Kitchen that was too hot for rioters

The Ledbury restaurant, where staff defended diners from the mob, has been named the finestin London. By Tom Peck

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The Independent Online

It has been known for some time that the chefs at the Ledbury in Notting Hill were probably the hardest in London. Now, it seems, they are the best.

It was only three weeks ago that chefs burst from the kitchen with rolling pins and frying baskets to chase away rioters armed with baseball bats who had crashed through the window and were stealing customers' personal belongings. Now the restaurant has been named the finest in the capital by the prestigious Harden's Guide.

The 2012 edition of Harden's London Restaurants, published yesterday, ranked the Ledbury number one for food. The rating is based on reports from more than 8,000 diners.

Its main chef, the Australian Brett Graham, is only the third since 2000 to top the poll. The title was held by Gordon Ramsay until 2008, when Marcus Wareing took over, though Ramsay has seen quite a fall from grace since then, with his restaurant at Claridge's this year winning the poll for the most disappointing cooking.

Peter Harden, co-editor of the guide, said: "Brett Graham and the team at the Ledbury, who acquitted themselves so well in defending their customers against a mob, deserve the highest credit for establishing it as the restaurant where you find London's best food."

On Monday 8 August, the worst night of rioting in the capital, the restaurant's already burgeoning reputation enjoyed a significant boost after masked men robbed diners of phones, cash and jewellery.

Kitchen staff and waiters chased the men off and rounds of champagne and whisky were handed round to the traumatised guests. But it quickly became apparent that the looters were returning, leading staff to usher guests into the bathrooms and the wine cellar and lock the doors.

Customers at the restaurant on the night praised the staff, calling them "wonderful," saying they had "gone well beyond the call of duty". The chefs became minor heroes of the riot, becoming the subject of thousands of tweets and Facebook messages.

Mr Graham said: "On the night, we did not charge anyone for anything, even people who had finished and were waiting to pay their bill. My customers are the most important thing, so we took great care of them, walked them to the Tube, made sure they got home safely. All the staff were fantastic. The next day everyone was called, and if they want to come back and make a booking, of course we will look after them."

The Ledbury was awarded its second Michelin star last year, but Mr Graham, 32, said he had never expected such success for the restaurant.

"It is a massive honour and privilege to be voted by our customers. That is the most important thing," he said. "I am really chuffed because three years ago we were not even in the top 20. We don't try to get into guides – the best recognition is we are full every day."

Graham opened the Ledbury in 2005 at the age of just 26. Originally from Newcastle in New South Wales, his mother worked for a pharmaceutical company and his father ran a tractor shop. He came to the UK to join the Square in Mayfair where he made desserts, and in 2006 he was named British Young Chef of the Year.

The tasting menu at the Ledbury is £145 a head with wine. The food is primarily French haute cuisine, with favourites including chestnut and truffle soup, baked loin of sika deer cooked in hay with root vegetables, chocolate malt and homemade sauerkraut.

The restaurant was also highest new entry in the San Pellegrino World's 50 Best Restaurants, where it was placed at 34. At number five, Heston Blumenthal's Fat Duck, in Bray, Berkshire, was the only UK restaurant to beat it.

In the Best for Food (£85 plus) category in the 2012 edition of Harden's London Restaurants:

1. The Ledbury Brett Graham, Notting Hill

2. Le Gavroche Michel Roux Jr, Mayfair

3. One-O-One

Pascal Proyart, Knightsbridge

4. The Square

Philip Howard, Mayfair

5. Marcus Wareing

Marcus Wareing, Knightsbridge

Discreet as a footman, quiet as a nun and modest as a fieldmouse about its achievements, the Ledbury is the antithesis of the Gordon Ramsay/Heston Blumenthal breed of restaurant. As you walk past its ash-grey walls and take in the hedges and the huge terrace umbrellas, you'd swear it was hiding away from the world. Inside, its white-beige-cream decor is studiedly understated, the staff are friendly but not intrusively matey, and it lets the food do the talking.

The Ledbury's secret weapon is Brett Graham, the Australian head chef installed by owner Nigel Platts-Martin when it opened in 2005. While its cooking style is nominally French haute cuisine, Graham brings such an inspired mélange of pan-European and Pacific Rim touches – flame-grilled mackerel with smoked eel; Celtic mustard and shiso; Yorkshire grouse with prunes cooked in lapsang souchong; deer baked in hay with sauerkraut and chocolate – you'd be pushed to call it anything but Brett Cuisine.

By John Walsh