24 May 2010

Addressing 101 Pimlico Road

A SAUNTER from Sloane Square and diagonal to Daylesford Organic, the minds behind ‘101 Pimlico Road’ are determined to deliver an erudite and eager interpretation of classic British cooking. Founders, Keith Goddard (29) and Will Guess (24) appear not only one of the capital’s youngest restaurant teams, but perhaps its most galvanised...
It came as a shock to discover that they met barely eight months ago, introduced by their sisters who happen to be best friends. Goddard was working at arguably London’s most revered butchers, Darragh O’Shea’s of Knightsbridge. He says: ‘wanting to learn more about meats, I ended up getting a huge insight into how hard it is to supply quality produce to chefs paralysed by gross profit margins, regardless of what they say in articles about “using only the best.”’ He had planned to go onto two Michelin-starred restaurant, ‘Nicolas Le Bec’ in Lyon. However, after just three meetings with Guess, who had long harboured dreams of owning a neighbourhood British restaurant, his future was to take a different course. ‘After three months, 101 was open.’
Lit by lamps like giant ‘Polo’ mints, the long dining room is lined with collages of cutlery and jigsaw pieces by bespoke wallpaper artist, Tracy Kendall. Goddard says: ‘after seeing a talk by Tracy at the Inchbald School of Design, my sister, who studies art, architecture and interior design, swiftly recommended her.’ Believing ‘the eye needs the as much stimulation as the palate,’ Kendall took what she and early critics saw as a ‘well-made, but bland-looking room’ and amended it with ‘modern touches’, not unlike Goddard’s take on British food. To respect the area’s traditional feel, Kendall lined the stairway with vintage wallpaper liberated from a flea-market in Paris. Because the restaurant is open everyday, Kendall’s wallpaper hanger needed to ‘work all through a Sunday night to get the job done.’
Goddard is tall, softly spoken, with light grey eyes and a preference for drainpipe trousers. Favouring lime green jeans and with artistically floppy hair, Guess appears even younger than his 24 years. However, as well as investing in 101, he actually represents the latest generation to own and run the family business, ‘Rowley’s’ of St. James. An endearing, enduring eatery famous for steak-frites, it occupies the 18th century starting premises of ‘Wall’s’ sausages. Stopping by to check all was well at 101, Guess took a moment to recall the hoax when someone claiming to act on David Beckham’s behalf telephoned through an unusual request for kobe beef. ‘With only a moment’s notice, the best we could get in was Welsh fillet - just in case!’
Goddard studied at New York’s French Culinary Institute, where he found himself the only English student. Living close to the meat-packing district, he fulfilled the dream to live in America, ‘which I always wanted to do.’ He describes the Institute as combining classical French techniques with contemporary influences. ‘For example, we worked using clarified butter in water baths of differing temperatures in order to confit with more accuracy than traditional means.’ Overall, Goddard was stunned by the institute’s professionalism, ‘from the weekly demonstrations by top chefs and restaurateurs, to the amazing access to food-themed books, documents and films.’
After some 600 hours of tuition, brimming with confidence and ready to cut his teeth, he graduated with 93%. He completed stages at iconic eateries, ‘Daniel’, ‘Pastis’ and ‘WD-50’, then a six-month placement pivoted around the opening of Didier Voirot’s ‘FR.OG’ in SoHo.
Back in London, Goddard staged at ‘The Capital’ under Eric Chavot, who ‘gave dishes incredible depth’ and Henry Harris at ‘Racine’, ‘a fair and hugely knowledgeable Francophile.’ Perhaps most formatively, he toiled for a year-and-a-half at Tom Aikens’ eponymous Chelsea flagship, working up from Commis Chef to Chef de Partie. Of his first service, Goddard recalls: ‘I was blown away by the sheer beauty of Aikens’ French-trimmed rabbit loin with morels, lemongrass, sorrel leaves, and - even though I’m not a fan of it - foam. Although I’d studied hard and even had no space left for cookbooks, I knew then that I still needed to work harder.’
Cooking Culture
Even within the rare free time outside the kitchen, Goddard’s scholarly approach to cooking permeates. Indeed, he reveals that he stayed up until only hours before we met, excited by the internet discovery of never before seen films featuring Marco Pierre White at ‘Harvey’s’. ‘I thought I’d seen everything Marco’s made, so this, for me, was as compelling as watching ‘24’. Only the death of my laptop’s battery stopped me staying up all night.’
After so much restaurant talk, I crave sustenance, so stay-on for lunch. I start with a soup of potent wild garlic from Burford, punctuated with brisk thyme croutons and a soothing stir of blossom honey. Alongside, a glass of Picpoul de Pinet from the largely French list scythes through, accurately reflecting its namesake which means ‘lip stinger’ in Languedoc dialect. As 101’s list gradually expands, Goddard plans to stock bottles from within our shores. He says: ‘some of the English sparkling wines I tasted recently have been outstanding.’
My choice of main is informed by Guess’s Mayfair restaurant pedigree and Goddard’s apprenticeship in Knightsbridge – O’Shea’s 44-day hung Irish Black Angus côte du boeuf. Rippled with oleaginous fatty bands and improbably tender, it is simply served on a candle-warmed salver with a turret of roasted bone marrow, toast spread with capers and more marrow, and a net of unlimited, hand-cut matchstick chips. Goddard also offers truffled chips using tubers from Alfredo, the same supplier as the previous restaurant on this site, ‘La Fontana’, legendary for its truffle menus.
Approximately 70% of ingredients are sourced from the UK and Ireland, including Mozzarella from Hampshire, Yorkshire lamb and Label Anglais chicken. However Goddard sees certain imported goods as indispensible when crafting dishes which his customers wouldn’t usually cook at home. These include lotus root crisps which accompany the starter of tuna and scallop tartare with soya sesame dressing. ‘We slice them thinly on a mandoline then deep fry them at 180 degrees, finishing them with a sprinkle of Japanese Nanami Togarashi mixed chilli pepper.’
To get closer to flappingly fresh fish, Goddard wants to open a restaurant on the coast one day. ‘I love fishing for salmon, trout, grayling, mackerel, sailfish and bonefish,’ he says. For the moment, however, he makes do with no fewer than three suppliers fringing the south coast. ‘The fishermen send me text messages every evening telling me what they’ve landed and the market price. The next day it’s delivered. My menu’s featured: John Dory, cod, haddock, grey mullet, squid, rainbow trout and sea trout, salmon, skate, most soles and seabass – which is Will’s favourite fish when simply grilled. Turbot’s up next - one of my favourite ‘big’ fishes.’
Goddard is also an experienced hunter of fowl. He regularly shoots pheasants, partridges, woodcock, snipe, and grouse, although ducks seem safe. ‘I’m not mad about them,’ he says. He has also shot sand grouse and stalked springbok, kudu and wildebeest in Africa. Indeed, he eagerly looks forward to the game season when he will join the growing brigade of London restaurants to serve grouse from the Glorious Twelfth of August. ‘We’ll do it very traditionally,’ he says, ‘with our 101 bread sauce, game chips and liver pâté smoothed over toast.’
Palate Press
What challenges have the team faced in realising the restaurant, I wonder? Goddard admits that they opened in a rush. ‘Between the closure of the last restaurant and opening of this, we had a month.’ Indeed, it seems through their savage reviews, that early critics sensed the team were unprepared. Some less imaginative scribes relished drawing comparisons to ‘Room 101’, the torture chamber in George Orwell’s dystopia, ‘1984’. Surprisingly patiently, Goddard observes, ‘obviously we were aware of the connotations, but at the same time we liked its simplicity and the way the address linked us directly to the street which, for us, is very special.’ However both Goddard and Guess feel that the negative comments ‘have now made us stronger.’
Perhaps because of such a shaky start, 101 was approached by at least half a dozen representatives from press relations firms, often turning up at dinnertime. Goddard describes the scenario as unimaginable 15 years-ago. ‘There used only to be one gentleman known for restaurant PR - Alan Crompton-Batt, famous for his hedonistic approach. Now there’s 100s of companies touting for business.’
So, what of the future? As 101 emerges from the dour winter into its first summer, Goddard has launched a new wave of supple ice creams which are beautifully mounted upon micro-diced nuts. ‘They’re selling faster than I can make them,’ he says. Flavours include brown bread, peanut butter, star anise, and what I predict will become an immovable option, popcorn.
Manager and sommelier, Justinya, is also devising the ‘Chelsea Flower’ Bellini, based on hibiscus and the ‘Rainbow Martini’. Harking to the Chelsea Flower Show, it features edible flowers.
Now a couth, calm and comfortable haven, Goddard’s and Guess’s restaurant is beginning to garner the attention and respect of the capital’s often fickle diners. ‘If we’re honest, 101 is still in the making, and we’re totally committed to taking it all the way,’ says Goddard. ‘I’m concentrating on mastering the existing kitchen, so that when I choose fancy things, I’ll feel like I deserved it.’ Both agree that it is both a very scary and very exciting time. ‘Our biggest challenge,’ says Guess, ‘which we’re winning, is to find staff as intense as us...’
101 Pimlico Road: London. SW1W 8PH
An extended version of an article first published in Flavour Magazine
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