July 14 2010
Back in the mid-1990s, when I was slaving over a hot charcoal grill (they were all the rage back then, as were saffron mash and twice-baked goat’s cheese soufflés), there were two London chefs considered more cutting-edge than a freshly sharpened Sabatier. One was Stephen Terry, who was Oliver Peyton’s head chef at the long-gone Coast in Albemarle Street; the other was Bruno Loubet, at L’Odéon, perched high above Regent Street. Rumours of the former’s salt cod pannacotta and the latter’s deconstructed moussaka had impressionable young chefs queueing up to work a stage in their avant-garde kitchens, and the two chefs were widely considered the Next Big Things.
It never quite happened. Terry had a brief stint at Frith Street (now Arbutus) before travelling to Australia, while Loubet worked at a number of Oliver Peyton’s restaurants cooking mostly Italian food, for some reason. He then decamped to Australia for eight years.
They are both, I am happy to say, back in the country, although in Terry’s case, the country is Wales: after running the famous Walnut Tree Inn for a couple of years, he now has a pub/restaurant called The Hardwick in nearby Abergavenny. His style of cooking is altogether heartier and less modish these days, as this feast of Welsh lamb might suggest: “Roast loin; breadcrumbed, braised and pressed leg; shepherd’s pie; pan-fried liver; lamb faggot; heart and onion gravy; boned and rolled shoulder; braised lamb and swede suet pudding; served with mashed potato and seasonal greens.” All for £45 for two, with not a savoury pannacotta in sight. I was lucky enough to eat Terry’s fish course at the final dinner of Great British Menu a couple of years ago – a lovely assembly of smoked and fresh salmon, crab cakes and cockles – and he has certainly not lost his touch. The Hardwick is definitely worth a detour, as they say in the Michelin.
Loubet, meanwhile, is back in London, where his happy knack of giving intelligent twists to bistro staples is given full rein at the rather handsome Zetter Hotel in Clerkenwell. An ethereally light boudin blanc is made with guineafowl and partnered with slow-cooked leeks; a classic daube of beef is served with sinfully rich pommes mousseline; while his fascination with Moroccan flavours is evident in his confit lamb shoulder with green harissa and preserved lemon.
Like Terry, Loubet is keen on “sharing menus” (do we spot a trend here?) and his version is notably good value: for example, a rustic pâté with cornichons, navarin of spring lamb to follow, rounded off with Pernod-spiked îles flottantes for a mere £22.50 a head at dinner. His food was pricier at L’Odéon, and that was about 15 years ago. Welcome home, Bruno: London has missed you.