June 2012: Fine Dining Guide June Newsletter

Posted on: June 4th, 2012 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Much has happened since the re-launch of fine dining guide in December 2011.  This, too, was when the site produced its last newsletter.

The iTunes podcast series continues with two new episodes “Britain’s Top 20 Restaurants” and “The Future of Restaurants and Wine” – as always the links are to the written transcripts, you may find the podcast series on iTunes by typing “Restaurant Dining (UK)” into the main iTunes store search box.  Two importants points of note: No longer “Fine Dining in the UK” (the series has been re-named, re-branded and re-launched): For some reason only four old episodes are currently listed as a “summary” the user has to click on the logo to see the full list of available episodes (even clicking on “See all episodes” currently produces only the summary four episodes, so please do click on the logo!)

fine-dining-guide has launched a YouTube Channel for which the site commissioned and uploaded a professional piece on Diego Masciaga of The Waterside Inn preparing the special dish of Canard a la Presse. (Thanks to Pro Motion Media).

The site has conducted five interviews since the last newsletter spanning a hotel group owner, three established chefs and a rising star of the future.

Chefs Interviewed in First Half 2012

Since 2000, the proud holder of two Michelin stars, David Everitt-Matthias gives a full and frank interview about his rise to the top of the profession as well as an insight into the cooking techniques employed in his kitchen.  At the other end of the spectrum, a recent former winner of FutureChef, Luke Thomas, gives his aspirations for the future.  Newly Michelin starred Matt Gillan of The Pass at South Lodge Hotel provides an open, infectious and enthusiastic interview about his cooking passion, including time spent in the Michelin two star kitchens of John Campbell (See Interview) and Daniel Clifford. At The Westbury Hotel, head chef Alyn Williams has spread his wings after years under the watchful eye of Marcus Wareing. Alyn gives an insightful interview regarding his personal background and inspirations in his cooking.

Exclusive Hotels include four luxury properties: Pennyhill Park, Bagshot (See Michael Wignall Interview, Latymer Restaurant Review): South Lodge Hotel, near Horsham, Sussex: Manor House Hotel (See Hotel Review, Bybrook Restaurant Review), Castle Combe, Wiltshire:  Lainston House Hotel, Winchester.  Employing over 700 staff in a £45m turnover business, owner Danny Pecorelli took time out of his relentless schedule for an in-depth interview.

Twitter/Facebook: Both continue to deliver good traffic to the site – @finediningguide has over 3600 followers in June 2012 and the newer facebook page 480 likes.  The new template design page provided by facebook gets a thumbs up from fine-dining-guide.  You may go directly to the site’s pages on twitter or facebook simply by clicking on the ‘f’ and ‘t’ buttons in the top right corner of every page on the site.

Restaurant/Hotel Reviews: Restaurant reviews by Daniel Darwood have included North Road, Mallory Court, Rogan and Company, Tom Aikens, Kitchen Joel Antunes, Savoy River Restaurant, Melton’s, Tom Kitchin and Alyn Williams at the Westbury.  Daniel also reviewed Mallory Court Hotel. (See Reviews)

Opinion/News: The definition of fine dining is changing at a rapid pace – before our very eyes.

Come unto me, all ye that labour in the stomach and I will restore you” wrote Monsieur Boulanger, in 1765, on a sign above his restorative; an establishment that soon became recognized as the first ‘restaurant.’

It has been argued that the French Revolution prompted the start of fine dining restaurants in Europe.  Typically the aristocracy had private chefs, grand kitchens and servants to act as waiters.  It was only this class of people that enjoyed fine dining.  An objective of the revolution was to level out society and a byproduct was a surfeit of unemployed chefs, who had been forced out of their private commissions with wealthy families.

Quite quickly an aspiring class of people were offering a demand to these chefs; they wanted to experience what is was like to dine out in the style of the old aristocracy.  Where demand meets supply we have a market and so the market for independent fine dining restaurants was born.

Brillat-Savarin – the first great epicure – who once famously said ‘tell me what you eat and I’ll tell you what you are’ was an early champion of fine dining and had a great cheese from Normandy named in his honour.  Brillat-Savarin cited the Paris restaurant La Grande Taverne de Loudres and the owner Antoine Beauvilliers (early 1800s), with being the first to combine his four requisites of fine dining: an elegant room, smart waiters, a good cellar and superior cooking.

The market for fine dining in Britain remained far more “conservative” than our French neighbours.  Perhaps right through until the birth of Le Gavroche in London (1967), the emphasis was on grand hotels.  In my early memory of fine dining the chefs you knew about, who were vaguely celebrities, worked in grand hotels.  It was not until the Roux brothers, Koffmann, Ladenis and Blanc appeared that the independent restaurant could be taken seriously as a fine dining destination.

There was a distinct differences between the grand hotel restaurants of London and the independent restaurants: Accessibility.  As late as the 1960s you possibly needed a title or some serious connections to get a table for lunch at a London grand hotel.  Meanwhile independent restaurateurs were delighted to open their doors to whoever could afford to pay.  So in a sense we were witnessing a repeat of the experience of France some 150 years earlier.

The objectives of the food from the modern fine dining restaurant chef are generally to deliver on taste, texture and presentation.  Extraordinary lengths of labour intensive work will go into delivering on these three fronts but as one chef told me last week – “if something has lemon in it, I want it to taste like a box of lemons!”  The techniques used to extract and enhance flavour and to deliver flavour combinations can be quite breathtaking.  With each generation top end restaurant food has also become healthier with far less reliance on cream, butter and large doses of salt.

The fundamental change we have witnessed in recent times is also in terms of the eating environment – the dining room, the service, the ambiance – has seen a shift to informality: There appears to be two distinct, divergent classifications of fine dining restaurant – those that conform to the essence of the original Brillat-Savarin definition contrasted with a large and growing number that reflect the mood of bare minimalist furniture, semi-casual waiters and the idiom that ‘the more the room looks like a converted warehouse the better!’

So what does the future hold?  Trends and cycles tend to correct each other over time, however mix in fashion, culture and economic environment then what fine dining will look like in twenty years is anyone’s best guess.

Until next time, Happy Eating!