26th November 2013
Known for his wonderful, fastidiously detailed food, William Drabble has got classic techniques and flavour combinations down to a fine art. Seven Park Place is a free-standing restaurant within the St James's Hotel, and the sumptuous, intimate pair of dining rooms are the perfect backdrop for the understated finesse of William Drabble's cooking. We quizzed the chef on his cooking, favourite restaurants, culinary influences and his best dishes.
Above: William Drabble's Poached Lobster Tail with Cauliflower and Lobster Butter Sauce
Name the three ingredients you couldn’t cook without.
Garlic and onions, extra virgin olive oil and tomatoes (okay that's four...).
Why do you think food and cooking have become so fashionable?
Television shows have played a huge part. Also, recent food scandals have made people more aware of what is being put on their plate, and of seasonality, sustainability and environmental issues.
What is your favourite time of year for food, and why?
Spring. It means asparagus, morels, broad beans, rhubarb, and lots of other tasty and colourful vegetables and fruits can be brought to the table. I always get excited when spring arrives — my menus change with the seasons and I tend to change one or two dishes each month, but during the warmer months my inspiration is at its peak and I change my dishes more frequently.
The most underrated ingredient is…
Mackerel. It's great value for money and is so versatile. People are often scared of cooking with it, but it tastes fantastic when it is fresh.
What’s a common mistake that lets chefs down?
Overcomplicating things! It is something I learnt right at the beginning of my career. I remember working with Nico Ladenis at Chez Nico and he used to say that cooking well is not that difficult, it's just a process of orchestrating the simple things in the right order, and then ensuring that they are executed correctly.
Which restaurant best sums up British cooking today?
There are so many great British restaurants around… Luckily we have some amazing local produce and chefs that know how important it is to support British farmers and food suppliers. But in my opinion a great pub is what sums up British cooking and my favourite is the Anchor & Hope near Waterloo.
Which out-of-the-way restaurant is worth a trip?
Le Manoir, my favourite restaurant ever!
What’s been your favourite new restaurant opening of the last year?
Brasserie Chavot, Mayfair.
Who do you think are the chefs to watch in 2014?
Eric Chavot is back in London — he is one of the chefs I admire and I think he'll have a terrific 2014. Taylor Bonnyman — I really like the concept of his restaurant (The Five Fields, Chelsea) and the fact that they have their own herb and vegetable garden in East Sussex, where they grow rare herbs.
Another one to watch is Tom Sellers. Restaurant Story created huge buzz on the restaurant scene, which at the age of only 26 is remarkable. Having worked under some of the world’s most talented chefs including Thomas Keller at Per Se in New York and René Redzepi at Noma in Copenhagen, Tom really showcases his individual culinary style creating a menu that is very much a personal journey to him. I like that a lot.
Above: Seven Park Place, at St James's Hotel and Club, Mayfair
Who was your greatest influence?
Over the years you are influenced by so many people and events that it is difficult to narrow it down to one person or situation. I would definitely say that Martin Jermey (my college lecturer) was a big influence in that he helped me get my first job after college and has been a great guide and sounding board throughout my career. Then there was my first experience of working in London at the Capital restaurant with Philip Britton, followed by a period working at Chez Nico at Ninety Park Lane. I then worked as a Sous Chef with Tom Aikens at Pied à Terre.
Each of these experiences taught me something that I have carried with me; at the Capital it was the inspiration of going to the market every couple of days to buy fresh seasonal produce on which the menu would be based, at Chez Nico it was seeing how a high end restaurant could cater for up to 100 guests at dinner and how quality and the simplicity of letting ingredients speak for themselves worked (this is no small achievement for a restaurant of that level). And finally I took inspiration from Tom Aikens (we both went to the same college and both did an apprenticeship at the Mirabelle in Eastbourne) who was the hardest working, most focused person I had ever worked with and an incredible cook.
Tell us three chefs you admire.
Eric Chavot, Raymond Blanc and Albert Roux.
At the end of a long day, what do you like to cook?
I work with food all day, so all I fancy is something sweet and simple… I normally have a cup of tea and a slice of homemade bread with strawberry compote.
Do you remember your first professional dish?
Yes, I was 16 and I cooked scallops and local seafood with Norfolk samphire and lobster butter sauce. The dish was then put on the menu.
Which of your dishes are you most fond of?
As my menus are seasonal, I normally have a favourite dish for each of the seasons. So in spring: Native lobster with spring vegetables and English asparagus. In summer: Roasted grouse with blackberries. In autumn: Lune Valley lamb with turnips and thyme. And in winter: Carpaccio of scallops with white truffle vinaigrette and Jerusalem artichokes.
Above: William Drabble's Soaked Savarin with raspberries
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