In the early nineties, restaurants were still stuck within national culinary boundaries, although the loosening-up process had begun in 1987 at the River Cafe in Hammersmith. There, Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers demonstrated that Italian food was more than antipasta, pasta and risotto: freshness and seasonality was the name of the game. They launched bright young chefs, such as Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, and we cooked from their recipes. An infectious change of mood increased self-confidence at home from watching Jamie Oliver on TV throw together multi-cultural ingredients with abandon. After working together in Rose Gray’s kitchen, Sam and Samantha Clark got married and opened Moro, a Spanish restaurant peppered with Moroccan influences. Their cookbooks had us scouring Lebanese stores for preserved lemons and pomegranate molasses.
When New Zealander Peter Gordon opened the Sugar Club in London in 1996, fusion cooking was official. More recently, the demand for his fusion-style tapas at Providores is testament to the success of offering only smaller dishes, eschewing the rigid starter, main course, dessert format. Others are now embracing this relaxed approach. In Bocca di Lupo and Polpo in Soho, small and large portions sit side by side, and the newly-opened Caravan in Exmouth Market offers such a choice of tempting small plates, that sometimes the large plates’ page is never reached at all.
The UK easily absorbs global influences, having no great cuisine about which to feel protective. London is, today, one of the most exciting restaurant cities. Do our neighbours across the Channel agree? Rose Carrarini and husband Jean-Charles, the Anglo- French couple who started the Rose Bakery in Paris eight years ago, now run a café in Dover St Market, serving the best scones in London. What could be more entente cordiale than a perfect French quiche and salade verte followed by a warm English scone with homemade strawberry jam?
(First published in En Passant magazine July 2010)