Sultano goes to London/1

The chef from Duomo in Ragusa Ibla tells about dining in the best restaurants in town

09-01-2014
Ciccio Sultano, chef of Duomo in Ragusa Ibla, 2

Ciccio Sultano, chef of Duomo in Ragusa Ibla, 2 Michelin stars, tells us about his recent experience through London restaurants. Today the tale of Dinner by Heston and St. John

Everything began with a sudden desire: I wanted to go to London! With a plane ticket for 80 euros in hand, it was time to make restaurant reservations, following the Identità Golose guide, and off we went. We arrived in London, at Stansted Airport, from Comiso, and chose the Kensington Close & Spa hotel: it was comfortable and efficient.

In London, making a reservation means arriving on time and having dinner from this to that hour. I found a table at Heston’s from 10 pm to midnight but if you find one from 8 to 10 you need to get up at the end of your turn and this doesn’t mean that the chef will lose a star or some other award because of this: if you’re good, kind and professional, you can only grow. On top of that, no credit card, no table (something I also ask at Duomo, only in high season and only for tables of over 6 people). Not showing up at Heston’s will cost you fifty pounds.

The entrance of St. John in London, a temple of London meat

The entrance of St. John in London, a temple of London meat

I must say that in my opinion managing the table without this rule is difficult and in order to avoid clients not showing up, we ask them to confirm the table once again on the day before their visit: we call them back on the same day because our waiting list forces us to do so. If we get no reply, we sell the table to the first person on the waiting list. The ultimatum is at 7 pm: if the client hasn’t confirmed and we cannot get hold of him on the phone, we give the table away. All right? I linger on this reservation custom right away because it is the first big difference that stands out when making a comparison with what happens in Sicily where if you ask for a credit card, they “accuse” you of stressing the client. In London this rule is applied with normal ease and nobody would dare accusing you of anything.

This metropolis would deserve the Nobel prize for peace simply because of its underground and public transport. But let’s move on to the real subject. The first lunch on the tour was close to the meat market, at St. John, a bidduzzu , beautiful restaurant-cum-bakery... Nice setting, full of light, with skylights and large windows everywhere, something unusual in a city as cold as London. We walk from the entrance to a room with tables and we go inside the bakery-bar or the typical bakery. Waitresses dressed in kitchen uniforms give us a tiny and uncomfortable table. The coat of a lady brushes my right ear but I moved the table and fixed this. Had the place been full I would have justified such a bad accommodation but I then realised that during the whole lunch the restaurant remained empty.

I stress this point about the hospitality because I believe this has a large influence on the perception of the food. But let’s focus on the lunch: I ordered a pile and an English beer and ate as you would eat in a good trattoria: pork marrow with toasted bread and a salad made with raw onion, capers and vinegar (perfect and excellent), roasted lamb (which was too aged) and veal liver (perfectly cooked). We had fun.

The notorious Chicken liver parfait with mandarin of Heston Blumenthal

The notorious Chicken liver parfait with mandarin of Heston Blumenthal

We dined at Dinner By Heston. We left Kensington on foot. It’s only 3 km to Knightsbridge. We really wanted to have a walk, which is always beautiful in London. We got inside the Mandarin Hotel. We had an aperitif at the bar, they seated us and were very welcoming. We had a cocktail with Gin Hendrick’s, sake, ginger beer, fresh ginger, lemongrass and red shizo. Together with Heston’s famous meat mandarin (fantastic), the best experience in London.

When it was time for our turn, we sat and were served by an Italian man, a once picciotto, Andrea Berton. I chose Bollinger Rosé from the wine list. After all we were in London: James Bond and champagne... We chose three starters from the menu: Heston’s mandarin, smoked mackerel and octopus. For our main course we chose pigeon, pork, and Fillet of Aberdeen angus. Everything was extraordinary. Gabriella, my wife, ordered a Cake cooked in cream with a pineapple skewer which was also good.

I talked with the person serving us who told us that they do training every day in order to increase their service and reduce errors, to focus on details, which are always important. The communication between kitchen and dining room increases: waiters are asked to do training in the kitchen and understand the dishes in depth. In London, training and taking care of the client are essential concepts.

1. end of part one


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