Jean-Christophe Ansanay-Alex (44) is a well known chef in France, where his Lyon restaurant has held two Michelin stars since 2002. He opened L’Ambassade de l’Ile in South Kensington last July and won a Michelin star after only seven months. The former private chef to the Onassis family talks here about his cuisine and his favourite London foodie addresses.
When did you settle in London and what were your first culinary experiences?
I spent five years doing market research before opening L’Ambassade last summer, which brought me to London for ten days each month. I visited all the best gastronomic and fashionable restaurants and I must say I was very impressed by the quality and diversity on the restaurant scene. The ethnic restaurants in London are particularly wonderful and represent serious competition for any top chef.
What type of cuisine do you offer?
My cooking looks like me, rooted in traditional Lyon cuisine, but it has been reworked to suit English taste. We have some fish and chips on the menu for example, but what we offer is much more elegant than the traditional dish. I would say that my cuisine here is more international and adapted to this city. I have also decided to adapt to local demand, by opening a tapas bar, which will be less intimidating than the gastronomic restaurant.
Have you got a signature plate?
I have several: the cep mushroom veloute like a cappuccino with steamed foie gras lardons as a starter, the omble chevalier and crispy skin with fairy ring mushroom butter as a main and the liquorice ice cream as a pudding.
What is your definition of a good chef?
A good chef must be both creative and charismatic. He is like the head of the family, except his family are people who work with him in the kitchen.
Where do you buy the following products when in London?
- Cheese? La Fromagerie
- Wine? I don’t buy wine in London as I have brought my own personal supply from Lyon.
- Bread? I have been making my own bread for fifteen years and now am unable to eat other people’s bread.
- Pastries? Ottolenghi
- Meat? Aubrey Allen, a wonderful meat supplier based in Coventry. I would recommend in particular his Aberdeenshire beef and his Cornish lamb.
- Deli? Tray Gourmet
- Fruits and vegetables? Borough Market
Which restaurants and bars do you like to go to?
I love the food at Sketch and E&O, and I like having a drink at the Eclipse bar, as well as at the bars of luxury hotels- my favourite is The Sanderson’s.
What are your favourite French and British dishes and is there any food you really dislike?
I love the French classics such as blanquette of veal, boiled beef with vegetables and fish soup, providing the products are excellent and the recipe is well executed. There is no food I really hate, although I am not a big fan of exotic dishes involving insects or monkey’s raw brain! What I really dislike though is when something is badly done.
Which is the best culinary advice you received and that you can give?
I have been taught to stay humble and to respect my staff, my customers, my suppliers and my products. I also like to say that you can’t learn how to cook, and that the most important is to understand food. Of course, one can learn techniques. For example, the frying pan must always be very hot when you cook a steak and one should never rinse spaghettis. But it is equally important to understand one’s products. Cooking is all about feeling…
L’Ambassade de l’Ile: 117-119 Old Brompton Road SW7 (Gloucester Road, South Kensington)
La Fromagerie : 2-6 Moxon Street W1 (Marylebone)
Aubrey Allen: Shop@aubreyallen.co.uk (home delivery)
Ottolenghi : 63 Ledbury Road W11 (Notting Hill Gate); 287 Upper Street N1 (Angel); 1 Holland Street W8 (High Street Kensington); 13 Motcomb Street SW1 (Knightsbridge)
Tray Gourmet: 240 Fulham Road SW10 (Fulham Broadway)
Borough Market: 8 Southwark Street SE1 (Southwark, Borough)
Sketch : 9 Conduit Street W1 (Bond Street)
Eclipse Bar: 158 Old Brompton Road SW5 (Gloucester Road, Earls Court)
E&O: 14 Blenheim Crescent W11 (Ladbroke Grove)
Long Bar & Purple Bar at the Sanderson Hotel: 50 Berners Street W1 (Oxford Circus, Tottenham Court Road)