Ultratravel U.S.

Summer 2014

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12 ultratravel FORAGING AT CLARIDGE'S Buzzed-about chef Simon Rogan combines hogweed, nettles and a bit of whimsy at the storied hotel's new restaurant, Fera. Alyssa Shelasky stops in for a taste. I s there any hotel as consistently fabulous as Claridge's? The iconic property in the Mayfair section of London has all the ingredients for a glamorous, luxurious, flawless stay, every single time, from check-in to checkout (with a lot of English breakfast and Gwyneth Paltrow in between). Which is why the concept of a new, young chef with a cutting- edge vision and an unconventional soul sounded, to us Claridge's fanatics, a little…suspect. Sure, Gordon Ramsay was gone and never coming back, but still. I did a little research on Simon Rogan, the chef in question, and learned he was a man widely respected around the culinary world, often compared to René Redzepi because of their shared dedication to foraging. Then I packed up all my Burberry and curiosity and made my way to London for Fera's opening night. But first, an evening or two of lounging at Claridge's Fumoir bar (my favorite), nursing Negronis, eating bar snacks and making friends. Nothing could be better—not even Simon "prince of foraging" Rogan. (Or so I thought.) On the day of opening night, I walked through the newly designed, dazzling- yet-demure dining room for a tour of the spotless semi-open kitchen and to meet the wilderness-impassioned chef. Chef Rogan was anxious and excited, with that lovely British balance of self-confidence and self-deprecation. His little foraging soldiers glided around the kitchen, clearly idolizing him. I started to get hungry. My dinner date was a London banker, a bona fide food and wine snob. She was tickled to try Rogan's food, being that he's the hottest toque in the U.K. right now. My first mental note was the immaculate service—but hello, this was Claridge's after all. My second thought was "Hmm, a marshmallow root cocktail?" I ordered it, inhaled it lustfully and leaned back in blissful anticipation, waiting for the tasting menu to take flight. Without ruining Fera's element of whimsicality and surprise, I will say each dish had a touch of magic, and everything tasted terrific. The first offering, a crunchy pea wafer with fennel and flowers, was phenomenal ("like potato chips on a beach!" sighed my friend), setting us off on the right foot. A sophisticated onion broth served with country bread and bone marrow butter had intense, unforgettable umami. The brill cooked in whey, served with wild mushrooms and potatoes, was fresh and flavorful. My friend's pork chop was decidedly "brilliant," as she put it. For dessert, we giddily shared what was described as "outdoor rhubarb with melilot, linseed and sweet cicely." All of the above was paired masterfully by Fera's attentive and intuitive sommelier. The cooking was so clean, there was not even a food coma afterward. In the end, I was entirely sold on Fera. The foraging effect was less precious than in some trendy restaurants these days; in fact, the dishes were on the hearty side (exactly what you want when in London) despite the astonishing pureness of it all. Chef Rogan is a wonderful new asset to Claridge's. He has made the perfect hotel even better. Clockwise from above: Chef Simon Rogan; raw beef with smoked broccoli cream; stewed rabbit with lovage. PHOTOS COURTESY MAYBOURNE HOTEL GROUP

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