Restaurateurs desperately needed

I have long maintained that there is a specific reason why restaurants need restaurateurs, the profession spawned by Paris restaurants in the late 18th century. Two recent meals, one in France, the other in London, convinced me that this association is just as important today. The first was chez Michel Chabran, a chef who has one Michelin star for his restaurant in the hotel named after himself in Pont-d’Isère, a small town just south of the hill of Hermitage, who has been at the stoves there for the past 40…






​The art of the bar chef

This is a version of an article also published by the Financial Times. Although the style and service of food have changed fundamentally since restaurants first emerged in Paris in the second half of the 18th century, the names and titles of those who work in restaurants have barely altered. The words chef, commis waiter, sommelier, maître d’ and restaurateur are as recognisable today as they were then. But recently a new role, and with it a new title, has emerged. The name is perforce a hybrid – bar chef…






RIP Juli Soler

The public face of the world’s most famous restaurant finally succumbed last night to the neurodegenerative disease that so unfairly blighted his last few years. The following is an extract from The Art of the Restaurateur, Phaidon, 2012. Juli Soler is the restaurateur who made El Bulli famous. It was his partnership with the far better known chef, Ferran Adria, which took El Bulli to heights that no other restaurant has ever reached and, quite possibly, no other restaurant may ever emulate. www.elbulli.com records that over 2,500 articles have been written…






Who’d be a restaurateur in a heatwave?

It was approaching midday and I was sitting outside interviewing Ruth Rogers, chef and patronne of the long-standing River Café in Hammersmith, west London, for my next book On The Menu when Vashti Armit, its highly regarded manageress, stepped out on to the terrace (shown here) and cast her eyes to the sky. It was warm and muggy but Vashti was optimistic. ‘I think the weather will hold and we will be able to seat all our customers outside’, she said with a mixture of pleasure and relief. This scene…






The wonder years

In this version of an article published by the Financial Times to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the FT Weekend, Nick writes about the changes, places, meals and individuals that have made the deepest impression on him over his past 30 years of observing the world’s restaurants.   CHANGES:  Wine by the glass: Once offered merely as red or white, and then considered something only for wimps, wines by the glass are now an essential aspect of a modern menu, and any self-respecting restaurant offers a wide range of them (see…






Jonathan Downey: king of London popups

I had just reached the top floor of Street Feast in Hawker House, east London, where that night crisp crab tostados, whisky roulette, a bar with an enticing wine list chosen by Ruth Spivey and a hatch offering Kamm & Sons’ new British aperitif were all on offer, when its impresario Jonathan Downey stopped and looked at the sign one of his team had just put up on the walls. The sign read ‘Keep Left’ and Downey frowned. ‘It should read “Please Keep Left”‘, he commented, with the attention to…






Restaurants – what’s in a name?

My photo shows a love-in taking place around the pass, where chefs put dishes ready to go out to diners, at London’s River Café last week. On the left is Sabato Sagaria, chief restaurant officer for Union Square Hospitality Group’s restaurants in New York. Next to him in the checked shirt is Danny Meyer, who founded the company almost 30 years ago when he opened Union Square Cafe just off Union Square, with his arm around Ruthie Rogers, who 28 years ago opened London’s River Café. To the right are a…






Getting fresh in central London

Freshness in a dish is an unquantifiable but important ingredient that I seem to crave more and more – and this sensation is due not just to the onset of August. This highly desirable quality is far more than simply an amalgamation of fresh ingredients, and my respect for those chefs who transform the individual items of any dish firstly by cooking them but then apparently adding more by ostensibly doing less, continues to grow. Japanese cooking first alerted me to this sensation and then it was the turn of…






Getting the most out of eating out

This article was also published in the Financial Times.   An evening in a restaurant can last longer than a night at the theatre. At certain restaurants dinner for two can be more expensive even than two tickets in the stalls of the grandest opera house. And restaurants, I know from experience, can certainly divide opinion as much as any new exhibition or recently released film. Yet in all these cultural media there is far more explanation, dialogue and even an audio guide designed to allow the customer to maximise…






Flash, bang, wallop

This article was also published in the Financial Times.   A reader emailed that his recent dinner at Medlar in Chelsea, London, was spoilt by constant flashes as the couple at the adjacent table took photos of one another and every dish they were served. This is now an all too common feature of restaurant life. So, too, is the phenomenon of watching smokers pick up their wine glasses and head outside, between courses, for a nicotine hit, a practice that, ironically, coincides with more and more restaurants’ offering long…