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…






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…






London, now beer capital of the world?

This article was also published in the Financial Times. London’s restaurants have never been so attractive for the enthusiastic or curious beer drinker. Chefs are busy writing special menus that match food and beer. Sommeliers are compiling an ever-growing number of increasingly large beer lists. And the sheer choice of which beer to try next grows as the growing number of imported beers meets the growing number of independent breweries of which there are now over 50 in London alone. Kernel Beer brewed under a railway arch in Bermondsey, south…






The menu is the message

This article was also published in the Financial Times.   ZUNI CAFÉ, SAN FRANCISCO  This menu excites me visually on several fronts. Firstly, I can immediately spot those dishes that I would only want to eat sitting here in the California sunshine: the house-cured anchovies with celery; the bowl of polenta with mascarpone; and Zuni’s longest-running dishes, their Caesar salad and the roast chicken for two cooked in the brick oven. Then this menu effortlessly takes me on a tour of those farms which, if they have passed the scrutiny…






Lunch with Ferran, dinner with Danny

Lunch and dinner last Thursday on the Fourth of July will go down as professionally the most memorable in my career, even if not necessarily for the food. The former consisted of a grilled cheese sandwich with leeks and a glass of lemonade at Fernandez & Wells café in Somerset House; the latter was a series of first courses, a bottle of Fleurie, and strawberries and shortbread at Quo Vadis, Soho. But my lunch guest was Ferran Adrià from elBulli on the eve of the opening of his exhibition, The…






Mayfair – where keys cost £9m

This article was also published in the Financial Times. Alan Yau and his backers have just agreed to pay over £9 million for nothing more substantial than a set of keys to what was the ill-fated Automat restaurant on Dover Street, London. So far, Alan Yau is known for having maximized the vital ratio between rent and sales more successfully than any other restaurateur. Twenty years ago he backed his hunch that we were about to fall in love with slurping bowls of noodles by opening the first wagamama in…