123 Vegan looks very casual for a chef of your background...
Yes. It’s certainly a more approachable offering and it’s very affordable for Mayfair. But it will be luxurious in its own way. For people to embrace plant-based we need to cover all levels of cuisine. We’ve wanted to do something at this level for a couple of years but the deal for the space with Fenwick happened very quickly, less than six weeks in fact.
Will you be cooking there?
I will be in the kitchen until Gauthier Soho reopens on 23 June. We need to wait until all or at least most of the restrictions have lifted as the restaurant has narrow corridors and lots of small rooms. We don’t feel we can guarantee a fully Covid-secure experience at the moment. We’ve been doing meal kits in Soho but it’s great to be doing service again. 123 Vegan is also refreshing because it’s very quick and simple, there aren’t any complicated preparations to worry about.
What’s on the menu?
Our dishes include California cheeseburger, which is made with a Beyond Meat patty, and red yuzu bowl with watermelon sashimi, pineapple, wakame seaweed, spring onion, edamame peas, crispy shallots, sesame seeds, yuzu sauce and sushi rice. We also do a regularly changing fixed price menu, which at the moment offers Welsh asparagus with lovage, peas, thyme and almond crunch; Big Fat Tomato Cosmopolito with black rice, smoked pepper and rocket salad; and poached rhubarb with pomegranate and lemon pepper broth (£22 for two courses/£26 for three courses).
You’re well-known for making your own faux meat products, why use a bought-in patty?
Things are changing fast. We try a lot of vegan products. These are new tools in our box that allow us to bring plant-based to a wider audience at a lower price point. More and more people are moving towards being fully vegan one day. They are aware that where we are at the moment is directly connected to us meddling with animals. I’ll say it before and I’ll say it again: we need to leave them alone.
Is Gauthier Soho now fully vegan?
Yes. We’ve been working towards it for a number of years and for the last five years at least all the creative effort has gone into vegan dishes. There is no animal product in the restaurants whatsoever, not even in the chefs pockets. I’m vegan myself. It would be unethical for me to profit from selling dead animals.
Has there been any pushback from diners?
It’s been a big problem. I was aware I’d have a fight on my hands, especially as I have many customers that have been eating my food since I was at Roussillon (the Pimlico restaurant Gautheir ran prior to launching in Soho). I understand people feel let down. Nobody says I don’t agree you, they respect it but - equally - they want to eat meat and fish when they go out. I get that but I say ‘trust me, what we are cooking is as good as that’. Some people are up for it and some aren’t.
The focus of many vegan restaurants at the moment is using processed food to stand in for animal products - do you agree with that?
I’m from the south of France. I love celebrating vegetables and fruit for what they are and I don’t find designing a menu around seasonal plants difficult. But in order to entice people to eat more plant based food we have to provide them with the food they know. We need to have replacements for things like bacon. It’s the beginning of the journey, we have to go through it. But it’s important that chefs put their creative efforts into developing unbelievably delicious plant-based dishes. It’s hard to replicate the skin of a roast chicken or the depth of flavour of a lobster, but we have to try.