What brings you back to London?
Unfinished business I suppose. Being in London was a beautiful experience the first time round with Apsleys. I missed the city and have been looking for the right partner to help me return for some time. It’s fantastic to be back – I love it here. The people are cool and there is always stuff going on. I believe that I have found it in Brown’s Hotel. It’s family owned, well-run, and the people behind it are very nice. It’s the perfect marriage.
Why did Apsleys close?
The Lanesborough Hotel shut for a big renovation. The restaurant would have been closed for a long time, so we decided to move on. But it was a great experience, and of course we won a Michelin star there.
Was the ORA pop-up you launched at Brown’s at the very end of last year designed to test the market?
Yes. A lot has changed since we were last in London, there are certainly a lot more restaurants. ORA gave us a feel for the market. People responded well, but the cooking at Beck at Brown’s will be a lot more casual. ORA was more like La Pergola in terms of its market positioning.
So what is Beck at Brown’s going to be like?
It will be more affordable than ORA and La Pergola with a focus on pasta dishes. It won’t be tiny little portions, the cooking will be generous and I’ll also be using some great UK produce as well as ingredients from Italy. The menu is structured in the traditional Italian way, but it will be free-form – diners can approach it however they like and all the dishes will be suitable for sharing. Most antipasti dishes will be between £15 and £20; primi and zuppe ranges from £11 to £29; and most fish and meat dishes are around the £25 mark.
What’s on the menu?
Our dishes include spring vegetable salad with smoked aubergine and Sorrento lemon; dressed crab with grilled Roman lettuce and wild herbs; tagliolini with lobster, smoked aubergine cream and chilli; Iberico pork tenderloin with mashed potatoes and fennel seeds; and raspberry gratin, pistachio sponge and Noto almond ice cream. We also have a some dishes that are designed for two to share, including roast leg of milk-fed lamb and garden vegetables; and aged Rhug Estate striploin with truffle mash and rosemary sauce.
You’re known for running one of the world’s priciest restaurants. Why do something that’s more casual?
We want to be busy all the time. I wanted to make a restaurant that was affordable, the sort of place you’d eat more than once a week. It’s very different to Rome, but we will be serving some dishes from La Pergola at Beck at Brown’s.
Fagottelli alla carbonara, which is my take on spaghetti alla carbonara. I make tortellini-like parcels stuffed with a mixture of eggs, pecorino and black pepper and serve them with a dressing of guanciale, courgette, white wine and veal stock. Needless to say it is not the classic version of the dish and has been controversial in Italy, but it is very good. We will also be serving my take on cacio e pepe – another classic Roman dish – which I pair with lime-marinated langoustine.
Would you describe your cooking as Roman in style?
No. My style is light and healthy Mediterranean cooking that reflects the colours of Italy and the heritage of Italian cooking. I started cooking in Germany and progressed to some of the best kitchens in Europe including Tantris and Residenz Heinz Winkler. I opened La Pergola in 1994. I also run a more casual restaurant in Nice called Attimi.
And what about the drinks side of the business?
Salvatore Calabrese, who I know from my last stint in London, is overseeing the bar at Brown’s. His cocktails will be available in the restaurant alongside our wine list, which is eclectic but with a focus on great Italian wines.
What does the interior look like?
The fabric of the building has not been changed, but is very different from both Mark Hix’s restaurant and ORA. The restaurant now has its own separate entrance on Albermarle Street and has been redesigned by Olga Polizzi. The idea was to combine the heritage of Brown’s with an exploration of Italy’s landscape and its culture. We’ve kept some of the historic details such as the original 1900s oak panelling, but we’ve made the restaurant brighter. There are three main spaces, a bar area, a dining area and a semi-private dining space. There is a botanical theme, with a colour palette of greens and turquoises with brass accents and a curated selection from Brown’s significant art and antiques collection. We have also commissioned some bespoke chandeliers from the Florentine designers Chelini.
This feature first appeared in the April issue of Restaurant magazine, the leading title for the UK's restaurant industry. For more features, comment, interviews and in-depth analysis of the restaurant sector subscribe to Restaurant magazine here