We are over prissy plates. Over fuss and finesse. We prize hunks of raw, under exposed filament, atop wood, without cloth. We relish the irregularity that demarcates authenticity. Fine dining with its fanciful china, pageantry and standard courses served in portions unintended for sharing is old hat. Un-enlightened. Nonchalance for two please - hold the jus. And [secular deity] forbid a restaurant should be tucked inside an opulent hotel. Well, you can just taste the overwrought, bland cuisine.
Except, of course, appearances regularly deceive and do so at the Mirror Room. For within the auspicious Rosewood London, in command of its dolled up dining space, is a chef who intends to defeat reverse-snobbery by serving exquisitely arranged and sublime tasting fare. Sanguine and unpretentious Parisian, Amandine Chaignot, took charge of the kitchens here a year ago, but it’s only in the last six months that she overhauled both menus and service, with the intention of bringing as much conviviality as possible to her guests’ experiences. “This is my tea room,” says Chaignot, alluding to her initial aim in the trade. Raised by a family of busy scientists, albeit one with a keen grasp of good eating, “It was always meat from the butcher and organic vegetables and homemade mayonnaise, things like apple pies and blanquette de veau”, she was half-way through a pharmacology masters when she dropped out and fell hard for the rush and social whirl of the restaurant game. “I’d always been interested in food but couldn't imagine myself doing this for a living,” she explains.
“Even though the context is luxury, I want us to find a connection” – Amandine Chaignot
Her dream of setting up a space with “simple cooking, welcoming, where I could have my friends hang out,” required training and so she attended the famed Ferrandi school. Once there, greed for culinary wisdom mingled with ambition to see her through successive stints in premiere kitchens including Alain Ducasse’s Plaza Athénée and Éric Fréchon at Hôtel Le Bristol. “I worked with several famous chefs and all of them taught me something different through their way of managing people, philosophy and cooking style. At Plaza Athénée I was the only girl, so you can imagine, all the fuckers staring at me like, 'Are you lost? What are you doing in here?' But you just need a good sense of humour.” Soon enough Chaignot had her own domain at the feted L’hôtel Raphaël prior to arriving in London last year.
But despite the star-glazed, Michelin-stuffed pedigree, “gastronomy” turns her stomach, “I think it's a bit stuck up. Our generation, in particular, are fed up with it and this is reflected in new restaurants growing everywhere which have refined, sharp cooking with perfect seasoning – but the ambience and service is not what it was like ten years ago. It’s more direct and more sincere.” So, how does her contemporary outlook manifest itself within its glossy setting? “My purpose is to find the best local ingredients through socially and environmentally responsible producers and suppliers, then magnify them through my cuisine. And with front-of-house, we try to start discussions. When you're in a high-end establishment, you can feel like you are being lectured at, and that's not how I want guests to feel. Even though the context is luxury, I want us to find a connection.”
“My purpose is to find the best local ingredients through socially and environmentally responsible producers and suppliers, then magnify them through my cuisine” – Amandine Chaignot
Except of course none of that matters if the food isn’t superlative. Thankfully, Chaignot’s plates are also sincere and they reveal her love of the natural world, as it seems she can’t walk through a forest without pausing to paw at plants. In fact, it’s telling that botany and anatomy were the only parts of science that she enjoyed through her selections and handling of well-sourced raw goods.
Neither crop nor animal is especially favoured at the Mirror Room, her menu balanced just so, to allow what is currently at its best to enact its own magic within the striking arrangements. “I'm used to eating like that,” she says, “I'm not vegetarian but if I eat meat once or twice a week, that's enough, and that affects how you cook. This menu was coming after Christmas so I was looking for something fresh and if you look at what's in season now, it's roots and citrus. I love the chervil roots, for instance, I use them as much as I can, and the long black turnips.” On the citrus side, Lemon Buddha’s Hand and Finger Limes entice you to order dishes by name alone. And happily, whatever you choose, you are assured of a vibrant, contemporary feast, whilst basking in the knowledge that you are in a space that wants you to savour at leisure – as at its heart, under the accoutrements, the Mirror Room is really just a tearoom.
For more information, visit the Mirror Room's website.