London has long been a leader on the international food stage, attracting chefs from all over the world. The past year has been no exception, with the likes of Marcus Samuelsson, Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Dominique Ansel laying down roots there. Though it's been a hard summer for the city, international chefs are proving London is still one of the greatest cities in the world—and we're not the only ones who've noticed.
Take it from Samuelsson, who just opened his first and only outpost of Red Rooster in Shoreditch. Ever since the Harlem-based restaurant hit big, the celebrity chef has been getting proposals to open a second Red Rooster in cities around the globe. But for Samuelsson, there's only ever been one choice. Having grown up in Sweden, he says "London was always the first big city that you would go to," explaining the nostalgic appeal for him personally. But it couldn't be just London—it had to be East London, he says.
Chef Marcus Samuelsson | Photo: Matt Dutile
Shoreditch has "a strong sort of gravitas in terms of creativity. [It's] anchored writers and artists in the same way that Harlem is rooted with music. There's a level of excitement there," Samuelsson says.
The original Red Rooster is so tied to Harlem that the only way to open a second would be to find somewhere Samuelsson could similarly foster and draw from a community. After extensively visiting Shoreditch, admiring the graffiti and hanging out on Broadway Market, he spent the last three years working "on creating a sense of family" there by learning about and getting to know the neighborhood, hosting a series of events, and bringing over his team from NYC.
The Shoreditch menu includes new dishes inspired by the neighborhood's Jewish roots, as well as ones that call to Samuelsson's own Swedish background, like herring. "We are working more with livers, because we're closer to Hackney butcher shops," the chef says. Some dishes, like a duck tartare, are completely new, while others, like his grandma's meatballs, are the same fare you'll find in Harlem. "It's not a good idea to mess with that," he says. There's also a taqueria above the restaurant, where they're making their own tortillas and serving tiki drinks to wash it all down.
Bringing all these elements together was quite the hustle, Samuelsson says. "We went down to Brixton to find people to help us with our jerk [seasoning]; we were calling up the Mexican embassy to get better Mexican ingredients. . . ."
By embracing the neighborhood's rich history, as well as the city's tradition of internationally driven innovation, he's opened one of the city's most exciting restaurants.
Dominique Ansel is doing the same with his bakery, which opened this past fall. Fans can, of course, find Cronuts, but he's also serving London-inspired treats like a Welsh rarebit croissant, filled with Guinness Worcestershire cheddar béchamel, and banoffee paella, his take on the British classic, cooked upside down in a paella pan, which allows the bananas to caramelize.
"I think one of my favorite things about London and the UK is that there’s an inherent respect for history and tradition," Ansel says. "There’s history and heritage everywhere you turn, whether that’s in art, architecture, food, even just walking down the street, and that to me is really inspiring."
Fried Yard Bird at Red Rooster Shoreditch| Photo: Red Rooster Shoreditch
Samuelsson, Ansel and renowned chefs like Emma Bengtsson of NYC's Aquavit, who recently opened Aquavit London, and Paris's Anne-Sophie Pic, who opened La Dame de Pic this January, all take cues from the city's traditional cuisine and local ingredients. "I let the English products and producers inspire me," the three-Michelin-starred Pic says. For Tomer Amedi, chef at The Palomar, still one of London's buzziest restaurants after being open three years, that means weaving scallops and pork belly into his Israeli-inspired cooking.
One of the city's greatest traditions is embracing international cuisines, whether chefs take British cues or not. Compared to Parisians, for example, "Londoners are much more daring in their choices of food and menu," Pic says. "In London, there is a real openness onto the world."
It was that openness that convinced Amedi to cook from his Jerusalem upbringing instead of trying to meet some imaginary ideal.
"In the beginning, I thought the food had to be decadent and posh and proper," he says. But cooking what he knows has caught the whole city, and indeed the whole world's, attention. Likewise, when Samuelsson made his own fried chicken for his London-based crew, they couldn't get enough of it.
What else but a celebration of diverse cuisines would lead so many chefs to continue moving to London? This summer will also see an opening from Vongerichten, who will have a casual spot in The Connaught hotel. And before the end of the year, chef Manish Mehrotra will open his third Indian Accent. NYC's Red Farm is supposed to be next.
As Amedi puts it, "Food brings everyone together." And for London, that includes some of the biggest names in the food world.