Gary Rhodes has toured Britain followed by a television camera crew, earning himself star status.
In the kitchen, too, he has been recognised with numerous accolades for his revival of British cooking. In previous positions as head chef, he has been awarded two Michelin stars – one at the Castle hotel in Taunton, Somerset, and another at the Greenhouse in London. He hopes to make it a hat trick with his new restaurant, City Rhodes, just off London’s Fleet Street.
The 120-cover restaurant is a joint venture with contract caterer Gardner Merchant, for which Rhodes is now executive chef. Garry Hawkes, chairman and chief executive of Gardner Merchant, believes the venue will represent the company’s commitment to quality British food and service as well as being a showcase for Rhodes’ talent.
The dishes on the menu bear the Rhodes hallmark, a modern British style of cooking. He told Chef that it’s the first time he has been with a restaurant from its conception, his previous eateries having been up-and-running operations. Arguably, then, the City Rhodes menu is the first to truly represent Rhodes’ style of cooking.
Although many dishes will have a familiar ring, they are all new. Rhodes is quick to point out it is by no means the Greenhouse II. But lurking among the six desserts on the menu is one old favourite that has graced that establishment’s menu. “The only dish I have kept,” he admits, “is my bread-and-butter pudding. But I have complemented that with what I hope will become new dessert favourites, such as my Jaffa Cake pudding or iced pear parfait in a hazelnut tart.” All desserts on the menu are priced at £5.50.
The menu is not overly long, comprising eight starters and nine main courses. Starter prices begin at £3.50 for roast ham and cèpe soup, rising to £12 for seared scallops in a hot mustard shallot sauce. The average price of a meal is expected to be £35 per person.
Throughout his career, Rhodes has advocated the traditional, often slower, methods of cooking, with a twist. The new menu is no exception. Main courses of stuffed braised pig’s trotter served with mashed potatoes (£12.90), or “piece” of braised beef with a rich glaze (also £12.90), rely on long cooking to bring out flavours and textures.
Slow cooking can obviously present operational difficulties in high-turnover restaurants – City Rhodes’ capacity is 240 covers in two sittings a day – but for Rhodes these cooking methods are part of his mission to champion British food, and he claims he has pulled it off successfully before.
Assisted by a kitchen brigade of 14, led by head chef Wayne Tapsfield, Rhodes will also play host and tutor to Gardner Merchant chefs. Selected chefs will join the brigade for a week at a time. “My hope is that they’ll return to their own kitchens inspired,” says Rhodes.
There is a wide selection of wines from all over the world, ranging from an Argentinian Libertad Mendoza Sangiovese Malbec 1996 at £10.95, to a Dom Perignon 1988 at £129.50. The majority of wines are priced at less than £30. This has been achieved by selecting whites from Argentina, Australia, Chile, New Zealand and Italy rather than sticking to France. Pinot Blanc from Denbies of Dorking 1995 (£11.50) also features.
The reds are primarily Californian or French in origin. Two wines, one white and one red, are available in half bottles, and five are served by the glass, priced £2.95, £3.25 or £3.50.
On top of the average bill of £35 per head, there will be an optional service charge of 12.5%.
City Rhodes, Merchant Centre, New Street Square, London EC4 3JB. Tel: 0171-583 1313