CHEWING THE FAT WITH JAMES LOWE
On a crisp and blustery January day i caught a flight from Morocco to laos, and found my chance to lunch at Lyle’s. a few weeks earlier a friend had raved about it, leaving me, as if by way of culinary torture, a copy of the menu he had enjoyed. I stowed it in my notebook and awaited my chance which, as luck would have it, came when i realised i had a 12-hour layover at Heathrow. Located in London’s wildly trendy Shoreditch high street, i met with the co-creator of Lyle’s, head chef James Lowe.
James is a prodigiously talented young chef who worked at the Fat Duck before heading the kitchen at St John Bread and Wine, “the best of the brands various enterprises,” he says with a grin. But it was as one half of the Young Turks (the other half being Isaac McHale) that his own celebrity began to shine. Not that he’s likely you tell you this for James abhors pretension, whether it’s marketing catchphrases “what does farm-to-fork mean,” he says, “all food comes off a farm” or painting chefs as artists or rock stars. “We’re just cooks,” he says with a no-nonsense assurance that reminds me of Ferran Adrià or Rene Redzepi, who are equally frustrated by the need to season their craft with platitudes. James’ philosophy on food and cooking is so honest and simple that it verges on the radical, and the fact that he works to his own set of rules rather than following conventional wisdom betrays a maverick underneath. “All I want to do,” he explains, “is to have a nice restaurant and serve nice food that’s not too expensive, that people want to come back to.”
Enter the cultish Lyle’s where James serves a clever British menú from the stark, canteen-style dining room of a former tea warehouse poured concrete floors, simple birch wood tables and chairs, and gleaming paned windows that stretch to the ceiling. It is blissfully non-intellectual, no speeches on the provenance of the ingredients or lofty techniques. Just beautiful food that oozes British pedigree and is tasty enough to have London’s extremely fussy dining public and a good many French guests who zip through the tunnel as well drooling. Judging by the full-to-bursting dining room, in just two short years he has achieved exactly what he set out to do. His star, I feel, is set to shine most brightly.
Read the whole story at issue no. 5 of OPENHOUSE magazine.