What a golden season for female chefs and restaurateurs in London: discover the last openings in the City and the philosophy behind their kitchens.
Defying conventional boundaries, the best culinary news in London this summer is that female chefs-restaurateurs are thriving, both in fine dining and more informal and food hall operations. An exceptional number of cheffe (the accepted shorthand for women running kitchens) have opened in the capital this summer attracting considerable critical acclaim. What’s even more encouraging is that these accomplished, strong, knowledgeable and nurturing (many have predominantly female kitchens) culinary women are, in many instances, not only running the pass, but owning it too.
“I find it inspiring and empowering to see other women doing so well, such role models, similar to ourselves, make it possible to believe we can work our way to the top,” explains Anna Haugh who opened her first solo and independently financed, “informal fine dining with Irish nuances” restaurant Myrtle located in a Chelsea residential street earlier this summer. “It is what I have long aspired to and long been saving and planning for,” continues Haugh with evident satisfaction.
Myrtle is named after her original mentor Myrtle Allen, the trailblazing founder of Ballymaloe House and Cookery School and pioneer of farm-to-table cooking and Ireland’s Slow Food Movement too. Allen’s influence is abundant in Haugh’s thoughtful, producer-led approach to hospitality. She likes to bring out the pre-starter, on a recent visit sensational Bramer Smokehouse salmon with pickled cucumber, to diners herself adding an endearing warmth to the intimate, refined restaurant. Her dishes are a refreshingly idiosyncratic juxtaposition of earthy flavours using exceptional, little known Irish produce and fine dining technique: she marries carrot ribbons arranged in elegant looping ribbons like exquisite earrings with cais na tue cheese and tarragon puree; slender sausages of Clonakilty black pudding wrapped like the finest cigar in potato strings before frying, served with apple puree and curls, excellent roast beef fillet with Burren beef-stuffed Boxty in a tarragon and confit shallot jus, celeriac pithivier with mushrooms and parmesan puree and painterly buttermilk pannacotta with rhubarb jelly and soft sugary cinnamon doughnuts.
Hailing from Tallaght in Dublin, Haugh’s 20 years working with at Pied a Terre, The Square, Gordon Ramsay’s London House restaurant and most recently Bob Bob Ricard are evident in her detailed, assured cooking. Myrtle Allan was the first female chef in Ireland to gain a Michelin star. My hunch is that Anna Haugh will soon gain a star joining Irish female chefs in London Clare Smyth of Core by Clare; Shauna Freydelund of Marcus Wareing AT The Berkeley and Marguerite Keogh of Five Fields in Chelsea.
Ruth Hansom’s rigorous training at the Michelin starred, world renowned London Ritz Hotel with Escoffier devotee John Williams speaks volumes of her dedication and ambition. The first and only female Craft Guild Young Chef of the Year, aged only 21, Hansom has also participated for Team GB in the Culinary Olympics. Now, she is head chef of Pomona's, a large neighbourhood restaurant with a beautiful terrace in bastion of fine dining Notting Hill (close to exLeGavroche Emily Roux’s Caractère and Clare Smyth’s Core by Clare). Hansom offers both sophisticated comfort food and a gastronomic menu that gives free rein to her culinary development and striving for perfection. This is assured cooking showcasing her love of British, seasonal produce and French classical training: ambrosial honey and truffle gougeres, smoked eel salad with Isle of Wight tomatoes, superlative halibut with pickled cherries, chervil and fennel veloute, and a rhubarb souffle comparable to The Ritz’s exactitude.
Cooking for private clients, especially food-obsessed designer Tricia Guild whose reputation for vibrant, ingredient-led entertaining in her Italian holiday villa is as admired as her textile designs has given Alice Staple a deep insight and appreciation of the finest Italian produce. Having spent a good deal of time in the lesser discovered wild coastal Tuscan Maremma region with her restaurateur co-founder and partner, Dickie Bielenberg, she has focussed on this region for her first solo, executive chef restaurant venture called, guess what, Maremma. Open less than two months, the small restaurant with distressed walls, open kitchen and, mostly counter seating has already been discovered by discerning Italophiles and lauded as South-East London’s answer to the Michelin-starred River Cafe. Standout dishes embrace panzanella so vibrant it demanded its own aria, a huge tortelli filled with ewe’s ricotta and spinach, a hunky yet tender tentacle of octopus swooning in fava bean puree, wood-roast hake with clams in their shells, samphire, and eggy custard Maremma speciality Torta della Nonna finished with pine nuts.
36 Brixton Water Ln, Brixton, London SW2 1PEWebsite
Making waves at a neighbourhood restaurant in South East London too is Pip MacDonald. She spent her formative years at renowned seafood restaurants theatreland’s J.Sheekey and Scott’s of Mayfair before joining Angela Hartnett at her Shoreditch Merchant’s Tavern and rising to head chef. “What better role model and mentor could I have than Angela?” enthuses MacDonald. “I believe, as she does, that hard work, determination and passion are the best way to demonstrate your commitment. My gender has never got in the way.” Highly accomplished, with a light touch and an enduring speciality in fish-cooking and vegetables, besides a fascination with how to balance the acidity of fermented fruits and vegetables, her dishes mark a departure for Peckham’s Levan, the sister restaurant to the highly successful Salon in Brixton. Highlights from her wholly enticing pescatarian-centric menu include: sea trout, smoked cod’s roe, nori vinaigrette, monk’s beard and wild fennel; squid with calamansi, pickled celery and beets.
12-16 Blenheim Grove, Peckham, London SE15 4QLWebsite
THE FANCY FORK AT FARMER J
Just opened in the heart of The City is The Fancy Fork at Farmer J, an evening restaurant with a more far-reaching menu than its daytime offering. Shuli Winer brings her five years at world-renowned River Cafe and the flavours of her Israeli upbringing together, championing big flavours, haute rustic and micro-seasonal produce. Laffa bread with zhug, tahini and harissa yoghurt, freekah risotto with bone marrow, aubergine and parsley, almond semolina olive oil cake with herb syrup all promise an exceptional and passionately committed new female head cheffe talent to wow city diners.
The Fancy Fork at Farmer J
24/32 King William St, London EC4R 9ATWebsite
Still the only female chef to reach the finals, twice, of definitive fine dining competition, The Roux Scholarship, Sabrina Gidda, initially trained as a fashion designer. After running the food offer at Mayfair’s Bernadin, she has taken charge of the kitchens across AllBright, the new club environment for women to connect, create and collaborate in London’s Fitzrovia and Covent Garden and, soon to open, in Hollywood. Such is Gidda’s commitment to enhancing the female forward spirit of the clubs is that she champions female growers, cheesemongers, winemakers in a menu that reflects her passion for classics with a modern, multi-cultural edge. Gidda epitomises the positive surge of formidable female cheffes running London’s kitchens who simply believe in themselves and in giving their guests the best and most enjoyable warm hospitality, surely the definition of contemporary fine dining?
11 Rathbone Pl, Fitzrovia, London W1T 1HRWebsite
THE CLEVELAND ARMS
French cheffes are surprisingly few and far between in London (with the illustrous exceptions of Anne-Sophie Pic and Helene Darroze) which makes Elisabeth Passedat's rise more exceptional. Passedat is the new head chef of The Cleveland Arms, Paddington's local pub since 1852 (owned by Estonian-Swedish Maria Tamander) all the more exceptional. Her cooking is rooted in French rustic style with dishes including a superlative pork terrine, lamb rump with umami rich mussels and Barbary duck with cardamom jus and exemplary chocolate mousse. Passedat trained with godfather of French classic cuisine Pierre Koffmann of former three Michelin star La Tante Claire when his restaurant moved to The Berkeley hotel and, most recently, she worked alongside Helene Puolakka, also a Koffmann graduate.
The Cleveland Arms28 Chilworth Street, Bayswater, W2 6DTWebsite