Sustainable seafood is at the heart of Bouillabaisse, the latest restaurant from Chotto Matte founder Kurt Zdesar. Neil Gerrard talks to executive chef Jordan Sclare
"I have probably travelled more with Kurt than with my own wife," jokes Jordan Sclare, as he recalls the menu-writing process for the latest venue he has launched with Kurt Zdesar.
The pair have worked together for some time, with Sclare having previously been at Nobu before joining Zdesar, the former director of operations at Nobu in Europe and founder of the Ping Pong chain, to open Chotto Matte in London's Soho in September 2013.
Both Chotto Matte and their new project may serve seafood, but that's where the similarities end. While the former mixes Nikkei cuisine with live music in a slick bar/restaurant setting, Bouillabaisse is a love letter to all things coastal (right down to the wine list, which offers drinks from coastal vineyards across the world). As the menu states, the food is "inspired by conversations with fishing communities around the globe".
Then Sclare took the best of what he saw --whether it was the superb bouillabaisse they experienced at Tetou in Cannes, or the lobster ravioli at Ristorante Osteria Da Fiore in Venice - and started to construct a menu.
"The menu was so easily written because the tour was so beautifully written," says Sclare. "I took pictures on my phone, remembered the tastes, and I started to write it on every plane journey."
Of course, there was far more development to be done subsequently - Bouillabaisse's own take on the classic dish of the same name (£52 for two or more to share) took 20 attempts to perfect before the opening in July this year.
Bouillabaisse's lobster ravioli with snow crab, Morecambe Bay prawns and sweet potato (£14.95) is also more than simply a copy of what the pair enjoyed in Italy, having gone through several rounds of development. But its lightness was certainly inspired by the Venetian restaurant. "It was just nothing like I have had anywhere in the UK or places where I have worked before," explains Sclare. "There was no heaviness to it. It is just in a really light, beautiful olive oil seasoned with some fennel seeds in the peppermill." It is a top seller.
Sclare is a big believer in simplicity when it comes to cooking a huge variety of seafood. At his disposal in the kitchen, which sits alongside a 20-cover semi-private dining room downstairs (there is space for 65 upstairs), are two indoor charcoal Bertha ovens, which Bouillabaisse's team of 13 chefs uses a great deal.
"The oven is about 500Âº Fahrenheit. You put a fish in with just some olive oil or garlic butter, cook it on a tray with holes in it, and as the fish cooks it releases some of its oils and the smoke goes back into the fish, giving it great flavour and texture," says Sclare.
Sustainability is also central. Zdesar was inspired to create the concept after watching US chef Dan Barber's TED talk 'How I fell in love with a fish', and has tried to plot a course through the minefield of sourcing sustainably.
While many dishes use seafood from UK waters, taken from small boats, there are also products from further afield, such as the seabass from the Veta La Palma commercial fish farm in southern Spain, praised by Barber.
Sclare is also at pains to point out that the restaurant buys in fresh fish by weight, regardless of the size of individual fish, and selling it on a 'market price' board, which changes daily. "Whatever gets caught, we take all of it," he says. "So we have got the board up there, where you can see all the fish per kilo. We don't choose the size of our lobsters, we just say that today we want 15kg for our four live tanks."
The chef is currently spending around 90% of his time at Bouillabaisse, as he seeks to drive covers up to a target of around 240 a day (80 for lunch, 160 for dinner). Meanwhile, Zdesar has plans to export Chotto Matte internationally, with a site in Dubai on the cards as well as other potential locations. In which case, he and Sclare can expect to spend a lot more time travelling together.
4 Mill Street, Mayfair, London W1S 2AX
020 3794 8448
From the menu
Cold and Fresh
- Diver scallop, Carabineros tartar, Spanish red prawn, fennel and orange dressing £14.90
Crispy and Light
- Sepia nero - black crispy cuttlefish, oregano, orange £9.90
- Fritto misto de lux - king crab, scallops, lobster, squid, Australian Gulf prawns £29.90
From the Galley
- Fish fingers en croute with mushy peas - quinoa and herb-crusted gurnard, bloomer, tartare sauce £9.50
- Snow crab cakes, garlic and herb salsa £13.90
- Line-caught Mexican whole pink grouper Market price