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February 10, 2011

Quick, quick, slow

By Spear's

Henry Togna has hospitality in his genes, so it was no surprise when he extended it to Spear’s, providing a lunch at Tempo, his restaurant on Curzon Street, for the judging of the Spear’s Wealth Management Awards

Henry Togna has hospitality in his genes, so it was no surprise when he extended it to Spear’s, providing a lunch at Tempo, his restaurant on Curzon Street, for the judging of the Spear’s Wealth Management Awards. Crab linguine in the private dining room made the intensive labour of balancing banks and weighing up wealth management firms pleasurable.

Henry’s grandparents ran four hotels in London, including Eyrie Mansion at 22 Jermyn Street (so called because it was next to Eagle Place), which remained in the family while the others were sold off. Henry bought it from his dubious father, who thought his son, working in property, knew nothing about hotels. His father, ‘an idiosyncratic, highly eccentric man’, used to walk around the hotel, knocking on guests’ doors and offering them scotch as he chatted to them. ‘He built a successful business on the pleasure that many people got from his completely natural approach.’

When Henry took over the hotel in 1990, he refurbished it and rebranded it as 22 Jermyn Street, a boutique hotel before the term existed. It might seem a semi-logical move to go into restaurants after hotels, but 22 Jermyn Street did not have its own restaurant, thus when Henry bought Tempo from a friend who had inherited it from his father — ‘being a lawyer and living in the South of France weren’t ideal for running a restaurant’ — he was breaking further new ground.

After a rapid eight-week turnaround over the summer of 2010, Tempo opened to storming reviews, most of which were incredulous at an Italian restaurant employing a Japanese chef, albeit one who had trained in Italy and worked in some of London’s best Italian kitchens. A languorous lunch there recently proved exactly why other chefs keep flocking there (and Henry’s friendship with them is not the only reason).

We started with three different types of carpaccio, including beef piled high with parmesan and hazelnuts, giving crunch and contrast. The wild boar ragu with chestnuts on pappardelle was sweet, bringing up winey flavours from the depth, and (for there must always be a secondo) the pork belly was a perfect balance of chew and give, fat and flavour. At this point, Hedgehog was fit to burst and so restorative mint tea was called for.

It seems that Henry has taken to running a restaurant with gusto, greeting his guests and exploring everything the kitchen has to offer in his fortnightly tastings. While we are eating, Henry talks about the intricacies of the kitchen, with the chef, Yoshi Yamada, taking pains over each detail, such as the herbs that go into the stock for the risotto. It sounds exacting, but Henry sounds thrilled.

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