Everyone in Ian Hunt's kitchen, even the most inexperienced commis, has the opportunity to contribute ideas to the menus at the Harlequin restaurant.
"I like to get everyone involved in menu planning because it gives the chefs such a good feeling to see their dishes selling," says Hunt, executive chef at the 120-seat restaurant based at the three-month-old Kingsway Hall hotel in London's Covent Garden.
He encourages the brigade - 10-strong at present, but looking to grow to 14 - to write the daily-changing Harlequin menu (£21 for three courses). Best-selling dishes from this may make it onto the à la carte.
The six starters, seven main courses and five desserts currently making up the seasonally changing à la carte menu reflect Hunt's desire to adapt his classical training, gained at such establishments as London's Hyde Park, Berkeley and Savoy hotels, to suit modern eating habits. "My cooking is still based on classical methods, but I tend to make the sauces lighter and introduce more modern Mediterranean and Oriental influences. You have to move forward and change with the times," he says.
An Oriental influence surfaces among the starters in the form of a terrine of aromatic duck with a cucumber relish and hoi sin dressing (£5.95). It is a popular choice with the hotel residents, conference delegates and passing trade that makes up the clientele, who are spending an average £25 per head without wine.
However, it is the fish and seafood starters, such as warm scallops and winkles in a tarragon and green peppercorn sauce (£6.75), which are a favourite for most of the 150 lunch and 30-40 evening covers served daily.
At main course, the fish dishes abundant during spring and summer give way to more hearty meat dishes for the colder months, such as the best-selling roast rack of lamb with creamed spinach and oyster mushrooms, gratin potato, baby carrots and Marsala sauce (£16.25). There are still fish choices: poached fillets of sole are served with a saffron mash, courgettes, cherry tomatoes and a chive Vermouth sauce (£16.50), and vegetarians are catered for with a tartlet of artichoke with Provençale vegetables, potato gnocci and salsa verde (£12).
Chocolate wins the day at dessert, with many diners opting for a bitter-chocolate pudding containing chunks of chocolate and served with chocolate fudge sauce (£4.50).
The Harlequin restaurant, Kingsway Hall hotel, Great Queen Street, London WC2B 5BZ. Tel: 0207 309 0909. Web site: www.kingswayhall.co.uk