My Home: How chef Theo Randall transformed his Victorian terrace
For Theo Randall, London's latest star chef, a state-of-the-art kitchen was vital. The renovations were a mouth-watering financial success too
Wednesday 10 January 2007
For years, Theo Randall, 38, was head chef at London's celebrated River Café. Now he has his own restaurant, Theo Randall At The Intercontinental, off Park Lane. He lives with his wife Natalie, Max, 7, and Lola, 5, in Chalk Farm, north London.
It sounds like a busman's holiday, but cooking is my way of winding down. After the frantic pressures of a restaurant kitchen, it's pleasantly relaxing to be able to produce food at a more leisurely pace while chatting to family or friends.
Our downstairs area is completely open-plan, light and airy with an inch-thick floor of polished beech and a huge table around which we can get up to 20 people. The wood for the table came from an oak that was blown over during the great storm of 1987. Natalie's father had it in his boardroom at one time.
My own father is an architect, which came in handy when we bought this place for £340,000 back in 2001 and asked him to redesign the interior. The house dates from the 1850s and is part of an elegant square that somehow survived the Second World War. Apparently, the Luftwaffe was trying to take out Euston Station but kept missing. This might explain why the neighbourhood has so many post-war estates dotted around. It's a very socially mixed area and that suits me fine. The important thing is that the square itself has a good community feeling. We know our neighbours and chat to each other on the street.
Mind you, we weren't too happy when one of the local kids booted a football through our front window not long after we'd moved in. One of the priorities when we started the renovation work was to install toughened glass, albeit in the original casement, with any rotten wood replaced.
From the outside the house looks like what it is: a Victorian villa. Inside we wanted something altogether more modern. For my father, that wasn't so much as an anathema as you might imagine. He was heavily influenced by modernists, like Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe. The notion of cooking, dining and having everyday family life going on in the same wide-open living space was quite natural to them.
There was a lot of work to do. The people who had the house before us were medical students who didn't have a lot of time, or inclination perhaps, to do much with it. You should have seen the curtains! Not to mention the botched plastering. The walls had been covered with cladding and woodchip, so we had to take everything right back to the brick before we could start again. No wonder the renovations took nine months instead of six and came in 30 per cent over budget. Worth it, mind you. The house was recently valued at over £700,000.
There's a spacious bathroom and three bedrooms. For the time being, the children share a room and use the other as a playroom. They can put their own pictures up alongside some rather nice pieces of art by the surrealist Joan Miro.
The kitchen area is very much my domain when I'm not at the Intercontinental. There's a lot of stainless steel because I like the look of it and it's easy to keep clean. My pride and joy is the oven, a Smeg, which is great for doing joints if I manage to get a Sunday off. I like to put in a shoulder of pork, for instance, blast it with heat to ensure some golden crackling, before turning it right down and leaving it. We can then take the kids off to play football on Primrose Hill, which is about five minutes' walk away. From there you can see London spread out before you, yet it doesn't feel as though you're in a city. Sometimes we go further afield to Hampstead Heath. After four or five hours, the meat is beautifully tender. You can twist the bone and it will just come away in your fingers.
In the summer months, I cook outside on the decking with a wood-burning stove. I might spit-roast a chicken or a leg of lamb. Or sometimes I cook a whole fish on the open grill, or do a loin of pork or veal with the lid down. Whatever it is comes out with that wonderful wood-roasted flavour.
Admittedly, there's not a lot of room out there. But at least the view has improved since the garages that used to be behind us has been replaced by mews properties with a grassy roof. Lovely yellow and orange flowers sprout from it in the spring and, even in the winter, there's a green bank to look at. It's another example of the way that London is constantly changing - often for the better.
Theo Randall At The Intercontinental, 1 Hamilton Place, London W1, 020-7318 8747, www.theorandall.com
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