Refined comfort food is the focus of the menu at Julie's, the iconic Holland Park restaurant that has relaunched after a five-year break with new chef Shay Cooper. Fiona Sims reports
I'm sitting in G3, otherwise known as the G-spot. It's Julie's most famous table, in a curtained-off alcove deep below Portland Road in London's Holland Park. That table has seen some action, frequented by a roll-call of the rich and famous – from Paul McCartney to Mick Jagger, Kate Moss to Tina Turner. Earlier this month, Julie's reopened its doors after nearly a five-year wait, owing to planning and building delays – just in time for its 50th anniversary.
For those who remember its heyday, from its opening in 1969 through to the early noughties, after which it lost its way a bit, it has held a place in every well-heeled partygoers' heart. If you can remember a night at one of its coveted basement alcove tables, then you weren't really there.
When The Caterer visited, the doors weren't officially open, yet that didn't stop a roster of locals and ardent Julie's fans pressing their noses up against the window, even knocking on the door for a quick look at the refurb, shown around by ex-Bibendum general manager Leonardo Vizzi, advance-booking tables while they were there. "I celebrated many a birthday in here – and I intend to celebrate many more here," comments one gentleman, now in his late seventies.
Julie Hodgess, an artist and interior designer, created the original restaurant, salvaging objects from churches and pubs that were being demolished in the area, including the stained glass windows from the original St Paul's School, and a large cast iron bust of a woman found in the rubble of a building site, which has become something of a symbol for the restaurant.
"Everything you see is from the original Julie's – except the new soft upholstery," she says. "I had no understanding of Julie's or its reputation before I came here," confesses the restaurant's new executive chef, Shay Cooper. "I thought their numbers were rather ambitious initially – 130 covers – but the level of interest is huge," he adds, showing off his new kitchen, which can (snugly) accommodate his 12-strong brigade.
Cooper is used to cooking for large numbers – he was previously executive chef at the Goring hotel, where he picked up a Michelin star for his cooking in 2017, and before that at the Bingham in Richmond, where he also held a Michelin star for a couple of years "I've been a hotel chef since 2002, so this is the first time I'm back in a restaurant for a very long time. The autonomy is a massive breath of fresh air and I don't want to waste that," he says.
Cooper is hoping to start slowly, with an average of 85 covers a day for dinner at the weekend, and 60 for dinner in the week. Julie's is open seven days a week for lunch and dinner, and eventually breakfast, too. "But we'll see how the kitchen goes first," says Cooper.
It was never about the food at the old Julie's, where burgers and fish and chips ruled; it was more about the party. Cooper hopes to combine both with his modern British menu that will change frequently, currently offering starters such as buttermilk-fried quail and cured sea trout with Isle of Wight tomatoes, ginger and seaweed dressing, with mains such as the 16-hour braised ox cheek, smoked cauliflower, veal tongue, green pepper and cucumber relish, plus killer cocktails and a wine list that will grow.
"Everyone will be thinking of the old Julie's; it's important to draw on that. Comfort food is our starting point – but we'll take a more refined approach. So a combination of familiar ideas, with nothing too adventurous, and careful execution – it's a neighbourhood restaurant, after all."
The kitchen's chef de partie is Ralph Herring, grandson of the freeholders, Tim Herring and his wife Cathy, who live above the restaurant, making this a family business, too, which should also resonate with locals.
Cooper is aware that the locals' tastes have changed here over the years, with the menu featuring some punchy vegetarian cooking, from a grilled leek hearts starter with smoked mayonnaise, polonaise dressing and rye crisp, to the charred kale risotto with horseradish butter (plus Dorset crab for the fish eaters), the kale deglazed with soy sauce.
Desserts include Muscavado sponge with caramel mousse and natural yogurt, and vanilla rice pudding with apricot jam and lemon thyme ice-cream. "Desserts will be a shared role. We're not going to get a pastry chef – it's not a sectionalised kitchen. We're all part of this endeavour. Inclusion is what it's all about," says Cooper.
From the menu
- Hereford beef tartare, spiced shallots, French beans, nasturtium, onion mayo £14
- Chilled carrot gazpacho, late summer vegetables, fried seeds and cobnuts £12
- Buttermilk-fried quail, white miso emulsion £13.50
- Salt Marsh lamb, pressed cabbage, garlic potatoes, lamb breast, preserved lemon £32
- Cotswold white chicken, creamed spelt, pickled mushrooms, sherry, tarragon £29
- Roast Cornish cod, cuttlefish, bacon, chicken and mushroom dressing £31
- Fig leaf panna cotta, fig preserve, Earl Grey doughnuts £8
- Lemon curd, lemon sorbet, coconut and fennel crumble £8
135 Portland Road, London W11 4LW www.juliesrestaurant.com
You need to be a premium member to view this. Subscribe from just 99p per week.
Already subscribed? Log In