Head chef Pete Hall is winning favour by putting flavour at the top of his menu, as Katherine Price discovers
“We didn’t want to be the best restaurant, we wanted to be everyone’s favourite restaurant,” says Lorne co-proprietor Pete Hall. He’s happy with the balance the restaurant has struck between being adaptable – swapping high seating for more tables, because guests were asking not to be put on the stools, for instance – and sticking to its guns. “We cook the food and serve the wine exactly how we want,” he says.
The 42-cover restaurant opened in London’s Victoria in 2017, among an odd mix of businesses including the Michelin-starred A Wong, a Sainsbury’s, Pret and Nando’s, in an area not particularly well known as a place to eat before the recent openings of such developments as nearby Nova and Eccleston Yards.
After spending four years at the two-Michelin-starred Square in London under Phil Howard, where he worked his way up to junior sous, Hall did a year as a chef de partie at the three-Michelin-starred Benu in San Francisco. On his return to London, he and former Square colleague Katie Exton decided to strike out on their own.
Lorne is named after a town in the southern Australian state of Victoria that the pair both happened to have visited. The restaurant offers a loosely ‘modern British’ concept with a 5-5-5 à la carte menu, a set menu for lunch or early dinner at £27 for three courses, and a Sunday lunch menu, all regularly changing depending on what is in season. Wine is also a strong focus – Exton, who oversees front of house, previously worked as head sommelier at River Café and Chez Bruce in London.
Hall says his cooking philosophy at Lorne is inspired by his time at the Square under Howard who, along with Blixen owner Clive Watson, is a Lorne investor. “There’s no smoke and mirrors at a restaurant like the Square,” says Hall. “It was all just serious cooking, The flavour came first and the presentation afterwards. We definitely work like that here – it’s all seasonality and flavour-driven, and we try and make it look nice on a plate.”
Suppliers include Smith & Brock for vegetables, HG Walter for meat, Flying Fish Seafoods and Keltic Seafare. Although the burrata, spring lamb and strawberry tart dishes have been particularly popular recently, Hall says he finds it particularly therapeutic to prep his fish dishes, of which there are plenty.
As well as a dish of grey mullet, on the menu now are pan-fried turbot served with white garlic purée, fried cauliflower mushroom, white asparagus, vin jaune sauce and caviar; and roast cod served with a broth of sea vegetables (aster, beets and kale), mussel liquor, asparagus and Jersey royal potatoes, topped with dehydrated sea lettuce powder. “It looks really simple, but all the delicate flavours of everything at the pinnacle of its season go into that one dish to make this amazing briny, brothy, delicious bowl of soup,” says Hall.
Dishes move with the seasons – lamb, for instance, was until recently served with a pea purée and Tropea onions, which are being phased out for a summery ratatouille of courgette purée, tomato and pepper piperade, miso-glazed aubergine and baby artichokes.
Open only a year and not long after being awarded two AA rosettes, the restaurant was closed for three months after a flash flood in May 2018. “It was a real time of uncertainty,” says Hall. “Our biggest fear was that we would be yesterday’s news and the people who were our customers wouldn’t come back.”
Thankfully, he says, all the locals and regulars have returned. Lorne benefits from the pre-theatre crowd, being close to the Victoria Palace Theatre and the Apollo Victoria. Around 400 covers is a good week, and most nights they’re “almost fully booked”, keeping the seven-strong kitchen team (led by Hall and head chef Graham Brown) busy.
A second restaurant is a possibility, although if it did happen, it would likely be a different, potentially even more wine-led concept rather than a second Lorne.
“We’ve been open for two years, but we feel we’re hitting our stride, with our identity and what we want to accomplish. The food and service get better every day. We just want to keep getting better and better… one’s enough at the moment… We’ll see.”
From the menu
• Roasted veal sweetbread, burnt apple purée, turnip, buckwheat praline £13
• Cured gurnard, bouillabaisse mayonnaise, artichoke, pickled carrot, fresh almonds £11
• Burrata, yellow peach, fennel, green strawberry, courgette, olive brioche £10
• Turbot, garlic purée, white asparagus, morels, vin jaune sauce, caviar £30
• Roast cod, Jersey royals, mussels, green asparagus, sea vegetables, seaweed £23
• Spring lamb cutlet, mint-crusted lamb sirloin, pea purée, Tropea onion £29
• White peach jelly, loquat arctic roll, elderflower, Champagne £7
• Gariguette strawberry tart, white chocolate, pistachio £7.50
76 Wilton Road, London SW1V 1DE
020 3327 0210