Photograph courtesy of The Forge
Continuing our series of interviews with London chefs, our latest instalment hits up the mastermind behind the scenes at The Forge. Set in the heart of Theatreland and close to Covent Garden Market, The Forge offers fine dining in a relaxed atmosphere. Inspired by and still rather stuffed from an exquisite feast of sauté of frogs legs with butter, garlic and parsley followed by veal escalope Holstein with fried hen's egg (there might have been a slice of baked key lime cheesecake with bitter chocolate shavings devoured as well), we fired off some questions to the restaurant's acclaimed head chef, Andrew Barber. In return, Londonist received thoughtful responses as straightforward and tasty as his cooking.
Your menu is obviously French inspired, but would you go so far as to say The Forge is a French restaurant? There seems to be a bit of English reserve thrown in the mix for good measure.
I would say it's Modern British. At the Forge we source most of our produce from local and sustainable sources within the UK. Where and when possible, we adapt French techniques and styles of cooking to enhance their true flavours.
How long have you been with The Forge, and how closely did you work with owner Robert Seigler to develop the business?
I have been at the Forge restaurant now for nearly four years. Robert Seigler and I opened the restaurant together. It took a lot of hard work and determination to get to where we are now, and we're very proud of it. We always talk or argue about food and during these heated debates dishes pop up from places we've both eaten at or seen recently. Most of the menu has been discovered like that.
The Forge is located mere steps from Covent Garden. Surely you must see more than your fair share of tourists and out-of-towners. Do you find the tastes of non-Londoners to differ much from locals? In the heart of Theatreland, how do you cater to the expectations of theatre goers looking for a memorable meal that suits show times and transport schedules?
It's very difficult to produce a tasty and appealing menu that is 'all things to all men'. So we provide a separate but related menu to the a la carte menu.
The pre and post theatre is designed for cost efficiency for service and consistency. We can serve a lot of customers in a short space of time and guarantee them out within 45 minutes.
The main difference between non-Londoners and locals tends to be those visiting London are a little more daring when choosing their dishes, and they tend to take their time and enjoy the evening here as opposed to an in and out mentality to the next place of celebration or entertainment.
On our last visit, Londonist tried your veal escalope Holstein with fried hens egg. Delicious. Is that a regular item on the menu? Can you discuss how a dish like that makes it to the menu and how you came up with the recipe?
The veal escalope arrived on the menu after a conversation Rob and I had one evening. We thought it was one of those classics that just had to go on, and it's been on ever since. It sells well and eats really well.
With experience cooking at notable London establishments such as Bleeding Heart and Tate Britain, is it safe to say you know this town's fine dining scene as well (if not better than) most? What's your take on London with respect to dining out?
I am really proud of the eating offer that London/UK has to offer, it really has moved on tremendously in the past 15 years, it's great! We are still developing as well and I'm sure that it will carry on evolving for the next 15 years. These are very exciting times!
Got a few cooking tips for our readers at home or for those just starting out with restaurant careers?
Try where possible to use the best product available (not always the most expensive!). Usually it will be seasonal and on your doorstep! Grow your own when you can. Get some chickens - it will make you appreciate eggs a lot more!
The Forge is loacted at 14 Garrick Street (WC2E 9BJ). Visit The Forge online at www.theforgerestaurant.co.uk.