Foodie Features

André Garrett – Lord Of The Manor

By Rosie Birkett

Revered for his Michelin-starred cooking at Galvin at Windows, André Garrett is now heading up the kitchens at luxury country retreat Cliveden House. He tells Rosie Birkett why he made the move, and how he’s bringing some London attitude to the countryside.

“You don’t get a much better address than Cliveden,” beams André Garrett, who seems to be making a habit of cooking in breathtaking settings. After seven and a half years at the helm of Michelin starred Galvin at Windows – on the 28th floor of the Hilton Park Lane Hotel, Mayfair – Garrett has taken up the reins as executive chef at Cliveden, a stunning National Trust country house hotel in Berkshire.

“It’s amazing really. I can’t get used to walking around and seeing my name everywhere – it’s very surreal.” The contrasts for the chef in his new role go further than replacing a crowded tube ride to work with a pastoral, ten minute car journey through the countryside and up the grand, tree-flanked drive of this historic property.

After years spent cooking under big-name chefs Nico Ladenis, Guy Savoy and Chris Galvin respectively, Garrett has finally got a place he can call his own. And what a place it is.

With a history dating back to the 1600s, this Relais and Chateaux property has long been the haunt of well-heeled sybarites (including Queen Victoria) and has played host to virtually every British monarch since George I.

The responsibility of a country house hotel has created a host of new challenges for the Somerset-born chef. “It’s been a bit of a baptism of fire really,” he says: “a massive change from Windows and London generally. There’s so much we need to do here because I’m not just running a restaurant, I’m looking after all the food and beverages, so everything from breakfast to afternoon tea has to have my stamp on it.”

When we speak, Garrett is in the process of researching potential breakfast dishes for the hotel – and is relishing the challenge. “It’s exciting because I’ve never really had to think about breakfast – unless you’re somewhere like the Wolseley, most places in London don’t – but I’ve been looking at breakfast menus from all over the world and they’re really interesting.”

The property’s colourful history is providing some inspiration for the chef. “We’re looking at perhaps giving the breakfast an American twist – the Astors, who owned Cliveden, were an American family, so we’re thinking about harking back to that and what they may have done here. The Americans really know how to do a good breakfast.”

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When it comes to the lunch and dinner menus, the chef’s style is firmly European, citing his French training and applying traditional and sometimes modern French technique to pristine produce, much of which is British. “We’ve opened with a heavily classical accent to the menus, which is me through and through and it fits in very well here. The dishes are accessible and very classically worded, but there’s a lot of technique and secret cheffy bits that are kept behind the scenes.”

One dish he’s particularly excited about is his reworking of the Escoffier classic of Dover sole Veronique – Dover sole poached in white wine with grapes. “It’s labour intensive,” he says. “I’ve updated and revamped it – I take the sole off the bone and roll it, then make the butter sauce with verjus instead of wine for a slightly perkier flavour. Then we dry the grapes so that they’re half way towards a sultana, which gives a different level of flavour and texture along with the verjus. It’s still Escoffier, but it’s restyled: that’s how we’ve started, but I want to evolve.”

A less classical dish of mackerel tartare witnesses Garrett’s capacity for lighter, more modern composition with international influences. Incorporating a smoked cod’s roe puree under a sparklingly fresh mackerel tartare, dressed with Japanese rice wine vinegar, lime zest, olive oil and fleur de sel, it comes with a light, vital salad of pickled black radish, pickled baby cucumbers and pak choi cresses, garnished with British caviar from an Exmoor caviar producer. “It’s a taste of the sea dish and the caviar gives a classical flourish, on top of the mackerel – keeping all those sea flavours going.”

But despite the evident opulence of his ingredients and surroundings, Garrett is clear that he doesn’t want any stuffiness in his dining room.

“One thing I’ve been keen to do is make sure that dining here is not stuffy or starchy. The excellence is there, but we let people enjoy themselves and have a good time without too many interruptions. There are no dish intros, the service staff are there to facilitate the meal with expertise, but leave the guests to it. I like to think that we’re keeping a London edge on things, but with Berkshire relaxation.”

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