The successor to Gordon Ramsay at Claridge’s, and chef behind L’Enclume and former pop-up Roganic, Simon Rogan opens his first permanent restaurant in London, Fera at Claridge’s. Alexander Larman finds out more from the man himself
Simon Rogan isn’t a household name. Not yet, anyway. This isn’t because he’s some sort of shrinking violet when it comes to publicity – he’s made frequent appearances on TV, not least in a recent series about the launch of another new restaurant in the infamously tough Manchester dining scene.
A more obvious reason is that he isn’t all that interested in the nitty-gritty of publicity, preferring to devote himself to the kitchen. However, what he might lack in column inches is more than made up for in talent. His steady rise has seen him open a restaurant that is often described as one of Britain’s best, L’Enclume in the Lake District, and then launch a much-heralded two year pop-up in London, Roganic. It achieved excellent reviews, albeit with the odd grumble that it had a built-in sell-by date. Given the response, a return to London on a permanent basis was always on the cards.
Now he’s back, and he could hardly have a more grandiose base to be at. His new restaurant replaces Gordon Ramsay’s previous stronghold, and its name – meaning ‘wild’ in Latin – sets out the talented Mr Rogan’s stall more than accurately. It might be set in the none-more-upmarket settings of Claridge’s, but it retains all the unusual dishes and keen emphasis on provenance for which L’Enclume has attracted so many plaudits; a typical menu might include ‘plaice braised in nettle butter, horseradish, cockles and salsify’ or ‘beetroot cake, sea buckthorn curd, liquorice and buttermilk.’
Speaking to Simon on the eve Fera’s opening, he seems both excited and quietly confident about his new home, saying that ‘it feels like we have been in the planning stages forever and I can’t wait to open the doors.’
He speaks glowingly about the space that they’re moving into, claiming ‘it’s a really beautiful dining room’, and, when asked about the central differences between it and Roganic, states, ‘it’s an obvious change, because we’ve moved from a small space in Marylebone to one of the most glamorous addresses in the world.’ There’s a real buzz and air of excitement – as he says, ‘we’ve got a large team of 45 chefs, and it’s really important that we co-ordinate everything so that we’re able to do a great job from the start.’
It’s something of a change from L’Enclume, which made a great virtue out of the contrast between its homely setting in an (admittedly expensive) village in Cumbria and the complexity of the cooking, but as Simon points out, ‘the environment might change between all our restaurants in the room, feeling and location of the restaurant, but our ethos remains the same for all of our places. Our plans for Fera are simple ones – we want to open seamlessly and to engage with London, which remains a distinctive place to open a restaurant.’
One challenge is that there’s no such thing as a conventional menu, which will instead change according to seasons – there will, however, be a three course à la carte menu in a nod to London sensibilities. However, rather than having a signature dish, individual experience is key to the Fera experience – as Simon explains, ‘it’s up to our customers to decide what their highlight is, rather than us having something that they ‘must try’.
It’s this spirit of freedom and not wanting to prescribe that’s been a hallmark of Simon’s career, both since he started L’Enclume in 2002 and before – he describes his reasons for becoming interested in food as both family (‘my dad worked with the local fruit and veg market in Southampton, and as a youngster I would sit on crates, watching produce arrive from all over the world. My dad would bring home bags of unusual ingredients, and we would experiment in the kitchen’) and personal (‘I had a crush on my home economics teacher’). Although there have been a few tricky spots since he began his career in his local Greek restaurant and at catering college, it’s been a progressively upwards journey ever since.
And what of his relationship with the man he replaced? Simon admits that it was ‘daunting’ following in the footsteps of Gordon Ramsay but says that he’s been nothing but gracious to his successor. ‘He sent me a lovely bottle of Champagne and some flowers to congratulate me, which was really nice of him.’ So there you have it – underneath all the bluster and shouting, the sweary Scot’s just a softie after all. Nonetheless, perhaps his bonhomie stems from the fact that he knows that the brilliant Rogan is very much the real deal, and no doubt he’ll be the first in line for a reservation – we will be just behind him, and relishing every second of the wait.