Dale Osborne is keeping the classics on the rustic French menu at his favourite London restaurant, says Neil Gerrard
Many people aspire to follow the mantra "do what you love", but few can probably claim to have lived by it quite so literally as chef Dale Osborne.
With an impressive CV, including posts at restaurants like Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, the Wolseley and Orrery under Chris Galvin, and the Goring in London, Osborne could probably have walked into any kitchen he wanted. But what he decided to do, having helped Nuno Mendes to open Chiltern Firehouse, was to take the head chef role at the much-loved Terroirs in London WC2, following former co-owner Ed Wilson's decision to move to take on sister restaurant Brawn.
In fact, Osborne happened to be in Terroirs for lunch the day he got wind of the news that Wilson was moving on and buying out Brawn, and it was Wilson who suggested to Osborne that he take on the job.
"I thought it would be great - it is a place that I love and I can have a lot more freedom working on the menu. When you are working with someone like Mark [Hix] or Heston [Blumenthal], I could have a feel for what I wanted to do, but they always had the last word."
Selection of charcuterie
That doesn't mean Osborne has torn up the menu since he arrived in April - far from it. Around 30%-40% of what is on offer hasn't changed because they are considered Terroirs classics. These include dishes like the bar snack of cervelle de canut (£4.50) - a type of cheese dip from Lyon that Wilson introduced several years ago - or the Christian Parra boudin noir, which was served with chanterelles and parsley root (£17.50) when The Caterer visited.
"The Christian Parra boudin noir took a couple of years to source, so that is always on the menu with some sort of seasonal garnish. We are also big fans of the Elwy Valley lamb, so we always have that too," Osborne says.
"I wouldn't say the menu is crazily different. It is all in the same style and the same ethos, because that is the menu I enjoyed and myself and Ed have the same outlook on food."
Bone marrow, pickled walnuts, shallot and parsley salad
Osborne admits that despite being classically trained in French cooking, he also has a love for Italian and Spanish produce: "I have got a wife who is half Spanish and my dad lives in Spain, and I also enjoy going to Italy, so the ingredients go across the Mediterrenean," he says.
Dishes that are particularly popular include the main course of halibut, Alexander shoots and brown shrimps (£19.50). "I like foraged gear, and used it with Mark Hix back before a lot of people started to use it," he says. "I don't like it for the sake of it, but if you understand the actual vegetable, then it is a lot of fun."
It is in the cellar downstairs, which can seat 40-45 people (the upstairs dining room accommodates 50), that Osborne and his team of seven other chefs can experiment a little, aided by the fact that they cater for a range of cultural, wine and music events throughout the year. A recent innovation is the introduction of a Portuguese cataplana - a large copper dish with a hinged lid in which is traditionally cooked a tomato sauce with chorizo, clams and potatoes. Osborne is using them to do variations on that theme: "I do a lovely seafood one with langoustines, mussels and mullet, and it's just a lovely way to serve it," he says.
When it comes to the natural and organic wines for which Terroirs is known, Osborne doesn't worry too much about creating dishes to match. "Our outlook is that we have some really well-sourced product and we like people to try a few things - the idea is sharing. There are some punchy flavours - garlic, chilli and so on - and the natural wines are not the bigger structured wines. They are more fresh, juicy and acidic - good eating wines," he says.
It's pretty obvious that he is very much enjoying the experience of being head chef at his favourite restaurant, and that role could expand if plans for another, larger site come off.
"We are actively looking, but the right site is hard to come by," Osborne says. "For now, we are bedding in our guys and front of house and getting ready for a busy season."
Christian Parra boudin noir, beetroot, apple and horseradish
From the menu
- Felino salame (Giuseppe Gualerzi, Emilia-Romagna) £7
- Duck rillettes £6/£7.95
- Cornish squid, fregola and chorizo £10
- Roast pumpkin, goats' curd and seeds £6.50
- Bone marrow, pickled walnuts, shallot and parsley salad £8.75
Plats du jour
- Confit duck leg and Lyonnaise potatoes £17
- Elwy Valley lamb, Heritage carrots, yogurt and coriander £19.75
- Bitter chocolate pot, Griottine cherries £6.50
- Bramble cheesecake £7
5 William IV Street, London WC2N 4DW