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George Barson talks Cora Pearl, Covent Garden and cheese toasties

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George Barson talks Cora Pearl, Covent Garden and cheese toasties

The trio behind Kitty Fisher’s in London’s Mayfair are opening a second site: Cora Pearl, a 60-cover site on Henrietta Street, opening 18 June. Katherine Price speaks to George Barson, head chef across both sites.

At what point was the Cora Pearl concept when you joined Kitty Fisher’s 18 months ago?
When I came for my interview they mentioned that there was a possibility of other places, and I took it with a pinch of salt – then suddenly we started looking at sites. It’s taken a long time to find the right one. The site’s amazing and it’s really starting to take shape now.

What is the concept?
The idea is theatreland food, which has those French and American links; it’s our interpretation of that. We might do a mini burger but use Sussex wagyu and British cheese, which you couldn’t do in the space at Kitty Fisher’s and it doesn’t fit the location – but it does fit Covent Garden.

What dishes will be on the menu?
We will do a Caesar salad, but it will be with some barbecued baby Gem lettuce, quail or smoked rabbit. I’m a big fan of British cheeses; we might use a cheese called Spenwood which is quite similar to Pecorino. We’ll do a version of tiramisù with coffee and cardamom and a sheeps’ milk sorbet.

We would never have thought of doing a cheese and ham toastie at Kitty Fisher’s, but we’re going to do a cheese toastie at Cora Pearl with homemade pickle. It’s actually the most complicated dish on the menu, but all you’ll see is a cheese and ham toastie, which I like. The skill hides in the kitchen rather than being forced upon you.

We do a cheese custard with Montgomery Cheddar and reduced ale and then we make ham hock and pig jowl. We’ll put that inside the toastie and pan-fry it with some roasted garlic butter. To make the ketchup we use pickled walnuts, blend them down with the liquid, make a gel with it and then dice a load of vegetables with it so it looks and tastes like Branston pickle. Maybe I should just get Branston pickle?

How often will the menu change?
We’ll keep it fairly set for the first few months, then we’re going to have some specials to try things and see what works and what doesn’t work. Specials are a fun way for the kitchen to cook, but it’s also fun for the customers, particularly those who are coming a couple of times a week for lunch.

What will Cora Pearl look like?
There are going to be two quite separate areas – so when you walk in on street level it’s going to be quite light and open, with huge big windows looking out onto the churchyard.

But then when you walk downstairs to the kitchen and bar, and there will be a few tables as well; it’s going to be a lot darker, probably a lot more Kitty Fisher’s-esque. We’re getting this amazing piece of artwork by Aubrey Beardsley, a huge print lit up as you walk down into the basement.

Why Covent Garden?
There’s a big resurgence in that area now and they’re getting rid of some of the more tired places to rejuvenate it as a foodie destination – you’ve got Frenchie, the Henrietta hotel, Petersham Nurseries just opened up, and I think there are some more places going in I’ve heard about.

How many covers is it?
It will sit about 60 in one go. We’re looking to do a 70- to 80-cover lunch and 100- to 120-cover dinner. I don’t think we’d want to go much above that and obviously we’ll build up to that.

How has recruitment been?
Fine so far. Getting chefs in London is not an easy thing at the best of times. I think in the summer people get itchy feet so it’s quite a good time to be opening a restaurant.

In the beginning there will be no head chef at Cora Pearl, so I’ve got some new sous chefs at Kitty Fisher’s and my sous chef that I have worked with over the last year, Emra George, is moving to Cora Pearl in a slightly more senior sous chef role.

Are you concerned about the problems the high street has been having?
Obviously it’s a consideration – the market is pretty volatile. But those big sites, it’s the rolling out of them – they can’t be quite so reactive to market changes. For us, if something’s not working, we can just change a dish or put something else on.

What has been the biggest challenge so far?
Designing the kitchen on a computer screen. I’m trying to mentally cook things, which is quite hard because it’s got to be right.

Are there plans to open more sites?
I think it’s something in the future that we would like to do, and there are some interesting concepts which would be really good, which would also be completely different from Kitty Fisher’s and Cora Pearl.

Kitty Fisher’s trio to launch second site >>

Kitty Fisher’s appoints George Barson head chef >>

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