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Finding a restaurant in London to have a meal in is pretty easy. But sometimes you can go to a restaurant that you think is amazing and have the meal ruined by poor service or substandard food. Finding a great restaurant in London is something more of a challenge.
As a city, we’re getting better. We have restaurants offering cuisine from all over the world and in locations that are simply incredible. When you combine great food, stunning locations and impeccable service, you’re on to a winner. One restaurant that offers all of this and much more, is the Perkin Reveller in Tower Bridge.
Nestled between the Tower of London and Tower Bridge, and right on the river bank, you couldn’t ask for a better location. The restaurant is bright and airy with a fantastic outdoor dining area with views that constantly make you fall in love with the city all over again. Now, Perkin Reveller could have fallen in to the tourist trap and just have offered cheap, basic and quick food. But thankfully, they didn’t. Instead, what you get is British cuisine using some of the finest ingredient and offering something that appeals to both tourists and locals.
You can go in for a spot of afternoon tea and sample their delicious cakes, have a traditional fish and chip lunch with fish source from the south coast or have a beautifully cooked brisket of beef with horseradish mash. Not only that, but if there’s a large group of you going in, then most dishes can be prepared as sharing dishes, creating a completely different and more social dining experience. Not only is the food and décor spot on, but the service is faultless. The waiting staff are polite and charming and the bar staff are knowledgeable and creative when it comes to helping you decide what to drink (the punch bowl selection is just awesome).
I met up with Head Chef Andrew Donovan to find out a bit more about his menu and his views on cooking and the restaurant industry.
DL: Can you tell us a bit about the style of the menu here?
AD: Absolutely. We’re very much a modern English restaurant. A, because of our location and B because we’re in a country that should be really proud of some of the really wonderful produce and suppliers that we’ve got. Because of our location, we are visited by pretty much every nationality on the planet, especially in the summer when we’re in undated with tourists. We’ve also got quite a lot of residential and business clientele, so very much a mix bag of customers. So this pretty much dictates what we put on the menu.
We have to have an offering that appeals to a very diverse group of customers. So we have everything from a very complex 3 ways dish of chicken, using the whole chicken, we use Creedy Carver chickens which are a free range chicken. Stunning produce. We poach most of the breast, we poach the legs which we then turn in to a mushroom and lemon pie. We braise the wings which we then turn in to a chicken lollipop stick, you know, just to utilise the whole bird. And then, going to the other extreme from that, we have good old fish and chips, but again, we use day boat fish from Chapmans from Sevenoaks in Kent and a majority of their fish comes from Eastbourne, Hastings and the Sussex coast.
We have to interest the corporate market, appease the tourist market and appeal to everyone else in between. It’s important to me, that anyone who walks through our doors, feels inclusive. A lot of restaurants try to appeal to a particular clientele and I like to think of us as exclusively for everyone. But obviously, we don’t want to get bogged down in the historical view of English cooking.
British cuisine has become very popular over the past 15 years or so and restaurants have really improved with what they’re serving. Why do you think this is?
I think it’s for many reasons. If you look at what’s happened over the last 15/20 years, what did we do before iPhones? Everybody has an iPhone now. Technology, information, it’s straight at hand. People can’t get away with being lazy like they did back then. Everybody is challenged constantly. The customer wants the newest and the best. There’s such a limelight on cooking that you can’t even turn on the TV, without every hour there being a cooking show. Also the world has shrunk. Transport, travelling, it’s so much cheaper than it was.
When I was a young lad, going on holiday was very much a treat that would happen once every 3 years or so, whereas now, you can get flights anywhere in Europe for pennies! The world is a lot more accessible now. Then you also have supermarkets. Although lots of people treat them as the big villain, they do offer such a vast selection. So everywhere you go, you’re being exposed to different foods, more exciting foods. 15/20 years ago, pork belly was on probably 5% of the nation’s menu at best. It cost pence and the butcher would just give it to you just to get rid of it! Now, it’s very much the prime cut because people understand, that if you cook it properly, it’s the best part of the pig! Forget the loin. I mean, wow, how boring. Whereas when you have this beautiful, rich, gloopy and succulent pork belly, fantastic.
All of these things have helped push it forward. Then, of course, people eat out more. Things are a lot cheaper than they were before, because there is more openings of restaurants, there’s more accessibility to good food. We’ve had lots of different chefs go out all over the world and they’ve come back with all that knowledge, then chefs go through their kitchens, learn those skills and then it spreads around. So all of this global food knowledge has come in to Britain.
As you mentioned, the produce we have here in Britain is pretty amazing. Most of this though relies on seasonality. Do you find quite difficult to keep up with changing the menu when the seasons change?
I think the change of produce with the seasons is brilliant. As a chef, you have to wear many hats. Your employers want you to be the most amazing and creative chef in the world, but they also want you to be an amazing accountant, a great human resources manager…there are many different facets to the job. Cooking seasonally makes that so much easier. When trying to run a business, you want the best value for products and when something is in season, it’s at its best and there is more available. So, therefore, it makes more financial sense to use them. We have a large prep room in the back as well, so we have the ability to buy whole animals, again, this brings the cost down and makes it more interesting for us.
People go to work to learn things when they work in the kitchens. It’s not a case of “Hello Dave, do this today”, have lunch then go home. It’s straight in, push, push, push and the payoff should be “wow! I learnt this today. And I’m going to be doing this tomorrow and learning that next week”. The seasonality thing, if you’ve got good suppliers, they should be phoning you up saying “we’ve got an answer machine message asking for this. What are you doing? It’s out of season. You should be having this now”. And that’s the beauty of the suppliers we use, because that’s exactly what they do and sometimes you need that push. Being in London, you’ve got Covent Garden and Borough Market just down the road, you can have a little wonder around there and suddenly be awoken to what’s available to you on your doorstep.
Working seasonally, it’s a bit like when you see an old friend that you haven’t seen in ages, you sit down and you’re like “wow! I can’t believe I haven’t seen you for so long” You have a good cathch up and a really good time together, then you shake hands and like “yep, see you in 8/9 months’ time”. It’s exactly the same with seasonal cooking. Suddenly your game birds are there and you’ve forgot what it’s like to suddenly deboning a pheasant, finding a bit of shot and getting on the phone to your supplier and having a bit of a moan and the getting some amazing birds the next day. I get quite excited about that and it’s really nice to have that.
Being the main man who creates the dishes, have you ever created a dish…
And ballsed it up? All the time. It’s really shocking sometimes. Being in London, I try to keep an eye on what everybody else is doing, seeing what’s out there and just going around to get inspiration. You’ve obviously also go the seasons which give you a little nod to what should be going on. I mean, you could create and serve a dish at lunch time, then come dinner service, you look make the same dish in the exact same way and you look at it, and you think “what on earth was I thinking? Where did that nonsense come from”?
For someone coming in to Perkin Reveller for the first time, what would you recommend they try?
Currently, I would definitely go for the chicken, ham hock and duck terrine. It’s an interesting dish, fun to make and bloody tasty. Again, if I wanted to go for something light, I’d say the plaice. We roast it on the bone to keep the moistness in there, but let’s be honest, it’s a bloody pain for a customer to take it off the bone, so we just whip it off the bone and make a very nice anise stew with sweetcorn with some bacon in there and some potatoes and filled with loads of shellfish. If I wanted something more meaty, I would go for the chicken 3 ways. It comes with a little pie, a little lollipop, chicken breast, a little spinach, some mash.
Next week, I’ll be speaking to General Manager Michael Clarke from the Swan at The Globe Theatre. 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 www.joel-ryder.com