The AA has announced the shortlist for the 2012 Chefs’ Chef of the Year award, with 15 of the UK’s most celebrated chefs up for the title.
The prestigious accolade is voted for by all UK establishments holding AA Rosettes and this year’s shortlist includes industry heavyweights such as Michel Roux Jnr, Sat Bains and Claude Bosi.
Other chefs nominated for the award are former Catey Chef of the Year winners Angela Hartnett, David Everitt-Matthias and Pierre Koffmann, as well as Michelin-starred chefs Jason Atherton, Daniel Clifford, Simon Rogan and Tom Kitchin. Tom Aikens, Richard Corrigan, Nigel Haworth, Michael Wignall and Jeff Bland complete this year’s shortlist.
“For the AA Chefs’ Chef Award a shortlist is drawn up annually of AA Rosette chefs who have made a strong impact and have positively influenced other chefs, both in the eyes of our inspectors and based on feedback we have received from the industry,” said Giovanna Grossi, AA hotel services group area manager.
“They will have shown continued commitment to their profession and be worthy of recognition for their performance over the past year.”
While establishments are able to add nominees to the shortlist, previous winners are of the award are excluded. Former winners include Michel Roux, Heston Blumenthal, Marco Pierre White, Gordon Ramsay, Raymond Blanc, Marcus Wareing and Andrew Fairlie.
The AA’s Chefs’ Chef Award will be presented at the AA Hospitality Awards on 24 September at the London Hilton Park Lane.
The Guardian’s food critic is impressed by Williams’ first-class cooking but adds that he doesn’t like the setting of the hotel dining room.
“The food is enjoyable but the room isn’t: the panelling and soft-furnishing and exposed wine coolers somehow add up to a mortuary calm,” he says.
Writing in the Times, Giles Coren enjoys his starters at Kitchen Joël Antunès, the new restaurant by the former Michelin-starred French chef housed in the Embassy nightclub in Mayfair. But he has an issue with a slow-roast shoulder of lamb that arrives having suffered from being fast cooked.
Even the scary dishes entrance the Sunday Telegraph’s Zoe Williams at Chinese restaurant My Sichuan restaurant in Oxford, while the Independent’s Tracey MacLeod says the menu at Fitzbillies in Cambridge could be subtitled ‘things you really want to eat’.
Brett Graham’s two-Michelin-starred restaurant the Ledbury in London has won yet another award after being named the top restaurant in the UK in the Sunday Times Food List.
The award comes after the Ledbury recently topped both the Zagat and Harden’s surveys for best food in London and after Graham earlier this year won the prestigious Chef of the Year Catey.
The Sunday Times Food List is based on food quality alone, chosen by 8,000 restaurant goers from across the UK and compiled by Harden’s Restaurant Guide in conjunction with Rémy Martin.
Graham commented: “It’s a huge honour to top the list, especially as it comes from such a broad base of customers. This is a testament to everyone in the extremely talented and energetic young team here at the Ledbury.”
Gidleigh Park also won the Rémy Martin X.O. Excellence Award for Best All Round Restaurant, while Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley picked up the Coeur de Cognac Award for Best Dessert, and Heston Blumenthal’s Dinner at the Mandarin Oriental received the Rémy Martin V.S.O.P Best Newcomer Award.
Other findings from the Sunday Times Food List, which will publish the top 100 restaurants in Britain in full on Sunday (30 October), include that half of the top 100 restaurants are outside London (up from 40% last year); while Asian restaurants have fallen by half; and there are 31 new entries.
The “dirty food” served by chef John Hargate features “meaty” ribs which are “proper, thick cut numbers” and “properly sauced”, according to The Observer’s food critic. He even discovered the closest thing to a Texan delicacy: a cream cheese stuffed jalapeno wrapped in sausage meat and bacon which is “outrageously moreish”.
The former Gordon Ramsay chef’s culinary expertise creates “solid gold in the mouth” in the form of delights such as oyster ice cream, escabeche of quail and the tiramisu with hot mocha-chocolate sauce being dubbed “one of the finest puds” Norman has ever tasted.
Ambience also proved key for the critics, with the Sunday Telegraph’s Zoe Williams noting the St Pancras Renaissance hotel’s super-high ceilings renders the Gilbert Scott too big and airy to feel comfortable, while The Independent’s John Walsh gives Pebble Beach restaurant at Barton on Sea top marks for its atmosphere.
Back in London, the Sunday Times’ AA Gill finally gets around to eating at L’Anima to find that it does food for “corporates” better than expected, while the Metro’s Marina O’Loughlin says tapas bar José’s real excitement comes from its daily specials board – but its tiny dining room won’t please everyone.
The celebrity chef, who has run the former Michelin-starred restaurant at the five-star Mayfair hotel since 2001, was widely tipped not to have the 10-year lease renewed after Maybourne closed his previous restaurants at the Connaught and the Berkeley.
“While the GRH contract was due for renewal this year, it has been agreed to extend it into 2012,” said a spokeswoman for Maybourne.
GRH’s latest accounts revealed that Gordon Ramsay at Claridge’s saw a 6.3% decline in footfall in the year to 31 August 2010. The restaurant, which was previously run by Mark Sargeant, lost its Michelin star in 2009 after seven years.
GRH previously operated four restaurants at Maybourne’s London hotels including Angela Hartnett at Connaught; and Pétrus and Boxwood Café at the Berkeley. None of the restaurants’ contracts were renewed upon expiry and are now occupied by Hélène Darroze; Marcus Wareing and Pierre Koffmann respectively.
The Observer’s food critic says Foster, one of this year’s Acorn award winners, is cooking modern, well balanced food that is very much worth travelling for.
“His ideas are controlled. His flavour combinations make sense. The smartest bits of kitchen kit are used not simply because he’s got a new toy but to add something,” he says. “If you want a plate of food that shouts 2011, which is the word “now” fashioned from calories, go to Tuddenham Mill.”
He says: “This restoration or reconstruction of both building and menu is a mule born gelded, a sterile exercise that bears nothing, fires blanks, leads to nothing but more of the past. It’s an exercise in sentimental hindsight.”
Writing for the Sunday Telegraph, Zoe Williams says Nando’s bears the hallmarks of a kitchen “that does nothing but chicken, that knows the bird inside out, that hasn’t dried out a bit of poultry since a freak lapse of concentration in 1995″.
The Guardian’s John Lanchester likes the food at Martin Blunos’s Crown Social in Cardiff but adds that the location doesn’t match the chef’s cooking, while the Independent’s Tracey MacLeod is impressed with Kateh, a new Persian restaurant on one of the loveliest canal-side streets in leafy Little Venice.
In The Times, Giles Coren says that while small and pokey and located in loathsome Leicester Square, the St John Hotel is precise and gorgeous a manifestation of Fergus Henderson’s beautiful philosophy.
In London, the Metro’s Marina O’Loughlin says the first outpost of Bill’s Produce in the capital is a big, fat fake operation that’s dictated by the spreadsheet, while the Evening Standard’s David Sexton says Pizza East in Notting Hill, the second site of the trendy Soho House Group-owned pizza restaurant, is worth the trek.
James Durrant, executive chef at the Michelin-starred Maze restaurant in London, is leaving Gordon Ramsay Holdings (GRH) after nine years with the company.
The chef’s departure comes just weeks after Jason Atherton, former chef patron of the international Maze group of restaurants, announced his resignation from GRH.
A former Acorn winner, Durrant first joined GRH as a junior chef at the group’s flagship three-Michelin-starred restaurant on Royal Hospital Road, before heading north to become junior sous chef at Paul Kitching’s Michelin-starred Juniper in Altricham, Cheshire.
He then returned to London and GRH to work at the then Michelin-starred restaurant at Claridge’s, before becoming executive chef at Maze in 2005. In this role, he helped launch the first international branch of Maze in New York, as well as Maze Grill in London.
Durrant said he was now looking forward to the next step of his career. “After an amazing five years at Maze and nine years at GRH I have decided to take some time out and I am really looking forward to the next step in my career,” he said.
A spokeswoman for GRH added: “We’re very sad to be saying goodbye to James, he is a fantastic young talent and we wish him all the best for the future.”
Durrant’s leaving marks the fourth senior chef departure from GRH in two years, with Marcus Wareing and Mark Sargeant also having left the group.
Meanwhile, Atherton, who opened Table No1 by Jason Atherton in Shanghai in May, will be launching a restaurant in London’s Mayfair in the autumn rumoured to be called Pollen Street Social Jason Atherton.
The former best mates famously fell out last summer when Wareing left Gordon Ramsay Holdings to run the Petrus restaurant at the Berkeley Hotel as his own.
Afterwards Wareing spoke out about the rift with Ramsay saying he would rather kill himself than work with the “sad bastard” again. “If I never speak to that guy again for the rest of my life, it wouldn’t bother me one bit. I wouldn’t give a f***,” he raged then.
But it seems Wareing’s had a change of heart and in his most recent interview the chef-patron of his eponymous two-Michelin-starred restaurant at the Berkeley, admitted that he was more to blame for the rupture than Ramsay.
He said he’d wanted to “engineer a break” that would allow him to set up on his own. “I didn’t want to be in another man’s world any more. I was stubborn and I dug my heels in,” he told the Sunday Times.
“I picked a fight to engineer the break. I don’t really think he did anything wrong — it was just me feeling how much I wanted to be on my own.”
But he admitted he felt freer now with “no political battles to fight” or anger inside, even saying he missed Ramsay’s friendship. “I don’t bear him any grudges. He’s a fabulous character and I miss his friendship.”
With all the hardship Ramsay’s had to deal with of late, I bet he could do with a friend.
This week’s Restaurant of the Week is Launceston Place, the D&D London-owned restaurant in Kensington.
He joined Launceston Place in autumn 2007 from the former Pétrus where he worked under Marcus Wareing. The move saw the young chef not only front his own restaurant but also switch from modern French to modern British cooking.
Launceston Place is perched among rows of quaint multimillion-pound housing – all stucco frontages and cherry blossom gardens – and there’s certainly no lack of loaded local custom here for Welch to woo. Interiors include chocolaty walls, white tablecloths and a convivial, chic feel that maintains a formality to suit the moneyed Kensington crowd.
Welch’s menu is littered with seasonal British produce – nettle, peas, asparagus, rhubarb – a springtime Top of the Crops.