“TheRue de Rivoliis very straight and unaltered from end to end: three simple storeys above an arcade,” according toNairn’s Paris. “But it feels quite different from the autocratic straightness of the 18th century. That was for show; this, basically, is for convenience, and there is a fine, underplayed urbanity in the wayPercierandFontaineconsistently refused to hot up what is in fact a very long elevation. Impersonal but not inhuman; the mile long covered street never gets on top of you, and life can take what shape it likes inside the framework.” Life takes on a luxurious shape insideNo.228 Rue de Rivoli: Le Meurice, an urbanVersailles.
Crowned the world’s best female chef, even before she rustled up the wedding supper for Prince Harry and Baroness Kilkeel, it was only a matter of time until Northern Ireland born Clare Smyth MBE would put her own name above the door. “For about 15 years of my life I’ve spent working in three Michelin star restaurants,” Clare recalls. “The last 10 years I spent heading up Gordon Ramsay’s flagship restaurant – I was a partner with him. It was a very traditional style of cooking with beautiful ingredients. I just had a burning desire to do something new, a new challenge for me, and it became Core. Core meaning my heart, the seed of something new. It was a very special moment for me.” Previous experience included working for Alain Ducasse, Heston Blumenthal and the Roux Brothers.
Core by Clare Smyth is in the heart of Notting Hill. Kensington Park Road bisects this stunning stablished stuccoed world of terraces and crescents and circuses. “People offer you glass boxes in the City but I wanted something with character,” she says, “I’ve always had a passion for neighbourhood restaurants.” Her space occupies the ground floor of a block of three terraced houses. “We found a building that was built in 1861,” she explains. “It had lots of Victorian character but it was a shell; it was a mess. We had to do so much work to the building; it was a disaster, but a great journey! Inside, it had lots of beautiful features but as we started to pull it apart, the foundations crumbled, the drains fell in. It got very very delayed. This was my first project. It was a big project to take on. I started this from writing the business plan myself all the way through to going to the bank – concept, everything.”
As far as neighbourhoods go you don’t get much better than this. Next door to Core is St Peter’s Notting Hill. Like much of this swanky area’s architecture, the Grade II* Anglican church (designed by Thomas Allom) dates from the mid 19th century. It’s still an active contributor to the community. Vicar Pat Allerton says, “Whether you’re a lifelong Christian or just asking questions, you’re really welcome. We’re a church family doing our best to follow Jesus Christ, love one another and offer hope to our local community.” Jonathan Aitken, MP turned Prison Chaplain, recently preached at St Peter’s.
A more recent architectural addition to Notting Hill – not that you’d guess it at a glance – is architect Demetri Porphyrios’s residential building behind Core. Chepstow Villas, as you’d imagine, are chunky detached houses and Demetri’s infill looks like its neighbours, both in scale and style. Number 48 is stuccoed with two chunky bays rising through three lofty storeys to prop up an open pediment. But it was only completed in 1989 and is actually a block of purpose built apartments. Then of course there’s Portobello Market… so little time, so many distractions… but we’ve swashbucklingly swept into W11 for the Portobello mushrooms.
Booking three months ago, the last available table was for noon. Maybe that’s what happens when a restaurant’s so current it swoops up two Michelin stars a year after opening. And now she’s the star of a Netflix series, Clare Smyth has swiftly migrated from a name to those-in-the-know to the household variety. She’s upbeat about her industry: “The culinary scene’s phenomenal. Right across the UK we have brilliant world leading restaurants and we have a generation of chefs that have really made it their own.”
Clare has certainly made it her own. “I’ve worked very hard, it’s not just happened overnight. I don’t pinch myself and think ‘I’m lucky’. I think ‘I left home at 16 to become a chef and I worked for it’.” Indeed. “You want to be successful, you want your business to be successful, so you’ve always got to make sure you stay ahead of the game. I try to be better every day.” As to be expected at three figure prices per head, there’s a high sommelier to consumer ratio and even higher waiter to waited on quota. It’s a 54 cover dining room. We’re at Table Five: there is no Siberia. The beautiful people are here and there are some quite attractive couples at the other tables.
Upon arrival, Clare herself – tall, blonde, elegant – stands smiling waving at us from behind the kitchen window. After lunch we will chat to her in the kitchen. Like everything about Core, the menu is beautifully presented with great contents and a personal touch; it’s signed by Clare and her Chefs. The plates are decorated with her fingerprint, reflecting the Marc Quinn giant fingerprint pictures hanging on the walls. Naturally lit by two arched windows, the dining room is comfortably luxurious and luxuriously comfortable.
And so to the menu. “The beginning: lobster and black truffle thermidor gougères. Pepper and olive tart. Veggie Core Fried Chicken and caviar. Core Caesar Salad.” The tart shell is made of crab stock. “Colchester crab: black truffle, celery and red apple. Potato and roe: dulse beurre blanc, herring and trout roe. Seabass: oysters, cucumber and caviar. Celeriac: roasted over wood with black truffle and hazelnut. The other carrot. Snow ball: chestnut, vanilla, pine, eggnog.” The seabass is line caught from Cornwall. The celeriac is soft baked for four hours. The other carrot is posh carrot cake in the shape of a carrot. “The end: white truffle and hazelnut choux. Champagne jelly.” Shoot the moon, the food is fabulous, utterly knockout! It surpasses our wildest expectations and our expectations are pretty wild. Culinary art beautifully sculpted.
Clare hales from a farm near Bushmills, County Antrim. The north coast has two native delicacies: yellowman and dulse. The former is a chewy toffee textured honeycomb. The latter is a purply edible seaweed. Yellowman might not make an appearance on the menu – “I’ve made it once!” Clare admits – but dulse does. In fact, dulse beurre blanc is part of her signature potato dish. It’s good to see that a chef of such international standing hasn’t forgotten her roots. When Michel Roux Junior had Clare’s “potato and roe” he called it “divine”.
In fact Clare declares, “Core is all about being British as much as we can right through to the core, so I really wondered why in my career we were using everything coming from France? I really questioned everything before we opened. I thought, well, why can’t we use British plates? Why can’t we use British designers? We had a 300 year old tradition of making the finest bone china in the world in Stoke-on-Trent but when you go there now there’s huge unemployment and those cultures and traditions have almost died out.” She’s on a mission: “So I was like I’m going to have them make my plates; I’m going to use Sheffield steel; I’m going to use British wood. We source our scallops from The Ethical Shellfish Company on the Isle of Mull. The millers than make the flour for our bread, Wessex Mill, are a fifth generation family owned business. So Core is very much a project from the heart.”
Up and About in Paris and London | Garden of Eatin’
We fill the lacuna
Lunch where? Paris. C’est le weekend. We’re Ivy’d out midweek although the Soho and Tower Bridge Brasseries’ zucchini fritti and truffle arancini are highly addictive. We’ve been wild about the Century Club’s wild mushroom burger. Hôtel Plaza Athénée Paris. Bows and bows of balconies along Avenue Montaigne. Next door to Christian Dior’s original couture house. The dress code for La Cour Jardin – the hôtel’s exclusive courtyard restaurant – is “elegant”. Ah bien. It’s cheek to high cheekbone with models. Martinets or marionettes? Ask Webb’s Road resident runway veteran Simon Duke. Poppy red parasols like oversized cocktail umbrellas keep the wrinklies wrinkles at bay. Virginia creeper clambering up the stone walls, smart trellis chairs among olive trees and acres of linen tablecloth… really the whole place simply oozes Parisian sophistication. The century old courtyard has been pimped and pruned to perfection by designer Bruno Moinard, displaying a talent for resonant juxtaposition. So this season.
We live off our acuity and salutary reminders
More mirrors than Versailles; more columns than the Coliseum; more pizzazz than Versace: this is the new luxury. Friday Street. Field of freedom. Earned ease. En plein air. A galaxy of culinary stars has aligned to make this restaurant happen. We’re star struck. Le grand fromage himself Alain Ducasse hooked up with Lawrence Aboucaya, owner of legendary Parisian vegetarian restaurant Pousse-Pousse, to concoct a homage to high energy menu. Under the watchful eye of Head Chef Mathieu Emeraud, the menu is fashionably divided into The Garden | The Classics | The Sea + The Shoreline | The Land + The Farm | The Herbs Garden | The Desserts. Just in case you miss the celebrity connection, there’s Alain Ducasse’s own brand champagne and the menu cover features an 18th century botanical watercolour from his personal collection.
We spend our years as a tale that is told
Sicilian olive oil accompanies randomly zoomorphic bread rolls, hatching out of folded linen baskets like long beaked ducklings. Artichoke and lemon risotto (€36.00) possesses all the freshness of The Garden. Tomato and pepper amuse bouche matches the red awnings. So does the John Dory, dusted with tomato and fennel (€58.00). Wide brimmed plates generously frame the food. Strawberry and almond (€22.00) come with madeleine on the side. And as an encore, orange and something petit fours. Chef Pâtissier Exécutif Angelo Musa’s efforts might expand waists by a few millimetres, but everyone’s so worth it. The proof is in the pudding. Delish! Us! Service is seamless. Doors magically open, The New York Times deftly appears: minimum fuss, maximum attention. Rooms range from €990 (single) to €28,000 (party time).
Wonders unto many, we are magnified and tainted by elegiac projection, poignancy and beauty