When Oliver Peyton opened Coast in 1995, the restaurant's young brigade, led by Stephen Terry, took the culinary scene by storm. Amanda Afiya caught up with them at a recent reunion dinner
It may be remembered as the year that securities broker Nick Leeson brought Barings Bank to its knees, but in the restaurant world 1995 proved to be a pretty significant year.
Out in leafy Berkshire, a relatively unknown chef called Heston Blumenthal was opening the doors to his pub, the Fat Duck, in Bray. Meanwhile, in London, the restaurant scene was undergoing something of a revolution.
While haute cuisine and hushed dining rooms had reigned supreme for many years, by the early 1990s pioneering operators such as Sir Terence Conran and Oliver Peyton had begun to transform the restaurant world with loud and proud spaces in which to dine.
Dining at places like Peyton's Atlantic Bar and Grill in its early days was an intoxicating experience. Opening in 1994, it fast became the place to be seen, its British menu showing indifference to the little red book. Restaurant goers lapped it up. So by the time the innovative operator opened Coast on the site of a former car showroom in Albemarle Street, Mayfair in 1995, Peyton's reputation was enough to draw some of the most auspicious chefs Britain's culinary scene had witnessed.
Highly-designed, Coast was the birthplace of an enduring partnership between Peyton and Australian designer Marc Newson, who gave the 110-seat establishment a feminine, maritime style. In the kitchen, meanwhile, But for them to come to the Hardwick to put their spin on Coast dishes, well, it means a lot."
Terry's two-and-a-half years at Marco Pierre White's Harvey's and subsequent time at the Canteen meant chefs were clamouring to work in what quickly became his iconic kitchen.
"The real reason why we went was Stephen, because of where he'd come from and because we knew Coast was going to be a groundbreaking restaurant," says Atherton.
"We'd never seen anything like it before. We'd had trendy restaurants such as Atlantic Bar and Grill, but they were about the scene. Coast was the first restaurant where everything was combined - the artwork, the designer, the chef, the restaurateur. Everybody went there - Liam Gallagher, Madonna…
"A by-product of that was, when it was our turn to become restaurateurs, we knew how important design was, how important the artwork was. Coast was about entertainment.
"We had come from Marco, Nico, Koffmann, Le Souffle - all these super-stiff restaurants where it was only about the food, not the décor; no music, all that was forbidden, and then we were plunged into this world where it was the whole package. For me, that's what helped me do what I do today."
For Tish, chef-director of the Salt Yard Group, Coast created a unique environment. Having moved to London from Skegness, where he'd been at school with Atherton, Tish initially worked at the Ritz under chefs David Nicholls and Andrew McLeish. He loved the rigour, but when an opportunity to join his friend at Coast arose, Tish jumped at the chance.
"Jason got me into cooking and on the road. He got me my first job cooking with Andy, but I knew that working at Coast was going to be unique.
Having Hywel and Jason as sous chefs and a couple of other people who were superinspiring in the brigade created this environment where we were prepared to bust our nuts. We would often work through the night, and although I was knackered after it, I was happy to do it. Nowadays, getting everyone to work through the night? No chance."
"Back then you put the hours in because you wanted to," interjects Jones, executive chef at Lucknam Park in Colerne, Wiltshire, who oversees the Michelin-starred Park restaurant.
"Even at Pollen Street, if I said: 'right guys, tonight we've got to stay here and push through the night - don't worry, we'll have a bacon sandwich, we'll be alright,' they'd think I was crazy," says Atherton. "But the amount of mise-enplace we had to do at Coast was incredible - it was a phenomenally successful restaurant."
Coast reunion dinner
Although not able to attend the event in person, Mark Sargeant (or "absent Sarge" as he was known for the night) decided to serve a classic Coast dish of pan-fried scallops, cauliflower three ways and a sherry vinegar caramel.
While Stephen Terry is quick to point out he wouldn't use descriptions like "cauliflower three ways" on his menu today, it gave diners an insight into the mind of the then Coast head chef, whose menu creations were inevitably influenced by his six-month stage at Alain Passard's three-Michelin-starred Arpege in Paris, which preceded the opening of Coast.
"Then Sarge texted me to remind me that Ben Tish's nemesis was the tomato risotto - he could never bloody make it; it was always too wet," says Terry, and so Tish was faced with the prospect of nailing panfried tomato risotto, avocado, buffalo mozzarella, black olives, rocket and crème fraÁ®che.
Meanwhile, for the fish course, Hywel Jones settled on roast cod with pea and polenta 'pont neuf' and sauce bois boudran, a sauce that Terry learnt to cook while he was working with Michel Roux Jr at Le Gavroche.
Jason Atherton was on dessert, choosing Thai ice-cream with coconut and tropical fruits. Although transformed by modern cooking techniques -
"it was a great dish back in the 1990s, but what Jason's created is outstanding" - Terry was left with the main course.
"As the host you always feel that you have to do the main course, which I hate doing - I'm not a big main course fan - so I made something up.
"I've always liked breadcrumbing things, so we're having local lamb cutlets, purely the eye of the meat, battered out and coated in Panko breadcrumbs. We've made a stunning rosemary and anchovy garlic emulsion and we've got shoulder of lamb, slowly roasted, pressed and cut into
portions, a bit of spinach and a caramelised onion purée, and the ravioli of ratatouille, which is actually something I did at Frith Street, but it's close enough…"
Mark Sargeant, chef-proprietor, Rocksalt, Folkestone
•Scottish diver-caught scallops, cauliflower three ways and sherry vinegar caramel
•Domaine de Menard Cuvée Marine, France
Ben Tish, chef-director, Salt Yard Group, London
•Pan-fried tomato risotto, avocado, buffalo mozzarella, black olives, rocket and crème fraÁ®che
•Allan Scott Moorlands Sauvignon Blanc, 2001, New Zealand
Hywel Jones, executive chef, Lucknam Park, Colerne, Wiltshire
•Roast cod with pea and polenta 'pont neuf' and sauce bois boudran
•Torres Cordillera Chardonnay, 2011, Chile
Stephen Terry, chef-proprietor, the Hardwick, Abergavenny
•Breadcrumbed lamb chops and braised shoulder with a ravioli of ratatouille
•Marques de Ulia Vendimia Rioja Reserva, 2007, Spain
Jason Atherton, chef-proprietor, Pollen Street Social, London
•Thai ice-cream with coconut and tropical fruits
•Allan Scott GewÁ¼rztraminer 2011, New Zealand
Stephen Terry at the Hardwick
Stephen Terry may have left behind the headline-grabbing attention of a high-flying career in London for a more rural life in Abergavenny with his wife Jo and three children, but his talent, enthusiasm and motivation have remained, culminating in him winning the Brakes-sponsored Independent
Restaurateur of the Year Catey in 2012.
In his early career, in the 1990s, Terry worked at two of London's most iconic restaurants: Marco Pierre White's Harvey's, where he worked for two-and-a-half years, and at Le Gavroche under Michel Roux Jnr, before moving to Braeval Old Mill, Nick Nairn's award-winning restaurant in Aberfoyle, were he was sous chef. He then returned to London to head up the kitchen of Chelsea's Canteen for White, garnering the restaurant a Michelin star. He spent time in France at Alain Passard's Arpege before taking on the role of head chef for Oliver Peyton at Coast in Mayfair in 1995.
Terry took his first plunge into chef-proprietorship in 2001 and gained another star during his relatively short-lived stay at the Walnut Tree - the reason he came to Abergavenny in the first place. After stints at Cecconi's in London and the Pear Tree Inn in Wiltshire, he bought the freehold to the Hardwick in November 2005 and, over the past nine years, has turned it into a thriving business.
The vast menu at the Hardwick offers the kind of food that is honest and unpretentious. On it you'll find dishes like salmon and cod croquette with mashed peas, tartare sauce and lemon; rare-breed pork and chorizo burger with coleslaw and triple-cooked chips; home-made ricotta gnocchi with peas, broad beans, baby courgettes, semi-dried tomatoes, Welsh veta ("feta but beta!" according to the menu) and salsa verde; and baked vanilla
cheesecake with stawberries, basil jelly and shortbread. Not one for pictures on plates, Terry's full focus is unashamedly on flavour.
In 2010, the Terrys added eight stylish ensuite bedrooms to the Hardwick, featuring HD televisions, Wi-Fi and iPod docking stations.
"The Hardwick was saved by good food when Terry opened it, but is now a stylish restaurant attracting lots of people from all over Wales and England," fellow Abergavenny chef, Shaun Hill of the Walnut Tree, told The Caterer in 2012. "He may be my competition, but you cannot take away the fact that he is a first-rate restaurateur, not just a first-rate chef."