A pared-back approach to cooking fish and seafood of exceptional quality is the modest concept behind Tony Fleming's cooking at this London City hotel restaurant. Neil Gerrard reports
It doesn't take a genius to work out what type of food the Angler restaurant at D&D's South Place hotel in London specialises in.
Fish and seafood is the forte of head chef Tony Fleming, and he has learned his craft working for or alongside some of the biggest names in the industry. There are far too many to mention, but highlights include several years working for Marco Pierre White at the Criterion, at the Oak Room alongside Jeff Galvin (when it had three Michelin stars) and at L'Escargot, then a stint working for Richard Neat at the Oxo Tower.
It was a move to Aurora in the Great Eastern in London under Warren Geraghty that introduced Fleming to working in hotels. He spent five years there, climbing to the role of head chef before becoming executive head chef of One Aldwych.
Fleming has been at the helm at South Place since April last year. While he looks after a brigade of 32 chefs across the hotel, including in its brasserie, it is the Angler on the top floor where he and his team of 12 really get the chance to show off their culinary credentials.
That's not to say that Fleming doesn't value provenance and his suppliers - quite the opposite. Around 95% of what the restaurant uses come from eight to 10 UK-based suppliers, not least because the chef believes that it is this country where you can buy some of the best fish, thanks to our cold waters.
"We have got three suppliers that work with day boats. You build up a strong relationship with them, and I spend about 20 minutes every day speaking to each supplier," says Fleming. "The good thing is that if they haven't got something, they are quite respectful and they don't send you any rubbish. We just have to be adaptable and change the menu."
This ethos of simplicity and unfussiness carries through to the cooking. Fleming does the minimum to the fish he uses, and the steamed wild bass with ragout of razor clams, chorizo and marjoram (£24.50) is no exception.
"We don't do anything particularly overworked because you end up masking the quality of the product," he says. "If you have got the most beautiful sea bass, line caught, 24 hours old, all you want to do is steam it and eat it."
The Cornish cod with wilted gem lettuce, fresh peas, pancetta and basil (£19.50), which takes a similarly simple approach, has also been a big seller over the summer.
Meanwhile, the Angler and lobster pie (£21.50) is the restaurant's signature dish. "We wanted to do a luxurious fish pie - something a little bit special. It is packed full of lobster and monkfish cheeks," Fleming says. "Angler is another name for monkfish, so it ties in quite well. Then we add basil, confit tomato, baby spinach, baby mushrooms, and we make a lobster bisque and mashed potato, then we bake it in a copper pan."
Despite the fact that the pie is supposed to be a hearty, warming dish, it has been selling well throughout the hot summer, slightly to Fleming's surprise.
In this part of town, the heart of the City, not far from Liverpool Street station, the type of people the Angler is selling to is largely bankers and lawyers, especially at lunchtimes. The appetite for the Colchester and Mersea rock oysters is predictably strong and Fleming estimates the restaurant gets through five dozen of each on a typical day.
The pace at lunchtimes is particularly high with 80% of the people there wanting to eat quickly. The terrace at the restaurant is also a draw over the summer, and the Angler can do 180 covers on a busy day, and about 750-800 across a good week.
"Your menu has to work well for service - it is fierce here, very fast," says Fleming. "The most important thing is that it is all about the ingredients. All the work and the effort that we put into sourcing shouldn't be covered up by loads of rubbish or flair. If you serve up a piece of grilled fish on a plate, there is nothing to hide behind. You have to cook it perfectly."
Sample dishes from the menu
Orkney Island langoustines £5 each
Cornish crab, classic garnish £13.50
Yellow fin tuna tartar,
lime & chilli £14
Seared scallops, slow-cooked lamb belly, broad beans, anchovy mayonnaise £13
Fish & vegetarian
Dover sole, meuniere or grilled £36
Roast halibut, brown shrimp, capers, butter, parsley £22.50
Black Angus beef fillet, braised short ribs, celeriac purée £34
Blythburgh pork loin, ravioli of cheek, glazed carrots, girolles, truffles duxelle £19.50
South Place Hotel
3 South Place
London EC2M 2AF
Tel: 020 3215 1260