It’s been 10 years since Theo Randall took over the restaurant at the InterContinental – and he’s marking it with a makeover and whole new launch, Theo’s Simple Italian in Earl’s Court
Words: Mark Kebble
Theo Randall may have been integral to London’s finest kitchens for over 25 years, but that doesn’t stop him anxiously asking how our resident foodie, Alexander Larman, found a newly launched menu at the InterContinental. ‘Very good’, I say, to which he breathes a sigh of relief and utters ‘that’s good’.
He surely needn’t have worried when you consider his standing as one of the finest purveyors of Italian cuisine. After enjoying a fruitful stint at acclaimed The River Cafe for 15 years, he left to launch Theo Randall at the InterContinental ten years ago.
‘I can believe it,’ he says on the swift passing of time. ‘Restaurants are hard work, you have your head down and don’t think about those sort of things. It has been a very good ten years.’
The occasion has been marked with a bit of a refurbishment, although Randall insists it wasn’t planned to coincide with his anniversary. ‘We have been talking about it for a while,’ he reveals. ‘When the restaurant first opened I thought the room was OK, I was never mad about it and was always something I wanted to change.
‘You have to prove yourself to show you can run a business first before you start investing in something else, but then it got to the point where we really needed to refurbish it and it just so happened to be ten years.’
For regulars to the InterContinental, you will know that Randall always changes the menu to match the seasons and, this time out, that’s no different. ‘Things come on and off, and we have a few classic dishes that have been on the menu for a while,’ he says, ‘but at the moment we have lots of asparagus on the menu, peas, broad beans, all these spring vegetables.’
What is new, however, is the launch of regional tasting menus. Focusing on a different area of Italy each month – Toscana will be explored on 5-6 July, with Puglia to come from 1-4 August – four-course menus will be created to showcase the specialities of each region. Randall’s passion for these differences becomes abundantly clear when we start talking about these special menus.
‘We have a lot of Italians working here and I love talking to them, asking about their favourite pastas their grandmother makes and what their favourite dishes in restaurants are, and I find that really inspiring,’ he says. ‘You can read as many cookbooks as you want, but talking to someone and seeing the passion for their grandmother’s linguine alla vongole, how she does and how different it is from everyone else’s, is very inspiring.’
I will go to Italy five or six times a year and I always find something new, whether that’s a dish, ingredient, wonderful supplier… It’s an inspiring country
Does Randall still feel he is learning about Italian cuisine? ‘Non stop,’ is the swift reply. ‘I will go to Italy five or six times a year and I always find something new, whether that’s a dish, ingredient, wonderful supplier… It’s an inspiring country. I always say why would an Italian leave Italy? You have got everything you want. You have the most incredible countryside, the most wonderful sea and beaches, the most amazing mountains for skiing, just everything.
‘It’s important you visit as many regions as you can. Italy is made up of lots of little countries, that’s how it was for years, and they are all so passionate about what they do. I always say, whatever region you go to, make sure you go to the trattorias and always have the antipasti of the day and have the pasta dish, and you will get a real understanding of what the region is about. They might be incredibly simple, but these are the dishes that they really like to show off.’
It’s a rather apt statement that leads us nicely onto Randall’s latest venture, Theo’s Simple Italian in Earl’s Court. ‘Things are going really well,’ he says on the opening couple of months. ‘William Leoni is the Head Chef, who worked with me as a sous chef for quite a few years. I wanted to do a restaurant that was very simple, kind of loosely based on My Simple Italian book. The idea of the menu is to do five antipasti, five pasta, five mains and five desserts, and change the menu all the time. It is simple, no thrills, but using great produce.’
Housed in a wonderful building, with bar and dining areas, it feels a world away from the InterContinental, but the food would certainly not be out of place there. Cicchetti, for those looking for a quick bite with an Italian craft beer on the side, includes grilled Bramata polenta with smashed salt cod and red anchovies, and the classic bruschetta with vibrant roasted Datterini tomatoes, fresh marjoram and new season olive oil.
Larger dishes range from carne salata, a fresh rocket salad with melt in the mouth cured Black Angus beef, aged balsamic vinegar and parmesan, the indulgent Tuscan gnudi with parmesan, sage and noisette butter, and a whole host of classic, comforting dishes like the fresh pasta with slow cooked oxtail ragu and red wine.
The InterContinental is where my main work is. If I am not doing TV or PR stuff, I am here in the restaurant. I make sure I am here. People come to your restaurant, your name is above the door, and they like to know the chef is in the kitchen
‘I am there quite a bit, but I do genuinely trust William,’ Randall says on his day to day involvement. ‘One of the reasons of doing it was to give one of my chefs the chance to succeed themselves. Here,’ he says, referencing The InterContinental, ‘is where my main work is. If I am not doing TV or PR stuff, I am here in the restaurant. I make sure I am here. People come to your restaurant, your name is above the door, and they like to know the chef is in the kitchen. I am here every night.’
A decade may have passed, but Randall’s passion for what he is doing remains undiminished. Before we part ways, I do add there was something else playing on Alexander Larman’s mind, and undoubtedly many others: will Randall ever take on his own stand-alone restaurant?
‘I am not saying no,’ he responds cautiously, ‘but the way things are working is something I am quite happy with. To get a really good central London restaurant costs you a lot of money. Not that I am worried about that, but I have got so much on at the moment. It is a good question and a lot of people do ask me when am I going to do my own thing – but I am doing my own thing. It becomes your business. I really enjoy what I do and enjoy what I have achieved [which includes a Michelin star at the InterContinental]. I am very happy.’
Theo Randall at the InterContinental, One Hamilton Place W1J 7QY; 020 7318 8747; theorandall.com
Theo’s Simple Italian, Hotel Indigo London Kensington, 34-44 Barkston Gardens SW5 0EW; 020 7370 9130; theossimpleitalian.co.uk