Double link in paddock to plate

By Margaret Kennedy
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Head chef Brett Graham at The Ledbury, Notting Hill, London

Head chef Brett Graham at The Ledbury, Notting Hill, London [©The Ledbury, Notting Hill, London]

The Ledbury, Notting Hill, London
Head chef Brett Graham at The Ledbury, Notting Hill, London

 

A lot has happened to chef Brett Graham since he began working in the kitchen of a simple fish restaurant in Newcastle at the age of 15. And in double quick time.

Not yet 30, he opened London’s fashionable The Ledbury at 26 and immediately won for the Notting Hill neighbourhood restaurant a Michelin star. In between he worked at Banc in Sydney and then The Square in London where, at 23, he was named Young Chef of the Year.

Calm and quietly spoken, Brett came home to Australia for the first time in July to be a guest presenter at the Brisbane Hilton Masterclass. The changes in ten years, he says, are noticeable, especially the new finesse in Australian wines such as riesling and pinot noir, and their increasing popularity. The food scene, too, is coming ahead in leaps and bounds and he is particularly encouraged by the strength of the serious food culture.

Speaking of leaps and bounds, venison is meat of the moment on The Ledbury’s menu. And chances are this hands-on, earthy chef might have shot it himself. In hunting his own game, Brett is a double link in the chain from paddock to plate - taking the ideal of the known provenance of food to new heights entirely.

Only hours before boarding for the trip back home he was out hunting, knowing that the deer are in prime condition immediately before the rutting season and aware he’d have only a day or two after his return in early August before, knackered by all the mating, they’d be definitely sub-prime.

In addition to roe deer, which are excellent, England is lucky to have a plentiful supply of muntjac, a small ornamental deer from Asia thought to have escaped from the Zoological Society of London’s Whipsnade Zoo in Bedfordshire decades ago. As well as their diet of herbs, blossoms and nuts, they like grazing on the needles of the Douglas fir, so in turn Brett likes to infuse the conifer’s needles into the sweet potato purée that accompanies his roast venison.

As popular as game is, Brett also performs little miracles with cheap cuts of farmed meats such as pig’s head minus the cheeks, which the local butcher is only too happy to supply.

Make no bones about it, produce at The Ledbury has to be in peak season. You won’t find tomatoes anywhere on the menu, for instance, other than during the two or three months of summer when they’re at their best. And greens have to be the freshest. Wild herbs such as wood sorrel are gathered exclusively by a Welsh forager. Paddock to plate here, as you can see, is just one-step or two-step, not the whole foxtrot.

To fine ingredients Brett devotes his imagination and passion to produce some of London’s most exciting food. For inspiration, were any needed, he looks to Spain, the leader in Europe’s gastronomy in recent years, he says. His menu, which changes daily, explores flavours in sure, original ways designed to delight and surprise. Humble wonderful celeriac, for instance, baked in hay ash under a salt crust, is dramatic and aromatic, and comes with grated egg yolk and crushed hazelnuts.

Apart from half a cricket team of Australians in the kitchen, there’s just the gentlest nod to the home turf occasionally with, for instance, eucalyptus honey ice cream or hibiscus consommé.

 

The Ledbury, 127 Ledbury Rd, Notting Hill. Tel +44 (0) 20 7792 9090. Open lunch and dinner daily. www.theledbury.com

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