This week saw chef Theo Randall step out of the shadow of the River Café to launch his new restaurant at the InterContinental London hotel, where his passion for seasonal ingredients will inspire the menu. Joanna Wood reports
“I’ve got a bloody nice kitchen. It’s beautiful,” Theo Randall says, proudly pointing out its salient bits of kit – an impressive wood-fired oven and a bespoke Rorgue range (three ovens, a double chargrill, three solid-tops, three open gas jets and a salamander). It’s early October, a month before Randall’s new restaurant on Park Lane opens.
Two weeks later Randall tells me that the kit has been tested: “We had a problem with the gas supply, the air flow in the wood oven wasn’t quite right, and the stainless steel on the doors of the range was too thin.”
Most people would be letting panic get the better of them with barely a fortnight to go to launch date, but Randall is just getting on with solving the hiccups. “We’ve got time to sort everything out – and better now than later,” he says, philosophically. The attitude sums up Randall, 38, in a nutshell: he’s a man who doesn’t make unnecessary fuss, but he gets things done. And you could argue his food manifests these same qualities, too, along with a passion for seasons and quality produce.
We’ll get on to the food later, but if you haven’t been paying attention to Caterer recently, then it might not have clicked that Randall, formerly head chef at Hammersmith’s renowned River Café, has hooked up with the InterContinental London. The hotel has been undergoing a £60m refurbishment over the past 12 months, and getting in a serious contender to take over the site of the former Soufflé restaurant was a major part of its strategy. Hotel restaurants on Park Lane and its immediate slip roads are, after all, undergoing something of a revival thanks to the policy of contracting dining rooms out to big-hitting chefs.
Given his avowed obsession with seasonality, Randall will tweak his menu according to what produce is on the market. So, alongside pigeon and pheasant, expect dishes with porcini, squash or cime di rapa framing various meats and fish on his opening menu – even polenta, whose season begins in October. It has a grainier texture when fresh and a brighter, less oxidised colour.
For meat, Randall has a basement coldstore that will take whole carcasses. It means he can hang beef for three to four weeks, for instance, before using it to make a carpaccio, which he serves simply with some radicchio, a scattering of pine nuts and Parmesan.
The beef – from longhorn cattle – like all Randall’s ingredients, is carefully sourced. “My food is simple, so the ingredients are very, very important,” he stresses. Anybody who has eaten his food at the River Café will know that he is not just paying lip service to the concept. However, because Randall’s is now the only personality reflected on the menu, they will find subtle differences between the dishes put out at the River Café and those served at his new restaurant.
The spatchcock pigeon, a sformato of Jerusalem artichokes with Fontina cheese and shaved white truffle, and a fish stew with saffron potatoes and fennel never made it to Hammersmith’s Thames-side temple, for instance. Moreover, dish presentation is now more refined – a nod to Randall’s classical beginnings.
Whether Theo Randall at the Inter-Continental becomes as well-loved as the River Café, only time will tell. But Randall has everything in place to give the Hammersmith favourite a run for its money.
“I’ve been desperate to go back into the kitchen. I’ve been cooking loads, trying out recipes since March, but there’s nothing like finishing a service. There’s that sense of achievement. It’s the whole process of spending a day in the kitchen and putting a full stop at the end of it. I love it.”