

I think that we still live in a material world and people like to be recognised. At the same time people are more interested in where they came from – you might be the best today but if you are not true to your roots then one day you might feel hollow. If you are true to yourself there will be people who like you and people who don’t but those at your core will be true forever.

They say if you smile then the world smiles with you – when you come to Angelus and smile the service will light up your evening!

Roganic Restaurant Review 2011 by Daniel Darwood

Posted on: September 5th, 2011 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

When fine-dining-guide visited L’Enclume, Simon Rogan’s Lake District restaurant in the spring of this year, he was in the process of trying to acquire a site in the capital for his second restaurant. Happily, since July, Londoners no longer need to make the two hundred mile journey to sample his ground breaking cuisine. Indeed, the opening of Roganic in fashionable Marylebone Village has rightly been hailed as one of the most exciting restaurant events of the year.

This pop up restaurant, on a two year lease, occupies a site in Blandford Street which previously housed Restaurant Michael Moore. The long, narrow room, with space for only twenty five diners, has been simply painted in white and brown and decorated by large abstract tableaux. Bare dark wood tables match the bare wooden floor, whilst lamps hanging at head height make movement from some seats slightly precarious.

With little to distract the diner, the focus is very much on the food. Indeed, concentration is needed to digest, both figuratively and literally, the array of dishes available on the six or ten course tasting menus. (There is also a three course set lunch.) The knowledgeable front-of-house team, led by Sandia Chang, are keen to advise, inform and elicit opinions about the dishes. Their genuine interest, friendly approach and efficient, unobtrusive service make eating at Roganic a relaxed and enjoyable affair.

True to Simon Rogan’s philosophy, Head Chef Ben Spalding is producing highly creative dishes – some with a Scandinavian influence – using impeccably sourced organic produce: for instance, Braddock duck eggs, River Tweed Trout, Watts Farm peppers and Cumbrian rose veal are proudly announced on the ten course menu. A wide variety of vegetables, fruit, nuts, herbs and edible flowers, including many foraged ingredients of the forest, hedgerow and coastline are all employed with dazzling effect. Of these, meadowsweet, sea purslane, buckthorne, cobnuts and puff ball mushroom were amongst the less familiar elements. Whilst extracting maximum flavour through precise cooking is vital, the careful balance of contrasting tastes and textures is equally important to the success of multi component dishes on a tasting menu. Doing this with familiar ingredients is a skill not easily mastered in many kitchens of large fine dining restaurants; to achieve it with an eclectic range of produce in frequently changing menus, and with a team of only five in Roganic’s small cramped kitchen is truly remarkable.

fine-dining-guide visited Roganic on a Friday lunchtime and had the pleasure of sampling the ten course tasting menu

A choice of three well made rolls was offered: pumpernickel, potato and buttermilk, both based on sour dough, and Irish soda bread. Each had crisp crusts and firm crumb, the soda bread being particularly accomplished. Also on offer was a delicate chestnut crisp bread. Whipped unsalted butter from Gloucestershire, scooped onto a flat Cumbrian pebble, was rich but light.

The amuse bouche featuring crisp wafer, vegetable puree, pine nuts and edible flowers, epitomised the clear flavours and attractive presentation of Roganic cuisine.

A layered first course featured sweet heirloom tomato, a mousse-like dill custard and a lamb jelly spiked with poached lamb’s tongue. This dish was well flavoured, light, rich and colourful.

The next course saw a duck egg which had been fried, an unusual cooking method in the Roganic repertoire. It arguably produces the best result, especially compared with the ubiquitous slow cooked versions which have too gelatinous a texture. The creamy yolk acted as a sauce for the earthy puff ball mushrooms and barley flake garnishes. By way of contrast, fragrant marjoram oil was added at the table. This essentially simple dish was a triumph of taste and texture.

The first dish using fish showcased another inspired combination. Gently cured and smoked trout was moist and fully flavoured. A topping of beautifully sweet diced peppers was offset by the acidity of crab apple puree and the peppery zing of watercress. The dish was given a textural and flavour contrast by the addition of crisply fried onion and a crowning with delicate pea shoots. (Wine with the above: Roter Veltliner, Leth, Wagram, Austria 2010)

Belly pork and smoked eel worked well together in croquettes that were succulent cubes of richness. The sweetness of corn puree was balanced by spicy crunch of mustard seed and the gentle saltiness of sea purslane. Tuiles of corn gave a spectacular look to this finished “surf and turf” dish.

Another bold and successful dish was grilled langoustine with pickled elderberries and loganberry oil. The danger of this becoming imbalanced, with the berries and sauce overwhelming the sweet crustacean was avoided, whilst the bitterness of radish also helped to balance the sweetness. Purple sprouting broccoli adding texture and colour to this innovative dish.

Few chefs have the confidence to make potato the main ingredient of a dish, yet L’Enclume’s baked pink fir potatoes in onion ash has become a much talked about signature dish. At Roganic, royal kidney potato cooked in chicken fat came with a flavoursome sauce of goat’s curd and clam juice. Crisp pieces of chicken skin added a lively crunch to balance the softer elements and snow peas gave freshness to the whole dish. (Wine with the above: Chenin Blanc, Mullineux, Swartland, South Africa, 2010)

Skate belly, (two fillets moulded together), and scallop where both well timed to produce a golden crust and melting flesh. The star of the dish, however, was the intense caramelised cauliflower puree, a brilliant extension of what has become a hackneyed preparation.

Roganic Scallop

In the final savoury course, Cumbrian rose veal cooked in buttermilk had a mild, delicate flavour and soft texture. Pairing it with cobnuts and blanched garlic gave a pleasant textural and herbal contrast. The well balanced soy and mead sauce gave just enough sweetness to lift the whole dish. (Wine with the above: Sudtiroler Lagrein, Weingut Niklas, Alto, Adige, Italy 2009)

Ginger beer ice, with its spicy zing and fine texture served its purpose well as a palate cleanser.

Three desserts followed, the last as an extra course. The first featured diverse elements of bilberries, dried caramel, natural yogurt, iced lemon thyme, all of which were compatible with their sweet and sour, soft and cold, fruity and herby elements.

The second saw a perfectly smooth white chocolate sorbet partnered with crumbed rapeseed and polenta cake, Herman plum and meadow sweet. Here, the richness of the sorbet and cake was offset by the sharpness of the plum and fragrant qualities of the herb.

Finally, warm spiced brioche was partnered with salted toasted almonds and a silky buckthorn curd. This delicious, vibrantly colourful mixture was finished with a quennel of smoked clotted cream with gave an unusual but not dislikeable edge to the dessert.

Bay leaf milk shake preceded coffee and petit fours of Victoria sponge and raspberry, the finale to memorable meal, faultlessly executed. The clarity of tastes, the sheer range of invention, the variety of cooking techniques and the conscious artistry of presentation involved were all utterly impressive. Overall, there can be little doubt that Roganic has made its mark on a demanding London audience and, whether in Blandford Street or another location, is assured of a successful future in the capital.

Roganic on Urbanspoon