Hélène Darroze (45) has been busy since she moved to London in 2008 to oversee the kitchens of the luxurious Connaught Hotel. Under her direction, the gastronomy restaurant has gained two Michelin stars in record time, as well as a new crowd of glamorous food lovers enamoured with its French Landes’ cuisine with a twist. She has also maintained her two Michelin stars in her eponymous restaurant in Paris, while working on the opening of another establishment under her name in Moscow. The heiress of a long line of chefs, she is also the mother of two little girls she adopted in Vietnam and one of the most popular public figures in France. Here, she talks to Chic-Londres about her favourite food addresses in London.
When and why did you decide to become a chef? I’ve always loved cooking and used to bake cakes a lot as a child. But because I was very academic, it didn’t cross my parents’ mind nor mine to stop school and go into apprenticeship to become a chef. Instead I studied business in Bordeaux, before ending up working at Alain Ducasse’s restaurant in Monaco, in the office rather than in the kitchen. However, he quickly spotted my passion for cooking and persuaded me to switch career to become a chef- which I did, first taking over my father at the family’s restaurant and then opening my own restaurant in Paris in 1999.
How would you describe the British approach to food and the way it has evolved over the years? Londoners have become extremely knowledgeable when it comes to food: they make for interesting clients because they are so open minded and welcome very different cooking traditions. The restaurants’ offer in London is amazing, both because of its quality and diversity, with Japanese or Italian restaurants that reach a level of quality that one would never find in Paris. And while I would argue that Paris remains the world capital for gastronomy, London comes ahead for everything involving concepts, variety and atmosphere.
How would you describe your culinary style and do you have a signature-dish? My style is all about products and feelings. I always look for the best quality in products, whether they come from the south-west of France or from Britain, which I then try to enhance in the kitchen by using a range of emotions that come from my various experiences, such as childhood memories, travels or encounters with people I’ve loved. I have many signature dishes, but the most accomplished probably is my oyster tartare tartare and caviar of Sologne served with a chilled velouté of white beans from Béarn.
What defines a good chef in your opinion? To be a good chef, one must respect the products, the clients and one’s team: without those, a chef is nothing. It’s also important to remain curious and to question oneself all the time. As Fernand Point, the father of modern French cuisine, used to say: “Every morning starts with an empty fridge”.
What are your favourite restaurants in London? I have a passion for Japanese food so am a big fan of Dinings, Umu and Zuma. When it comes to gastronomy, I really enjoy Pierre Koffman at the Berkeley and Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, which is also beautiful looking. With my girls, I like going to Joe Allen for burgers and to The Audley Pub for fish and chips.
Where do you buy your food in London? I get my cheese from Neal’s Yard in Borough Market, as I like the idea to introduce British cheese to my french friends, and buy my wines at Harrods or Selfridges’s food halls, which are well stocked. For bread, I go to Poilâne or Daylesford Organic, and to Borough Market for fruits and vegetables. I buy meat at Allens and can’t resist the macaroons at Pierre Hermé and the pastries from Ottolenghi. I get my pasta and olive oil from Mount Street Deli and my Spanish charcuterie at Brindisa.
What is your favourite dish and is there one that you really dislike? I do love a roasted chicken with fries! I can’t say that there is any dish I really dislike, but I absolutely hate melon, watermelon and celery.
Do you have any culinary tips? Always get the best products you can afford and cook them simply, without adding too many different ingredients.
Hélène Darroze’s Gourmet Address Book
- Hélène Darroze at The Connaught 16 Carlos Place W1 (Bond Street)
- Dinings 22 Harcourt Street W1 (Edgware Road)
- Umu 14-16 Bruton Street W1 (Oxford Circus)
- Zuma 5 Raphael Street SW1 (Knightsbridge)
- Pierre Koffman The Berkeley Wilton Place SW1 (Knightsbridge)
- Dinner by Heston Blumenthal Mandarin Oriental 66 Knightsbridge SW1 (Knightsbridge)
- Joe Allen 13 Exeter Street WC2 (Covent Garden)
- The Audley 43 Mount Street W1 (Bond Street)
- Neal’s Yard Borough Market 6 Park Street SE1 (London Bridge)
- Harrod’s Food Hall Harrod’s 87-135 Brompton Road SW1 (Knightsbridge)
- Selfridges’ Food Hall Selfridges 400 Oxford Street W1 (Bond Street)
- Poilâne 46 Elizabeth Street SW1 (Victoria)
- Daylesford Organic 208-212 Westbrourne Grove W11 (Notting Hill Gate)
- Borough Market 8 Southwark Street SE1 (London Bridge)
- Allens of Mayfair 117 Mount Street W1 (Green Park)
- Pierre Hermé 13 Lowndes Street SW1 (Knightsbridge)
- Ottolenghi 63 Ledbury Road W1 (Notting Hill Gate)
- Mount Street Deli 100 Mount Street W1 (Bond Street)
- Brindisa The Floral Hall Stoney Street Borough Market SE1 (London Bridge)