Photograph courtesy of Theo Randall
From his “very happy time" at River Cafe to his current role as Chef Patron at the reigning “Italian Restaurant of the Year”, Theo Randall's been a champion of the London dining scene for some time now. In our latest Chefspective interview, Theo recounts his experiences and shares a few foodie tips and secrets.
How long have you had your restaurant at the InterContinental? Can you share a little about your background and how you came to be running an award winning Italian restaurant at this luxury Mayfair hotel?
Love of food came a very early age; I have many memories of holidays in France and Italy, mostly food memories, that and the fact that my mother was a fantastic cook - I loved helping her in the kitchen. Our family talked a lot about food, many conversations were about food and were had over dinner. So these early experiences excited me about food and restaurants.
Naturally, I got a job in a restaurant and discovered the excitement and pressures of kitchens. I was fortunate to work with a very good chef, Max Magarian who steered me in the right direction from an early age. I left Max to go to the River Café - which was just starting to become successful. With the training I had, I immediately became Rose and Ruth’s right hand man - a position which I held for many many years!!
Being at River Café was a very happy time for me, I was a partner. But wanted to prove to myself I could do something completely alone.
I was approached by InterContinental, I came to see the restaurant before it was build and I liked its positioning and the thought of having a restaurant on Park Lane. Since opening the restaurant has achieved great recognition and has won many awards, our best being Italian Restaurant of the Year.
The renown River Cafe has a reputation for being 'hits factory' with respect to producing celebrated chefs. What was your experience like there?
River Café for me was a very special place and it always will be. It has produced some fantastic cooks, not just cooks, but also great talent.
When I first arrived, it had a totally different feel to other restaurants of the time in London. Rose and Ruth didn’t have the usual restaurant training which made their ethos very unique. For instance, waiters prepared the vegetables. The chefs were seen by customers. And there was great camaraderie between the back and front of house team. Food was very special, it was very simple food (especially at the beginning) and it gave people experience of eating very good quality buffalo mozzarella and delicious prosciutto, which we take for granted now.
One of the most rewarding parts of being at River Café were the famous road trips. We’d frantically drive across to all four corners of Italy, eating and tasting amazing food and wine. Then coming back - around November time - and recreate our experiences in the restaurant.
Your restaurant is still the London Restaurant Awards' reigning “Italian Restaurant of the Year”. What's your secret? Overall, how do you rate the Italian dining scene in London?
Our secret: Consistency of food, recognition of our customers and happy service.
The Italian dining scene in London is very good. There are a lot of Italian restaurants now. Just because there are a lot of Italian restaurants it doesn’t mean they’re all cooking the same food. Remember, Italy is very regional, so that reflects in the chefs and their recipes.
You're participating in this year's London Restaurant Festival. Did you participate last year? What's the benefit of being part of such an event and what will your restaurant offer during the festival?
This is our second year of doing the London Restaurant Festival’s Gourmet Tour Odyssey. The tour is a fun experience for guests and for us, it brings through the doors one hundred real foodies who get to experience (albeit a brief visit) some of what we produce which will hopefully inspire them to return.
For London Restaurant Festival 2010 Theo Randall at The InterContinental is offering a fantastic value set lunch and dinner menu using the most delicious ingredients: available for the duration of the festival fortnight.
Where do you like to dine and shop for food and drink in London?
You can dine, shop and drink at La Fromagerie on Moxon Street! And it’s always a real joy.
My favourite place to buy my little bits I always need in the kitchen, like capers and anchovies is La Grande Bouchee in Bute Street, South Kensington. TOP TIP: This is the best place to buy black and white truffles in London.
Any tips on how to make great tasting Italian dishes at home?
If you want to make great pasta, there is only thing to do. And that’s buy PASTA by Theo Randall
Find out more about Theo Randall at www.theorandall.com.