Emma Clegg tries the combined force of Marco Pierre White and Pierre Koffmann at the Abbey Hotel’s English/French brasserie, Koffmann and Mr White’s
Marco Pierre White and Pierre Koffmann loom large on the food scene, one the rock-star chef of modern cooking whose cuisine and growly persona created the celebrity chef, the other a thoroughbred senior chef à la française admired for his classic French cuisine, including his famous signature dish of pig’s trotter with chicken mousseline. Koffmann moved to the UK in 1970, joining Michel and Albert Roux at Le Gavroche. La Tante Claire, his London restaurant opening in 1977, won no less than three Michelin stars in six years and in 2010 he became head chef at Koffmann’s at the Berkeley hotel in Knightsbridge.
Marco Pierre White trained under Koffmann at La Tante Claire and was the youngest chef ever to achieve three Michelin stars, the third gained at The Restaurant Marco Pierre White at the Hyde Park Hotel.
So, with their Michelin star status embedded and still shining, what next amidst a whirl of celebrity chefs with egos and culinary talents to wow the world? Marco has had an assemblage of projects in more recent years, from The Rudloe Arms in Corsham to the London Steakhouse Company, which has extended to venues including Bristol and Cardiff. So the Michelin glow has been achieved, both agree, and their collaboration now welcomes a more relaxed dining experience. “I enjoy it when I’m not working for Michelin stars,” says Koffmann, “because I always want to cook what I enjoy to eat.”
Fair enough. But news of Koffmann and Mr. White’s English French brasserie, their enterprise in Bath at the Abbey Hotel, which opened in autumn 2018 in what used to be Allium restaurant, provoked some cynicism on the food scene – was it all a marketing exercise about the big food names? Relaxed brasserie/bistrot food, really? How involved would the great chefs actually be?
We arrived at the restaurant, which is styled in a classic modern suede-coloured fusion of streamlined comfort and influence française. Welcomed by Claire, she told us that both Marco and Pierre had had lunch there that very day, spending four hours sampling all the dishes on their menu. With concerns on personal involvement assuaged, and fortified with a glass of the rich, smooth Château Labastide Haute Malbec, Cahors, we took in the menu.
Il y avait definitivement l’air de 1970s British with prawn cocktail with Marie Rose sauce and brown bread and butter on the à la carte, and summer vegetable vol-au-vent, sugar snap and radish on the prix fixe menu (which is super reasonably priced). We didn’t try these, but were intrigued as to how exactly they have been Koffmann and Mr. White-ised in modern Bath. The French and English classics sat most comfortably together, although French took the lion’s share: escargots à la Bourguignonne, braised ox cheek in red wine à l’ancienne, soused Cornish mackerel with saffron and fennel and orange, and elderflower, summer berries and Champagne jelly. And for the bold, there’s the garden pea and ham soup with crispy pig ears.
Rather wishing we could eat comme les grands chefs had eaten earlier that day with a full array of dishes, we slimmed our choices down and tried Koffmann’s Waldorf salad (with halved toasted walnuts, juicy grapes and sweet crisps of apple enfolded by slender leaves of Romaine lettuce) and classic French onion soup (featuring earthy smothered crusts of deliciousness).
For mains we went all viande dans l’esprit with grilled rump steak, sauce Béarnaise, Koffmann’s chips, roasted vine tomatoes (the chips were handcut to a perfect width with an oo-la-la mix of soft and crisp) and couscous d’agneau with sprouting broccoli and buttered leaf spinach. Couscous is originally a North African Maghrebi dish, so a little off the food inspiration piste, but the French adopted it and hey, we’re being bistro relaxed here, and its taste and texture blended smoothly with the slices of lamb and their oozing juices.
For dessert I embraced indulgence with the Boxtree Mess, billed as the perfect mistake (think Eton mess with lashings of ice-cream and don’t look back), and Rob went more sophistiqué with Baba au rhum with Chantilly cream. I didn’t try the latter because I had lots of Boxtree to attend to, but I noticed that le plat a été mangé très vite.
This was a refreshing experience – the severities of the Michelin regime put aside, we sampled the relaxed result of a 36-year friendship. L’essence de notre temps.
Koffmann and Mr. White’s is open Monday – Friday 12pm to 10pm, Saturday 12pm to 10.30pm and Sunday 12pm to 9.30pm. Prices à la carte: starters from £6.95; mains from £13.95; desserts from £5.95. Prices prix fixe menu: two courses: £14.50; three courses: £17.50.
Koffmann and Mr. White’s, Abbey Hotel, North Parade, Bath BA1 1LF
Tel: 01225 461603; mpwrestaurants.co.uk/our-brands/koffmann-and-mr-whites