At the Lockhart in Marylebone, London, head chef Bradford McDonald has created a menu of ‘food from the American South seen through a British lens'. Janie Manzoori-Stamford went to visit
When a chef says they cook the type of food they want to eat, it's hard to imagine a truer word spoken than in the case of Bradford McDonald. A self-confessed "Mississippi redneck" who wanted to see the world, McDonald used his passion for cooking as his passport and ended up working in some
of the most hallowed culinary temples, including Per Se, Alain Ducasse and Noma.
Now he's head chef at the Lockhart in London's Marylebone and his menu of "food from the American South seen through a British lens" takes him back to his roots, albeit with the refinement that a honed understanding of classic French techniques will inevitably produce.
McDonald's experience of cooking this type of food professionally was virtually non-existent prior to joining the Lockhart last December. "It was new to me, but at the same time very familiar because it was what I grew up eating," he explains. "The reference points were all right there in the back of my mind."
These reference points are tempered with the European sensibility within McDonald's cooking and everything on the menu is produced from scratch, right down to the in-house cultured butter served with the homemade bread, because anything else, he says, would feel dishonest.
The concise menu cherry picks the chef's favourite bits and offers diners a whirlwind soul food tour of the American South. Shrimp and grits (£14/£18, lunch/dinner), comprising smooth and Cheddary grains, prawns, mushrooms and crispy bacon, is typical of the East coast in Charleston, South Carolina, while catfish gumbo (£11/£9, lunch main/dinner starter) is classic Acadian Cajun cuisine.
The gumbo is already a stalwart on the menu, having proved popular since its first incarnation, made with smoked mallard, appeared on the menu in January. Starting with a coffee-coloured dark roux, McDonald sweats down onions, green bell pepper and garlic. Okra, the essential ingredient in any
gumbo, is added next, followed by stock.
"Sometimes it'll be a really nice rabbit stock, or pheasant stock makes a phenomenal gumbo," explains McDonald. "Once I have that first stock, I'll take a little bit of the cooking liquor and put it in every subsequent batch so that I almost have a mother stock."
One dish that is ubiquitous across the lower half of the USA is Southern fried chicken and as such, McDonald's version is unlikely to ever leave the menu. The chicken is brined for 24 hours and marinated in buttermilk for 24 hours, then dredged in flour, rice flour, cornflour, baking powder, cayenne pepper, garlic, onion powder, paprika and salt flakes and fried.
"For me, it's essential for the maximum flavour and the juiciest chicken you can get," he says. It is served at lunch with a choice of two sides (£12), including coleslaw, collard greens, sweet potato purée, and cornbread and honey butter.
For dessert, calas (£7) are an alternative to traditional New Orleans beignets, made with a yeast-risen rice-based batter and served with a vanilla-scented chocolate ganache. To pay homage to the French "and the absinthe flavour of that whole culture", McDonald sprinkles toasted fennel powdered sugar over the top.
Lemon icebox pie (£7) greets the customer as a layer of crumbled graham crackers topped with tangy, sweet lemon curd and a hefty dollop of freshly toasted, pillowy Italian meringue, while rice pudding (£8) is made with cracked Carolina gold rice and served simply with Gariguette strawberry jam.
The seasonally changing menu will remain trim, largely as a result of the design limitations of the restaurant's relatively bijou kitchen. But while maintaining control and consistency is one priority, McDonald is most interested in serving up a short number of dishes that have been executed brilliantly.
From the menu
•Catfish goujons (lunch) £4.50
•Buttermilk wedge salad with bacon and chopped egg (lunch/dinner) £8
â¢ Stuffed quail in Madeira glaze (lunch/dinner) £17
•Wild turbot, green asparagus, smoked roe emulsion (dinner) £23
â¢ Rice pudding £8
•2012 Kung Fu Girl, Riesling, Columbia Valley, Washington £36
•2012 Wandering Bear, Merlot, California £21
•Lady Lockhart (gin, maraschino, lemon, cucumber) £9.50
22-24 Seymour Place
London W1H 7NL