Located in a building on London's Fleet Street designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, the latest restaurant project from Sir Terence Conran promises a menu based on simplicity. Mark Lewis reports
David Burke, head chef at Lutyens, the latest restaurant project from Sir Terence Conran, has constructed a menu on foundations of simplicity.
"We don't do anything new here," he says. "No water baths, no foams, no squiggles. What you see on the menu is what you get on the plate."
This emphasis on simplicity reflects the defining influences on Burke's career to date. He doffs his cap to Myrtle Allen, "the mother of good Irish cooking", under whose tutelage he started his career at Ballymaloe House in County Cork, and to Simon Hopkinson, with whom he worked at Bibendum in South Kensington, London, for three years.
From Allen, he learnt to follow the seasons and source local produce. He says: "We grew everything on the land. If you ran out of something, you ran out to the fields." From both, he inherited a passion for freshness, full flavours and good, honest produce and dishes.
Burke and Conran go back a long way. When the Irish chef's three-year stint at Bibendum ended in 1990, he went on to open Le Pont de la Tour, where he stayed for 10 years. This latest collaboration came about because Conran felt the City was crying out for a decent grill room, explains Burke.
Lutyens restaurant honours British architect Sir Edwin Lutyens, who designed the grandiose former Reuters press agency building on Fleet Street in which it is housed. References to the building's journalistic past are evident, but understated.
A joint venture between Terence and Vicki Conran in partnership with Peter Prescott, it is managed by erstwhile Café Anglais general manager Graham Williams, while Andrew Connor, formerly of the Lanesborough and Le Pont de la Tour, oversees its extensive wine list.
The 22-strong brigade has a lot of ground to cover. Lutyens spans a restaurant that seats 130, a bar with space for 50, a members' club and four private dining rooms. No wonder Burke says the number of covers "sometimes feels like 17,000".
The food offering includes breakfast, rôtisserie, crustacea bar, charcuterie counter and à la carte, with a modest sushi offering in the pipeline. Business is good, thanks in part to the corporate market on its doorstep.
To his august and refined surroundings Burke has applied a menu fusing traditional high-end French bistro fare with dishes from his native Ireland and the odd retro indulgence. The result is a menu that features such unlikely bedfellows as champ and vichyssoise, home-made soda bread and tarte provencale, châteaubriand and peach melba.
Also present is veal cordon bleu, an escalope of veal enveloping Bayonne ham and Gruyère, breaded and pan-fried. "Nobody has done it since the 60s or 70s," Burke laughs.
Given his passionately held belief that cooking should be based on great produce and nurtured with love, it's no surprise to learn of the emphasis he places on forging a symbiotic relationship with his suppliers.
"We don't hammer them," he says. "We ask about quality, provenance and consistency before we talk about price."
Burke is quick to reference valued suppliers Cole's of King's Lynn for shellfish, Wright Brothers of Borough Market for oysters, Matthew Stevens of St Ives for day-boat fish. The "exceptional" smoked salmon from Sally Barnes's smokery in Cork is even name-checked on the menu.
A starter of feuilleté of quail eggs (£8.50), its yokes oozing through a bed of duxelle and into golden pastry, is paired with a 2006 Jean-Paul Paquet "Vieilles Vignes" Pouilly-Fuissé. A Riesling accompanies a lobster mousse (£9.50) that counterpoints feather-light mousse with briny bisque and generous cuts of lobster meat.
Lightening a meaty slice of wild sea trout (£15.50) are a delicate sorrel sauce and a glass of a 2008 Deltetto Gavi del comune di Gavi DOCG.
From Burke's Irish roots come crubeens (£12.50), pigs' trotters braised for six hours, shredded, mixed with onion, spinach, mustard and cayenne pepper, pan-fried and served with a celeriac rémoulade. For this dish, the sommelier recommends a 2007 Jules Taylor Pinot Noir Marlborough.
Desserts pack a punch. Crème brûlée (£5) is ripe with vanilla seeds and complemented by a 2006 Torres Chile Riesling Vendemia Tardia. And the tarte du jour (£5), chocolate and blackberry, has sufficient character to hold a raisiny Barbadillo "La Cilla" Pedro Ximénez sherry at arm's length.
You have to think the Reuters hacks of yesteryear would have approved.
Lutyens Restaurant, Bar & Cellar Rooms, 85 Fleet Street, London EC4Y 1AE. Tel: 020 7583 8385Website: www.lutyens-restaurant.co.uk
WHAT'S ON THE MENU
- Cherrystone clams (£12 for 6)
- Crêpe parmentier, smoked salmon, caviar (£14.50)
- Escargots à la bourguignonne (£7.50)
- Landaise chicken, sage and onion stuffing, half or whole (£16/£32)
- Entrecôte, beurre maître d'hôtel (£18)
- Roast rabbit, bacon and mustard (£13.50)
- Eton mess (£6.25)
- Peach melba (£6.50)
- Tarte fine, caramel ice-cream (£6.50)