Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Keller gives a rat's arse

Thomas Keller of The French Laundry fame has obviously developed a taste for working with Hollywood since he taught Adam Sandler how to make a sandwich for Spanglish, Keller’s variation on the BLT with the addition of a fried egg and cheese was arguably the best thing by a long way in the 2004 rom-com.

But with Ratatouille, which has taken an estimated $188 million in the States so far and opens here in October, Keller has given his culinary expertise to an altogether (financially at any rate) much more successful production, albeit one that features a computer generated, gastronomically gifted rat called Rémy who cooks in a grand Parisian restaurant called Gusteau's, a composite creation based on Guy Savoy, Le Train Bleu and Taillevent.

Keller let Pixar’s animators (the team behind Toy Story, The Incredibles etc) into his Yountville kitchen and inspired the elaborate layered version of the title dish for the Disney cartoon’s climatic scene, which is presented to a restaurant critic by the name of Anton Ego (voiced by Peter O'Toole) as "Confit byaldi" after "Confit Bayaldi" - Michel Guérard's 1976 take on Ratatouille, itself named after the Turkish dish Iman Bayaldi - which apparently translates as 'the Iman swoons'.

In return, aside from the no doubt generous consultancy fee, Keller got to do the voice for a dining room punter in the film. The French version meanwhile has Guy Savoy voicing the same part and the Spanish, Ferran Adrià. No British voiced version planned, such sadness.

Though no doubt our leading chefs have way too much integrity to take rat Disney's cash. Course they do. But wonder which of our fine cheffing talents they would have called on first if they had needed a chef to voice a cartoon character?

Monday, 6 August 2007

Fool Brazilian

Mocoto in Knightsbridge, 'London's first authentic Brazilian restaurant', has closed it's doors almost six months to the day after opening. Its last service was last Wednesday night (August 1) and its website has been taken down already. Sadly the restaurant and bar that occupied the split level site - previously Oliver Peyton's similarly ill-fated Italian Isola - will probably be best remembered for being possibly the most delayed London opening ever.  
While the late opening of new restaurants is a common occurrence, Mocoto managed to raise the bar to a new level by opening well over a year later than scheduled and at least a £1 million over what was budget said have been a £5 million budget. Such was the tardiness of the Brazilian's opening, so to speak, that 'doing a Mocoto' is now parlance amongst certain industry watchers for any late launching restaurant. 

Then when it finally opened at the tail-end of this January it was (despite the many, many months of hype involving being told that architects, building materials, chefs, produce, wine… everything bar ice for the caipirinhas was in fact being air-freighted in from Brazil) well, it was rather disappointingly beige and not the epitome of cutting edge South American design that had been promised. This against the background of Fleet Street's finest starting to run regular features on carbon footprints. 

Add to that the fact that early doors much of the pre-publicity had focussed on the kitchen being headed up by well regarded São Paulo chef Bel Coelho who, being young, female and easy on the eye was featured in profiles for glossy men's mags with long lead times before it emerged that she'd lost patience with the delays and was no longer involved. 

The brainchild of onetime partner in Momo, David Ponte, who in recent months cut his losses and largely sold out to his partners in the business, the late Mocoto was sadly an ill conceived disaster from start to finish. It had been hoped that corporate events would save the space but now, with two costly high profile failures in a row on the Knightsbridge site, it seems unlikely that it will ever be relaunched as another restaurant. But then again London seems to be awash with foreign investors all too ready to piss money away on supposedly doomed sites, so who knows…

Thursday, 2 August 2007

Wareing out?

Whispers of Marcus Wareing's dissatisfaction with his lot at Gordong Pansy Holdings started doing the rounds not long after Petrus finally, following much whingeing, whining and handwringing on 'Wetty' Wareing's part, secured its second Michelin star at the end of January this year. 

At first this seemed an unlikely story as Wareing had always seemed to have had a very tight relationship with Gordong going all the way back to 1993, when he started as sous chef at Aubergine. But then Gordong was MPW's sous chef back in the day and look how that turned out… 

Gordong's people recently denied Wareing was leaving The Savoy Grill or rather denied that he would not return to its kitchen after it closes in December for 16 months as the hotel undergoes a £100m revamp. 

Speculation intensified during the course of the London Taste of London festival at the end of June when Wareing told anyone that would listen that he wanted to do something on his own and didn't fancy returning to the Savoy after the refurbishment.   

One thing's for certain the days of Wareing as Ramsay's right hand man or - to borrow from prison parlance, as some have in the past to describe their relationship - 'bitch' are long gone. The days when they used go to boxing matches and ballroom dancing together - ancient history. 

Jason Atherton over at Maze is seen as the brightest culinary talent in the group while Mark 'Sarge' Sargeant of Claridge's has taken Wareing's place at the right hand side of Gord. 

Go to Gordong's home page and amongst the rotating gallery of photographs you'll find Atherton appears once alongside Ramsay, while Sargeant appears three times - Gordong's daughter only appears once for Christsake. The one where 'Sarge' and him are sharing a joke and a coffee together is particularly precious. 

No sign of Wareing's mug anywhere. 

Would you rent a jacuzzi from this man?

There's good news for anyone that believes that water jets are an essential aid to digestion and that every Michelin-starred meal should end in a hot-tub. The Hand & Flowers, the Marlow pub with fine grub that holds a Michelin star for West Country child-actor-turned-chef Tom Kerridge's cooking, have opened Flower Cottage. 

Located a hop and a skip down the road from the pub, it offers two luxury suites designed by Kerridge's much better half Beth who, despite the fact that she married him, reveals herself to a woman of exceedingly good taste. Partly decked out in cow hides, they go by the names of Dexter and Angus, the latter containing the aforementioned jacuzzi. 

Early testing of the facilities by fellow chefs including Sat 'up periscope' Bains are said to have gone well. Rates start at £140 a night including breakfast. 

Friday, 27 July 2007

Hix past Caring?

Mark Hix, chef director of Caprice Holdings, has handed in his notice. The Bill Murray doppelganger, who oversees the menus for the restaurant group that includes The Ivy, Le Caprice, J Sheekey and the recently relaunched Scott's, is thought to have a year's notice to work on his contract.  

Hix, who recently was a double finalist on the Great British Menu and is the author of several cookbooks and an award winning recipe column for The Independent, will no doubt go on to great things that don't involve working for clothing-tycoon-turned-restaurateur Richard Caring, who purchased Caprice Holdings for £57 million in September 2005.  

INCOMING... Word of Mouth has just picked up on this and Jay Rayner has Hix, West Country chap that he is, with a plan to buy The Riverside Restaurant in West Bay down in Dorset. 

Shocking news from Chi-town

Grantz Achatz, chef-proprietor of Alinea in Chicago, voted no.36 and the highest new entry in this year's The World' 50 Best Restaurants, has been diagnosed with cancer. Although it's treatable with chemotherapy he may lose his taste-buds in the process according to The Chicago Tribune. We wish him all the best in his recovery. 

Thursday, 26 July 2007

"I want something's flesh"

Can crappy boozer turned flash restaurant 
kick 'The Curse of Withnail' 20 years later?

Since providing the location for clapped-out Camden boozer The Mother Blackcap (a conflation of NW1 boozers the Black Cap and The Mother Redcap - now The World's End) in cult 1987 comedy ‘Withnail and I’, 41 Tavistock Crescent, London W11, has had somewhat mixed fortunes, the site changing hands and names enough times to get a reputation as a dog.

The venue where Withnail, played by Richard E Grant, once approached the bar and asked for “Two large gins. Two pints of cider. Ice in the cider” - he was way ahead of the curve with the ice in cider thing – has since been a Frog & Firkin brewpub, a dodgy boozer called Fudruckers, a branch of the now defunct bar brand Babushka and most recently, in a life imitating art full circle, was a short-lived bar called The Mother Blackcap.

Now it’s reopened as Crescent House, a combination of rather smart bar that serves suckling pig sandwiches, beer garden overlooking the Westway flyover and a first floor dining room with a pricey menu peppered with luxury ingredients from summer truffles and foie gras to turbot and sea bass. The chef, Daniel Ostler, apparently has a CV that includes time in the kitchen at The Square, Tom Aikens and Locanda Locatelli. 

No doubt the staff are already bored shitless with smart-arsed punters approaching the bar and, Withnail style, demanding, "We want the finest wines available to humanity, we want them here, and we want them now."

Monday, 23 July 2007

Why has Aikens suddenly lost his Pollocks?

Observer Food Monthly July 2007
Someone at Camp Aikens deserves a slapping around the head with a large sustainable fish…

All the pre-opening hype about Tom Aikens' upcoming Chelsea chippie has focussed on the fact that he'll only be battering and frying eco-friendly fishies - megrim sole, gurnard, ling and the like. All very laudable, even if Aikens shunned a perfectly serviceable pun by opting to call the place Tom's Place instead of Tom's Plaice.

Then he goes and gets himself photographed for the cover of OFM spooky-ginger-identical-twin-seaside-postcard-style with brother Rob, his partner in the business and the neighbouring Tom's Kitchen. This for an article where chefs and restaurant types gave their favourite summer recipes and where Aikens, T, pipes up with a recipe for battered cod and chunky chips, that's cod probably the most overfished fish in the sea, according to The Marine Stewardship Council who know about these things. A fish that if you're pushing your eco-credentials - as Aikens is undoubtedly trying to - should never appear anywhere near your menu.

Let's hope he manages to remain more on-message between now and late September/early October when Tom's Place, which will seat 50 in addition to offering takeaway, is currently scheduled to open at 1 Cale Street, London SW3 on the site that was once Monkeys.