Archive for October, 2020

AA (Rated Trips) New Rosette Awards Press Release (Nov 2020)

Posted on: October 27th, 2020 by Simon Carter

London. 27th October 2020. The AA has today announced its latest round of Rosette Award winners, celebrating dining destinations with the highest quality culinary offerings in the country. Four British restaurants have been awarded four AA Rosettes, while an incredible twenty-six have received three AA Rosettes, a record number for a single announcement.

Receiving a prestigious four AA Rosettes are The Latymer, Pennyhill Park (Bagshot, Surrey), Muse (London), Ocean Restaurant at The Atlantic Hotel (Jersey), and The Ritz Restaurant (London). Restaurants awarded three AA Rosettes include The Old Stamp House (Ambleside, Cumbria), housed in the former office of William Wordsworth, Frenchie Covent Garden (London), cousin of the original Parisian eatery, and Great British Menu winner Shaun Rankin’s eponymous Shaun Rankin at Grantley Hall (Ripon, North Yorkshire).

Simon Numphud, Managing Director at AA Media said “This has been an immensely difficult year for the hospitality industry, and yet restaurants across the country have continued to provide incredible dining experiences to the public despite these considerable challenges. The dedication and hard work of the teams behind these establishments is inspiring, particularly during this time, and we are pleased to be able to celebrate them with the announcement of these AA Rosettes.”

Three AA Rosettes are awarded to restaurants achieving standards that demand national recognition beyond their local area, while those which receive four AA Rosettes are deemed to be among the best in the UK and Ireland.

New four AA Rosettes:

Ocean Restaurant at The Atlantic Hotel, Jersey

Muse, London, SW1

The Ritz Restaurant, London, W1

The Latymer, Pennyhill Park, Bagshot, Surrey

New three AA Rosettes:

The Vineyard, Newbury, Berkshire

Driftwood, Portscatho, Cornwall

The Old Stamp House, Ambleside, Cumbria

The Feathered Nest Country Inn, Nether Westcote, Gloucestershire

Albert and Michel Roux Jr at Inverlochy Castle, Fort William, Highland

Hide and Fox, Hythe, Kent

The Barn at Moor Hall, Ormskirk, Lancashire

Davies & Brook, London, W1

Frenchie Covent Garden, London, WC2
Hide Above, London, W1

Les 110 Des Taillevent, London, W1

The Betterment by Jason Atherton, London, W1

The Dysart, Petersham, Greater London

The Northall, London, WC2

Trivet, London, SE1

Mana, Greater Manchester

Where The Light Gets In, Stockport, Greater Manchester

Murray’s, Towcester, Northamptonshire

Minster Mill, Minster Lovell, Oxfordshire

Windlestraw, Walkerburn, Scottish Borders

The Haughmond, Upton Magna, Shropshire

The Boat Inn, Lichfield, Staffordshire

Interlude, Lower Beeding, West Sussex

Goldsborough Hall, Harrogate, North Yorkshire

Shaun Rankin at Grantley Hall, Ripon, North Yorkshire

The Pheasant, Harome, North Yorkshire

AA Rosettes have been awarded to restaurants since 1956, with the top award of five Rosettes first introduced in 1991. The multi rosettes are traditionally awarded in January and September each year, with success determined by one or more visits by an AA inspector to a hotel or restaurant.

To discover more top restaurants go to

About AA Hotel & Hospitality Services

In 1908, the AA introduced a new scheme to highlight ‘leading hotels’. It followed this in 1912 by adding star ratings, inspired by a similar system for rating brandy. In 1956, the AA introduced the Rosette awards – the first nationwide awards for recognising restaurants. Today, the AA continues to provide establishments with professional ratings and they are a valued symbol of quality for both consumers and the hospitality industry.

About the restaurants:

4 Rosettes

The Ritz Restaurant, London W1

At the Ritz Restaurant the experience features tailcoated waiters serving cloche-covered plates of luxurious food. Why not start with a glass of bubbly in the art deco Rivoli Bar to prepare your senses for the extravagant opulence of the dining room – a space to rival Versailles Palace, with its rich Louis XVI-inspired decor of murals, painted ceilings, statues and glittering chandeliers reflecting from mirrored walls. An army of waiting staff pulls off a correctly polite performance with theatrical classic tableside service that avoids any hint of stuffiness. Auguste Escoffier would find no fault with the whole show, although the odd Gallic eyebrow might be raised at distinctively contemporary reworkings of classics – the likes of hay-smoked veal sweetbreads with caramelised shallot and Madeira sauce. Next up, Dover sole is pointed up with new season leeks, cauliflower and caviar at dessert stage, a rather refined take on Yorkshire rhubarb with vanilla custard closes in style.

The Latymer, Pennyhill Park, Bagshot, Surrey

The Latymer is one of the top restaurants in the country, set in the creeper-covered Victorian manor at the heart of the 123-acre Pennyhill estate whose grounds encompass a high-powered hotel with elegant gardens, wild woodland, a less wild golf course and a swish spa. It’s a genteel and luxurious space with panelled walls and rich floral fabrics all contributing to a formal and elegant setting for food of thrilling modernity, with contemporary cooking techniques showcased on six-course tasting menus. Expect complexity, as in a highly evolved dish matching pumpkin in various guises with quail’s egg, cep powder and ice cream, or Orkney scallop with celeriac, truffle, apple and smoked eel. Another outstanding idea brings pink venison loin alongside cauliflower and almond ‘couscous’ and blackberry and bitter chocolate foam. A dessert of Itakuja chocolate délice and mango sorbet delivers wonderful flavours and textures. The wine list is a global wonder that matches the food in ambition and attainment.

Ocean Restaurant at the Atlantic Hotel, Jersey, Channel Islands

The Ocean Restaurant is the jewel in the crown of The Atlantic Hotel, a boutique retreat amid exotic palm trees in a conservation area overlooking the wild dunes of St Ouen’s Bay. The timeless sea views are best savoured from the louvred windows of the dining room, a gloriously light and airy setting with a soft-focus palette of blue, white and beige, and modern artwork on the walls. Chef Will Holland’s stellar cooking is the real draw. You might open with accurately seared scallops with salt cod brandade, carrot remoulade and sweet-and-sour carrot purée, a sensational marriage of sweet and salty savour. That could be followed by juniper-roasted venison loin with a breaded bonbon of the meat, smoked bacon choucroute, salsify and pickled blueberries, in a glossy, deeply resonant bitter chocolate jus. The showstopping finale is chocoholic heaven of cacao streusel coated with Guanaja, with 70% chocolate gelée and coffee ice cream.

Muse, London SW1

Tucked away close to Belgrave Square, Muse sees Tom Aikens’ return to the capital’s fine-dining scene, offering a multi-course tasting menu inspired by childhood memories and moments and key people form his celebrated career. A bijou, 25-cover space, Muse splits over two floors of a character mews house; there’s a few seats for cocktails and a cold kitchen downstairs, while upstairs the main action takes place, with high chairs at the marble-topped kitchen counter and dining tables and curving banquette behind. It’s intimate but relaxed, softly lit and decorated in warming pastel tones. Friendly staff and chefs bring out a succession of strikingly presented dishes to talk through, with names like ‘Conquering the Beech Tree’ or ‘Playing with fire’ supported by evocative menu descriptions, while ingredients are listed minimally (‘langoustine, pork fat, burnt apple’ or ‘Beef, Norfolk grains, Barsham stout). This is fine-tuned cooking from a flavoursmith; innovative, story-telling dishes full of flavour, balance, finesse and artistry.

3 Rosettes

The Vineyard, Newbury, Berkshire

There’s no vineyard at The Vineyard, although owner Sir Peter Michael’s world-class Californian winery supplies some pretty remarkable wines in a cellar that runs to a staggering 30,000 bottles. In fact, the super-slick operation is a stylish and sybaritic celebration of the world of wine and gastronomy, with side orders of spa pampering, luxurious accommodation and chic public areas. On the food front, Orkney scallop with chicken, grapes and marigold delivers precision and innovation in equal measure, while Berkshire Downs lamb is matched with Savoy cabbage and smoked onion purée. Expert sommeliers guide the way through that astonishing cellar, starting with around 100 available by the glass.

Driftwood, Portscatho, Cornwall

Independently owned, this beach-house-style hotel stands in seven acres on the Roseland Peninsula, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (Roseland, by the way, gets its name not from the flower, but from the Cornish ‘ros’, meaning a headland). A pretty woodland path hairpins its way down to the South West Coast Path and a private cove on the turquoise waters of Gerrans Bay. The restaurant, with a terrace, is bright and airy and a fitting context for technically innovative and exciting food from Olly Pierrepont. Local materials star, with expressive seafood dishes a particular strength. All but one bedroom has sea views and those on the ground floor have decking, much enjoyed by stargazers and sunseekers. There’s super-attentive service, impressive knowledge of both food and drinks from the staff, including excellent wine recommendations.

The Old Stamp House Restaurant, Ambleside, Cumbria

William Wordsworth was Cumbria’s ‘Distributor of Stamps’ back in the 19th century, and this is where he plied his trade. Today, the organic and foraged ingredients on show make this is a thoroughly modern sort of restaurant and it has become quite the foodie destination. Situated below street level and accessed via a small set of stairs, chef Ryan Blackburn and his brother Craig, who works front of house, have created something special here. Dishes are explained as they are placed. Chefs normally make a point of bringing some of the dishes themselves – Ryan likes to present a personal appearance to his strong local following. Recommendations are freely made for both food and wine indicating a deep knowledge of the product. Cumbrian local produce leads the way, with 6 or 8-course tasting menus and a smaller lunch menu. The presentation is always thoroughly creative.

The Feathered Nest Country Inn, Nether Westcote, Gloucestershire

The Feathered Nest is a born-again country hostelry that’s seriously worth a detour. There’s pretty accommodation, too, if you fancy staying the night. The Cotswold-stone building looks good inside and out, with a contemporary country-chic interior (stone walls, flagged floors and antique furniture), the feelgood factor ramped up by real fires in winter, and bucolic views from the terrace and garden. Expect a modern British menu that fizzes with good ideas and appealing combinations – Orkney scallops with pork cheek, caramelised apple, celeriac and crackling for starters, then a big-hearted main course of Cotswold fallow deer with salt-baked parsnips, black pudding hash, braised red cabbage, parsnip and vanilla.

Hide and Fox, Hythe, Kent

Hide and Fox is set in the new One Tower Bridge development, just a stone’s throw from the bridge itself, on the ground floor of a new residential building. It’s a modern split-level, glass-walled space with some tables on the ground floor and the majority on the mezzanine level. The menu changes seasonally, the head chef champions Welsh produce, and cooking is accomplished. A starter of cured and poached salmon with horseradish Chantilly, apple and ponzu is a simply presented, vibrant dish, while loin and belly of superlative Welsh lamb is showcased alongside crushed and puréed artichoke, mint and leeks.

The Barn at Moor Hall, Ormskirk, Lancashire

In five-acre grounds with a lake and accompanied by one of the UK’s top restaurants in a glass-walled modernist extension, this boutique hideaway already has enough going for it. But if you’re not up for the full-works, culinary virtuosity of the main attraction, this little sibling is no slouch, serving up sharp contemporary food in a casual, beamed setting. Start with perfectly timed smoked haddock with red lentil dhal, cumin foam, coriander and puffed rice, then move on to a full-bore plate of pork belly with heavenly crisp crackling alongside smoked apple, morels and roasted foie gras.

Trivet, London SE1

When a new restaurant is opened by a former head chef (Jonny Lake) and master sommelier (Isa Bal) of the Fat Duck, it’s bound to garner attention and high expectation. Trivet, tucked away opposite Bermondsey’s historic Guinness Trust building, is however, refreshingly understated. The modern, clean-lined glass-fronted space features a marble bar (with separate bar menu) and two dining rooms with a focal-point open kitchen, while light, Nordic-style woods and pastel shades add warmth and keep things smack on-trend. The kitchen’s carte-format menu bristles with appeal, with Lake’s clean, confident, innovative and flawless cooking bringing ingredients to life. Take salt-steamed turbot teamed with crosnes, Jerusalem artichoke and tarragon oil, while a baked potato mille feuille dessert (with sake and white chocolate mousse, and butter and sake gelato) catches the foodie attention. Service is relaxed, cheery and informed, while Bal’s unique wine list – presented following the journey of early wine makers – starts at 7,000BC.

Les 110 de Taillevent, London W1

Ornate high ceilings, tall windows, dark-green banquettes and a showpiece bar give this classy, low-lit wine-based outfit a romantic, high-end gloss. Sibling of much-worshipped Parisian restaurant with the same moniker, it offers diners 110 by-glass wines as part of its corking list that tops 1,500 bottles. Each dish is offered with four different wine pairings, in four different price brackets and measures (70ml or 125ml). Stellar chef Ross Bryans’ modern French roster comes underscored by a classical French theme and delivers in well-dressed, perfectly executed plates clean on flavour. High skill, flair and balance shine in dishes like sea-fresh Cornish turbot teamed with Jerusalem artichoke, peacock kale and headlining sauce Albufera, while a blackcurrant soufflé, with speculoos biscuit ice cream, wows with theatre and flavour. Charming service underpins all.

The Betterment by Jason Atherton, London W1

The Betterment is the Mayfair branch of Jason Atherton’s London operations, occupying a glamorous setting in the ultra-luxurious Biltmore Hotel in Grosvenor Square, so this is not one for tight budgets. It’s the sort of glitzy spot for putting your glad rags on in anticipation of some big-hitting dishes that tease out every molecule of flavour from pedigree ingredients. Roasted Orkney scallop with braised girolles and creamy Parmesan sauce opens in fine style, while short rib with Montgomery cheddar and bone marrow is lifted by the textures of croutons and diced apple. Almond financier with caramelised white chocolate, raspberry and red pepper sorbet makes a refined finisher.

Davies and Brook, Claridge’s, London W1

Davies and Brook is named for the two streets that form the corner location of Claridge’s, wherein this rather elegant dining room is ensconced. The look is clean-lined and contemporary, with high ceilings and specially commissioned artworks adding to the chic ambience. The food comes courtesy of chef Daniel Humm, whose high-flying New York reputation translates here as dishes of thrilling flavour clarity and intensity. Dry-aged duck in a fabulous sweet-and-perfumed glaze of honey and lavender with daikon ribbons and rhubarb purée is a dish to write home about, as is a sublime combo of poached lobster with swede and pear.

Hide Above, London W1

Hide Above is the top-end, first floor restaurant of chef Ollie Dabbous’s glossy drinking and dining venue. A magnificent oak staircase curves upwards to the sleek designer space where wall-to-wall glass gives great views over the snarl of Piccadilly traffic to the leafy canopy of Green Park. Five- and eight-course tasting menus bring on cooking of exceptional precision, taking in Cornish crab broth spiked with fennel and lime leaves, then roast scallop with buckwheat dashi, golden turnips, pear and pine. Roast suckling pig comes two ways: tenderloin with cauliflower purée, capers and raisins, followed by shoulder with mustard sauce, hispi cabbage and black pudding crumb.

Frenchie Covent Garden, London WC2

Smack in the heart of Covent Garden, Frenchie is the London outpost of chef-patron Gregory Marchand, who splits his time chiefly between his Paris restaurant and WC2. Cool, smart and buzzy, this relaxed modern French brasserie rocks, with spot-on service, innovative cuisine and on-trend good looks. The long street-level room comes with eye-catching lighting and a dining bar, while bare brick, wooden floors and marble or stainless steel tabletops embrace the mood, and downstairs features an open kitchen. Creative, ambitious modern French dishes have equal appeal; witness steamed Cornish cod teamed with mussels, cauliflower, dill and whey, or a classy praline and calamansi Paris-Brest finale.

The Dysart Petersham, Richmond-Upon-Thames, Greater London

The Dysart occupies a 1904 Arts and Crafts building with original leaded windows and wooden window frames facing south over Richmond Park. Sunshine streams in on bright days, and a low-key jazz soundtrack floats around the elegant room. Kenneth Culhane’s confident and sure-footed cooking delivers some fascinating, intricately detailed dishes full of subtle interplays of taste and texture. A sublime oxtail risotto made with gold-standard acquerello aged rice and enriched with bone marrow and pickled chilli gets off to a flying start, followed by a beautifully balanced plate of aged Devon duck with orange-braised chicory and prune sauce. Lemon verbena crème brûlée is a masterclass in simplicity.

Where the Light Gets In, Stockport, Greater Manchester

Where the Light Gets In occupies a hipster-friendly industrial-chic former warehouse that’s fully in tune with contemporary sensibilities and the industrial heritage of the town. Music is loud, the vibe is casual and chefs deliver dishes hot-foot to tables. A procession of small dishes – up to 15 – takes in current trends for fermenting, pickling and sustainability. Along the way expect to encounter the likes of pickled kohlrabi with verbena leaves, butter curds and gooseberry compote; preserved red mullet with tomato water and brown butter, and a hands-on taco-style dish of pork rump with fermented bread miso and preserved cucumber.

Mana, Manchester, Greater Manchester

Mana has at its heart an open island kitchen from where chefs send out some highly accomplished Nordic-influenced cooking. In tune with the Scandi sensibilities, the space is sparsely minimal, albeit in a classy mode with darkwood tables and all-round designer sleekness. Multi-course menus deliver dishes that are highly technical, very clever and masterfully constructed to balance flavours and textures. Expect to find the finest British materials underpinning the likes of Lindisfarne oyster, English wasabi and fermented cabbage; caramelised scallop chawanmushi; poached turbot with smoked eel, sorrel and dill, and salt-aged duck hung over burning charcoal with bread sauce.

Murrays, Whittlebury Park, Towcester, Northamptonshire

Murrays is the pole-position dining option at Whittlebury Hall, a plush neo-Georgian hotel with a Rolls Royce of a spa and serious golfing just a Ferrari’s roar away from Silverstone. While the slick front-of-house team help diners relax in the slow lane, the kitchen hits top gear with modern British cooking. A starter of Devonshire crab with Granny Smith apple and avocado grabs the attention with its layering of flavours and textures, while loin and sweetbreads of lamb with baby leek terrine and celeriac turns up at main course stage. For pudding, a high-octane confection of chocolate, gianduja and praline cream is a winner.

Minster Mill, Minster Lovell, Oxfordshire

Minster Mill has plenty going for it: a rather glamorous Cotswold-stone boutique hotel by the River Windrush with a sybaritic spa and an atmospheric restaurant  replete with vaulted ceilings and original oak beams. The kitchen led by Tom Moody along with his team of highly skilled chefs sends out an appealing fusion of contemporary and classic British ideas built on top-quality ingredients. Thoughtful, sharply executed dishes kick off with a plump scallop, perfectly caramelised, topped with subtle tandoori spicing and balanced by the sharpness of yoghurt, cucumber and apple. Main-course brings 50 day-aged Belted Galloway beef with duck fat-roasted carrot and oxtail in onion petals. Finish with chocolate délice with peanut and popcorn ice cream.

The Haughmond, Upton Magna, Shropshire

The Haughmond had a smart makeover a few years back and there’s now a fresh and light contemporary country feel to this smart coaching inn. Family-run, it retains a nicely relaxed and pubby atmosphere, while drawing diners from afar. Classics are served in the bar, while the restaurant ramps things up a notch or two with bold, unpretentious cooking highlighting seasonal, Shropshire ingredients. Pan-seared scallops alongside turnip, curried squash purée and lentils is a good way to start, then follow with a ‘nose-to-tail’ serving of pork taking in ribs, faggot, belly, loin and cheek, all that piggy richness lifted with celeriac remoulade and pear.

The Boat Inn, Lichfield, Staffordshire

The Boat occupies a rather unassuming location just off the busy A461 but once inside it’s clear that this is a restaurant of substance with serious foodie chops. An open kitchen with a chef’s table takes pole position in a light, airy space that maintains a relaxed charm. And the menu? It has a sharp eye for the seasons and a love of big-hearted, well-matched flavours, as in Dorset crab with ribbons of kohlrabi, seaweed and wild cranberry, or pig’s cheek with squash and sumac. Elsewhere, there’s rose veal served with crisp sweetbreads and chanterelles and, for pudding, a lush chocolate gateau with caramel ice cream.

Interlude, Lower Beeding, West Sussex

Interlude occupies a glorious setting in the woodland gardens of Leonardslee Estate. The grand old house doesn’t lack for character with its high ceilings, ornate fireplaces, oil paintings and chandeliers, while the kitchen takes its cue from the seasons and makes full use of pickings from its own gardens, as well as foraging and tapping into the local food network for top-notch Sussex produce. Expect bright, lively flavours in epic-length tasting format, from beef tartare smoked with gorse flowers, to poached plaice with parsley purée and knotweed vinegar, or 28 day-aged Middlewhite pork with wild garlic and capers.

Goldsborough Hall, Goldsborough, North Yorkshire

Goldsborough Hall is a Jacobean stately home with blue-blooded pedigree: Princess Mary, one of the Queen’s aunts, lived in this 1620s mansion until 1929. Canapés are served in the lounge before guests are shown through to an intimate dining space of linen-swathed tables, a baby grand, and a splendid marble fireplace for complex, distinctly modern dishes. A delightfully poised starter matches whipped goat’s cheese with spicy parkin and pear and artichoke in various textures. Main-course Yorkshire dry-aged duck comes alongside smoked cauliflower, black garlic, hen of the woods mushrooms and onion, while salted caramel custard tart and stem ginger ice cream make for a simple, deeply satisfying finish.

The Pheasant, Harome, North Yorkshire

Although The Pheasant sounds like a simple pub – it was once the blacksmith’s and village shop overlooking the duckpond in the charming village of Harome – its current incarnation is a rather refined hotel with bags of smart country style and food that’s certainly worth going out of your way for. The contemporary cooking style produces technically adept, imaginative dishes, starting out with slow-cooked hen’s egg (from the village) with roasted pecan whip and smoked hen of the woods mushrooms, then a storming main course of Gigha halibut Véronique with salt and vinegar potatoes, charred gem lettuce, heritage beetroot and brelot onions.

Shaun Rankin at Grantley Hall, Ripon, North Yorkshire

Shaun Rankin’s set-up in the Palladian splendour of Grantley Hall is unlikely to disappoint when you’re up for the full Five-Star Monty. When you’re done exploring the vast swathes of grounds, spa and elegant public rooms, Shaun Rankin delivers cooking of serious quality and distinction in opulent surroundings. There’s much to applaud, from chicken terrine with truffle-topped brioche and artichoke textures to an exquisitely constructed dish of venison loin with barbecued celeriac and blackcurrant gel. After that, terrine of quince and elderflower is matched with yoghurt ice cream.

Albert and Michel Roux Jr at Inverlochy Castle, Fort William, Highland

Albert and Michel Roux Jr have picked a top-flight venue at Aberlochy, the very epitome of a grand baronial castle set in a verdant valley at the foot of Ben Nevis. Views are spectacular, and there’s a real sense of history and opulence in the richly decorated public spaces, with all the high ceilings, antiques and crystal chandeliers you could wish for. The restaurant is intimate and extremely formal in approach – gentlemen will need their jackets – and complex dishes include wild rabbit terrine with game tea jelly, heritage carrots and pumpernickel, followed by duck breast and leg croquettes with balsamic beetroot and buckwheat.

Windlestraw, Walkerburn, Scottish Borders, Scotland

Located only 40 minutes from Edinburgh, in the rolling hills of the Scottish Border country, Windlestraw is a beautiful Edwardian Arts and Crafts villa set in two acres of grounds and lovingly restored by its present owners. Service is both personal and attentive in the oak panelled restaurant where contemporary Scottish menus deliver the likes of ham hock terrine pointed up with cauliflower, piccalilli and prosecco-poached sultanas, followed by venison loin with roasted and puréed celeriac, preserved blackcurrants and chard. To finish, a refined take on the classic Scottish cranachan accompanied by a silky smooth whisky ice cream hits a high note.

Chutney Mary 30th Birthday, (Oct 2020)

Posted on: October 5th, 2020 by Simon Carter

Chutney Mary: Owners Ranjit Mathrani and Namita Panjabi with Director Camellia Panjabi (centre)

Chutney Mary’s place on the London dining scene over the last thirty years is well worth celebrating!  To take in the full scope of its achievements, it is important to step back and develop an understanding of the ever-changing dynamics of the market it has continuously helped to shape.  This must be coupled with consideration of the background to the opening in the context of the market at that time.

The 2020 global experience placed to one side, London is renowned as home to a great culinary diversity, making it a gastronomic destination of choice for the adventurous traveller. Perhaps only New York bears comparison on a global scale.  Generations of tourists, in ever increasing number, have made their way around the world, immeasurably broadening their horizons. From a food perspective, many have enjoyed experiences of authentic ethnic cooking in its indigenous setting.  A natural knock-on effect has seen the demand for similar offerings at home.  The experience of such places must also be equal to or better than those experienced abroad.  This forms just part of the reason for London’s  flourishing and vibrant restaurant scene.

We might reasonably hope that next year, discerning top end restaurant diners in London will continue to enjoy not only greater choice of cuisines, but also continue to dine out with greater frequency. One might argue that it is more than a function of economics – perhaps a cultural shift has been at play.  The 2019, well-heeled, younger demographic not only had greater disposable income to eat out more often but also chose to do so in a more adventurous way. The benefit of a cultural shift over a fluctuating economy is that should there have been a cultural evolution in dining habits, then demand is more stable in a downturn. Hopefully, a healthy competitive market next year will not only look like this but will also help maintain appropriate standards.

Rewind a few decades and London boasted relatively few top-end eateries, of particular sparsity were quality Asian restaurants.  As late as the 1980s, you might have found the occasional outpost of Asian glamour, such as The Bombay Brasserie off Gloucester Road or the royal Thai cuisine of The Blue Elephant in Fulham Broadway.

It is worth noting that thirty years ago we were pre- World Wide Web. At that time, a would-be customer learned about available restaurants from print media, either via reviews in the broadsheet newspapers or from guide books.  At a certain point, the globally instantaneous, interactive and responsive, information superhighway of the digital world became pervasive.  The web phenomenon may well have exceeded travel as a demand pull for ethnic cuisine, where reviews abound, social media excites and knowledge transfer is everywhere.  Our appetites are whetted in everything we encounter in the multi-media online world. 

Chutney Mary Interior, King’s Road, 1990

So, looking back, it is harder than one might first imagine to step into the shoes of Namita Panjabi and Ranjit Mathrani as they considered their options. To appreciate the landscape of that time, somewhere between Bibendum (for size) and Bombay Brasserie (for cuisine) was about the only semblance of an example business model. How brave and visionary those restaurateurs were in seeing a successful upscale, top-end, Indian restaurant.  Furthermore, one that was situated on the sophisticated, thriving and fashionable, King’s Road in Chelsea.  In 1989 Namita Panjabi and Ranjit Mathrani formed Chelsea Plaza Restaurants which was later renamed Masala World. The company was formed to create Chutney Mary.

Chutney Mary was born in the summer of 1990.  The calculated risk paid off almost immediately, as it transpired that the new concept struck a chord with the adventurous local residential gentry, who were ready to experiment with a more sophisticated interpretation of Indian food.  A formidable following developed, not just locally, but also from a broad destination spectrum.  From the well-travelled, particularly Indophiles, to the curious local diner, Chutney Mary would regularly satisfy 150-200 guests per evening service within its one hundred-seater space.

The press reviews were united in their praise and admiration. The restaurant was also the recipient of awards from The Evening Standard (Eros Award), Harden’s, Square Meal and Tio Pepe Carlton.  Further, Curry Clubs Best Indian Restaurant in the UK award made The BBC Evening News.  From Fay Maschler to Zagat and from Tatler to The NY Times, journalists and critics commented on the ever evolving and consistent quality of the food, alongside “a look that is shimmering and seductive.”

Camellia Panjabi, Namita’s sister, would later join as a director of the company, which was to become the broader MWEat Group.  Camellia was a pioneer herself, with an Economics degree from Cambridge, working for Tata Group, she was tasked with making a success of the marketing of the Taj Group of Hotels.  Her passion was food and she worked on a project to bring the diverse cuisines of the continent into the Hotel Group in a luxury Indian cultural setting.  As well as enjoying success across India, one such outpost of The Taj Group was the 1982 launch of the aforementioned Bombay Brasserie in London.

Overall, her food project was a daunting challenge, as India constituted a country with around 1.2 billion people, 14 different languages, 29 States, 7 Union Territories, not to mention various cultures – thereby demonstrating contrasts in cuisine type at least as wide as those found between countries across Europe.  Furthermore, recipes from the south had to be eked out from families or private cooks across the country.  A by-product of this work was Camellia’s best-selling recipe book ’50 Great Curries of India’ which has sold around two million copies world-wide.  In 2013, Camellia was awarded an MBE.

Chutney Mary Interior, King’s Road, 1990

As Chutney Mary’s success expanded it garnered a global reputation and provided a blueprint for the influx of other Indian master chefs to feed the market that they had created.  One might argue that they enabled the space in which Atul Kochhar, Vineet Bhatia and Sriram Ayur were to flourish.  The latter coming to London at Quilon a decade after launching Karavali restaurant in Bangalore under the then strategy remit of Camellia Panjabi at Taj Hotels. Where trailblazers go, others will follow and this is an important aspect of the Chutney Mary legacy as it celebrates 30 years.

By 2015 the lease on the King’s Road premises had run its course. This provided the ideal opportunity to review the best location to suit the past, present and future of the Chutney Mary client base.  After an extensive search the current site on St James’ Street was found,  although it was not love at first sight for the owners.  An inspired interior designer, along with their Feng Shui consultant put their mind at ease and made them excited about the potential of the new premises.  A potential that has more than been fulfilled.  Certain aspects needed tweaking, including where to place a private dining room, the cloakrooms as well as stripping back all the décor.

There is a plush, upmarket long bar called Pukka Bar, serving cocktails, vintage champagne, artisanal gins and malts as well as small plates to casual visitors. The recent restaurant menu has seen starters replaced by small plates and a move toward lighter eating, principally to attract the lunch trade.  A grilled section is complemented by slow cooked curries, vegetarian dishes, sides and grains. The restaurant has always been busy and continues to attract a crowd even in these challenging times.  The dining room may be seen variously as one for special occasions, a discreet business meeting venue or a social meeting place for friends. The charming, friendly and informative service ably matches the quality of the food, while measuring and meeting their guests needs with care and attention. 

All this while remaining true to its principles; being innovative in so many ways.  It was the first to bring Anglo-Indian food of the Raj, including plated courses rather than sharing dishes.  It was the first to bring highlights of pan-Indian food, which was globally ground breaking. The recipes are cleverly adapted, using the latest techniques by master chefs, bringing a modern twist to the interpretation of dishes, that enhance flavour to the sensibilities of a London palate. 

Chutney Mary, St James’, 2020

There is a subtle evolution that retains old favourites, while forever encouraging the new and exciting to the menu.  Authenticity and complexity of the menu is provided by chefs trained and recruited as masters from their region of origin. 

Indeed, the painstaking and expensive recruitment process, is made even more complex by the need for a relatively flat kitchen management structure.  This is because the expert chef of one region will not work the ‘section’ of another expert chef’s region.  There is also often an under appreciation of the extent of cooking processes that go into Indian cuisine at these heights.  Uncompromising sourcing of produce of the highest quality is matched by detailed multi-stage cooking, with impeccable timing as an absolute necessity for consistency.  All are in abundance over the life of Chutney Mary and as such an ongoing requirement of the diligent and focused owners who regularly taste and review the menu for the benefit of their customers.

Prime Ministers past and present have been patrons of the restaurant, along with the obligatory smattering of celebrity to complement the loyal regulars.  The critic AA Gill was a notable friend of the house, quoted as saying “If there is a better pan-Indian restaurant in London than Chutney Mary I haven’t eaten in it.” A sentiment wholeheartedly echoed by fine dining guide and one that may equally apply to a loyal band of discerning customers. Congratulations to Chutney Mary, happy 30th birthday!  May there be many more to celebrate with you…