Impeccable sourcing of fine produce doesn’t mean skimpy portions at this Edinburgh restaurant, says Karen Peattie
Relaxed diners and clean plates – that’s what makes Jérôme Henry happy. As service comes to an end on a windy and somewhat chilly late-June evening in Le Roi Fou in Edinburgh, the chef-patron leaves his kitchen to chat with customers, some of them locals who have visited several times in the few months since the restaurant opened in April.
The ‘casual’ fine-dining restaurant, a collaboration between the Swiss-French Henry and his partner, creative director Isolde Nash, is a celebration of their shared passion of food and culture. And the look and feel of Le Roi Fou – which roughly translates as “the Mad King” – appears to be striking a chord with diners.
For Henry, who worked in London as head chef at Anton Mosimann’s Private Dining Club in Belgravia and also at Les Trois Garçons in Shoreditch, relocating to Edinburgh’s New Town has rejuvenated him, not least because he is closer to “some of the most amazing suppliers and produce available”.
“London has been fantastic for my career but while I loved it, I’m not missing it at all,” he says, smiling. “London was so fast – it was a non-stop lifestyle. Here in Edinburgh, I walk home on a beautiful cobbled street and I’m there in five minutes. But it’s also a cosmopolitan city and we’re looking forward to the Edinburgh Festival – we might even have some celebrities come to dine with us.”
That would be nothing unusual for Henry, of course – he cooked for Madonna and the late David Bowie at Les Trois Garçons – but for this affable chef there is only one star of the show: the produce. And in the case of Le Roi Fou, that produce is Scottish when possible.
In London, Henry was supplied by Dingwall-based Keltic Seafare and he forged a close relationship with the company. At Le Roi Fou, Keltic’s scallops are always on the menu, currently as a starter, served with Isle of Wight heirloom tomatoes that Henry confits in olive oil, lemon, thyme, rosemary, basil and garlic.
Other Scottish suppliers include George Campbell of Perth for fish and Mark Murphy for vegetables. “Often I will start with a vegetable in season and the dish will grow from there,” he explains. “My mother grew vegetables and, if you cook and season them properly, your dish will take shape. She used what was available and what I’m doing today is no different – and I give you plenty of it.”
He is referring to what he describes as the “generous” portions in Le Roi Fou. “We’re in a competitive business, but I have to give people value for money – top-quality ingredients come at a price, but I don’t want to exclude people from having a fine-dining experience,” he says.
By that, he means he has created a series of menus that allow customers to enjoy dining at a price they can afford. There are several options – the pre-theatre has two courses for £17.50 or three for £21.50. Starters on the à la carte range from £5 to £15, with mains from £14 to £31. The six-course tasting menu is £48. “Fine dining doesn’t have to price people out of the market,” he says.
Henry was born in France but grew up in Geneva, and his love of food took him to Chicago, where he learned his trade. He has also worked in Spain, South America and Asia. Some of his dishes, he admits, are inspired by his experiences in other countries, but whatever his influences, they are nothing without consistency.
“That’s something Mosimann taught me,” he says. “As a young chef in Chicago, I had a big ego and attitude – we all did. But working for him in London, I soon learned that there was no room for error. It’s like a sport – you practise and practise to make sure you get it right. Attention to detail is so important and that’s what I try to teach my team.”
That attention is evident in the Scottish halibut with girolle and Swiss chard (£27). The halibut is lightly grilled before being breadcrumbed and baked, and served with the chard and a butter that includes basil, parsley, shallot, garlic and a dash of Pernod, along with the girolles that have been sautéed with shallots.
Henry’s skill has been noticed already by the Sunday Herald reviewer Joanna Blythman, who gave him 10 out of 10. “The phone never stopped ringing for the next few days,” says Henry, who also cites an excellent review by the Financial Times. “But it’s early days and we’ll continue to change as we build up a presence.”
It’s almost closing time, but Henry isn’t chasing his last customers out of the door – he knows he can be home in five minutes.
From the menu
Spiced tomato and summer vegetables soup £5.50
Le Roi Fou hand-cut beef fillet steak tartare £9.50/£18.50
Seared new-season lamb rack with braised lamb belly and a mint-infused sauce £24
Grilled calf liver and bacon with a chimichurri sauce £14.50
Poached rhubarb, pistachio crumble with Borders crème fraîche ice-cream £7.50
Lemon sorbet with a shot of Arbikie vodka £6.50
Le Roi Fou, 1 Forth Street, Edinburgh EH1 3JX www.leroifou.com
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