Food | The Gannet

Chef been in?

The best chefs are to be found in the kitchen, not on TV.

September 11 2009
Bill Knott

There are, I think, various laws and principles that should govern a diner’s choice of restaurant. The Gannet’s First Law of Italian Restaurants, for example, states that “the quality of the food is inversely proportional to the size of the peppermill”. A visit to Paul Bocuse’s shrine to gastronomy near Lyons provoked another tenet of fine dining: “Never eat in a restaurant in which the gift shop is bigger than the dining room.”

Sometimes the theory is more mathematical. Take the Law of the Celebrity Chef. For the restaurant diner who expects Cheffy actually to be in the kitchen when they arrive, I have devised what I hope is a useful system. Take the number of products he endorses, add it to the number of books and TV series in which he currently features, then multiply it by the number of restaurants with which the chef is involved. The resulting number represents the chances he will not be in the kitchen against one chance that he will: R(P+B+TV):1 in algebraic form.

On reflection, perhaps it would be more helpful to mention a few restaurants in which the “owner/driver” is very likely to be present. Chefs who eschew TV and other endorsements may not be as famous as the gratinée idols of the small screen, but they tend to offer the diner a more personal and rewarding experience. Take Bjorn van der Horst’s Eastside Inn, on London’s St John Street (pictured). After a few years at The Greenhouse and the ill-starred La Noisette, van der Horst finally has a place of his own. Built around a magnificent stove, it offers both a bistro and a posh restaurant under the same roof. Van der Horst’s intelligent, playful, technically outstanding food now has a proper home and Chef is always there, as is his wife, Justine, who manages front-of-house with charm and elegance.

A similar “mom-and-pop” aura pervades Hibiscus, Claude and Claire Bosi’s sublime Mayfair restaurant. Ingenious, whimsical food, brilliantly put together, and served in a soothing setting that helps to harmonise M Bosi’s sometimes daring flavour combinations: sweetbreads with goat’s cheese and tamarillo, for example. Strange bedfellows they may be, but the palate is persuaded by brilliant technique.

There are many others I could mention – Shane Osborn at Pied à Terre; Brett Graham at The Ledbury; Tom Pemberton at Hereford Road. Should I want to talk to any of these chefs, I ring the kitchen: they never answer their mobile phones; which, come to think of it, is probably why publishers and TV producers never seem to make contact. Their loss, I am pleased to say, is our gain.