Emily Green suggests

Two temperamental but great chefs
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
Two London cooks, Nico Ladenis and Marco Pierre White, staked their happiness in pursuit of the highest ranking French honour professional cooking has to offer: three Michelin stars. One waited more than two decades, moving periodically in favour of ever-grander premises; another came close to heart failure and endured a series of broken marriages. Late last month, both achieved their dreams

NICO LADENIS

Nico Ladenis has cooked in Britain for 22 years, and for every one of them, he has dreamed of Michelin stars: three of them. Two weeks ago, he and his family finally earned them for Chez Nico, 90 Park Lane, W1 (071-409 1290). For many of those who witnessed his long struggle, his obsession was worrying. What if the third star never came? Several years ago, staff and friends watched with dismay when Nico's expectations were excited by a hoax rumour - probably the work of a rival chef. Privately, friends worried about his tendency to anger easily and listen late.

His gaffes obscured the many occasions he made sense. During an era dominated by the Berni brothers, he railed against the sort of customer who invariably demanded a gin and tonic and well-done steak. Just as service-shy Britain decided to take hospitality seriously, he noisily insisted the customer was not always right. Asked to name his favourite restaurant, he named his own. Asked what he looked for in others, he cited "cleanliness". Oddly enough, this remark is sincere: an immaculate restaurant will signal to Mr Ladenis a proprietor who cares about details as much as he himself does.

With all respect for hygiene, Mr Ladenis's genius, to my mind, has been in his restraint, to be found in the simplicity of the dining rooms, the invisibility of the service and his cooking. He is a classic cook, for whom weird is not wonderful. Dishes such as foie gras on bean salad, goat's cheese ravioli and baked red mullet dressed lightly with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and split olives show the deftness with which he navigated ever-fashionable Mediterranean cooking.

Set-price three-course lunch £25 with six options in each category. Major credit cards. Open Mon-Fri lunch, Mon-Sat dinner. And while the gastronomic experiences are no doubt to be had in Park Lane, his bistro, `Simply Nico', in Pimlico and restaurant in Great Portland Street, `Nico Central', are also excellent.

MARCO PIERRE WHITE

It was in the late Seventies, when film people were referring to Apocalypse Now as Apocalypse When?, that Francis Ford Coppola issued the sudden directive that he would henceforth be known as Francis Coppola. Evidently, he remembered someone having said, "Never trust a man who uses his middle name".

Well, ring The Restaurant Marco Pierre White, 66 Knightsbridge, SW1 (071-259 5380) and you may find folks thereabouts referring to their in- house legend suddenly as "Marco White". Who knows where the Anglo-Italian from Leeds got the middle name Pierre in the first place, but it would seem he has jettisoned it at the news that, according to Michelin, he has just become one of the youngest chefs ever to earn three stars. Mr White has decided he is the youngest ("I beat Ducasse by a few months"). According to Michelin, he is the first British-born chef to be so honoured. Mr White describes this as "a great day for British cooking".

While you don't get Michelin stars for clowning around in the media, Mr White amply illustrates that you get media attention if you have Michelin stars. Hacks dabbling in the food world traded mainly in Nico stories until Mr White took over a small restaurant called Harvey's in Wandsworth, south London, in 1987. The following year, he had his first Michelin star, and became the subject of a sensational Sunday Times Magazine profile, which sealed his reputation as a profane young heart-throb, or, in the words of another Michelin-starred chef, "a jerk who can cook".

By 1990, at the age of 27, he became the youngest chef ever to win two Michelin stars. Just shy of 30, his kitchen now famously frenetic, he narrowly averted a heart attack. Meanwhile, marriages came and went, some recorded by Hello! magazine. In the autumn of 1992, he opened the Canteen in Chelsea, then set up several former staff ("my boys") in places of their own. Determined to earn his third star, several years ago, he followed Nico's example by leasing out a grand restaurant premise in a Forte-owned hotel. Anyone inclined to believe he had calmed down changed their minds when, in a culmination to a long-running feud, he kicked the editor of The Good Food Guide out of his dining-room. More recently, he has been insulting the restaurant critic from The Guardian in the pages of Arena.

Yet customers looking for trouble at The Restaurant Marco (Pierre) White will probably be disappointed. The room is handsome, the service gracious and the food (in spite of its predictable cast of "luxury" ingredients) beautifully cooked. From a set lunch might come two perfect quails topped with bacon and served in a light sauce cut by grapes that have been soaked in beaumes de venise. Puddings are among the best anywhere.

It merits adding that by the late Eighties Mr Coppola was using his middle name again.

Set-price three-course lunch £25, with choices of two items each course. Major credit cards. Open Mon-Fri lunch, Mon-Sat dinner

Comments