One of Britain's most hotly tipped young chefs has walked out of his acclaimed restaurant residency after just a month amid claims that he did not wish to cook "pub grub" such as steak or burger and chips.
Ben Spalding, 25, has won rave reviews for his innovative cooking at the John Salt bar and restaurant in Islington, north London, but yesterday he said his position had become "untenable".
His 12-course tasting menu had featured dishes including a brick coated in caramel glaze with chicken liver parfait and a 45-component salad.
The Independent's review of John Salt, which opened in November, praised Mr Spalding's "extraordinary" cooking and described his heel of beef as "like a roast on ecstasy; every taste is heightened".
But at the weekend it was revealed the young chef had walked out of his six-month residency with immediate effect, despite sold-out bookings into the New Year.
Announcing his departure, Mr Spalding hinted at a dispute with the owners of the restaurant. He said: "When teams part ways you hear a lot said about different directions. That is the case with John Salt and I. They wish to present a different food offering. I wish them well, but their plans are not my plans." Last night sources close to the chef claimed that he had refused to compromise and cook gastropub staples such as "burger and chips", although the restaurant declined to comment on the reasons for his exit.
Mr Spalding, who claims to survive on less than three hours sleep a night, has a CV featuring stints at the world's top restaurants, including Heston Blumenthal's three-star Fat Duck, in Bray, Berkshire, and Le Manoir, the two-star Oxfordshire restaurant run by Raymond Blanc.
His last position was at Simon Rogan's critically-acclaimed and award-winning Roganic. Mr Spalding said he would "make amends" to people with bookings at John Salt and has offered to cook and arrange a venue for groups of disappointed diners.
He said: "We're looking for investors and at restaurant locations now with a view to creating something very special.
"I'm hoping I'll be able to invite you to my own restaurant very soon."
While Mr Spalding's carefully worded statement offered little insight into the reasons for his walkout, his postings on Twitter yesterday shed more light on the situation.
He said his position had become "untenable" and he would work permanently on his "terms" and with the "right people" in his next venture.
In another posting he said the situation had been "handled in a poor, disrespectful way".
John Salt said it would be offering a 50 per cent discount to customers who had booked expecting Mr Spalding's cooking. The restaurant said in a statement: "Together we have made the joint decision to finish on a high and to follow the different decisions we both wish to pursue.
"We wish Ben well with his future plans."