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In London, we’re pretty much spoilt for choice when it comes to selecting which restaurants to go to. There is definitely something for everyone here, and for every occasion. However, there are only a few that tick every box. Over the next 3 weeks I’m going to visit 3 of my favourite restaurants which, I think, offer the complete package. Stunning food, exceptional service, beautifully designed and more importantly, their main focus is on the customer and their whole dining experience.
When I dine out, my restaurant experience doesn’t start when I get greeted by the host/hostess, it’s when I call to make a booking or look at the restaurant’s website. Am I being spoken to in a polite friendly manner? Is the website easy to use and informative? My first impression of a restaurant stems from this. From there on in it’s up to the staff to create an unforgettable dining experience. The Magazine, Perking Reveller and Swan at The Globe are perfect examples of getting this right. And with them, the experience just gets better and better. This week, I caught up with Head Chef Oliver Lange from The Magazine in Hyde Park and picked his brains about his menu and restaurant.
My first interview of the day was with Head Chef Oliver from The Magazine. This guy is pretty awesome. I found him to be very charming and charismatic with a great excitement when it came to food. The restaurant itself is something quite impressive. The slick exterior design is equally matched with the bright and airy interior. It is for sure a new style of restaurant for London.
DL: So, Oliver, can you tell me a bit more about your style of menu?
OL: I would say it is contemporary food with Japanese influence using British ingredients. We take great care to make sure our produce is sustainable and local. I have a very close relationship with our suppliers and I try to visit them often so we can work out new ideas for the menu.
DL: You mentioned Japanese influence in your menu. Where did you get the inspiration for that?
OL: I was a sushi chef for 11 years and fell in love with the Japanese way of cooking. I would never say we’re a Japanese restaurant, that’s wrong. I just like the flavours. This is why I chose to write the menu like this. Also, if you take a look at the restaurant, designed by Zaha Hadid, it’s not your usual restaurant design. We have a very unique space and I found that I had to follow up and keep up with the design and create something new.
DL: When you’re creating a new dish, do you have a set of rules that you’ve set yourself to stick to?
OL: Well, there are some rules/techniques that you cannot break. But we always try to push these as much as possible. When we work on new dishes, we always sit down, brainstorm, talk about ideas and ingredients, then we start to draw how the dish could look and then finally, we start cooking. We try all the ingredients individually first, then put it together and that is how a dish is born.
DL: Seasonality plays a huge part in the freshness of ingredients and what is also available to you. Do you find it difficult to keep ahead of the game and to come up with new dishes?
OL: For me, I can’t wait to change. As chefs, this is the greatest. You get the chance to be creative and try something new. When the seasons are about to change, I get really excited about it. You cook a menu for 3 to 4 months with only a few little changes, but then the seasons change and you get all these new ingredients and can take your menu in a different way. It’s really exciting. I came to London last year and looked around the market and spoke to a few chefs and I found that there’s a really nice selection of fresh produce available in the UK. When I compare it to Germany, I have to say that we’re really spoilt here in the UK. Being on an island, there’s a great selection of fish available and for me, as a sushi chef, this is brilliant. But also, the vegetables are great here too.
DL: Has there ever been a dish that you’ve created that looks great on paper, but in reality, it just didn’t work?
OL: This happens so many times! Actually, the other day, we worked on 2 egg dishes. We wanted to do a fried duck egg with hay smoked butter, which worked really well. Then against this, we wanted to do a one hour duck egg. The egg is cooked at 62.5F for 1 hour, so it’s not cooked so to speak. The egg white is stiff, but the yolk is still raw. We wanted to do a new style of eggs benedict. We thought it would be cool to serve it with a bacon foam, little bit of baby spinach and some crispy potatoes. But…erm…we failed. We have to work on that one. But this is also a good thing. To be disappointed is a part of creativity. We all have things in our minds that we want to do and try. For me, whenever I’m walking around, I’m always thinking about food. Even when I look at a tree, sometimes it gives me ideas. I don’t know why, it’s just me. But when you start doing things and it doesn’t work the first time, you cannot say “ok. It doesn’t work. We’re never going to do that again” because you have to make it work. With these things, you really have to follow up with your vision. It’s really important that you stick to your idea and direction.
DL: For anyone visiting The Magazine for the first time, is there anything you would recommend they try?
OL: I would recommend that you come in and let your server know what you don’t like and let us create you an exciting menu. As chefs, we love writing our a la carte menu, but we also love being able to be creative. Recently, a famous musician said “food is the new rock star” and it really is! People eat every day and should really enjoy what they are eating. But that said, I would also say definitely try the sushi here. It’s very different from the traditional sushi you get in London.
DL: How is it different from traditional sushi?
OL: We use different ingredients. For example, we use quail eggs and truffles. We use certain homemade sauces, smoked fish, we do oven dried tomatoes. I had the idea to try different flavours with the sushi. Also, you don’t need any soya sauce with our sushi. I know some people need their soya sauce, so I created a soya jam which is made with sake, mirin and bonito, which is a smoked fish which is used in Japanese stock called dashi, which is used in miso soup etc. With this soya jam, you just dip the sushi in it. It’s really different from other restaurants. I’ve never seen it anywhere else. The idea came about because of all the events I’ve done and people wanting sushi. But how can you eat sushi whilst pouring on soya sauce? It’s very difficult…and messy. If you’re wearing a tux or a white dress, the last thing you want is to spill soya sauce on you. So the soya jam was really good for this and much tastier.
Next week, I’ll be speaking to Head Chef Andrew Donavon from the Perkin Reveller in Tower Bridge. But if you can’t wait until then, follow me on Twitter for some exclusive snippets and for food and drink ideas. @danieljohnlynch
Images by Joel-Ryder.com; Sushi images supplied by Chef Oliver Lange.