Dividing her time between London and Paris, Hélène Darroze, recently voted the world’s best female chef, is a culinary star both sides of the Channel, but London, she says, has won her heart. Words: Vicky Mayer
With three Michelin stars to her name – two for her role as Head Chef at the Connaught in Mayfair and one for her own restaurant in Paris, Hélène Darroze has her hands full. Add to this a busy life as mum to daughters, Charlotte, eight and Quiterie, six, you would think she has little time for life away from food and her family. But when I met her in the luxurious surroundings of the Connaught, this smart, effervescent woman was keen to talk about her on-going love affair with London.
I love the energy of London, it is incredible, everywhere you go, you feel it and I think it’s something we have lost a little bit in Paris. The unique mix of people from all around the world coupled with the city’s eccentricity gives it its spirit. I love Paris of course because it’s one of the most beautiful cities in the world but it’s a little bit sad at the moment. Here, you are allowed try things out, whereas Paris is more conservative and more critical. I’m lucky because I get the best of both worlds because I live and work in both cities but I’m less stressed in London because I don’t get recognised here so much.
I live in Mayfair because it suits my family life. When I am in London I work a lot so I need to be near the restaurant. But despite being in the centre of town, Mayfair feels like an amazing village. For example, I am a regular at the Mount Street Deli – I go there almost every day and they know me there. Their coffee is really good. Even in the middle of the city you are surrounded by green spaces – Green Park, Saint James’s Park and my favourite, Mount Street Gardens. You don’t get so much greenery in Paris, here I feel like I can breathe.
London has so many interesting neighbourhoods. One of my favourites is Notting Hill and I’d love to live there one day. I love the architecture, the ambience and the feeling you get when you visit there. I also love Shoreditch as it feels very different to most parts of London – almost like New York. I’ve always loved discovering new places and London has plenty of them so it’s impossible to get bored here.
I love to discover new places to eat. I often take my daughters to Roka, which is near where we live, because they love Japanese food and the staff are fantastic with kids. I love Umu too. The chef there is so creative and I love the casual atmosphere of the place. One of my new favourites is Kitty Fisher’s, here in Mayfair. I went recently and it was really fun. Because London is such a multi-cultural city you can now find food here from around the world. Whatever you’re looking for, you’ll find the best of it here. Ottolenghi is such a great example of this, great food with an international spin. I’ve also got a soft spot for traditional British food like fish and chips and sticky toffee pudding – that’s my downfall….
Visiting new bars in London is always fun. Recently when my cousin visited, she took me to some speakeasy places in Shoreditch which I loved but because I’m always so short of time, I usually just get friends to meet me here at the bar in the Connaught which David Collins designed. It’s fantastic and course, I know the staff!
My style of cooking comes from the heart. I am very lucky because I am allowed to follow my instincts here at the Connaught. The spirit here is the same as my restaurant in Paris. I like to think the product is the star of my food so I choose the best products I can and work according to the seasons. Then I add my emotions and feelings. I think female chefs are more instinctive and less technical than men. Women want to show a bit about themselves and their lives while the guys just want to show off their skills.
I love to shop for antiques. A friend introduced me to the shop Two Columbia Road in the East End and it’s a real find. I try and visit on Sundays so we can see the flower market. Last time I was there I bought a Danish style desk and I also recently bought a beautiful Chesterfield sofa. I’m not afraid to mix up periods; as long as I love what I buy, that’s what counts.
The fashion here is fantastic. I’m a big fan of McQueen. I love his clothes and was lucky enough to see the exhibition of his work at the V&A, it really touched me. I bought a dress of his at Selfridges, it’s one of my favourite stores because it seems to have everything and is quite audacious with the choice of what it offers. I buy a lot of my daughters’ clothes there and I also like Caramel for children’s clothes.
London is a great cultural destination. I’m a big fan of Bach’s cello suites and have a friend who is a violinist so if he is in town I like to go and support him. I have seen him play at Wigmore Hall and the Royal Albert Hall, both great venues for classical music. Going to see a show is something my daughters and I love doing together. We recently went to see Charlie And The Chocolate Factory and we’ve been to see the Lion King three times!
If I had a day to myself I would start with a little shopping trip, probably in Mayfair, checking out the stores in Dover Street then I’d stop in a good restaurant for lunch, not a gastronomic one, something trendier. I love Tate Modern so I’d probably go there in the afternoon then take a quick trip to buy a few things at Borough Market before heading off to the West End to meet friends and see a show.
If my Parisian friends came to live here I would stay forever. Though I love London, I miss my close friends when I am here. I have a few friends here but I work a lot so it’s hard to make new ones. Luckily, a lot of my French friends come to see me here. When I am in Paris I miss the freedom of London. Our family life here is very free and unstressed and that makes me happy.
It’s always going to be difficult to choose between London and Paris so maybe in the future we might choose to live in another city entirely. The one place I’d love to live and work in is New York. I’ve got no serious plans to go yet but you never know…