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The London restaurant scene is getting a dose of adrenaline — and drama — from two veteran chefs.
Pierre Koffmann shut his three-star Michelin restaurant in London, La Tante Claire, in 2004, and has come out of retirement — a desultory few years during which he consulted for restaurants. Earlier this summer, he opened Koffmann’s at The Berkeley hotel in Knightsbridge. In the fall, Selfridges asked him to do a pop-up version of La Tante Claire during the annual London Restaurant Week, and what began as a weeklong commitment stretched into two months of fully booked reservations — and it spawned this latest venture.
Koffmann’s replaces Gordon Ramsay’s Boxwood Café and offers a hearty menu packed with rich Gallic staples such as potted foie gras with baguette, lobster thermidor, his grandma’s coq au vin, Provençal fish soup and the stuffed pig’s trotter that he made famous at La Tante Claire.
“Here we are, one step up from a bistro,” says the Gascony native, who helped train a younger generation of chefs that includes Ramsay, Marcus Wareing and Tom Aikens. “I want people to consider it a local restaurant, a place where they can come often.”
He’s done a two-course prix fixe for 18 pounds, or $28 at current exchange, and a three-course for 22 pounds, or $35. In London, that’s a bargain.
And he’s even lightened up on his staff.
“In the past, I wasn’t exactly easy to work with,” he says. “But now I’m working with kids who could be my grandchildren. I’m nicer and I’m taking more time to show them how to work, rather than expecting them to know everything. I’m not here to get Michelin stars. I’m not God. I’m just a chef and I’m here to cook.”
Koffmann’s arrival at The Berkeley (he actually ran La Tante Claire from another venue attached to The Berkeley from 1998 to 2004) does not bode well for Ramsay, whose now-shuttered Boxwood Café had occupied the site since 2002. The Berkeley is part of the Maybourne Hotel Group, which also owns Claridge’s, where Ramsay’s current, eponymous restaurant is losing steam. Earlier this year, Gordon Ramsay at Claridge’s lost its Michelin star, and industry sources have said it is unlikely the lease will be renewed next year. “No decisions have been made yet,” says a Maybourne spokeswoman.
Meanwhile, at the Lanesborough hotel, another chef also is endeavoring to lighten up the fine dining experience — starting with the food. The German-born, Michelin-starred chef Heinz Beck, who since 1994 has been wowing his clients at La Pergola in the Rome Cavalieri Hilton, has taken over Apsleys at the Lanesborough. Unlike most of his colleagues, he shuns butter, cream, flour and animal fat in his Italian-inspired dishes, with an eye to keeping diners’ cholesterol and blood sugar levels in check.
“It’s not Italian mama cooking,” Beck says. “I’m so interested in the Mediterranean diet, but I think it has to be modified today because people don’t move around as much. You need to take some of the carbos away.”
Apsleys already has earned one Michelin star. The menu features dishes such as scallop carpaccio, peas and artichoke vinaigrette, ricotta tortellini with fava beans and lamb with Mediterranean vegetables. The restaurant offers a three-course set menu at lunch for 26 pounds, or $41, and a tasting menu for 75 pounds, or $119.
“I always try to put the customer at the center of the experience,” Beck says. “And, ideally, at the end of a meal they’ll feel even healthier than before they arrived.”
Wilton Place, Knightsbridge
London, SW1X 7RL
Hyde Park Corner
London, SW1X 7TA