Mr Koffman and Mr White
Nancy Connolly speaks to celebrity chefs Marco Pierre White and Pierre Koffmann in an exclusive interview about their new restaurant, Koffmann & Mr White’s
Despite what many people think, both Marco pierre White and pierre Koffmann are very hands-on at their new restaurant. pierre spends five days a week in the kitchen, teaching young chefs how to deliver high quality food while Marco visits regularly and is always tweaking the menu or service. Marco has had a love affair with Bath for many years and lives not far away on the outskirts of Corsham, six miles from the city. He told W: “i absolutely love Bath and always have done, it is my favourite city in the UK, i think it is beautiful and the ideal place to live. “i love living around here, i can be out in the country in minutes and i love travelling into the city. “the architecture and buildings are beautiful, they remind me of paris and i love the Roman aspect, perhaps it is because i am half italian,” said the celebrated chef who was born and bred in Leeds. “i don’t like London, Bath is so much better. “i love the fact i can walk everywhere. it’s great just wandering around Milsom street. Bath is really a very special place,” he said. Marco runs a hotel and restaurant, Rudloe Arms near Corsham where he also lives. set in 14 acres of Wiltshire countryside, it’s a beautiful old manor house with exquisite but cool contemporary interiors, large sofas, big fires in the sitting rooms and the family dog running free around the house. it is a lovely, small hotel where guests can enjoy seclusion, discreet luxury with various art and large framed photographs of the Beatles, elton John and Frank sinatra. A seriously cool place in the middle of nowhere, Marco doesn’t even have to advertise. “people just find us, they know where we are,” said the quirky Marco, known as the bad boy of the kitchen. He trained under pierre Koffmann in London and worked with Gordon Ramsay and many other famous chefs, but he is best known for his no-nonsense attitude to food and people. Despite being warned about his moods and foibles, we found the classically trained chef relaxed at home charming, even, and he gave us lots of his time to talk about Bath, his life and his new restaurant. He said: “Koffmann & Mr White’s is not about trying to get Michelin stars, it is about good food at affordable prices in a brasserie style restaurant in the centre of Bath. “pierre is French and i am english so we have teamed together to come up with a menu made up of classic dishes from both countries - just great classic dishes with our own twist.” in pierre’s corner is the classic French onion soup, a favourite, snails à la bourgignon, assiette de charcuterie, cornichons, poulet de grand-mère and lots more. in Marco’s english corner we have fried fillet of haddock, chips, marrow fat peas and sauce tartare, a special shepherd’s pie, shrimp curry and classic fillet steak with beef fat chips. You can sample either from the French or english side of the menu but the main point is both chefs want to keep it simple, just good classic food with no fuss. Marco said: “We are not there to impress people, we are there to feed people, it is as simple as that.” Both chefs admit there were some teething problems when the restaurant opened in October, but say they have now ironed them out and have tweaked a few things. Being the youngest chef to ever gain three Michelin stars, Marco shuns the award now. “i can think of nothing worse than going to a Michelin-star restaurant,” he says. “Food has become all about presentation; they have turned main dishes in to canapes. there’s never enough food on the plate. “everyone is whispering and waiters are always fussing over you, i really don’t like it. “i went to a Michelin-star restaurant recently and to be honest i would have paid not to have eaten it. it is not the kind of food i want to eat. there’s a lot of pretence about it,” he said. Where is his favourite place to eat in his favourite city of Bath (apart from Koffmann & Mr White of course)? “that is a very easy question. Without a doubt and every time it is the scallop shell on Monmouth place. it’s superb; i go there all the time for the fresh fish and seafood. “i love the haddock and the langoustines, and of course i make a chip butty and eat it with a pot of tea. “it is the best food in Bath and deserves a Michelin star. Why can’t a chip shop have a Michelin star?” he said. the 57-year-old chef enjoys living in the countryside near Bath and loves the outdoor life. He has a stellar background in cooking and began his classical training as a commis with Albert and Michel Roux at Le Gavroche. He continued his training under pierre Koffman at La tante Claire, moving to work in the kitchen of Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir, and later with Nico Ladenis of Chez Nico at Ninety park Lane. in 1987 he opened Harvey’s in Wandsworth Common, London, where he won his first Michelin star almost immediately, and his second a year later. Bath residents and well-known foodies Jenny and David Rose visited Harvey’s 30 years ago, and say it was the best meal they have ever had - and it was cooked by Marco pierre White himself. they even remember what they had.
David said: “I will never forget it. I had the pigeon and Jenny had the steak. It was the best meal we ever had and it cost us £140, a huge amount at the time. We had to save up for it. Jenny said: “It was well worth it, the food was really special. Marco Pierre White is a brilliant chef, classically trained, it really was a night to remember,” she said. These days the notorious chef, famous as much for his private life as his cooking, lives a quiet life in his Wiltshire hideout. “I go to bet at 9pm and get up at 3am. It’s the best part of the day, so quiet and I get a lot of work done. “I have to travel a lot but I love living around here, and Pierre and I are very excited about the new restaurant at the Abbey hotel, it is a great location and we hope to attract tourists, business people and local diners. “Restaurants are all about having a good night out, the atmosphere, the food, the ambience. We want local people to come and just have a really good time, that is what we are all about. “Our food is good value - simple, classic dishes at great prices in the centre of the best city in the UK. Consistency is what we are all about so we will continue to tweak everything until we get it just right,” he said. Did he go to the opening party recently? “No, I can’t think of anything worse. I don’t go to parties, weddings or funerals, I just like doing my own thing,” he said. “But I really love coming into Bath, eating some good food, wandering around, it really is my favourite city and that is why I wanted to open a restaurant here, it is a great place to live and have fun,” he said. Pierre Koffmann is one of the most respected master chefs in the country, having trained many of the well known and celebrated culinary giants. He is one of a handful of chefs in the UK to have been awarded three Michelin stars for his restaurant La Tante Claire in London. Until December 2016 he was the head chef of Koffmann’s at The Berkeley hotel in Knightsbridge. He is like culinary royalty, but we found him very modest, down to earth and friendly when we caught up with him at the new restaurant. He said: “I am not a celebrity chef. All I do is cook; it’s the only thing I know how to do, it is my passion. “When I retired I really missed it, I didn’t know what to do with myself so I was so glad when I got the call from my old friend of 36 years, Marco. “I am here five days a week in the kitchen, my favourite thing is teaching new chefs what I know and passing on my knowledge - that is my greatest enjoyment. “We had a few problems at the start but we are getting there now, we have tweaked a few things and we have a really great team. I need to teach them my habits and make sure they don’t cut corners. “I love Bath, I didn’t know it very well before but I knew Marco loves it here and knows it very well, so I was more than happy to come here. “Some people think we don’t spend time here but I am here nearly all the time, I stay here five nights a week and we are passionate about it,” he said. “I am also a rugby lover so I am very happy to be here in Bath. I think people will like the restaurant, it is classic British and French food at a good price, and we have been very well received so far.” The chef, who is now 70, travels back and forth to London where he lives with his wife, Clare. “Marco and I are always tweaking things - maybe a sauce needs something extra, maybe we need to add something to a dish. It’s a collaboration, and we are used to working together. We’re very hands on and Bath is important to us, I am very happy to be here,” he said. Koffmann & Mr White’s is at the Abbey Hotel in North Parade. Starters cost from £6.50 to £9.50, with mains from £12.50 to £32.50 for the steak au poivre. When we visited, the rustically redesigned restaurant was fairly full with a nice buzz during the weekday lunchtime service. There was a lovely atmosphere and the food was very good indeed. We chose the coq and shrimp curry and steak au poivre with beef fat chips. Both were delicious, very good portions and our Italian chef, Luca was charming. The eggs maxim for starter was divine - the hollandaise sauce wonderfully rich but not too powerful and the poached eggs on portobello mushroom and brioche were beautifully runny. The special goat’s cheese tart was also delicious, the quality of the cheese was particularly good and the pastry deliciously light. Pierre and his team are very careful about sourcing really good ingredients Pierre and Marco both say the West Country is a great place to find good food to work with.
To book visit abbeyhotelbath.co.uk or call 01225 805960.
There is an all-day a la carte menu, but they will be introducing a table d’hote set course menu in January.
Above, Nancy Connolly chats to Marco Pierre White at his Wiltshire home. Pictured left: Pierre Koffmann with Marco.
Pierre Koffman. Above: Marco Pierre White,
Jenny and David Rose still remember how great their visit to Marco’s restaurant Harvey’s was.