IN this land of pies and fish ‘n’ chips, where most visiting Aussies are less than enamoured with the national cuisine compared with back home, it’s ironic that one of London’s most iconic destination restaurants has hired an Australian executive chef to revolutionise its British menu.
Sydney-born Simon Duff, who trained under Marco Pierre White, is at the helm at The National Dining Rooms, housed in London’s biggest art institution The National Gallery in Trafalgar Square.
His mission has been to create a menu which showcases the best of British produce, which involved personally visiting producers and rare-breed farmers around the country to source the most diverse ingredients available, many of which are now exclusive to The National Dining Rooms.
The venue is now the only UK restaurant offering White Park beef of Bickleigh Farm, a favourite of Winston Churchill’s, which is hung for 28 days before being butchered and prepared by Duff into daily special dishes depending on the cut.
Says Simon: “It’s a very Australian thing to have good beef as it’s not too expensive over there, so to hunt down a decent bit of cow over here is quite a thing. You can’t find a T-bone like back home, so sourcing and finding it yourself is great”
The Australian’s masterstroke has been to introduce a bespoke ‘County of the Month’ menu taking diners on a special culinary tour around Britain. For instance, a recent month was Hampshire, using seasonal ingredients native to Hampshire to create dishes like pepper-crusted New Forest venison with artichoke and beetroot, or steamed Camber Quay turbot with creamed leeks and flamed nettles. The menu offers exceptional value for the quality and exclusivity it presents.
“Things here have changed quite a lot,” explains Simon. “You don’t need to go to Europe to source decent ingredients any more. There are now the small producers right here as the demand is there. I love getting out and about and discovering different areas, for example I just went on a bike ride in Dorset and Somerset to find producers for the new menus.”
The dining venue itself, situated in the Gallery’s Sainsbury Wing, is an impressive art-covered space with floor-to-ceiling windows offering fine views over Trafalgar Square, making a lunchtime window table a much sought-after spot. Popular with art lovers and culture vultures from around both London and the rest of the world, it’s a perfect eating location when combined with a visit to the huge Gallery, which gives you something to discuss over your meal or somewhere to walk it off afterwards.
Its only downfall is that it shares the same opening hours as the Gallery, so is not really an evening venue, but always worth a daytime visit even if just for a tea and cake break — there’s a whole host of British teatime treats also on offer.
For more info on the The National Dining Rooms and Simon’s menu, visit www.peytonandbyrne.co.uk/the-national-dining-rooms