Luxury Travel Advisor had the chance to chat with French-born and trained chef, Laurent Tourondel, at the recent opening of his new London outpost and first-ever restaurant in Europe, Laurent at Café Royal, as his 14th restaurant around the world. The Piero Lissoni-designed, 110-seat restaurant sits up on the first floor of the hotel, with a glass-enclosed kitchen that cleverly joins two spaces—a chic bar room with views of Regent Street and a balcony of tables overlooking the newly redone lobby with its breathtaking 17 foot Murano glass chandelier.
What did we think? We loved the space and the food lived up to memories of meals enjoyed at his BLT restaurants in Manhattan (Tourondel has even brought over his signature popovers!). The menu is focused on grilled meat and fish with the exciting addition of a creative sushi bar. Despite the fancy surroundings, the vibe is definitely more easy dining versus fine dining, and is open for breakfast through dinner. Here is our conversation with chef Tourondel:
Why choose London as your first restaurant in Europe?
You probably would have guessed France but I have been living in New York since 1992 so I consider myself more New Yorker than Frenchman at this stage. I am thrilled to be returning to London. As a French chef, lots of people are shocked when I say I learned to cook here but, after training in France and and a stint in the Navy, London played a significant part in my career and I have always wanted to come back. I used to do weekend jobs at Hotel Café Royal in my youth and have so many fond memories. When the executives of The Set approached me after eating at my restaurant in Miami, it was an incredible opportunity, and it feels like I have come full-circle.
What about this restaurant excites you the most?
I love the design of the bar and open space overlooking the lobby, with the glass kitchen and the amazing grill—imported from Argentina. There's so much incredible equipment in this kitchen. Also the menu: We are using nearly 100 percent local ingredients—British strawberries, potatoes, crabs and even for the sushi, we use a local Wasabi that is milder than you find elsewhere.
What I love about the menu here is that people can choose to share or not. The sushi s great for sharing as are the sides. We are featuring meat from the U.K., which is grass-fed, and then one of our few imported items is corn-fed beef from the U.S., which is more fatty than the meat from here. The sushi is also really creative: I based the menu on popular items from my sushi bars in New York City, Miami and Panama, adding local flair—so, here, we have a gin-cured salmon sushi and a Cornish crab nigiri. The desserts also make me really happy. My favorite at the moment is a watermelon with local London-made honey and a lemon ricotta gelato. I guess a lot about this restaurant excites me!
Are you a fan of English food?
I love English food! Truly, I feel I learned how to cook in England and adore Shepherds Pie, Steak and Kidney Pie, the steamed puddings… We will be including our interpretation of classic English dishes seasonally. At the moment, we have a steamed rhubarb and ginger pudding on the menu; we will swap this for a plum pudding and mince pie for Christmas. I love mince pie! And English cheeses are incredible. We actually buy the cheese for the restaurant at Paxton & Whitfield, which has been around since the late 1700s and conveniently located just a block away on Jermyn Street.
What do you love best about the London food scene?
The diversity of flavors. Like New York, the food here is from all over the map. I love Indian food. I went to India twice in the last two years and I just love the flavors. Here, my chefs took me to Dishoom and we waited in line for 45 minutes, but it was worth it! I also really like a new Thai restaurant called Kiln in Soho—the Asian flavors are so intense and delicious. I also love some of the classic London restaurants: Scotts in Mayfair, for seafood, the recently redone Annabel’s, which has a really great vibe, and the new Jean Georges at The Connaught.
What is your favorite food market in London?
Not sure if it is exactly a food market but I really enjoy Spitalfields Market. They have a bunch of different stalls and restaurants and we ate a lot of great food.
What’s next for you?
I am opening a pizza restaurant in Sag Harbor (on Long Island) this summer called Sag Pizza, across the street from LT Burger. So, I’ll be busy with that, too. I love the Hamptons, particularly Sag Harbor and Montauk. But I’ll be back and forth to London, as well. I have a great team here with chefs I’ve brought over from New York and Miami.