By  on February 25, 2002

LOS ANGELES -- For many people, the words "English cuisine" still seem like a gastronomic oxymoron, which is something that chef William Annesley hopes to disprove once and for all at his first restaurant, Tangier.

Annesley, a private chef for Gwen Stefani, Gavin Rossdale and superagent Bryan Lourd, finds beauty in what he calls the "simplest type of cuisine." So it goes without saying that his aim at Tangier -- so named because the port city was a haven for expatriots like himself -- was to create not another showplace for over-the-top dishes, but rather an extension of his own dining room, where he serves up the English basics. "We're not about 'wonton six feet high,"' he says. "It's not la-di-da food. It's done-up comfort food."

At first glance, the interior of the restaurant, which occupies a former jazz club in Los Feliz, belies its laid-back vibe. "We didn't mean for it to be so grand," explains partner and fellow Brit Oliver Haycraft, gesturing to the pale yellow walls, Turkish rugs and dark Balinese furniture. "I just started, and bang! It all fell into place. I had no idea I was a decorator."

Haycraft offers an explanation for America's hesitation toward the cooking of his native country: "I think we earned a reputation for having bad food during World War II, when it really was bad. Now people seem to have a bad food hangover that won't go away."

But Annesley intends to mend those misconceptions with carefully prepared dishes like savory fish pie with minted garden peas, rack of lamb with creamed leeks and drunken duck with vanilla sweet potatoes. Tangier's Sunday roast -- a traditional English plate of rare prime rib, roasted potatoes, steamed brussels sprouts and Yorkshire pudding -- has already won fans as diverse as Gore Vidal, Helen Hunt and Anne Heche. "The beauty of it is that we get the band Motorhead in here one night and Gore Vidal the next," the chef marvels.

Ironically, Annesley, who grew up with the benefit of a butler and a kitchen staff, didn't go to a $40,000-a-year cooking school. "I learned to cook from my mother. I don't believe in cooking by numbers -- it comes from in here," he explains, gesturing to his belly. "Either you have it or you don't."And though Annesley is still adjusting to serving 150 dinners a night instead of fussing over a single dinner party for 20, he insists that his principles remain the same. "I live by three rules: buy the best product, marinate it simply and cook it correctly," he says. "If someone wants their filet mignon medium-rare, it had better be bang-on because we don't cover up our steak with a bearnaise sauce or some such nonsense."

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