Ian Pengelley’s latest venture Beyond London on High Street Kensington blends restaurant with laboratory as he experiments with new, elaborate Pan-Asian recipes
If ever you’re starting to feel jaded with the city’s restaurant scene, it’s worth remembering that there is now a place that serves food with an origami menu, which you will need a special magnifying glass to decipher. It’s a place where innovation will be as important as the quality of the food. The establishment, aptly named ‘Beyond London’, is the newest offering from chef Ian Pengelley, who, after several years at Camden’s epic Gilgamesh, is now operating a mini-empire that includes Chai Wu at Harrods and a role as consultant chef at Belgravia’s Mango Tree, as well as being a partner in Soho’s House of Ho.
Pengelley, who claimed that he wanted to ‘bring some excitement’ to food, has ambitious plans. As he says, ‘High Street Kensington doesn’t really have any places like this, so our biggest challenge is getting the locals behind us. We’re taking a risk with the market by bringing something new, fresh and out of the ordinary.’ This will consist of what he describes as ‘the Pengelley classics’, but also ‘fun items like the origami menu, liquid nitrogen with the food and ‘out there’ presentations.’
He has known the team behind Beyond London for six years, and described it as, ‘a really cool project, so it was hard to pass it up’. To this end, he’s been taking inspiration from the German chef Michael von Hruschka at The Birdcage, whom Pengelley says, ‘does a lot of interesting stuff. The food and drinks are incredibly creative so it’s also an extension of that creativity and it makes dinner a bit more playful.’
At Beyond, he’s working closely with mixologist Andy Mill. It’s a collaboration that’s going to be central to the project; as Pengelley puts it, ‘It’s been great to work alongside Andy, he’s a star and a genius. We get on really well and consistently bounce back ideas off of each other to see what will work and how we can push things even further.’ It promises to be a rather different prospect from Chai Wu or Mango Tree. Pengelley describes the cuisine as ‘not traditional Thai or Chinese food, it’s about taking the best dishes from my travels – from Shanghai to Tokyo – all of my favourite dishes and giving them the Pengelley twist. It’s all about food that’s really well done, elegant and sexy.’
He’s excited about his latest Kensington project, not least because it’s an area that he calls ‘a great location, full of great people who know great food’. It wasn’t always thus; an earlier project, the Gordon Ramsay-backed Pengelley’s on Sloane Street, was a flop, and as he candidly says, ‘I lost everything and thought it was over… I was very naïve when I worked there.’ It taught him the important lesson of partnering with people who had a similar style and aesthetic to his brand, but thankfully there was a swift upsurge in his fortunes, ‘two months later, I was winning awards, so it was a great comeback.’
Today, he’s at the top of his profession, and he ascribes his interest in Asian food to growing up in Hong Kong. ‘I moved there when I was seven, and my mum took myself and my siblings downtown. It was an unforgettable experience. It attacked your senses – fish markets and meat markets everywhere: what I saw, heard and could smell was from another world. I ran into a Chinese kitchen and an old Chinese man sat me on a stool and served me, a little ginger kid, some fried duck. That had a massive impact on me. Between the smells, the people, the food and seeing it all prepared with blow torches or fried was such a great experience for a young kid.’ After working as a kitchen porter, he was given his first break young and has never looked back. ‘I love the creativity of it, and the camaraderie in the kitchen. I even love the hours.’
Pan-Asian cuisine is now, of course, a mainstay in London restaurants, and this is something that delights Pengelley. ‘When I started out in Notting Hill at E & O, Pan-Asian was super cool but now it’s exploded. It’s everywhere – you’ve got Peruvian Japanese, Californian Japanese – you’ve got all sorts of variations and imitations. Pan-Asian is always going to be popular, it’s light and healthy. Asian cuisine has transformed from takeaways with MSG to an interactive, healthy and friendly way of eating and the British public have taken to it.’
It’s because of this success that he has such a full schedule of things coming up, including more involvement with the House of Ho, work with Oceana Cruise Lines, a possible opening in Miami and even a potential expansion for Beyond London – fittingly, given its name; a state of affairs that he describes as ‘a very busy time, but very exciting.’ But first of all, there’s Christmas, and how will a no-doubt relaxing Pengelley spend it? ‘I’ll be working, but also spending time with family. Lots of eating, drinking and sleeping – not necessarily in that order!’ One can hardly begrudge him the chance to end a memorable 2015 in such a fashion.
Beyond London, 1A Kensington High Street W8 5NP; beyond-lounge.com