Back to the Old School – The Classics Return!
At the end of the 1980’s and the beginning of the 1990’s the classic French restaurant was coming to its end. British was in. France was out. Next came the molecular revolution from Spain and El Bulli followed by Heston Blumenthal and The Fat Duck. Everywhere chefs were reinventing what dining out was. This has continued with the long run of tasting menus and smaller portions.
But, as is so often the case, gone does not mean forgotten and a new restaurant that has opened-up in London – Maison François – is showing that there is more than just a love of old-school French classicism. Indeed, this new place revels in the deliciousness of what once was.
François O’Neill the man behind it has roots in the industry – his father co-founded Brasserie St. Quentin in the 1980s. He’s teamed up with Ed Wyand of Hackney wine bar Verden and chef Matthew Ryle who reached the final of Masterchef: The Professionals in 2018.
Why is this such a big deal for chef students?
Because the foundation of classic cuisine is still the best model for learning that there is and if there is a movement back towards the great dishes of the past then that is good news for young chefs. It means there is a place they can go to train in this style.
One of the dishes on the menu is Ouef en Gelée. Literally, a soft-boiled egg suspended in a meaty jelly. This dish was a classic of the old Connaught Hotel menu when it was under the auspices of French chef Michel Bourdin and dates back to the grand old man of classical cooking: Auguste Escoffier.
This style of food was considered not just old but dead. The use of a savory jelly was completely out of date according to the hip chefs of the day. But, and here’s the point, that opinion did not take into account that it was, actually, delicious – and a triumph of individual chef skill.
One of the other things to return to the menu is a three-tier dessert trolley showcasing eclairs, fruit tarts and all the other yummy puddings of yesteryear. Maison Francais is a classic example of a restaurant that is returning to the past in order to reinvent the future. They are baking their own bread, making charcuterie and doing all the things that the old restaurants used to do and it is wonderful to see!