In between exporting the Fat Duck to Australia and maintaining his culinary empire that includes Dinner by Heston at the Mandarin Oriental London, Heston Blumenthal is happily at home in Barnes
Barnes has played host to many a celebrity over the years, and the latest to join the club is Heston Blumenthal. Cookery’s mad scientist, renowned for his experimental and enchanting cooking style, now resides in SW13, and so far, rather likes his new surroundings. ‘I love it,’ he says, ‘I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.’ High praise from a man with a three Michelin-starred restaurant and an OBE among his list of accolades.
The Paddington-born chef with a penchant for nitrous oxide has come a long way since dropping out of Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir academy at 18. Since then, he has taught himself the French classical repertoire while working a string of unfulfilling jobs – a credit controller, among others – before finding success as a restaurateur when he took the reins at a run-down pub in nearby Berkshire.
The pub, which would be re-branded The Fat Duck, became the quickest establishment to ever garner three Michelin stars, and ensured Heston household name status among foodies. The success of The Fat Duck lead to the chef opening two further restaurants – The Crown and The Hind’s Head – in the same town of Bray. Today, he is celebrated as one of Britain’s finest and most innovative chefs, applying scientific, precise and often bizarre methods to traditional cooking that have been featured on several television shows. Heston’s Feasts and Heston’s Fantastical Food have drawn some of Channel 4’s largest ratings in recent years, and, not content with dominance on our screens, Heston has guest-judged on Australia’s version of MasterChef, tying neatly into his plans for world domination on a culinary scale.
While he admits he leaves most of the cooking at The Fat Duck to his trusted head chef Jonny Lake these days, his location makes it easy for him to maintain a hands-on approach at The Duck and its neighbouring restaurants.
‘I can get to Bray in 40 minutes, even in rush hour,’ he explains. He highlights the convenience of Barnes’ locale in relation to London: ‘It’s easier [to get to Bray] than me getting to Knightsbridge which is only three miles the other way, due to accessibility. I could not imagine living anywhere else,’ he stresses.
Close proximity to his stable of restaurants was a key factor in Heston’s decision to relocate to Barnes, as well as the choice of places to dine closer to home of the sort of quality that would impress a master chef. SW13 boasts some of London’s hidden gastronomic gems, and he picks out Italian restaurant Riva for special praise, claiming ‘restaurant wise, Riva is one of the greatest in London.’ The intimate Italian establishment is held in high regard, not only by Heston, but by some of his most esteemed contemporaries; Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay both cite it as a firm favourite of theirs, while Fay Maschler and AA Gill are also known lovers of Riva’s Lombardy region delicacies.
‘Gail’s is great. And Londis! Their wine list is put together by Bibendum, which is one of the best wine merchants in London,’ he goes on to reveal, when quizzed on his favourite stockists in the area. ‘Barnes has one of the best bakers and one of the best butchers in London.’
When asked whether or not he will be bringing his own brand of gastro charm to the area, he sadly replies ‘no, not yet.’ Heston, as with many of his culinary creations, has far grander plans, which extend to another continent entirely. 2014 has been a year of rapid expansion for the Heston Blumenthal empire in the southern hemisphere. The chef has unleashed some of his fantastical creations on the supermarkets and restaurants of Australia, using his exposure on MasterChef as a platform for further success. While his flagship restaurant is closed for renovation in Berkshire next year, normal service will resume in Oz, with Heston opening up shop in Melbourne by relocating The Fat Duck there for six months.
With Christmas approaching, Heston is torn between spending it at home in Barnes or in Australia, where he will begin his new adventure next year. ‘I’ve not sorted that out yet. I’ll have to make a decision very soon,’ he says. For now though, the 48-year-old is enjoying his time in Barnes: ‘I like the tranquillity, apart from the planes overhead, obviously. It has community; a village pond, great pubs and great restaurants.’
Historic Heston by Heston Blumenthal is out now.