Flourishes from the saucerer's apprentice

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IT SEEMS a bit quaint, the notion of apprenticeships. Yet that is exactly how restaurant kitchens work, no matter how glossy the equipment. It does not always follow that the master will beget a master: frequently masters suffer long successions of bunglers, or simply produce dutiful imitators. And masters sometimes emerge from unlikely quarters, from hamburger joints and even (a long shot) catering colleges.

Harvey Nichols is banking a bundle on just about the best apprentice in town, Henry Harris. This 29-year-old sous-chef graduated to chef status when he left Bibendum, in South Kensington, last March to set up the cafe and restaurant in the store's new fifth-floor food halls, which will open in mid-November.

How much does Harris owe to Bibendum? Plenty, but more to its chef, Simon Hopkinson, whom he joined as an absolute novice almost eight years ago at the South Kensington restaurant Hilaire. He caught Hopkinson's attention during a shift when the kitchen was discussing a vegetarian dish, and Mr Harris, hitherto silent, coolly suggested 'feuillete of freshly clubbed seal'.

Eight years later he can now, in kitchen-speak, 'cook Simon'. Though visitors to the new restaurant in Harvey Nichols may not eat literal translations of Bibendum's dishes, the spirit of Hopkinson's repertoire will be there.

'Having worked for Simon for so long, there will be a fair amount of regional-style French cookery. It's something I love doing and it seems silly to do something different just to be different,' says Harris.

Dishes being experimented with for the new restaurant include sautee of king prawns with olive oil, chilli pepper, garlic and sherry, and steamed game puddings.

Like Bibendum, the style of the restaurant will be smart but unstuffy, with linen napkins and waiters in waistcoats. For the cafe, it will be bare tables and staff in T-shirts and jeans.

The cafe menu will cash in on the vogue for Mediterranean-influenced food. 'But it will not be plate after plate of buffalo mozzarella,' says Harris. There will always be soup, say a white bean soup with pesto. There will be risotto, pasta and 'salady-type' things and grilled fish and meat. A lunch of, say, grilled red mullet, a glass of wine, mineral water, ice-cream and coffee should cost about pounds 18, including a tip.

As if a 120-seat restaurant and 80-seat cafe were not work enough, Harris was also involved in the stocking of the food halls. This is to take in wines, wet fish, smoked fish, charcuterie, meat, bread, pastries, dried goods, pulses, pastas and so on. There will also be a section selling antiquarian cookery and wine books.

Harvey Nichols hopes to keep prices within reach of the common purse. This is a tall order. But lunch in the restaurant should certainly come in at pounds 30. Add to the equation a lovely roofscape and interiors (see main feature) carefully designed to maximise atmosphere, and there is certainly great potential. Its fulfilment is in the hands of the apprentice.

Harvey Nichols Food Hall, Knightsbridge, London SW1 (071-235 5000), opening in mid-November. Cafe open 10am-11pm; approx pounds 15-pounds 25 per head including 2-3 courses, wine, coffee, service and VAT. Restaurant open lunch and dinner; approx pounds 30- pounds 50 per head. Major credit cards.

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