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With so many restaurants coming and going in an economic and social environment that’s straining under the weight of change, it can be unimaginably difficult to find the magic formula, the recipe for success if you will, that allows a new restaurant to rise above the noise of central London.
Italian chef Carlo Scotto, however, has done just that and his restaurant Xier in in Marylebone, London somehow hits all the right notes between fine dining, authenticity and a pure pursuit of excellence. The space is divided in two - XR on the ground floor serves a more casual European fare big on British produce and Xier, the chef’s fine dining dreamscape lives upstairs.
Xier’s space is cool and elegant, welcoming guests into a realm of cream and off-white calmness. White tablecloths and unfussy, poised details complete a room that longs for you to linger.
Scotto, who hails from just outside Naples is imaginer in chief here. He trained under Angela Hartnett and has travelled the world, Europe, New York and Japan. His Italian roots barely influence his cooking he says, he is an Italian free of the dogma of Italian cuisine and free to imbue his food with the influence of his diverse experiences.
“I left Italy when I was very young, so I have little or no Italian influence in the cooking,” he says.
“You don’t have to just stay for 20 years in one kitchen, you learn from travelling. The kitchen can only give you the base. If you stay working for one chef for fifteen or twenty years, what happens is that you become him. So you have his identity in your own mind. I don’t really agree with that. Each chef has to learn from travelling. Each chef has to discover the world and make sure that the base and the technique that they learn from other chefs they can combine it with their own creativity and their own travel and experience, because food is about experience. Food is about emotion.”
Scotto’s food is a representation of his learning over the years. A Japanese influence breathes a different kind of life into European form. You get the sense that it is the force of the chef’s personality that is present in every detail, talking to him he is energetic, direct, and his food communicates in the same way.
“The restaurant is split in two, upstairs is the experience room and it’s basically my personality on a plate. It’s the essence of travel between Europe, Asia and the United States. One thing I can say about my cooking is it’s clean, very rich in flavours and edgy, but not molecular, it’s about unusual combinations that no one has paired before. Like our salmon and foie gras, which has been a hit from day one, or our East Meets West, which is gnocchi with Kombu tea.”
‘Excellence’ is a word that has lost meaning in fine dining, it’s overused, yet when Scotto says it, it’s like a Japanese kiritsuke, it cuts straight through the middle. You believe that it is the driving force behind everything he does from the detail on every plate to the furnishing and the front-of-house service.
“To be honest we look to achieve excellence, we are concentrated on that. For me the pursuit of excellence is what gets me out of bed in the morning and it’s about consistency. We decided to open the restaurant Tuesday to Saturday because I believe it’s my responsibility to cook for the diners. Sunday is my rest day and Monday I can concentrate on the financial aspect of the restaurant but for five days I’m cooking. It’s very important for me and it’s never going to change.
When you are doing something right and with the right motivations, inevitably, others notice. We often hear about how reviews don’t matter anymore. Chefs these days can resent being judged by people with less knowledge and expertise than them and yet sometimes a review happens that his so impressive, so authentically taken away with the chef’s project that it can change the game for a restaurant.
When Grace Dent reviewed Xier for The Guardian, she exclaimed that this was “How I hope heaven will be”. The article was as much an appreciation of everything about Xier as a redemptive experience for a jaded restaurant fine dining reviewer who was reinvigorated by dinner at Xier.
“Grace Dent’s review was really the one that turned the page for us,” says Scotto. “They gave us 10 out of 10. The restaurant she compared us to, a two star restaurant, she didn’t even give them 10 out of 10. Reviews shouldn’t be important but after that one, it allows us to keep doing what we’re doing. In less than 48 hours, we had 800 reservations from that review alone. I hope that one day I can personally thank her, not for her kind words but for the impact that that review has had on my restaurant.”
“The restaurant world is cruel, it’s very difficult to open and sustain a restaurant, but with that review it was a turning point for us as a new restaurant. It’s an honour for me, because don’t forget, I’m Italian, so I’m a guest in this country, even though I’ve spent half my life here and to achieve a successful restaurant in central London it’s an honour.
Dent wrote that “Xier has all the plates spinning at once”. It’s a delicate balancing act that to the untrained can seem effortless, but rather is based on years of training, hard work and determination.
“I’ve been around two and three star restaurants for a long time and success is always built on hard work and determination,” says Scotto. “It’s about the creativity of the chef”.
Whatever Scotto is doing at Xier, it’s working and long may it continue.