The restaurant has taken on a relaxed, more accessible feel under Adam’s watch.
Starched white table cloths have been replaced by bespoke soft grey cloths which fit snugly under tables, while a playlist of the chef’s own favourite music, from The Stone Roses and The Beatles to The Everly Brothers and Bowie, makes the space feel less formal and more fun.
While the food remains of the same high quality, menus have become more flexible and laid back over recent months. The lunch menu now offers a selection of snacks and small plates rather than just the rigidity of a tasting menu.
Another way Adam has shaken things up is to introduce a series of collaborations with other high-profile chefs, leading to a series of special one-off gastronomic events.
Adam’s first collaboration in June 2017 was with Mark Froydenlund, chef patron at Marcus, the Berkeley Hotel’s two-Michelin-starred restaurant.
The two chefs began their friendship during filming for the BBC Two show Great British Menu in 2016. After battling it out in the national final, both chefs won the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to cook at the Palace of Westminster in honour of the achievements of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II’s ‘Great Britons’.
“The night’s about having fun and pushing the boundaries,” said Adam at the time. “It’s an opportunity to cook great food with a good friend.”
The collaboration proved a success, and The French hosted several more.
Guest chefs in 2017 included Mark Abbott, who has worked with two Michelin-starred chef Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles, at Paul Kitching’s Michelin starred restaurant in Edinburgh, and at Daniel Clifford’s restaurant in Cambridge; Marc Wilkinson, whose restaurant Fraiche won three AA rosettes and the first Michelin star on Merseyside; and Tom Brown, formerly head chef at Nathan Outlaw’s Michelin-starred seafood restaurant at the Capital Hotel in Knightsbridge, who is about to launch his first solo restaurant.
“With all the chefs we’ve brought in, the food is completely and utterly different,” says Adam. “It’s all about seeing someone come into your kitchen and have a different style of food and a different way of working. It’s all about inspiration.”
The first collaboration of 2018 was with chef Tim Allen to help raise money for the charity Hospitality Action.
Formerly executive chef of the Michelin-starred Wild Rabbit in Oxfordshire, Tim has previously served as chef-patron at D&D London’s Launceston Place. Under his tenure, the Kensington restaurant won four AA rosettes and a Michelin star.
Prior to this, Tim was senior sous chef at the two-Michelin-starred Whatley Manor in the Cotswolds, where he spent seven years.
Tim planned to open a restaurant in Salford’s Chapel Street this year, news which delighted local foodies, but his plans to join Select Property Group as executive director of food and beverage fell through.
News recently broke that Tim will now become a partner in Daniel Cifford’s Essex pub, Flitch of Bacon, after announcing last month that his Manchester venture was sadly no longer going ahead.
The format of Adam and Tim’s collaboration at The French was a special six-course menu, with each chef preparing alternate courses.
But first, a couple of snacks to set the tone. A spoon of pickled cockles with scraps fried in dripping and tangy tartare sauce was an elegant mouthful evoking the joy of a chippy tea, while a bowl of rich smoked eel came with a dressing of soy, seaweed vinegar and sesame topped with crunchy potato. An excellent start.
A winter vegetable salad was an explosion of colour and texture, encompassing tender cauliflower, crispy kale, heritage carrot, earthy beetroot, sweet baby leek, and soft, fatty strips of lardo. The whole thing was pepped up nicely by the heady aroma of truffled curd, grain mustard and honey.
A dish called cheese & onion: pie, soup, toast sounds simple enough, but was transformed into a decadent feast made up of a photogenic tart made with Mrs Kirkham’s Lancashire cheese topped with pickled onion and Granny Smith apple, a glass of hot cider and onion soup, and a sourdough toast with Mrs Kirkham’s cheese and truffle.
Cornish mackerel was paired with sweet-yet-sharp Yorkshire rhubarb and frozen dill buttermilk snow which melted to become a sauce, while a plate of aged duck with pickled beetroot and cherry is a dish which has been constantly evolving on Adam’s regular menu and has now most definitely found its feet.
“When you keep working on a dish and reinventing it, eventually you get it to where it should be,” says Adam, who is rightly proud of this latest incarnation which sees the hot smoked duck breast glazed with honey and finished with sour cherry while the confit leg beneath is bound in beetroot jus.
Not one dessert, but two. GoldRush apple with creamy vanilla cheesecake, maple verjus and lacquered puff pastry, followed by tender rosemary poached pear, ginger malt ice cream and brown butter custard, with a couple of outrageously good brown butter cakes on the side for good measure.
The chefs seem to enjoy the experience – which also combines a note-perfect wine pairing with each course – as much as the customers, and it was not surprising to see a number of high profile chefs from other restaurants in the dining room as guests.
“It’s been a really great atmosphere tonight,” said a happy-looking Tim Allen after the service. “I’ve eaten at The French before, but not cooked here.”
Adam has got a few more collaborations up his sleeve for the rest of 2018, including events with Kevin Tickle, a former chief forager at L’Enclume and head chef at Rogan and Co who now runs the kitchen at Forest Side country house hotel in Grasmere; and Josh Eggleton, whose country pub The Pony & Trap was awarded a prestigious Michelin Star in 2011, an accolade which it still holds.
“It gives the customers the chance to eat food they wouldn’t normally get to,” says Adam.
“These chefs all have their own unique way of working and cooking. Plus, it’s fun,” he says, looking around the buzzing dining room.
A restaurant full of smiling customers would no doubt agree.
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