Two new informal eateries feature in this week's Menuwatch pages. David Tarpey reports

01 January 2000 by
Two new informal eateries feature in this week's Menuwatch pages. David Tarpey reports

AN EVOLUTION rather than a new launch is the best description for the arrival of a "new" menu at a restaurant breaking the mould in London's Bailey's Hotel.

Adjacent to Gloucester Road tube station and nestling between the Bombay Brasserie and a dry cleaner's, Bailey's is a pleasant, but unremarkable 162-bedroom hotel whose ownership hovers on the cusp between Swedish and Singaporean parties.

Whatever its outcome, the 80-cover restaurant, Bistro Bistrot, boasts stability as a result of a pioneering concept that has effectively contracted out its food and beverage activities.

Since the beginning of this year, Roy Ackerman's Restaurant Partnership has enveloped and relaunched the hotel's entire F&B operation (Caterer, 7 July). Meanwhile Bailey's management will focus on selling bedrooms.

Restaurant Partnership's quality seal is its owner's name and his ability to whet appetites. This celebrity formula has been applied to its five-year contract at Bailey's where the crowd-pulling power of restaurant director Kevin Kennedy is part of the tactic to build a loyal dining clique at its Club Bistro Bistrot.

While welcoming hotel guests and casual diners, the main aim is to attract up to 1,000 core members from Kensington's artistic and influential set, (the annual fee will be £150) creating its own cachet through a cosy mix of noteworthy cuisine and names that pull power.

When I meet Kevin Kennedy, he is pulling at a loose thread on one of the hand-woven rugs which cover the floor in the bar area. He tells me that he is dashing hither and thither tweaking and fine-tuning before Bistro Bistrot becomes "official" this September.

Rebuilding the wine cellar, increasing the array of whiskys and streamlining the available beers are just some of his priorities. By September he hopes to have in place his core team, imported from his ill-fated Boulestin restaurant.

These émigrés include head chef Eric Pascal, restaurant manager Andreas Thrasyvoulou and Kennedy's wife, Maggie.

Bistro Bistrot's menu features French regional cooking, and Kennedy is adamant it should avoid slipping into what he regards as the current temporary trendiness of Mediterranean cuisine.

"Boulestin quality at bistro prices" is how co-director of Restaurant Partnership Nick Scade hopes punters will view the fare.

The bistro label is actually a little odd given the restaurant's rather plush decor: chandeliers, drapes, giant candles and oil paintings. It seems that upmarket brasserie is what Bistro Bistrot really wants to be.

Average spend is around £15-£20, and although Boulestin price levels are not on the cards, Kennedy will be nudging that range upwards.

There is a special three-course prix-fixe option at £9.50, but otherwise the cheapest main-course dish is the salmon fish cakes, spicy tomato sauce and fries at £6.25.

Worth noting is the warm pain campagnard at 75p which comes with anchoiade, tapenade and olive oil.

Starters such as steamed mussels with onions, white wine and herbs or the six snails in garlic butter are obvious favourites.

Main course examples include Kennedy's own version of a bouillabaisse which, he says, contains mostly shellfish and "whatever is fresh".

The saucisses de Toulouse come from a supplier in France, while the omnipresent pommes frites are of the long, thin, French variety. Kennedy is keen to introduce his preferred chunkier version alongside the skinny ones favoured by his boss, Ackerman.

"Absolutely delicious" is how Kennedy describes the Sauté Bistrot, where new potatoes are sautéd with garlic and duck dripping taken from the main course of duck leg confit.

Kennedy stresses the menu is still in a state of flux and will not be entirely to his liking until later this year when he has gathered a hand-picked staff around him and had time to think through every dish in detail.

The wine list has a good spread of both French and New World varieties. There is also a choice of Champagnes and indeed half-price Champagne is one of the perks of Bistro Bistrot membership. With a bottle of Dom Perignon, Brut de luxe vintage fetching £85, that might not be a bad thing. n

ADESIRE to return Bath restaurant the Hole in the Wall "to its former glory" was the reason that Chris Chown, chef-patron of Plas Bodegroes, Pwllheli, bought its lease earlier this year.

He has never forgotten this was the restaurant where, as a schoolboy - when George Perry Smith was its proprietor - he ate his first "serious" meal. "British cooking owes a great debt to Perry Smith: his flagship should not be allowed to go down the pan," says Chown.

Because his Michelin-starred "restaurant with rooms" in north Wales is closed through winter, he and his wife, Gunna, craved easier access to city culture. "At Plas Bodegroes we're 100 miles from the nearest opera house," he says.

Add to this the impossibility of serving hearty, rustic dishes there - "We do city cooking in the country at Plas Bodegroes and country cooking in Bath," he explains - and the reasons for spreading his wings become clearer.

Besides refurbishing the restaurant, Chown moved the kitchen to provide 20 extra covers in the second main dining area. He found a head chef, Adrian Walton (former head chef at Partners, Dorking, Surrey) who was introduced to him by Colin White of Woolley Grange, Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire.

White, like the Carved Angel's Joyce Molyneux and Tim Cumming of the Vintners Rooms, Edinburgh, had been protégés of Perry Smith.

"Colin knew the food I was doing at Partners and called me," says Walton. "I get my biggest buzz from cooking the specials and the daily business lunch - simple dishes, with nothing prissy or fussy on the plate."

His approach has been easily adapted to the Hole in the Wall, where the 10 starters and 12 main courses on the menu owe allegiance to either Chown, Walton or Perry Smith.

"Three starters - warm salad of monkfish, hotpot of chicken and warm lambs' tongues - are down to Chris," says Walton.

His own creations are the tomato and goat's cheese gallette with anchovies; a Burgundian-style, parsleyed ham with beetroot chutney, and the brandade for which chef prepares his own salt cod.

The salmon and mushroom cutlets are a homage to Perry Smith, as is the plated fish of hors d'oeuvres which changes every couple of days. "Perry Smith always made a feature of a massive hors d'oeuvres cold table," he explains.

Walton's desire for rustic simplicity is given a platform in the main courses - braised lamb shank, ox kidney and stout pudding, cassoulet and home-smoked duck.

When it comes to the selection of the fish dishes, they are Chown-inspired.

Wild mushroom and thyme risotto is on the menu to satisfy vegetarians or those not wanting to eat meat that day, he explains.

Walton aims for honesty and consistency in his cooking. "What you see on the menu is what you get - no frills on the plate; simple fresh food that speaks for itself. We limit the menu so I can guarantee the first dish we send out on a busy night is the same as the last."

The menu, he says, will "constantly evolve,with dishes coming on and off according to the season". n

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