How does it feel to be returning to Grosvenor Square?
Jason Atherton: Incredible. That’s what really appealed to me about the project. Grosvenor Square is where it all began for me, and being able to come back and ply my trade there is a dream come true.
The Betterment comes during a period of significant change for The Social Company, what is it you wanted to create with this new opening?
JA: One of my favourite restaurants is The Grill in New York City’s Seagram Building. I love its old-world glamour; beautiful crockery, simple cooking and pristine presentation, with a menu that has something for everyone on it. It’s a restaurant that isn’t driven by what the chefs in the kitchen prefer, and it’s that idea I wanted to adopt when designing the menu for The Betterment; we want it to appeal to a broad market, not just London’s foodie crowd.
Paul Walsh: For me it was about exploring a different style of cooking to what I’d been accustomed to. Throughout my career I’ve found myself following the same regimented process when creating dishes, and I wanted the chance to explore different ideas. It’s a simpler form of cooking at The Betterment, but every bit as focused. We’ve put more emphasis on the process to bring out the flavours in the meat, in order to show that you don’t need to add a load of extra garnishes to enhance it.
Given how close The Betterment is to Pollen Street Social and No. 5 Social, how have you tried to ensure this new restaurant doesn’t cannibalise them?
JA: I always say we want to set ourselves a goal of reaching a one-star level. It’s always been my approach when we open a new restaurant, and when we’re designing the menu I want to ensure we’ve done everything we can to help it stand up on its own. But it’s difficult; when you open a new restaurant there’s always a chance it’ll take some shine off of a flagship, and you can’t control that.
What was the process behind creating the menu?
PW: To start with, me and Jason were having three or four meetings a week. We would sit down and go through ideas, coming up with the basis for different dishes that we’d then build on over time. We’re doing more plant-based dishes, but not all of them are strictly vegetarian. For example, we do a spinach salad served with bottarga on the top; it’s all about making sure the ingredients are all able to speak for themselves.
Is there a dish on the new menu you’re particularly proud of?
JA: There is a dish I’ve been playing around with for a long time that I finally nailed for The Betterment. It’s essentially my version of crab on toast, featuring Cromer crab cooked in vegetables and stock. We then take the cooked brown meat and make an emulsion, add in the white meat, beat an egg into the mix and top with brioche crumb before gratinating it under the grill. We’re then serving that with a slice of crab bisque brioche on the side. Sure, it’s not something that’s going to be setting Instagram alight, but when you eat it you’re like ‘holy shit that’s good’ and that’s what I want people to come to The Betterment for.
PW: Jason describes it as pure confidence on the plate, and that pretty much sums up the whole menu I think.
Do you find the rise of Instagram has you thinking about food differently when designing a menu?
JA: Not exactly. I always make sure I’m conscious of what people come to different restaurants for. Take Pollen Street for example; people go there for pristinely presented, refined Michelin-style food. At The Betterment the cooking is just as precise, but instead of trying to make a picture on a plate the emphasis is just on enunciating the flavours so you immediately go ‘wow’ as soon as you taste the food.
Did the restaurant being located within a hotel affect the menu design?
PW: The Betterment is entirely driven by Jason and myself, and we’ve been given free rein to create the menu in our image. For the rest of the hotel, however, it’s a different story. Take room service, for example; again we’re given the freedom to write those menus, but we considered the mindset of weary travellers who want something a little more comforting. What we’ve done is fashion familiar dishes in our own image. So the club sandwich, for example, is on the menu but features higher quality product and prepared so as to ensure there’s a greater depth of flavour.
Looking to the future, what’s happening with Sosharu at the moment?
JA: We’re actively looking in Mayfair. Originally we were looking in Soho, but that’s changed as ultimately it feels like more of a Mayfair concept. And we’re very close to signing on a site. I also want to develop other concepts too, though. We’re looking to open further Hai Cenatos sites; I love that concept and feel like it could go to other parts of London and even further afield.
How about doing another series of The Brigade?
JA: It’s certainly an option. I’ve never been particularly keen on doing a lot of TV; it’s not what I do and the idea of standing in the studio teaching audiences to make Victoria Sponges just doesn’t excite me. But The Brigade was different as it was all about our industry; taking people who hadn’t been in that environment before and throwing them in at the deep end. And I could see that people weren’t in it for the fame, they really wanted to cook and develop their skillset, which has always been a passion for me. The buzz you get from that is indescribable.