Hotel restaurants are getting better. No longer the preserve of lonely business travellers trying to prop up a paperback with one hand, whilst unhappily forking Euro food into their mouth with the other, many have taken the opportunity afforded by heavyweight financial support and staff levels to create top class restaurants. Foliage at the Mandarin Oriental, Hyde Park is a perfect example, so we had a chat with Chris Staines, Head Chef.
Chris is a little unhappy about going into the bar for the interview whilst still wearing his whites. 'I feel like a performing penguin, like I'm looking for applause,' he grumbles good-naturedly. Luckily, this being post lunchtime service the bar is all but empty as we sit down.
He has been at Foliage a couple of years now. He first worked with Nico Ladenis for two years and then went on to Marco Pierre White's restaurant before coming to Foliage. Hywel Jones (Chris's predecessor) was something of a star turn, so it was a tough job to take on but one which he has tackled with aplomb. Foliage has retained its Michelin star and continues to garner great reviews on the london-eating website.
So what's it like being part of a hotel? 'Well it's a big advantage, 'he says. "The Mandarin Group has something like twenty hotels worldwide. That's a solid foundation and you know it's going to last. I have autonomy, though. The group is aware of the importance of our individual identity as a restaurant and whilst we have a purchasing department within the hotel that takes care of many restaurant related things, the sourcing of suppliers for food is very much down to us.'
And Chris is, as he says, passionate about using small independent suppliers and unique produce. 'I seek people out, I call them and ask if they can supply to London . Can you give me this lamb, this beef etc. Once I get a relationship going then they call me, telling me what they have right at that moment and do I want it. That's great because I can build a special dish around what's seasonal.' Seasonal is important to Chris. "Oh yes, I have a good idea of what should be available and when and I actively go out to find the best examples.'
One thing that keeps getting mentioned by our reviewers is the remarkable value of Foliage lunch. 'Yes that's something we've consciously gone for,' he agrees. 'A lot of top end restaurants do a good priced lunch but often it's just something simple. Well cooked, well presented, but simple. We try to go to the other extreme where people just can't believe what they're getting for their money. It certainly works, we have plenty of regulars for lunch, some of whom come all the way from the City.'
So you're known across town? 'Absolutely. Some people say we're a 'best kept secret', which is nice in a way but it's no good being a secret so much that no one comes. We're lucky, we're busy everyday despite having no shop window as such and being at the back of hotel. Mind you we do have a great view on to Hyde Park !