Gordon Ramsay plans to open two more restaurants in London this year, one of them with the sportsman David Beckham. This is a good time to consider his impact on gastronomy rather than his pantomime role as an angry TV chef.
In the late 1990s, Ramsay’s Aubergine was one of the city’s most exciting establishments. He surrounded himself with a team of loyal young people who are now making their own mark.
“Gordon trained some of the best British chefs,” said Jason Atherton, who created Maze for Ramsay, now 46, in May 2005. “Some people don’t want to hear that, but it’s true. They are amazing chefs with incredible skills. These were the skills we were taught to be normal. You had to have them to survive.”
Atherton, 41, split from Ramsay in 2010 and then opened Pollen Street Social, which has won multiple awards and a Michelin star. He has gone on to open restaurants in Hong Kong, Singapore and Shanghai and has added two more in London.
Little Social is a French-style bistro using seasonal British ingredients. It’s classic, with great food. Atherton adopted a different style at Social Eating House, where the cooking is more ambitious and the vibe is New York. (This is the restaurant of Paul Hood, one of Jason’s own proteges.)
In May, he plans to open City Social on the site of the old Gary Rhodes restaurant in Tower 42, in the City financial district. It will be a power-dining spot like Scott’s in London or the Monkey Bar in New York, with designs by Ramsay favorite Russell Sage. Atherton is clearing out offices and private dining rooms to create a huge bar with panoramic views.
In Hong Kong, Atherton is preparing to add Jamon Bar, opposite his 22 Ships, in October. That will be followed in February by PMQ, in the old Police Married Quarters on Hollywood Road. That restaurant will be based around a market concept, so you can also buy ingredients to take home.
Next year, he intends to open a restaurant in the United Arab Emirates with the working name of Dubai Marina Social and Social Room. There will be a huge bar, with a DJ at night. At the end of the year, he plans a tapas-style restaurant on the Broadway, in Sydney. Possible names are 22 Ships or 23 Ships.
All this follows Commune Social and Table No. 1 in Shanghai; and Pollen, Snacks, the Library Bar and Esquina in Singapore.
“When you spend 10 years working alongside someone as dynamic as Gordon, you’d have to be stupid not to benefit,” Atherton said in an interview. “It was awe-inspiring to watch someone work so hard to win three Michelin stars.
“I’ll always remember Gordon said to me, ‘If your kitchen doesn’t run as well without you as with you, you’re not the man for the job.’ Look at Royal Hospital Road. That’s held three stars for years and Gordon doesn’t need to be in the kitchen.”
The kitchen at Royal Hospital Road, Ramsay’s flagship, is headed by another protegee, Clare Smyth, who this year was named chef patron. I’ve eaten there twice in the past few months and the food is better than ever. Smyth has added her own dishes. They are fresher and lighter and more colorful than some of the Ramsay classics.
The best-known Ramsay protegee may be Angela Hartnett, who is just so likeable and unaffected, she’s turning into a national treasure. Hartnett bought Murano from Gordon Ramsay Holdings, amicably splitting from Ramsay after 15 years.
That was about the time that Ramsay ousted his father-in-law, Chris Hutcheson, as chief executive of Gordon Ramsay Holdings. Stuart Gillies, another Ramsay protege, was subsequently named managing director.
Ramsay’s parent company for the U.K. and overseas is Kavalake Ltd. It posted net income of 1.43 million pounds for the year ended Aug. 31, 2012, from a loss of 4.17 million pounds a year earlier. Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization rose to 4.89 million pounds from 2.51 million pounds.
Gordon Ramsay Holdings is being investigated by U.K. tax authorities on suspicion that a former employee misled officials in 2007, the Mail on Sunday reported, citing “sources connected with the business.” Ramsay denied wrongdoing and had personally approached officials when an internal memo came to light, his spokeswoman said.
In addition to Murano, Hartnett has created Hartnett Holder & Co., a restaurant at Lime Wood, and a hotel in New Forest, outside London. She is also executive chef at the Whitechapel Gallery Dining Room and plans to add two restaurants in the capital.
Merchant’s Tavern on the site of the old Cantaloupe, in Shoreditch, east London, is a partnership with the founders of Canteen, Dominic Lake and Patrick Clayton-Malone, and Chef Neil Borthwick. The 130-seat venue, opening in September, will be a casual establishment serving unfussy modern European food.
In St. James’s Street, Hartnett will open an inexpensive Italian restaurant on the site that was the home of Ramsay’s Petrus, where she worked with Marcus Wareing. This concept might be rolled out. There’s no name for the place yet, but Hartnett obtained the trademark for “Angela Hartnett” on July 7, 2011.
“I had a great time with Gordon and learned so much,” Hartnett said in an interview. “The reason I’m able to do what I’m doing now is because he showed the way, allowing the next generation to branch out and having faith in them.
“Look at what Jason is doing: I get exhausted just thinking about it. The thing I learned from Gordon is making sure you have a great team around you, so you are able to do what you want to do and you allow them to grow as people.”
Wareing holds two Michelin stars at Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley. He also owns the Gilbert Scott. In Birmingham, Aalto at Hotel La Tour, where he is a consultant, bills itself as “inspired” by Wareing. He split from Ramsay in August 2008.
Other proteges include Mark Sargeant, who was Ramsay’s friend and right-hand man before quitting in 2009 after 13 years. Among other duties, he was executive chef at Gordon Ramsay at Claridge’s. He later opened Rocksalt, in Folkestone.
Last month, he took over the food and beverage operations at the Great Northern Hotel, King’s Cross. That’s the next train station along from St. Pancras, home to Wareing’s Gilbert Scott. Sargeant is also planning a restaurant in Singapore, Oxwell & Co., a British public house, scheduled for Singapore.
“I was with the guy for 13 years and those were some of the best in my life,” Sargeant said in an interview. “He had the ability to bring things out of you that other people might not have. You have to have talent -- no one can put that into you -- but I’ve seen lots of chefs who could have been good and didn’t make it.”
What of the man himself? With successful U.S. TV shows such as “Hell’s Kitchen,” “MasterChef” and “Kitchen Nightmares,” you might think he has little time for restaurants. Not so.
Leaving aside the establishments that have opened in Las Vegas and other cities under his name, he plans to open two more restaurants this year in London, where he already owns Bread Street Kitchen, Foxtrot Oscar, Gordon Ramsay, Maze, Maze Grill, the Narrow, Petrus, Plane Food, Savoy Grill and York & Albany.
Beckham is his business partner at Union Street Cafe, near Borough Market, south of the Thames river.
It’s scheduled to open in September, with the focus on seasonal ingredients sourced from the Mediterranean, with an emphasis on Italian artisan producers. Dishes will include veal carpaccio with lemon, anchovy, olive and celery; and baked spiny lobster with chilli and marjoram. The designer? Russell Sage.
In west London, London House is scheduled to open before the end of the year in Battersea Square, on the site of the old Bennett Brasserie and Oyster Bar.
These days, it’s easy for people to think of Ramsay as a shouty TV chef, which he certainly is. But there’s much more to him than that.
(Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. He is U.K. and Ireland chairman of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards. Opinions expressed are his own.)
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