The next chapter 6 December 2019 Lexington managing director Julia Edmonds on taking the helm at the boutique caterer and her people plans for the future
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Hall of fame

01 January 2000 by
Hall of fame

The spectacular view will strike visitors as soon as they walk into the restaurant: Big Ben, known worldwide as the symbol of London, stares in through the large windows, and the adjacent Houses of Parliament and Westminster Bridge also vie for attention, along with the Thames and its river traffic.

The County Hall Restaurant is the showcase of Whitbread's Marriott development in the Thames-side building which once housed the former Greater London Council (GLC). Due to open on 13 July, the 150-seat restaurant is part of the 200-bedroom luxury Marriott hotel, created at a cost of £27m.

Clearly fired up by what he is about to launch, Marriott general manager Michael O'Dywer says: "This is a totally different concept to anything Whitbread has ever done. It is a world-class site. I've been working on this project for two years and I'm convinced we have the best hotel/restaurant views in London."

While, undoubtedly, the County Hall Restaurant is set to become a destination venue courtesy of its location - with many denizens of Whitehall and its corridors of power likely to cross Westminster Bridge to lunch and dine - much effort has also gone into creating a menu that customers will want to choose from time and time again.

The imagination of three chefs has been pooled to ensure that the food offers something special. Richard Corrigan of Soho's Lindsay House will be the name which will appear on the menu. His role has been that of consultant and the hope is that his reputation will entice custom. Working at the stove and overseeing the 22-strong brigade, meanwhile, will be 29-year-old Londoner David Ali, who has just spent three years at The Canteen, London. The third member of the trio is David Thomas, the Marriott's executive chef, in charge of the hotel's five kitchens. He describes Ali as "a fantastic chef", adding: "He is exactly the sort of specialist chef I was looking for. As for working with Richard, the relationship has turned out really well."

Corrigan is on an initial one-year contract to launch and guide the restaurant but, in practice, his presence will be minimal. Hands-on "commander" will be Ali, whose remit will be not only to run the kitchen but also to experiment with tastes and dishes. Thomas will be liaising closely with both men, as well as with hotel boss O'Dywer.

Thomas describes his job at the Marriott as "my vision for my career". His vision for the restaurant, as with Ali and Corrigan, is to produce a destination venue, but he is also aware that the restaurant is part of a Marriott hotel and the Whitbread group, so he wants to avoid pretension and appeal to a broad mix of diners.

Come and eat here

"The restaurant will probably attract the usual foodies who eat out regularly in the top places," Thomas explains. "But we also want to provide something for Uncle Bob who always eats in a Beefeater. A lot of people eat out in local pubs because they feel comfortable there, but we want those sorts of people to come and eat here too."

Ali forecasts that the core customer base will be in the 25-45 age bracket and of a similar profile to those he has fed at The Canteen. The menu will mirror and change with the seasons, he says, and he will use the same suppliers he worked with at Chelsea Harbour. "My style is modern European," he says, "but I know that can mean anything. For me, it involves a lot of herbs. I learnt a lot about these working in Luxembourg, when we had to pick our own."

Beaufort cheese and artichoke terrine (£7.50) is one of Ali's favourite starters from the launch menu. "It's very wholesome and should be served warm," he says. "It needs a short cooking time at a high temperature, and would be ideal for lunch or pre-theatre." He sees another starter - marinated salmon, olive oil, lime dressing and fennel salad (£7.50) - as ideal for the summer opening. "It's so light and has a really delicate taste," he says. "The mix of herbs is very important, and includes two of my favourites - chives and chervil."

The main course dish that gives Ali most satisfaction is roast bass with grilled asparagus, clams and artichoke vinaigrette (£18.50). "It's light and summery with really intense flavours," he says. "I like bass because it's such a chunky fish, and I love clams. I use Venus clams from Brittany. They're much sweeter than mussels, and prettier. I include thyme and bayleaf in the dish and, with the lemon juice and garlic, this gives the dish a real Mediterranean feel."

As an example of a dish "for everybody", Ali points to the corn-fed chicken, tagliolini and roast onions (£12.50). He uses Alsace bacon, saying: "It has an intense flavour because it is cured and smoked in proper smoke ovens and doesn't touch any chemicals. And I use tarragon as well, which enhances the whole dish."

At dessert, Ali hopes hot pistachio soufflé with chocolate sauce (£5) will do well - it is a dish he served at The Canteen and one he is proud of. He also believes that pineapple with chilli, coriander and coconut cream (£5) will prove popular. "The dessert has a sweet and sour flavour," he explains, "and it isn't harsh. The coconut cream is cooling and the coriander brings out the other flavours."

Keen to stand back to let both Ali's and Corrigan's names be linked to the menu, Thomas's influence on the food is limited to the occasional hint of Iberia. He explains: "I have a Spanish heritage, so I'm happy that there are items in there such as the main course dish of sweetbreads, haricot blanc, saffron and chorizo (£13.50)."

He adds: "The menu mainly has Richard's feel and David's input. My chief concern is that we sell the food, because we are a business. We'll have total flexibility to change items if they're not working. What is most important to Richard is that his name is on the menu and that it must, therefore, always reflect quality."

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