At the Perkin Reveller next to the Tower of London, executive chef Andrew Donovan has an organic approach to the menu, which changes daily, with quality, not cost, the primary factor. Janie Stamford reports
Named after the hedonistic apprentice chef in Geoffrey Chaucer's unfinished Cook's Tale, the Perkin Reveller is a celebration of conviviality. As clerk of King's works, the poet oversaw the construction of Tower Wharf, the historically steeped land on which the restaurant sits, with Tower Bridge, the Tower of London and the Thames all within spitting distance.
While it is managed by Ampersand, a division of contract caterer CH&Co and catering partner of site owner the Historic Royal Palaces, the Perkin Reveller eschews any potential to be a tourist trap operation with margin the main priority. Instead it behaves much more like an independent as executive chef Andrew Donovan, whose culinary pedigree includes stints at the Aviator hotel in Hampshire and the Michelin-starred Chapter One restaurant in Kent, explains:
"We've got the facility to buy whole animals and not worry about getting uniform cuts of meat, or any of that fluff. If we run out of something, we can put something else on. That's our organic approach to the menu."
This fluidity is mirrored in Donovan's dedication to fresh produce and the changing of the seasons, and once again the primary reason is not cost. He prefers to use an ingredient when it is available and truly at its best.
"Seasonal produce is a bit like an old friend," he says. "You don't see them for a long time and suddenly they're knocking on your door. You have a really great time together and then you shake hands and off they go for the next eight or nine months.
"You're sad to see them go but you're kind of excited because you know they're going to come back. There's always something to look forward to."
Donovan's view that we are entering the most exciting time of year is reflected in the daily changing menu. Beautifully braised brassicas and earthy root vegetables, comfort food as the weather turns colder, are starting to take their star turns.
A starter of potato and watercress soup (£5) is served ungarnished because, according to Donovan, it's already a thing of natural beauty. "Why pollute it with anything else?" he reasons. "Our food has to be aesthetically pleasing but fundamentally it's about the flavour."
A contender for the top of the restaurant's bestseller list is slow-cooked lamb (£16) three ways, comprising poached and roasted rump; shoulder, braised overnight and made into a crispy parcel; and a tower of braised breast; served with fennel, artichoke, tomato and basil.
Smoked eel fishcake with crispy bacon, apples and pickled beetroot (£8) is also proving popular, with the primary ingredient smoked locally by the Dutch Eel Company, while the previous day's haul on day boats dictates what fish will be on the menu.
General manager Joanne Parker helped to write the wine list, which specialises in European varieties with a particular nod to the Loire and Rhone, the great wine rivers of France, thereby acknowledging the proximity of the Thames. The list also carries on the remit set by the menu to showcase individual growers and organic suppliers.
The only thing not made on site is the bread, which comes from Paul Rhodes, thereby giving the kitchen the time to make everything else, from the roasted nuts to the preserves that accompany afternoon tea. And like Chaucer's Perkin Reveller, it all comes down to the pleasure principle.
"It's not about gimmicks or the bottom line," says Donovan. "We really enjoy it. I'm sure I could probably buy cheaper nuts than we make and they'd be adequate. But ours are lovely!"
The Wharf at The Tower of London, London EC3N 4AB
Tel: 020 3166 6949
www.perkinreveller.co.uk SAMPLE DISHES FROM THE MENU
Curried parsnip soup £5
Salad of ham hock and English peas £7.50
Pressed terrine of chicken and pork £8
Main courses Whole roasted snipe, red cabbage £20
Cornish fish stew, saffron potatoes and baby vegetables £18.50
Potato gnocchi, beef tomatoes, thyme and goat's cheese £11 .50
Desserts Milk chocolate and hazelnut mousse £6
Gooseberry and apple crumble £6
Bakewell tart, roasted plum, ice-cream £6