Theo Randall at the InterContinental Hotel re-opens its doors on 18th February after refurbishment. CODE’s Callum Edge joined Theo to discuss these changes, as well as the inspiration behind the new menu, and how the restaurant deals with recruitment.
Theo Randall’s eponymous restaurant at the InterContinental Park Lane is approaching its tenth anniversary. After an impressive sixteen years at the River Café, broken only by a stint at Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse, all eyes were on Randall’s independent venture when it first opened. Soon voted number one Italian in London and rated by the Observer’s Jay Rayner as the best meal he ate that year, the restaurant might be forgiven for looking tired after a strong decade.
Because the previous restaurant, Randall says, was “getting a little bit old and needed a newer, fresher look”, design consultants SuperFutures (whose past clients include Quo Vadis and Barrafina) are on board working on making the room “lighter, a bit more cool”. The brown leather upholstery and dark pillars will be removed and Terrazzo flooring has been introduced to create more of a sense of continuity and story throughout. As such, there’ll be an increased focus on the bar and the recent demand for private dining will be met with a flexible 25 to 45 cover space divided by sliding doors, as well as a raised table overlooking the kitchen.
But the change is not just cosmetic: the short closure has allowed Randall and his chefs the chance to develop the menu. “It’s the sort of thing you tell yourself that you’ll do when the restaurant operates on a day-to-day basis, but find there’s no time to do it properly. Life gets in the way”. Whilst there will be many additions to the new-look menu, the signatures will still feature: “regulars have said that there are a few dishes I can’t take off – so dishes like the veal chop and cappelletti will stay”. Regardless, you can predict a riff on the rustic, seasonal Italian cooking that we have come to expect on Park Lane and that made Randall’s name at the River Café.
Few realise the impact Randall had on the infamous Hammersmith restaurant. He was head chef for ten years (achieving Michelin’s accolade in the process); a silent partner with Rose Gray and Ruth Rodgers in the business; and arguably drew the phenomenal following the River Café still enjoys today. “I have nothing but positive feelings about my time there. I went in December and had a great meal.” On the restaurant opening an offspring in Mayfair in 2017, Randall is sure “it will do really well. There are some very passionate people behind it.”
And what’s inspired the new menu at The InterContinental? “Whenever my family stay in Ostuni in Puglia, we go to Ristorante Acquasale. They start by bringing out plates of antipasti – prawns, clams, octopus – followed by pasta and freshly caught fish. They offer whatever is available that day”. Randall wants a new daily-changing offering to take on a similar approach: “more people are getting interested in eating out … [and] … you’ve got to be flexible for the lunch market”. Inspired by the likes of Barrafina there will also be a separate, more casual bar menu.
We discuss the current difficulty of recruiting skilled people in the industry: Randall’s approach is to promote from within. “It might sound obvious, but keep your team happy and give young people the opportunity. I’m in the fortunate situation that people stay with me. We have taken risks and, of course, have had some painful months, but we are generally self-sufficient”. The days of back-to-back double shifts and kitchen bravado are “thankfully” gone, but “competition is still a great thing to have in the kitchen because it really helps people develop”. And this seems to have worked: after all, Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall were among his brigade in Hammersmith.
Arguably tied to the recruitment issue has been the flurry of recent openings in the last twelve months, with some having predicted 2016 as the year of the closure. “Longevity is key; year three is where things begin to work, but concepts change and restaurants have to be very organic things. You need to be careful how much you’re spending”. We agree that, although the majority have gone with their heart with a concept, too many have taken an expensive rent and may struggle: “design and PR have been more important than food”, Randall feels. “If the formula is right that’s a recipe for success, but it’s not an industry where you can make a quick buck. It’s hard work”.
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