Cliveden House, epitome of casual luxury and stage for the start of the Profumo affair, has lured André Garrett from his post at Galvin at Windows for a tenure as executive head chef. Janie Manzoori-Stamford asks what he intends for its future
The leisurely approach up the wide gravel drive to Cliveden House is surrounded by an expanse of sky and 376 acres of well-kept National Trust countryside. You feel a world away from the frenetic pace of the capital, despite central London being a mere 40-minute car ride away, traffic permitting. The contrast is stark and beautiful and clearly one of the many reasons people choose to stay at this historic property.
It was also one of the draws for André Garrett, who two months ago left behind the dizzy heights of Galvin at Windows, atop the Hilton on Park Lane, to take up residence as executive head chef at Cliveden House. But despite moving from one hotel to another, Garrett admits that he still sees himself as very much a restaurant chef.
"It's been a massive change, as you can well imagine, but one I'm enjoying very much," he says. "It's so different to what I was doing at Galvin at Windows because here I'm responsible for the whole food and beverage operation."
While the one-Michelin-starred Mayfair restaurant was a relatively self-contained entity, the scale of the business was massive, with 100 covers for lunch and 150 for dinner, and Garrett ran the kitchen with a team of reliable and conscientious sous chefs. He's certain that it will be a similar situation at Cliveden, "but a bit more spread out".
Getting the operations side of each element right is essential, but this Bath-born chef maintains that delivering to a high standard throughout is equally crucial. "Not everyone might be focused on the higher-end fine â¨dining, but it is still André Garrett. It's still got to trickle down," he explains.
"Even if it's a simple fish pie in the Club Room, it's still got to be a quality product. And we have to keep being commercial. The afternoon tea, the private dining and the restaurant all have to grow for us to continue to get all the investment needed to keep moving forward."
Friends in high places Ahead of his arrival at Cliveden, Garrett sought the advice of arguably some of the most accomplished hotel chefs in the UK, thanks to a network of friends and contacts that can largely be attributed to his status as the 2002 Roux Scholar, his work with the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts and his success in achieving the Master of Culinary Arts in 2005.
"I went to see John Williams [executive chef] at the Ritz before it had gone public, and he wiped his diary clean for the next three hours for us to talk. I spoke to Paul Gayler [executive chef de cuisine at the Lanesborough], too. I know he's about to finish, but he's still someone I can call up on speed dial. He runs a really tight ship," says Garrett.
In fact, it was this network that was in many ways responsible for Garrett finding his way into his new role in the first place. He'd been looking to move on from Galvin at Windows for two years, having spent more time there than planned and achieving everything he had hoped. "I always told Chris [Galvin] that I would do five years and I ended up doing seven and a half. I loved it, but it was time â¨to go."
Sat Bains, who Garrett got to know through the Roux Scholarship, knew that Cliveden general manager Sue Williams was on the lookout for fresh talent, while another chef friend, Tom Kerridge, had the same knowledge through his friendship with the hotel's managing director Andrew Stembridge.
A few months of discussing and negotiating what Garrett describes as a "big, big step" â¨followed the initial contact, as well as numerous visits to Cliveden. But while the thought of leaving the familiarity of London after 22 years was daunting, the idea of being able to do something with his own name on it really appealed.
The right fit "This just seemed to fit me in terms of food style. It has a classical edge that fits in with the house and what we want to do," he says. Having left behind the exceptionally busy Galvin at Windows, Garrett was looking forward to being able to put more detail into his classically French dishes with what he describes as a "London edge".
At Cliveden, Garrett says he has the opportunity to look at the technique behind the dishes, as well as the presentation. "Galvin at Windows was an extremely busy restaurant and I couldn't put so much detail in because the plating had to be quick. You really had to move on the pass. Here I can look at the prep but also how we deliver it. We're in a big grand house, so it's got to be stunning."
Modern classics Dishes such as the Dover sole Veronique, a classic Escoffier dish, demonstrates this approach, as Garrett explains: "The Dover sole is poached, but we do it in our own way, rolling the fillets and cooking them slowly. There's that modern technique behind the dish, but those classic flavours are still there. There's the butter sauce, but we do it with verjus, and we do our own salted grapes and finish it off with little crispy potatoes."
The end result is a vibrant, modern dish with no superfluous bells and whistles, and the classical roots ensure it remains a grounded plate of food that's both homely and indulgent. It's a balance that is reflected in Garrett's aim to ensure that the menu really does offer something for all people with all budgets, with an eight-course tasting menu (£95), three courses with coffee for lunch or dinner (£65) and a set lunch menu (£28).
"I don't want there to be the perception that you've got to be rich to come here. Our set lunch menu might end up costing £40 to £45 a head, but get dressed up a little, spend time here and enjoy a bit of history with a lovely lunch and go for a wander around the estate," Garrett enthuses. "We don't want to be snobbish or inaccessible."
That's not to say he doesn't have lofty ambitions for the restaurant; not just for the sake of his own profile - as he readily admits - but for a venue that he firmly believes is worthy of the sought-after accolades. Cliveden's acceptance earlier this year as a member of luxury hotel and restaurant consortium Relais & Chateaux provides Garrett with the chance to fulfil an ambition to become one of its Grand Chefs, of which there are currently only seven in the UK and Ireland. And the fact that he won a star at Galvin at Windows in 2006, which he retained through to the 2014 Michelin Guide, has no doubt put his new restaurant venture firmly on the radar of the guide books.
"We've got a beautiful restaurant and we've had great feedback from knowledgeable people. The food style fits. We just have to deliver and demonstrate our longevity and vision," he says.
But Garrett is a realist. He recognises that much work needs to be done behind the scenes first, such as developing a full understanding of the logistics of the old house. Many names boasting excellent pedigree have passed through the kitchens of the hotel, including Gary Jones, executive head chef at Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons, and Mark Dodson, who spent 17 years at the nearby three-star Waterside Inn but, despite this, the property has a chequered history with Michelin.
"It's probably the same in any hotel, in a way," says Garrett. "You can get bogged down in everything else that's going on. That is the danger. I've thought about this long and hard. and I didn't come here just to get a Michelin star, but I believe the restaurant deserves to be at that level."
CLIVEDEN - THE INTERIOR
By Janet Harmer The launch of André Garrett at Cliveden has provided the hotel with an opportunity to kick-start what is expected to be an extensive, multi-million-pound renovation of a property that exudes more than 300 years of power, politics and parties.
The 77-year lease was sold for nearly £30m two years ago to Ian and Richard Livingstone, the billionaire property developer brothers whose London & Regional company also owns Chewton Glen in Hampshire. And there has been much debate over how to take the hotel forward.
From 2002 to 2011, the former owner of the hotel, Von Essen, invested little in the fabric of the building, with the result that the property today is generally in need of improvements throughout. Every one of the 324 windows, for instance, are in the process of being repaired or replaced, at a cost of £1m.
So while it is clear that the entire hotel needs to be overhauled, what is more difficult is deciding what form this will take. The freeholders of the Grade I-listed property are working with the National Trust as well as other interested parties, such as English Heritage and the conservators of the fabrics and the art collections, which adds to the complexity of the process. While the hotel is responsible for all interior work, the National Trust looks after the exterior, with the cost of the windows shared between the two.
"As the current custodians, the most important thing is that we meet our obligations and do right by such a beautiful heritage house," explains general manager, Sue Williams (right). "We need to make considerable improvements, but there is so little we can change, so we have to tread carefully. We intend to bring the bedrooms into the 21st century by introducing more luxurious fabrics - not by making them high-tech."
It is expected that the new-look dining room, created at a cost of £500,000, will inform the renovations throughout the rest of the house by enhancing what went before as well as improving the comfort of guests. Indeed, while the proportions and features of the original space now occupied by Garrett have been retained, the new design is a much brighter and fresher affair than before.
A painting by Sir Joshua Reynolds of Miss Mary Horneck has inspired the new colour scheme: the once dark terracotta walls have been painted a soft duck egg with gold highlights, adding a feeling of sumptuous grandeur.
These colours are repeated for the new and eminently comfortable seating, while full-length silk curtains frame the six windows. Faux bookcases have been stripped out and replaced by distressed mirrors set into alcoves which, positioned opposite the windows, ensure the room is bathed in light throughout the day.
Opulence is provided by three restored lead crystal chandeliers. On a smaller scale, the show plates, designed by William Edwards, were inspired by a recently rediscovered set of china from the 1920s belonging to the Astor family, who lived in the house until the late 1960s.
It is of course the Astor family - and the Profumo scandal of 1961 - that helped to establish Cliveden in the public mind. Spring Cottage, where Stephen Ward and Christine Keeler - who were central to the scandal - stayed at the time, is one element of the hotel that has already been completed. The property, located away from the main house on the banks of the Thames, has been renovated to provide a stylish and secluded retreat for up to six guests. Martin Hulbert Design worked on the interior of both Spring Cottage and André Garrett at Cliveden.
Work has already begun on replacing the windows in the east wing, with nine bedrooms due to be refurbished between January and April 2014. The final designs are yet to be confirmed, and it is expected to be 2017 before the total renovation of Cliveden is complete.
Paint Pearl Colour No 100 Absolute Matt Emulsion by Little Greene
Upholstery fabrics Zoffany, Beaumont & Fletcher, Sanderson and Colony
Curtains Jim Thompson silk
Carpet Margolin in Seagrass by â¨Stark Carpet