Origins of Henry Harris

A key player in London’s Bibendum-era restaurant scene, Henry Harris recently opened Lyon-inspired Bouchon Racine. Here, he explains why he always refers back to rural French cooking and will never ditch butter

Home cooking

I grew up with good fresh food being cooked around me. Dad owned a restaurant in Brighton called Le Grandgousier, and both my parents cooked at home – Dad would do Sunday lunch and anything grilled over charcoal. He was still barbecuing squid, which he’d collect from the fishmonger’s, a year before he died.

Elizabeth David

Mum has always loved the food writing of Elizabeth David and Robert Carrier and there was a strong French influence to what we ate at home – coq au vin, boeuf bourguignon and crème brûlée. She makes incredible meringues and is still a serial entertainer as she approaches her 88th birthday – she had eight people for dinner the other night.

Local produce

I’m 60 soon and, growing up, supermarkets weren’t as prevalent as they are now, so we’d do our family shop at the butcher’s and fishmonger’s. There were people in our village near Brighton with market gardens where we bought lettuce and tomatoes, putting money in a box screwed to a table. There was raw milk too, delivered by a farmer with half a dozen Jersey cows.

Career choices

I thought I wanted to go into hotel management, but after working as a hotel waiter I decided it wasn’t for me. Then I got a job in a lovely restaurant in West Sussex called Manley’s, owned by Karl Lîderer, who won Gravetye Manor its first Michelin star. I found myself watching him in the kitchen and thought: that’s what I want to do. He made glorious, grand European dishes like turbot in langoustine bisque.

Simon Hopkinson

Working for Simon Hopkinson for eight years, first at Hilaire, then Bibendum, was the most formative part of my career. Good bourgeois French cuisine was at the heart, but his enthusiasm for all cooking meant he’d also explore techniques from Asia, Italy and Spain.

The French connection

If you asked me every day for a week why I love French cooking, you’d get a different answer. France is a huge agrarian nation and each region grows different things and has different ways of cooking. But there’s a similarity – to take good ingredients and not mess them about too much. In London, it’s impossible not to be influenced by French cooking. It’s become part of how we like to cook and eat. And it tastes really good.


Indulgent and comforting, butter is without a doubt my favourite ingredient. It enriches dishes, protects other ingredients and lengthens flavour. When we opened Bouchon Racine I thought, I’m really going to cut back on it. That lasted about a week. I use good unsalted butter for cooking and, for the table, butter from Bergerac with fleur de sel from the Île de Noirmoutier. That and a baguette is a thing of joy.


As in London, there are small neighbourhoods in Paris with good independent restaurants. I love La Fontaine de Mars in the 7th arrondissement. It’s superb cooking done simply, with a lovely wine list. Eat early and you’ll probably be the only non-French people there.


I adore Spain – on the northern coasts the fish is heaven. I recently visited Galicia with friends and we went to Marisquería D’Berto in O Grove where I had one of the best fish meals of my life – clams, queen scallops and goose barnacles as thick as your thumb


I’m just back from a holiday in Puglia with 12 friends – five of us were chefs. My contribution was a grilled chicken sharing platter. It was a reminder of what great ingredients we have around us, of how well French beans, tomatoes and anchovies go together. There were two markets nearby for fruit and veg that made me think, that’s going to be on the menu next week

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