Chef Michael Riemenschneider's latest contribution to the culinary scene is an innovative approach that lets diners create their own menus, says Neil Gerrard
If you can think of another way to prepare cauliflower, chef Michael Riemenschneider wants to know. He'll even give you a credit on the menu of Canvas by Michael Riemenschneider, his diminutive, 20-seater restaurant in London's Marylebone, which opened in January.
Such a rigorous exploration and elevation of a relatively unglamorous ingredient helps sum up the cooking of a chef who was most recently at the Abbey in Penzance and has learned his craft in some of Europe's most revered kitchens and with its most prestigious chefs - from Pierre Gagnaire and Michel Bras to Heston Blumenthal and Gordon Ramsay. His food, he says, is all about textures and temperatures.
And yet he insists his menu is not fine dining. "We are not expensive and we are not just the occasional place," he says. "You can have three courses for £50 or just one course for £25. I wouldn't say it is fine dining - it is a very casual approach to high-end."
Riemenscheider's approach to booking resulted in him receiving a bit of stick from one or two â¨critics - guests could only book online with a £50 deposit. He has since allowed booking by phone or email, and diners need only leave credit card details. But he defends his original idea: "If I had a 120-seat restaurant I wouldn't care, but a 20-seater is rare. We were probably a year or two ahead of our game by asking that."
The menu itself is no less unconventional. Diners can choose dishes under "sea & coast", "land & earth" and "desserts" categories. Three, four or five courses cost £50, seven courses cost £70, â¨10 courses cost £95, the "iconic selection" is £180 and the menu surprise - a preview of dishes under development - is £65.
If customers plump for the seven- or 10-course options, they all have to order the same dishes (with allowances made for allergies and dislikes), but they do get to keep the table for the entire evening.
"I thought it would be amazing to make your own tasting menu," Riemenschneider explains. "Basically, it is an Á la carte, but you can choose as many dishes as you want. I change the menu daily depending on suppliers."
In fact, the chef has had to go to eight suppliers to keep his bestseller, "langoustine - pearl barley - veal - jus crustace" (pictured) permanently on the menu.
"People complain if I take it off. I have had some stick for not being seasonal, but I would rather buy asparagus from France or Peru and know I will sell this dish."
Another popular dish is a dessert called "beetroot - raspberry - chocolate - basil", which includes a beetroot and raspberry gel, a basil fluid gel and a chocolate savoury brittle.
"It is one of these things where again we take a cheap and rather humble thing - the beetroot - and turn it into something rather nice, if I can say so," he says.
And Riemenschneider will be able to judge if his guests agree with him, as he has a network of cameras trained on every table, all linked up to the kitchen, which he feels helps him to enhance the experience for his customers.
"I know when people are finishing a dish so I can start on the next, and I can see their reactions. We can hear too, but I normally switch the volume off," he says.
As to the future, Riemenschneider reckons he is close to a new London venture in a hotel, but won't be drawn on the details. "Watch this space," he declares.
Sample dishes from the menu
Sea bass - fondue - caper berries - navet
Octopus - baby gem - tomato - confit potatoes
Foie gras - rhubarb - rye - Riesling
Venison - Solferino - walnut - chocolate
Lemon - caramel - cream - olive oil
M's Grandma's brioche 'bread & butter' pudding - bananas - pistachio
Canvas by Michael Riemenschneider
69 Marylebone Lane
London W1U 2PH
020 7935 0858