Damien Hirst's New Prescription for Your Hunger Pangs
Damien Hirst takes a second stab at the London restaurant business with the Tuesday opening of Pharmacy 2, in a room that looks half diner, half drug store.
The walls feature giant Hirst medical cabinets, the etched-glass windows depict DNA and the bar stools are pills ripe for popping. Above the bar is the single word, Prescriptions.
The counter is given over to a picture of tablets and capsules, while the glass top encases an array of syringes, tubing and latex gloves.
Pharmacy 2 is housed in Hirst's Newport Street Gallery, south of the River Thames. If the decor is prescription-led, the food is as accessible as aspirin. The restaurant is a collaboration with Mark Hix, a chef known for celebrating British ingredients and dishes. Here, the menu is more international, including north African brik fried pastry with duck egg and rose harissa.
That's in addition to the more distinctly British food such as a lamb pie, reminiscent of the Stargazy Pie with rabbit and crayfish that was a hit when Hix opened Scott's restaurant in 2006. The chef was a late recruit to Pharmacy 2, whose name references both an artwork from 1992 and the Hirst-designed Pharmacy Restaurant & Bar, which was open from 1998 to 2003 in London's Notting Hill neighborhood.
"It was only a few months ago: I was on my scooter going through Mayfair and I saw Damien and Maia, his ex-wife, sitting outside Scott's," Hix said over a preview lunch at Pharmacy 2. "I went over and he said he needed a chef and I said, 'Why don't we go into a proper partnership?'" said Hix, who was responsible for the menus at the Ivy and Scott's during his time as chef-director of Caprice Holdings Ltd.
"I've known Damien for 10, 15 years through the art world and mutual friends. And the thing is, he's always got into bed with chefs he doesn't know. So the minute I said that to him, I think he felt confident because he likes the food at Scott's and the Ivy in the old days, so he trusted what I was going to put on the menu.
"He leaves it to me because he knows my food, he knows the dishes. For me, that is the most important thing. There is no point doing it unless you have an understanding of who you are going into partnership with. Damien loves food. He knows what he wants. He's not an experimental food person. He likes simple, unfussy food, like we all do now, really. It's becoming an ingredient-led business."
Hix is frank about the origins of his ideas for the dishes. A broth of Hunan spiced pork, celery and ginger is a homage to a starter at Hunan restaurant in Pimlico; falafel, artichoke and broad-bean top salad was inspired by a visit to Lebanon; heaven and earth features black pudding made by Peter Gott at Sillfield Farm; bread & butter pudding references an Anton Mosimann recipe when Hix worked at the Dorchester.
Other dishes include Swainson House Farm duck curry with a crispy apple pakora; and a light blood-orange and white-chocolate cheesecake. Mains start at £13.50 ($19) for Launceston lamb pie; the desserts (all miniature, with the idea you share a few) are £4.
Richard Vines is chief food critic for Bloomberg. Follow him on Twitter @Richardvines.