By em­brac­ing crowd-pleas­ing clas­sics and the cut­ting edge (live ants, any­one?), the ho­tel’s ex­ec­u­tive chef keeps his well-heeled clien­tele happy. Amy Bryant meets the man be­hind the meals. Pho­to­graphs by John Carey

The Daily Telegraph - Telegraph Magazine - - THE CUT / TABLE TALK - Clar­idge’s: The Cook­book, by Mar­tyn Nail and Mered­ith Erick­son (Mitchell Bea­z­ley, £30), is avail­able from Tele­graph Book­shop for £24.99 with free p&p (0844-871 1514; books.tele­

THROUGH THE RE­VOLV­ING doors with a ‘How d’you do?’ to the door­man; across the che­quer­board mar­ble floor of the lobby; and into The Foyer – the din­ing room – where the glass ringlets of a Dale Chi­huly chan­de­lier glint above; then down, deep within the kitchens (‘the engine room’) of Clar­idge’s ho­tel, is where you will find its ex­ec­u­tive chef, Mar­tyn Nail. From his of­fice, a mod­est space with large win­dows and walls lined with cook­books, he can see the daily de­liv­er­ies ar­rive. He can dart out to in­spect the grouse, squeeze a peach, or check that a wind­fall of damsons is ripe. To his left is the hot kitchen, where a crack squad from his 72 staff sends out the last of the lunch or­ders; to his right is ‘pas­try’, the cooler, calmer do­min­ion of pre­ci­sion pipers and mac­aron mak­ers. Com­bined, the num­ber of meals served (and mouths fed) by Nail’s teams is so vast that I feel moved to drop a few stats. Over the course of a year, 69,625 break­fasts, 57,792 loaves of bread and 43,983 cham­pagne bot­tles are re­spec­tively served, sliced and poured in or­der to sate 87,711 guests. And that bread is just for af­ter­noon tea, for which the ho­tel re­ceives 22,000 an­nual re­quests. I’ve seen the tow­ers of fin­ger sand­wiches be­ing pre­pared, and salute their cre­ator.

‘We op­er­ate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year,’ Nail tells me. For a 161-year-old ho­tel in May­fair that was by the 1880s

‘the ex­ten­sion to Buck­ing­ham Palace’, and to­day counts Joan Collins, Car­men Dell’orefice and Di­ane von Fursten­berg as reg­u­lar guests, one might as­sume that Nail’s culi­nary out­put would be ex­clu­sively clas­sics – eggs Bene­dict, salmon en croute, cho co­late fon­dant . But re­mem­ber sum­mer 2012, when Olympic fever swept the coun­try? At Clar­idge’s, one of the world’s best restau­rants set up shop in the ball­room. The 10-day Noma res­i­dency wowed its £195-a-head guests – not least be­cause of the live ants that trun­dled over the cab­bage leaves.

‘ We’re not old and dusty,’ Nail says. ‘We can be on-trend, with green juices and quinoa. We have to be.’ In­deed, there is bircher muesli on The Foyer’s menu, as well as an ooz­ing cheese­burger, and last month the art-deco Clar­idge’s Bar was un­recog­nis­able as an Ir­ish pub serv­ing cock­tails by New York’s The Dead Rab­bit, cur­rently crowned the world’s best bar. Did the reg­u­lars throw down their pe­tits fours in dis­gust? ‘Our guests are so well trav- elled that they like to chal­lenge me on how many of the “50 Best” restau­rants I’ve been to,’ Nail says in re­sponse.

Nail has been at Clar­idge’s for 30 years and is as likely to be seen greet­ing din­ers in The Foyer, where his toque is eas­ily spot­ted among the mir­rored pil­lars, as he is tast­ing the Severn & Wye smoked salmon be­fore ser­vice. His ex­ec­u­tive sous chef, Adam Peir­son, has been with him for 18 years. ‘We like to keep our ap­pren­tices, to train them well and move them up to be suc­cess­ful.’ Many leave to gain ex­pe­ri­ence at other ho­tels, such as The Savoy, and re­turn, while oth­ers have done stints abroad at Eleven Madi­son Park in New York and, since the pop-up, Noma in Copen­hagen.

Fur­ther lega­cies of René Redzepi’s visit are a dish of goat’s-milk but­ter and roasted cele­riac that Nail has kept on the menu (re­quir­ing ‘ tooth­picks and brushes’ to scrub up the cele­riac skin just so) and a fore­word for Clar­idge’s:

The Cook­book, which is the ho­tel’s first. In it, Nail has shared recipes for its crois­sants (a three-page project), its roast beef, and its em­i­nently doable

‘We’re not old and dusty. We can be on-trend, with green juices and quinoa. We have to be’

choco­late sand­wich bis­cuits, which were favourites of the Amer­i­can cou­ple Jack and Norma Mel­chor, whom many may re­mem­ber from the 2012 BBC doc­u­men­tary In­side Clar­idge’s (the un­flap­pable gen­eral man­ager Thomas Kochs has since left, but but­ler Michael Lynch still calls the ho­tel his ‘home from home’).

The kitchen ‘gets’ cus­tomer ser­vice. While one guest’s gun is stored up­stairs, his shoot ( grouse) hangs in the walk-in fridge to be served up for sup­per. Fre­quent vis­i­tors are greeted with be­spoke treats or, if a trip to Good­wood or Glyn­de­bourne is planned, sent off with straw­ber­ries and cream or pas­tries. Dishes are whisked away for room ser­vice via a sep­a­rate stair­well. ‘This is all Vic­to­rian,’ Nail says, ges­tur­ing to the build­ing’s struc­ture. ‘The kitchen was built be­neath the house and it was de­signed to work.’ In be­tween a char­coal-fu­elled Big Green Egg (the pro­fes­sional chef ’s an­swer to an in­door bar­be­cue) and a pair of ‘all-singing, all-danc­ing, all-steam­ing’ modern ovens is a vet­eran of the work­force – a 100-year- old bone-roast­ing oven in which a hind quar­ter or baron of beef can be hung. ‘Sadly,’ Nail says, ‘it ’s out of ac­tion for re­pairs, but it will be re­con­nected to the gas soon.’

While one guest’s gun is stored up­stairs, his shoot hangs in the fridge to be served up for sup­per

So tra­di­tions are up­held, with the bur­nished chicken pie never re­moved from the à la carte of­fer­ing and the Christ­mas pud­ding mixed by hand by all the kitchen staff, while modern touches are also in ev­i­dence – such as a nas­tur­tium leaf or two plucked from the LEDlit mi­cro-herb fridge for af­ter­noon tea. I bet the next en­ve­lope-push­ing pop-up is in the plan­ning, too. ‘We like to work with peo­ple who are at the top of their game,’ says Nail. ‘And we’re hav­ing fun.’

Clock­wise from top Clar­idge’s and its door­men are a May­fair in­sti­tu­tion; the events team at work; cop­per pans in the kitchen; Mar­tyn Nail over­sees the pass

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