London is a city where the old and the new, the traditional and the modern must learn to live side by side. When it comes to the food scene, bustling trucks carrying the aromas of lands a world away line up outside white table clothed establishments serving classic French fare.
I see this merging of worlds the moments I step into Corinthia Hotel on Northumberland Avenue. A favourite of Hollywood stars (my husband saw Mariah Carey and her entourage the last time he was there) and a who’s who of the capital’s social scene, the building played an integral role in two world wars, first as a government office and later on a spy agency with secret tunnels.
Bridging the old with the new is something I speak about with André Garrett, executive chef at The Northall, considered one of the top British restaurants in the capital. Garrett tells me about the changes he’s made since taking on the responsibility of the hotel’s wider food and beverage offering. Whilst proud of his background in traditional French cooking, the multi-award-winning chef tells me about the touches he’s bringing in to encourage a more relaxed atmosphere in the dining room.
After an excellent meal sampling The Northall’s top quality menu, I speak with Garrett about his favourite dining spots in the city and why he insists on championing British ingredients.
You made the move from Cliveden House in Berkshire to Corinthia in central London. What were some of the biggest changes you had to get used to when coming back to the capital?
The biggest change to get to grips with was the scale of the food and beverage operation, and the number of outlets within Corinthia. My job is to oversee every aspect of those offerings, so it’s quite a task, but I’m very fortunate to have a great head chef team looking after the day-to-day running of each outlet, whether it’s The Northall, afternoon tea, Bassoon Bar, The Garden, events, or in-room dining. That allows me to spend time giving guidance and support to each team.
Is there anything you wish you knew before taking on the task of owning the food and beverage segment for a top luxury hotel?
No, I think I really just wanted to start and get stuck in! As with any area of work, we are all constantly learning, and whatever the outlet, our job is to make sure everything is always the best it can be.
Years ago, most chefs had to be classically French trained to get good jobs. Now, there is a lot more pride with regards to authentic British cooking and ingredients. Where do you stand in the debate?
I was classically French-trained, so, while I am biased, it’s what gave me an understanding of the fundamentals of great cooking. I will always stand for French gastronomy, but we have a great tradition of food in this country, and it should be celebrated – the produce available all over the British Isles is incredible and very inspiring for a chef! Ingredients and farming have grown so much, as has the demand for local, sustainable, and top-quality produce – something that, unfortunately, the challenge of Brexit will only exacerbate.
What are some of the unique characteristics you believe you brought to The Northall dining experience?
I have introduced more sharing dishes to the menu – there’s something inviting and convivial about that, whether it’s our Devon lamb en croûte, or our Northall Cornish fish stew, which is a take on the great French bourride from Marseilles. Our Sunday lunches have also proved very popular; we created a dessert table, with an ever-changing selection of puddings for guests to choose from. I like combining those little playful and informal touches with luxury and finesse.
Do you devise your menu for the London visitor, resident, or a mix of both?
It’s a mix of the two. As a hotel restaurant, it is crucial to bear our international guests in mind, and to consider what they really want when they visit a restaurant in London. One big change to come out of the pandemic has been the rise in the staycation, and people spending money closer to home. I think that pattern is here to stay. Our menus are designed to be super seasonal and to change regularly, so I think there is something for everyone!
What is currently your favourite dish on the menu?
I love our Cornish turbot with hen of the wood mushrooms and a smoked velouté sauce made with the bones and lots of truffle. It combines some of my all-time favourite ingredients.
What is one food trend you wish would just go away?
Small plates can be great when they’re done well, but I do get annoyed when I see dishes with almost nothing on them, dusted with ash from burnt vegetables!
When not working, where can we find you drinking and dining?
A few of my favourites are Sam’s Riverside in Hammersmith, Elystan Street, Wild Honey St. James and, of course, Kerridge’s Bar and Grill here at Corinthia – I love their Negroni.
Any unforgettable guests you’ve served since you’ve been at Corinthia London?
There have been many, throughout my career and here at Corinthia – but that’s all I’m saying!
Address: Corinthia, 10a Northumberland Ave, Westminster, London WC2N 5AE
Phone: 020 7321 3100