When we met love guru Fred Sirieix – whose piercing gaze you will no doubt recognise as belonging to the très charmant maître d’ in Channel 4’s hit reality show First Dates – we discovered the doyen of dating has a lot of love for his hometown of Peckham, and an altruistic streak to boot…
Words: Madeleine Howell
Although First Dates is filmed at the Paternoster Chop House, our gourmet special star is in fact the General Manager at Galvin at Windows, the Michelin-star restaurant at the London Hilton on Park Lane. When he’s not offering up lessons in love on TV to the likes of Esther Rantzen and EastEnders’ actor Richard Blackwood, Sirieix is ensuring that lovebirds, families and friends alike are well looked after with his smooth, attentive front of house style.
He works closely with Chris Galvin – ‘we speak every day’ – and the talented Head Chef Joo Won. We love the Menu Degustation, which pairs seven delicious courses with fine wine – think roast halibut and pomme purée paired with prawn and dashi broth and a sip or two of Pouilly Fuissé. The ice cream soufflé, in particular, is not to be missed.
With stunning panoramic views of the London skyline in all its glory, the restaurant proved the perfect setting for our exclusive photo shoot and to talk about Sirieix’s native French cuisine, the art of the maître d’ and, of course, to find out what makes for a perfect dinner date.
‘When you’re on a date, or whether you’re with friends, the service can make an incredible difference,’ he says. ‘It’s about paying attention, and giving attention. It’s important for me, as a maître d’, to establish trust every single step of the way, at every touch point.
You don’t want to doubt what will happen next – whether a waiter will bring you a drink or bring you your food, whether or not he’s going to bring you the bill. A good front of house will bring you these things before you even realise you are waiting for it.’
This month, Sirieix’s first book will be released in hardback. First Dates: The Art of Love is sure to be full of his trademark match-making tips
This month, Sirieix’s first book will be released in hardback, and First Dates: The Art of Love is sure to be full of his trademark match-making tips. The art of good service is something Sirieix is passionate about – so much so that a few years ago he founded National Waiter’s Day as a way to celebrate the skills required and to raise the profile of the somewhat underrated profession.
‘I wanted to showcase the breadth of opportunities that there are for careers in front of house and in the hospitality industry, and to create an event to draw attention. I thought why not with an old-fashioned, old-school waiter’s race?’
The scope of the event has grown and grown, and although it started off small, this year it will take place in Hyde Park on 20 October. It’s not the only campaign Sirieix has spearheaded in order to make a difference. He also set up The Right Course at HM Prison Isis closer to home in south east London, a scheme to teach prisoners his trade.
‘A lot of people are in prison because they didn’t have the chances I had,’ he says by way of explanation. As a result, a number of young offenders have won contracts at establishments including the Royal Automobile Club, Apex Hotel and The Goring. ‘We aim to give people a sense of achievement,’ he adds. Sirieix holds regular restaurant pop-ups at the prison (the last one, to give you a flavour, was hosted by top chef José Pizarro).
Next up, Sirieix is hoping to roll out the initiative across the UK. You’d think he has enough on his plate (sorry), but he’s also keen to support the rebirth of Peckham Lido. ‘It will cost a lot of money and take time, but if you don’t try, you won’t succeed.’
As well as an evident passion for what he does, we also discovered that Sirieix harbours a nostalgic love of the cuisine and plats traditionnels of his homeland (he grew up in Limoges). French may be the language of love, but is Gallic dining a romantic choice, too? ‘It can be a cuisine for romance, and for celebrations, but it is also for the every day.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner should be about people coming together. When I grew up I ate dishes like boeuf bourguignon, coq au vin and pain à la moutarde every day at the table with my family
‘Breakfast, lunch and dinner should be about people coming together. I love snails, frog’s legs, steak tartare and all the classics. When I grew up I ate dishes like boeuf bourguignon, coq au vin and pain à la moutarde every day at the table with my family. I was very lucky. It’s what I grew up with.’
No discussion of French food would be complete without the mention of cheese, and Sirieix is a devout fan. ‘There is a cheese for every day of the year in France and people keep inventing new varieties… I love camembert, bleu d’Auvergne and reblochon. Oh my god, reblochon!’
And on the subject of his favourite tipple, the answer is simple: ‘Champagne, champagne, champagne,’ he declares. ‘You don’t have to worry about getting it wrong, because you will always get it right with champagne.’