With its monochrome décor, David Bailey photographs and long bar, Le Caprice
is a class act. Opened in 1947 by Mario Gallati, former Maître d' of The Ivy
, Le Caprice
was re-launched in 1981 and has since become something of an institution, renowned for its fresh and imaginative modern British and European menu.
As the restaurant celebrates its 30th re-birthday, and its role in the summer's most stylish food festival, Taste of London from 16 - 19 June at London's Regent's Park, the man responsible for maintaining its enviable reputation is 29 year old Head Chef, Andrew McLay.
Originally from Darlington, Andrew joined the Caprice restaurant group in 2005 as Chef de Partie at Beckham family favourite J Sheekey and was promoted to Senior Chef de Partie before moving to the newly-opened Scott's in Mayfair. There he set up the sauce section and quickly rose to become Junior Sous Chef. At the end of 2009, he moved to Le Caprice as Senior Sous Chef and in January 2011 was appointed Head Chef.
We caught up with Andrew, who now lives in Dalston, East London, to chat death-row meals, jelly moulds on restaurant walls and how to avoid the washing up by cooking Thai:
Andrew, what are your earliest food memories?
My earliest food memory is eating rotisserie chicken and chips, drenched in chicken fat (it all came in the same bag), by the pool with my family on holiday in Majorca .We would go to the same resort every year and I'd always look forward to the chicken and chips.
What were your favourite meals growing up?
My best friend's mum used to do a mean sausage and mash, but my gran's tomato soup and my mum's apple crumble all score equally high.
What's the best meal you've ever eaten and where did you eat it?
Christmas dinner with my family is always great. My mum puts on a fantastic spread and turkey is always good once a year!
What's your current favourite dish to cook in the restaurant?
I'm in love with cooking lamb: it's the whole process - seasoning, pan roasting to get the perfect colour, basting and resting the meat and, of course, carving. If you get it just right, the satisfaction is pure. At Le Caprice we serve lamb three different ways - the slow braised shoulder, roasted rack and deep fried scrumpet (which is the lamb's belly), and slowly cooked in goose fat, coated in English mustard, herbs and breadcrumbs. We serve the three different cuts with spring vegetables and roasted new season garlic jus.
Which other chefs do you most admire?
I really like Anthony Demetre
's cooking. He puts cheap cuts to great use and his restaurants are always fun, unpretentious and good value. I also like David Chang from Momofuku
in New York. He's built up a great chain of restaurants in a short space of time.
What would be your three course death row meal?
Well if it was my last meal, I supposed it's only fair to go big. I love pizza, so I'd probably kick off with a duck sausage, artichoke & caprino fresco pizza from Pizza East
in Shoreditch. Then I'd order a lobster hum curry from Viet Grill
on Kingsland Road (Dalston). To finish, I would have Scott's
fruits de mer to drag things out as long as possible.
Do you enjoy cooking for friends and family at home or do crave a break?
Unfortunately my girlfriend is not very good in the kitchen so I don't really have a choice! Lucky for me, there are some great Vietnamese take-aways where we live in Dalston, which we use quite regularly. Apart from that, I love to barbecue. My flat has a great outside space, which is perfect for summer barbecues with friends.
If you could only ever eat one type of cuisine for the rest of your life what would it be?
I love Thai food and it's pretty much all I cook at home. It's quick to prepare, tastes great and, generally speaking, you've only got the wok to wash up.
Other than Le Caprice, which are your favourite restaurants – top three.
My number one favourite restaurant has got to be our sister restaurant, Scott's
. The fruits de mer, washed down with a couple of pints of Guinness, and enjoyed with friends whilst sitting out on the terrace on a Saturday afternoon just doesn't get any better.
My second favourite restaurant is El Olivo
in the heart of the old town in Ibiza: it's a great alfresco spot on the cobbled streets right by the old city walls. They serve super fresh, simply cooked seafood. This, combined with the location and great wine, is almost unbeatable.
My third is Dinner by Heston Blumenthal
. I've visited a few high profile restaurants recently and Dinner
really did deliver. The hype, in my view, is totally justified. From the chili nuts we ate at the bar, to the tipsy cake with spit roast pineapple, the food was all delicious and surprisingly normal. I'm not sure about the jelly moulds on the wall though.
If you weren't a successful chef what other job might you be doing?
I'd like my own ice cream factory or a smallholding, rearing rare breed cattle.
Le Caprice, Arlington Street, London SW1A 1RJ. Tel: 0207 629 2239