On the Menu at Fenchurch with George Farrugia

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 17th October 2019

George Farrugia is the head chef at the two AA-Rosettes Fenchurch Restaurant at the top of London's 'Walkie Talkie' building.

The Mancunian chef got a university degree in law before shifting his gaze to the kitchen. He learnt to cook with some of the best French chefs around: first with Pierre Koffman at  Koffman's, then with Éric Chavot at Brasserie Chavot, before becoming the head chef at Bob Bob Ricard

We spoke to George about how he caters for the eclectic clientele at Fenchurch and how his Cypriot roots, classical French training and love for hunting have helped define his style in the kitchen. 

What was it like moving from Manchester to a high-calibre kitchen like Koffman's? 

It was good, I think it was the kick up the backside that I needed. It had to happen sooner or later and it was good that I got to see his kitchen, see how he operates. He really is a legend. 

You worked at Brasserie Chavot when it got a Michelin star. What was that like?

It was amazing. Chavot will tell you himself, it was like Christmas every day. We were packed for lunch and dinner - 120 lunch, 220 dinner - every day for about a year and a half. 

It was really good fun, I learnt a lot, and I think a lot of my style - my family is from Cyprus so I still have that Mediterranean touch. It very much influences my British Northern roots as well and that very much is what I'm cooking now. 

You moved here in June. How have things been?

It's been good, the team is stable now and I've just started to put my food on the menu. 

What will that change look like? 

Very seasonal. I'm not one of those people that puts 20 things on a plate, it's definitely not my style. I like big, bold flavours, done properly. I want grandma's cooking, flavour-wise, with precision. 

I think the balance is quite nice here because the clientele that you get is quite varied, you get a lot of city based people and you get quite a few tourists as well.

Can you name three ingredients on the menu at the moment and what dishes they are in?

We've got a slow cooked egg  with a burnt leek emulsion, which is slow cooked eggs emulsified with leeks and some rapeseed oil - so that's a nod to Britain. 

Then we've got pickled shimeji mushrooms, almost a la grecque, so quite fragrant, with some cooked salsify, crispy parsnip crisps and lovage oil. 

Then we've got a lovely roast wood pigeon - I'm quite big on shooting and fishing, I've been doing it since I was a kid - with a little game terrine: venison, pigeon leg meat, pork fat and bacon;  a really intense duck glace finished off with beetroot for freshness, some wilted blackberries and some endives as a little starter. 

It's really seasonal, very me, with a little twist. 

Ingredients on the menu

It sounds like seasonality is something that matters a lot to you. 

Yeah, where possible, Britain doesn't help because the weather's a nightmare but for me the king of seasons has got to be autumn and winter for Britain. 

We champion root vegetables. 

Spring is great, quite a short season now, it's getting shorter and shorter! But seasonality, especially at a restaurant like this is something you need to have on your menu. 

And you're big on game as well? 

I was born on the second of October, the day after pheasant season starts. My dad always says 'we didn't want to do it on the first because we were shooting George.' 

I think we're going to put a duck breast on as well, served with fermented hispi cabbage in buttermilk. It's got a lovely sour flavour but it's not quite choucroute but it can still take a charred flavour.

We grill that and serve it with confit glazed duck leg, carrot puree, fresh sliced plums and baked celeriac, a little wedge with beurre noisette and chicken stock. It's delicious. 

It's what I want to eat, and this is the thing,  I'm starting to cook what I want to eat, because then you make it to the best of your ability, you're not cooking for the sake of cooking. It's more personal. 

I've thrown my grandma's bases in there as well, she's a great cook. 

She always says to me: "I don't want to eat any of that a la carte crap George."

The Vinoly Room

What does your Cypriot heritage bring to your food?  

The beauty of Cyprus is, because it's a Mediterranean country, you  have sunshine. When you get a tomato, you don't have to do much to it, so when you make a salad it's just a drizzle of olive oil and a bit of salt but one thing that springs to mind - well a couple actually, with my grandma, is she used to make a lovely rabbit stew but it's almost like a sauce diable. 

So you've got a lovely 'lyonnaise' - she wouldn't call it that - cooked onions with red wine vinegar, rabbit and chicken stock and slow braised; it's delicious. 

She also does a lovely braised cuttlefish with red wine vinegar, olive oil, white wine, coriander seed, a little bit of cinnamon stick, cloves, and she finishes off with chopped coriander.

I thought to myself: "one day I'm going to recreate this" so I did that minced as a garnish and I just put a piece of fish on top with charred calcutta onions, and boom. Again, that depth of flavour was grandma, but I just brought that little finesse to it. 

For me, when you go to eat at a restaurant, when you see the style of the food, I think it should be the style of the chef because when you look at the chef then you understand the menu.  

Are there any ingredients that you get from Cyprus or Southern Europe?

There's one particular ingredient that's quite interesting: brined caper leaves, with the stalks, it's almost like a nettle. 

It brings a lovely acidity and it's not something that's used very often but that's something I'd actually think about bringing. 

Spice wise, there's two things that I would bring over - one of them is wild oregano and also wild mint. It's really interesting in flavour and totally different from what you would get at a shop or from a supplier in England. Really intense. 

If you had to choose between a tasting menu and a la carte, which would you prefer?

To be honest, my next career move would be to open something slightly smaller and just do a blackboard menu and just cook seasonally, what's available but very much an expression of me on a plate. 

Half the battle in opening anything is having the right partner but I would definitely love to open a little bistro, but just proper food done well. 

If the opportunity arose - I always said to myself I wouldn't go back [to Manchester]  because I was like, 'never again, I've left, I've done it, but if the opportunity came, I would love to go back to do it there. 

It's brilliant for Manchester - the news last week that they got a Michelin star for Mana 

Yeah, it's a great little buzz, I think it's healthy and I think it's something that - again, getting a Michelin star for your food is always going to be a chef's dream. 

Hopefully it kicks off a bit of a buzz and a bit of competition in a nice healthy way - because you know chefs love competition - it would be amazing to have the opportunity to go back, to put my stamp on it. 

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 17th October 2019

On the Menu at Fenchurch with George Farrugia