In which Thomas Keller confesses where he'd really like to be eating in London as his pop-up French Laundry launches at Harrods
At the launch party at the Harrods Penthouse last night for the pop-up French Laundry (1-10 October), there was anticipation about what delights would be on Thomas Keller's £250 tasting menu: the famous “Oysters and Pearls”, or Buttermilk-Fried Wolfe Ranch White Quail perhaps?
Chef Keller, however, had set his mind somewhere else, beyond the starched tablecloths and capacious wine glasses of London's fine dining scene, when I spoke to him. Where in London was he looking forward to eating? 'I'm pleased to be staying at the Mandarin and eating at Heston's [Dinner] and Daniel's [Bar Boulud], but I'm looking forward to eating at just a normal Indian restaurant and having some authentic British food.'
Was there any chance of getting a decent curry in America? 'No!'
Within the pink-and-green Georgian Restaurant on the seventh floor, Harrods will construct a self-contained faithful recreation of the original restaurant in Yountville, California, with fixtures brought over from America. Keller himself will be at every service: two a day for ten days, with 70 covers at each. That means only 1,400 people will be able to eat there.
Among the guests, there were plenty of cooks (although in no danger of spoling any broth) – Michel Roux Jr, Gary Rhodes, Fergus Henderson – and other foodies – Fay Maschler, Jay Rayner.
I asked Gary Rhodes whether he'd been watching my new obsession, The Great British Bake-Off, which involves two of my favourite things: baking and competition. Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood set amateur bakers a range of challenges in a show which avoids the hysteria and cruelty of Masterchef while keeping its flair and skill.
'I'm usually cooking at night, and if I have time off I don't tend to watch cookery programmes. When I watch some of them I usually end up screaming at the TV, “You're doing it all wrong!” But he did confess to liking the programmes of Rick Stein ('He really shares his discoveries with you') and Michel Roux Jr, who was standing opposite him at the time.
Spear's will have an interview with Thomas Keller in our next issue, out October