Influences from all corners of Europe flavour Nico Fitzgerald's food, from Moroccan-spiced pigeon to a vegan take on an intense onion soup. Lauren Bowes pays a visit.
If you've seen Nico Fitzgerald's precise plating, it may come as no surprise that his first job was in the army – albeit for a catering company that hosted functions for the officers, rather than as a soldier himself. His later career took a more traditional chef route, with training at Le Cordon Bleu followed by stints at Heston Blumenthal's the Hind's Head, the Fat Duck and Dinner By Heston, as well as a role at Adelina Yard in Bristol.
London Stock's owners, Assem Abdel Hady and Andres Bernal, met Fitzgerald at Le Cordon Bleu and later invited him to join the Wandsworth restaurant's opening team. The site launched in January 2020 – "possibly the worst time in the world to open a restaurant," Fitzgerald admits – but on reopening after the first lockdown, Fitzgerald reworked the menus. "We felt the dining scene had shifted from pre-pandemic – people were focusing on individual dining experiences more," he explains. "We really needed to make this an all-encompassing experience – we had to make it worthwhile to the people who chose to eat with us."
We had to make it worthwhile to the people who chose to eat with us
This all-encompassing experience takes the form of an eight-course tasting menu (£65), with a vegetarian version available. A set lunch is also available (three courses at £30), which offers the same dishes as the tasting menu but broken down into starter, main and dessert.
A take on French onion soup has become something of a signature dish for Fitzgerald. "French onion soup is a bit of an anathema, because it's a vegetable soup made with beef stock," he explains. "It's completely unfriendly to vegetarians and vegans. I wanted to be able to make a French onion soup that was still reminiscent of the classic but that everybody could have."
The chef creates a strong caramelised onion stock by cooking onions down for hours, to which Marmite and kombu is added for an extra umami hit. To replace the body provided by beef gelatine, Fitzgerald aerates the soup in a siphon gun and serves in an onion shell. Meanwhile, an alternative to the traditional cheese crouton is a crumb made from panko breadcrumbs, olive oil, chives, onion seeds and leek ash, as well as nutritional yeast for a vegan-friendly cheesiness.
"The menu is designed around nostalgia and what influenced me growing up," Fitzgerald explains. "It's a British restaurant, but I grew up in Gibraltar – which is British, but smack bang in the middle of the Mediterranean. My influences are Moroccan, Spanish, Italian, Maltese, French." For instance, ajoblanco is a dish the chef grew up eating, which at the restaurant it is served with barbecued Cornish sardines sourced from Flying Fish: "It's not British, but I've taken the best of British ingredients and adapted them to the surroundings."
Also inspired by the Mediterranean is a beak-to-tail pigeon course, a take on a Moroccan tagine. Fitzgerald uses the whole bird, creating an intense jus from the Anjou pigeon carcasses, heads, feet and offal. The breast encases a mousse made from the pigeon's heart and liver, which is then rolled in cabbage and feuille de brik pastry. The legs are confited for six hours in beef fat, after which they are picked down and made into a croquette, in an homage to a Spanish croqueta. This is paired with dates and a celeriac purée, which is infused with a ras el hanout spice mix, featuring coriander seeds, cumin, juniper berries and star anise. "The aromas that hit you as the spices release their oils should give you an impression of the souks of Morocco," he explains.
Having started at the restaurant as head pastry chef, Fitzgerald says his desserts are "very close to my heart": "I can have a fantastic first six courses, but if I mess up the dessert, then the guest will leave thinking it was an anticlimax."
One dessert on the menu is a blackberry cheesecake, which "essentially shows off what a blackberry is", with the fruit in three forms: pickled, for tartness; in a smooth gel centre inside the goats' milk cheesecake; and in a sorbet spiked with bergamot.
While the pandemic has certainly caused issues for the restaurant, Fitzgerald is optimistic. "The dream has always been to have my own place, do my own thing and have my own menu," he reveals – and it seems at London Stock he's living this dream.
2 Bubbling Well Square, Ram Quarter, London SW18 1UQ
From the menu
- Tomato salad: barbecued little Gem lettuce, black Ibérico tomato, feta, basil, sourdough
- Sardine, ajoblanco, smoked almond, cucumber and Granny Smith apple salad, smoked olive oil
- Alliums or "French onion soup": onion, wild garlic, leek Marmite, yeast flakes
- ‘Beef and Beer': salt and vinegar potato dauphinoise, beer-braised onion, ox tongue and tail, beef jus
- Roast cod, picked mussels, shimeji, kale, sea vegetables, soy and ginger broth
- Pigeon breast and leg, Savoy cabbage, offal, mushroom, celeriac, Medjool date
- Calamansi sorbet, black tahini, sesame seeds, green tea and lime jelly, ginger-infused honey
- Blackberry cheesecake, goats' milk yogurt, picked blackberries, bergamot
Tasting menu, £65
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