CLOSED Fera: contemporary and wild British cuisine rolls high at Claridges
Replacing Gordon Ramsay at his eponymous Claridges location, another established icon of contemporary British cuisine Simon Rogan heads successfully Fera. The chef expanded to London from his two Michelin restaurant L’Enclume in the Lake District. Rogan is naturally in tune with the contemporary trend of local sourcing. Farming most of his produce for years at his 12-acre farm up in Cumbria, he is not a trend follower, but a pioneer devote to his organic and foraged wild ingredients. Fresh herbs are planted in pots above the chefs’ stations in the kitchen so they can pluck as many as please to add fragrance and the final aesthetic touch to every plate just before it is taken to your table.
His ‘cheffing’ at Fera changed London’s fine dining scene earning one star from the Michelin guide in its opening year. I believe that second star is in the making. Modernity is carefully applied to the best seasonal local produce, seafood fresh from the British waters plated in the heart of Mayfair. A freeze dryer, vacuum cooking and other gadgets in the kitchen’s equipment excite the cooks.
The art of plating is performed with a creative zeal worth displaying at the Tate Modern, yet it is the locally made,rustic earthenware that sets the tone for the dining experience at Fera. This understated elegance in respect of contemporary crafts stirred some unjust criticisms from a number of London-based food critics. Insulted by the rustic setting at such a grand location cashing high prices for its meals, the Guardian’s Jay Rayner summed it up more precisely in one sentence: “This is rustic, by way of Chanel.”
Dining in the art deco surroundings of the lavishly set room does not need any special decorating effects. The lack of formal amenities such as white table cloths, gilded dining ware and perhaps missing any exaggerated theatrical presentation of the Heston pedigree, is the new wave of high-end dining experience. Inspired by the rustic yet clean lines of Scandinavian and Japanese kitchens, more top chefs – from San Francisco (Coi) though New York (11 Madison Park whose chef Daniel Humm once started his career at Claridges, Blue Hill) to Paris (Toyo) and now with Fera on the scene also in London, put more accent on the genuine, well-sourced, food-centric experience rather than the now old-fashioned gimmicks of the past century French haute cuisine or the molecular wizardry of a decade that had already passed.
Fera means ‘wild’ in Latin therefore, any form of fermentation next to the foraged and highly seasonal ingredients is explored by the team. The chef brews a barley wine kombucha from beer, perry, cider or wine. Not to slurp on this acquired taste demanding mushroom beverage, but to add acidity and complexity to some of the dishes. His theory goes as to kombucha being “similar to flavored vinegar”.
Our solid gustatory indulgence started with crispy fluffy rabbit snacks and other little morsels of amouse-bouche that readied our palates for a culinary discovery of the British isles. There is cheese, fish, meat, seafood, but also lots of vegetables and fruits flagship to the changing seasons.
In the fall the vegetarian entry plate of Grilled salad, smoked over embers, Isle of Mull, truffle custard and sunflower seeds, showed the richness and generosity of the season that ripens more intense flavors. Smoking, and dehydrating some of the greens matched to the sauce made from unpasteurized Scottish cheese. This award-winning aged cheddar is different from any other because of its distinct garlic sharpness and a fruity tang since the cows eat fermented grain from a nearby whisky distillery. The sole redundant ingredient was the truffle since with all the robustness my palate could not distinguish its unique fragrance, a shame.
On another occasion, I ordered the contemporary edible art on a plate consisting of a fresh Crab, cucumber, mallow, young squid and frozen cream. Light, texturized assembly of nature, that was highlighted by freezing the cream to freshen it up, not to suffocate the crab and the vegetables.
Main courses include animal protein as well as fish like cod, halibut and John Dory, but also a vegetarian plate. The Caramelised onion squash, courgette, sheep’s milk and cobnuts were screaming Fall! Assembled on the stone-gray plate, the seasonal produce of nature and the British sheep was rich and generous, surely made to satisfy, not to deprive. I also tried the Roasted John Dory served with razor clams, artichokes, spinach and smoked beetroot, again deepening the taste through smoking, it was a contrast of lightness of the sea with the land’s intensity.
British meat and locally hunted birds are such a staple of the Islands’ gastronomy, that they capture a sizable part of the menu. Once winter grays the London’s skies, it will be the best time to sample one of the chef’s meaty dishes.
Pudding time! As the British title the desserts. A chocoholic like me would melt over the rich Salted chocolate air puffs, jasmine gelato, lemon cream and a thick spread of caramel, which I did, but it was a little bit too much. Either leave out the flowery ice cream or the caramel otherwise, it is a malaise of highly competitive flavors and textures. My friend though seemed to appreciate the much lighter Black figs, sweet cheese, meadowsweet and burnt lemon.
I had better ordered again the Selection of British and Irish cheese as I did the first time I dined at Fera. As nature allows, the weather affects the supply so the changing cheese plate is a genuine seasonal exploration of the excellent local cheese.
High-quality coffee or teas can accompany your dessert or the complimentary mignardises (small sweets served at high-end restaurants after the meal). London-based Postcard Teas delivers their small batch tea personally selected on the founder’s trips to Asia, and there are some rare brews you can enjoy while dining at Fera.
As your meal nears the finale, peak at the action inside the kitchen. Either the waiter or the manager are eager to show you around.