January 2004

Mirabelle - Marco Pierre White


Not every restaurant is rushing to embrace new food and new ways of serving. Some just keep on doing what they do so very well. Take the Mirabelle for example.

The Mirabelle, that semi legendary restaurant in Curzon Street, Mayfair has been serving extremely high quality classic French cuisine for what seems like forever. Located underneath a frankly rather grim looking 1950's block of flats, the Mirabelle has seen its share of stars and characters. Tom Driberg would gossip and plot here, his particular socialist beliefs allowing him to cheerfully spend more on a meal than most people earned in a month. The Mirabelle in those days being a collection of small and intimate rooms was well suited to intrigue and assignations. Other famous names included Princess Margaret, Princess Grace, Lord Althorp, and Liz Taylor. They came to eat well and discreetly. The living ones still do.

Today the restaurant is part of the White Star Line group, which includes other legendary gastro domes such as L'Escargot, Rules and The Criterion. All are under the control of Marco Pierre White, ex enfant terrible now grand old man, who doesn't do any chef-ing himself anymore but instead picks young stars to handle it for him. Head Chef at the Mirabelle is Philip Cooper, one of Marco Pierre White's top chefs. We passed into the Mirabelle's august interior to ask how a young chef handles an old institution.

Been here long Philip? 'Two years' he replies in his vaguely Alan Davies accent - a sort of London tone with an edge. 'Before that I was at the St Martin's Lane Hotel and the Waterside.' So he's familiar with classic French cuisine then? 'Well all the restaurants in the White Star Line group serve similar food. The Mirabelle is the flagship, though.' he explains. 'We take good ingredients, cook them well and don't mess around with the food too much. We don't change the main item's flavour. Why take a piece of lamb and then cover it with so many herbs and spices that you can't taste the lamb?'

The restaurant doesn't really advertise itself. Does that bother you at all? 'Well we don't show it off, that's part of its style I suppose. People in the know, know we're here. You come down that great staircase and you feel you're in for an experience.

Before you even sit down at your table there's the bar. You have a relaxed drink, no one is bustling you to your table. I hate all that 'here's your table, here's your menu, get on with it' stuff.'

He warms to the theme. 'Most people don't want to rush except maybe at lunchtime, 'I've got a meeting etc' we cater for those people, we try to please everyone. But the pleasure of a meal is lingering isn't it? We're not in theatreland here so no one is rushing for curtain up. Don't get me wrong,' he quickly adds, 'I'd love the business it would bring, but you know that those kind of diners don't have the money to spend and have one eye on the clock too much to enjoy their food anyway'

'We actually have quite a big menu here,' he tells me. 'I want people to come to Mirabelle and find something they like. We have about eight main courses. Some places if you don't like something you may have a problem but not here. Here you'll find something to suit.'

So what food turns you on? Where do you go to eat? 'Well if I want to go to a faultless restaurant I'd go to the Waterside. If I lived nearer I'd go once a month, it's a stunning place. I live just outside London and there's a very good Indian restaurant and a tapas place that I really love. I take my papers and go there most Saturday lunchtimes.' Ah, so you're not in the kitchen here seven days a week then? 'I have eleven staff and an excellent Number Two. At weekends he's in charge and if he and the team couldn't cope without me then I wouldn't be doing my job.'

No plans for TV or radio then? 'If I had the time I might do it, ' he concedes. 'But I've got a job, a full time job. I have done the odd bit of TV and radio but it's taken place here in my kitchen and been only for a few minutes, it hasn't interfered with my main work.' So are TV chefs dilettantes? Michael won't be drawn into indiscretion. 'I admire a few of them. Anthony Worrall Thompson is a great chef. When I was a junior at the Waterside he'd often pop his head into the kitchen and have a look around, see what was going on, a good bloke.'

And that's Philip too, down to earth, likeable and clearly a perfectionist. If you're looking for a superior dining experience, make it the Mirabelle.