Social Eating House 3

Chef's Tables: Best seats in the house

For the smells, sights and noise of a kitchen, pull up a chair at the pass. Mark Sansom guides you round the UK’s best

Benares Mayfair

Although there are many pretenders to the throne, Atul Kochhar was the first UK chef to give Indian food a Michelin makeover. His Berkeley Square restaurant won a star in 2007 and has held it ever since. It has two chef’s tables: one a ‘sommelier’s table’, in the wine room, and the other with a vantage point looking down into the kitchen, almost like a gallery on a squash court. Guests watch the sport play out above the grilling station, as chefs put the finishing touches to dishes such as the trademark tandoori chicken tikka pie and salmon, cooked in a tandoor. The restaurant is one of the few to have an authentic charcoal tandoor (as opposed to most restaurants’ gas), and the smoky flavour really sings. 

Travel Details

SEATS 10

PRICES FROM: £600 MINIMUM SPEND

benaresrestaurant.com

The Kitchen Table Bloomsbury

One of the best-kept secrets in London, The Kitchen Table is secreted at the back of Bubbledogs, a restaurant that pairs hotdogs to champagne with mixed success. Chef James Knappett and his wife Sandia Chang met while working in New York at the three-star Per Se (Chang runs front of house), and the chef ’s table here is their magnum opus. Knappett has been head chef at Marcus Wareing ’s two- star and also at Copenhagen’s Noma. His cooking shows influences of both, with the pared-back plating of Wareing and the technical nouse of René Redzepi. The 12-14 course menu changes daily, but excellent dishes include ‘pig ’ (crispy ears on bitter leaves, anchovy and parsley) and ‘cauliflower’ (with an almond and yoghurt dressing). 

Travel Details

SEATS 20

PRICES FROM: £125PP

kitchentablelondon.co.uk

Social Eating House Soho

While it may not be the best known or most decorated of Jason Atherton’s 17 restaurants, Social Eating House encapsulates Soho’s eating scene. Buzzy, it’s packed day and night with media types and party people. The basement leads to the hidden Employees Only chef’s table, with a private bar that overlooks head chef Paul Hood’s kitchen. It serves a nine-course tasting menu that the chefs hand you as the plates are ready. Classic French cooking is the deal here. Kentish salt marsh lamb rump, confit neck, pale aubergine and mint yoghurt shows Hood’s respect for produce. Ironbark pumpkin risotto with truffled egg, girolles and cavolo nero is delicious. Finish your evening in secret bar The Blind Pig. 

Travel Details

SEATS 8

PRICES FROM: £80PP

socialeatinghouse.com

L'Ortolan Reading

Reading’s only Michelin- starred restaurant, L’Ortolan was once the stage for John Burton-Race in his debut TV series. His staff dodged flying pots and pans in the early Nineties in his quest for stardom, though we’re reliably informed Tom Clarke’s kitchen is an altogether calmer affair. It’s a good job too, as the chef ’s table would be right in the firing line. The food served is intricate French cuisine, well executed. There is no set menu for the chef ’s table and you don’t have to order from what’s on in the restaurant that night. Just tell Clarke’s team what you fancy and the chefs will create a string of plates from seasonal ingredients. 

Travel Details

SEATS 4

PRICES FROM: £100PP

lortolan.com

Dinner by Heston Kensington

The godfather of British molecular gastronomy’s London outpost is devoted to food through the ages. Each dish served has its genesis plotted from recipes Blumenthal has researched and can be traced to a period in time. Head chef Ashley Palmer-Watts is only too happy to chat through the heritage and techniques that went into their reincarnation. Meat fruit (c1500) – an arty take on a chicken parfait – wins the accolades, alongside his delicious tipsy cake (c1810), which introduced London to the delights of a smoky spit-roast pineapple.

Travel Details

SEATS 6

PRICES FROM: £165PP

dinnerbyheston.com

Manchester House Manchester

Aiden Byrne, chef-patron of Manchester House, is not shy of hard work. The time, effort and technique he bestows on dishes shows Da Vinci-grade attention to detail. For his frogs’ legs, for example, he half bones out the leg and then back-fills it with garlic butter. For a duck dish, leg meat is braised and then reformed around the bone and daintily stacked on the plate. The concrete chef’s table itself sits perpendicular to the pass, allowing diners to view each of the kitchen’s stations in action. Should you have a penchant for pastry or see the sex appeal in sauce, just call the relevant chef over and ask about the labour-intensive processes that no doubt went into it. It’s a culinary, educational experience and perfect for special-occasion dinners with close friends. 

Travel Details

SEATS 6

PRICES FROM: £60PP

manchesterhouse.uk.com

The Three Chimneys Isle of Skye

This restaurant is very much a family affair. Owners Eddie and Shirley Spear opened the remote Scottish restaurant in 1984 as a place that serves stellar local produce in a relaxed environment, and nothing has changed in 33 years. It’s racked up a string of awards, the most recent being the number one restaurant in the Good Food Guide. The chef ’s table is just that: the same spot where the chefs eat staff meals, in the thick of it. You’ll be party to all the noise, aroma and pace of kitchen life as you watch and ask questions of the dishes you receive. Sconser scallops, langoustine, local crab and Iron Age pork (a hybrid of wild boar and a domestic pig) are not to be missed.


Travel Details

SEATS 8

PRICES FROM: £110PP

threechimneys.co.uk

The Gilbert Scott Kings Cross

This beautifully restored train station restaurant harks back to the golden age of trackside dining. Its vaulted ceilings and arches create an excellent atmosphere and the chef’s table is no exception. Decked out in the same polished chrome and brass as the restaurant, you’ve got sterling views of the chefs at work from a horseshoe table overlooking the main prep station. It’s one of the best- value menus on our list: some sample dishes include the likes of pigeon and pistachio terrine on sourdough toast, a sharing beef board of rib, flank steak, bone marrow and artichoke purée, and prune and Armagnac tart with clotted cream. A sommelier is on hand to advise on wine pairings for the night.

Travel Details

SEATS 10 

PRICES FROM: £59PP

thegilbertscott.com

Sosharu Farringdon

The second Jason Atherton restaurant on our list, Sosharu is the Skegness chef’s first foray into Japanese cuisine. His extensive travels in the region alongside head chef Alex Craciun brought back countless ideas and spawned his plan for a Japanese izakaya that features premium ingredients and techniques. The chef ’s table gives you a front-row seat to witness the masters at work, intricately rolling sushi and finely slicing sashimi before topping with carefully concocted sauces and pastes made from ingredients you’re unlikely to be familiar with. After dinner, do head down to Japanese- inspired, neon-fringed cocktail bar 7 Tales. It’s as close as you’ll find to Tokyo’s vibrant nightlife in London.

Travel Details

SEATS 10

PRICES FROM: £85PP

sosharulondon.com

Northcote Langho

Nigel Haworth’s passion for his native Lancastrian cuisine has seen him develop a loyal following, winning a place at the banquet on Great British Menu and Lancashire’s only Michelin star, retained for over a decade. Lisa Goodwin-Allen is now head chef, but Haworth is ever-present, checking dishes such as his signature hotpot are up to scratch. The chef ’s table has floor-to-ceiling windows into the kitchen as well as a video screen that can be trained on a particular section of the kitchen. The English veal rossini with autumnal mushrooms, aged Madeira and an intriguing frozen liver using dry ice shows the blend of traditional and modern techniques that guests come from far and wide to sample. 

Travel Details

SEATS 14

PRICES FROM: £75PP

northcote.com

Aulis Cartmel

Cumbria’s two-star Michelin restaurant L’Enclume also plays host to the most advanced test kitchen in the country. Aulis is chef Simon Rogan’s pet project and contains equipment more akin to a science lab than a traditional kitchen. A seat at the chef ’s table here offers diners a first-look at dishes that will feature in the main restaurant. Rogan’s respect for nature and use of foraged produce made his name as a chef. Plates such as turbot, courgettes and nasturtium sound simple until they arrive, when it is clear they’re anything but. 

Travel Details

SEATS 6

PRICES FROM: £150PP

lenclume.co.uk

Corrigan's Mayfair

Prince of produce Richard Corrigan’s W1 outpost serves up British Isles classics in traditional surrounds. His approach to sourcing ingredients is second to none and on the menu you’ll find his takes on comforting seasonal classics such as beef Wellington, venison and suckling pig. The suppliers he uses come from 30 years’ industry experience, with many of the ingredients from his Irish country estate, Virginia Park Lodge (see more on p73), which sends a van once a week. The chef’s table looks into the kitchen from sumptuous surrounds, cast in hues of racing green, navy blue and dark mahogany. Sit down for lunch and you won’t want to leave until dinner. 

Travel Details

SEATS 14

PRICES FROM: £2,000 MINIMUM SPEND

corrigansmayfair.co.uk

Swinton Park Ripon

A superb setting for birthdays and marquee celebrations, Swinton Park has some of the most beautiful grounds of any country estate in the UK. Start an afternoon with a walk in the 200 acres of gardens and rippling ponds, before taking a seat at Kevin Hughes’s chef’s table. The kitchen here is private and Hughes focuses his attention on your group, answering questions and giving tips and tricks for cooking at home. Dishes include pan-fried halibut with onion bhaji, cauliflower and cumin purée and rhubarb and chilli chutney. Most ingredients are sourced locally in Yorkshire and seasonal in their entirety.


Travel Details

SEATS 12

PRICES FROM: £58PP

swintonestate.com

Nucleus at Restaurant Sat Bains Nottingham

A big man, both in size and personality, Sat Bains’s intricate, delicate cooking belies his stature. His two-star restaurant serves some of the most innovative cuisine in the country, and his development kitchen, Nucleus, is at the heart of it. Designed by Bains and head chef John Freeman as a space to conceptualise plates outside of the bustle of the kitchen, visitors can expect thought-provoking cooking, with flavour at its core. Scallop with brawn, dashi and katsuobushi is typical of their love for exotic ingredients.

Travel Details

SEATS 6

PRICES FROM: £95PP

restaurantsatbains.com

Marcus Knightsbridge

A long-time Food and Travel favourite, Marcus Wareing’s cookery chimes perfectly with our principles, being seasonal, beautiful and always delicious. At his flagship site in The Berkeley hotel, which was redesigned in 2015, Wareing has built a chef’s table that looks right into the heart of the kitchen. The raised entertaining space provides front-row seats to some of the best food-theatre in London as his chefs cook and construct the two Michelin-starred restaurant menus for small groups. A bespoke five-course lunch menu or eight-course dinner menu allows guests to enjoy all of the chef’s favourite dishes, hand-picked and prepared by Wareing and co. Celebratory plates you can expect to receive will include 72-hour short rib, yoghurt and vindaloo spices; Rhug Estate pork belly, heritage carrot, rose and scratchings; and toffee and peanut, with milk chocolate nougat. A canapé reception and full kitchen tour can be added on at £15 per guest. Wareing’s executive sommelier, Michael Deschamps, will be on hand to ensure your wines are perfectly matched. Bookings need to be made at least a month in advance. 

Travel Details

SEATS 11

PRICES FROM: £105PP 

the-berkeley.co.uk

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