A sustainably minded London restaurant has moved…
Will Murray met Jack Croft at the kitchen stoves of Heston Blumenthal’s Dinner restaurant in Knightsbridge, where they also forged a friendship with Anna Williams, a pastry chef. And while these years taught them all about sourcing, writing menus and cooking for large numbers of customers on a daily basis it taught them nothing about timing.
Together, the three of them opened their own restaurant, Fallow, in Heddon Street off London’s Regent Street on 10 March 2020, days before the world closed down. But necessity, being the mother of invention, instead taught these three highly talented chefs a rather different path to survival: takeaway. ‘I started flipping burgers’, Murray explained ‘and Jack started mixing gin and tonics. And we found a ready market among the bankers, the hedge-fund traders and the traders on the street and we somehow managed to survive, although because we were so new we didn’t benefit from the furlough scheme.’
The following that this trio generated allowed them to take advantage of the opportunity created when Duck & Waffle decided to close down their branch in the newly created St James’s Market, a modern corner site on the Haymarket just south of Piccadilly Circus, with large glass windows, outdoor seating and, most crucially, a vast subterranean prep kitchen. With the professional know-how of restaurant-fixer James Robson, they took over what they describe as ‘a favourable lease’ and in mid November they reopened Fallow.
With certain caveats, of course. On the Saturday night we dined there, the inside of the glass windows were covered with the architects’ drawings. And on the Monday morning when I went in to chat with Murray I had to step over several workmen fixing the front doors, inter alia. But there was such a wave of enthusiasm among the staff – I have rarely seen so many smiling faces – that it was quite possible to ignore all of this.
I have now eaten twice at Fallow and on each occasion the food and service were memorable. On the first, alone, I sat at the counter that separates customers from an open kitchen so had an uninterrupted view of the chefs. Here I enjoyed a ewe kebab on a sauce of dill pickles and buttermilk that was so delicious that I immediately ordered their rye loaf with salted butter to mop up the sauce.
I had already settled on my main course, having seen that they were using salmon belly, an ingredient which I first came across at a salmon bake at the Pinot Noir Celebration at McMinnville in Oregon many years ago. Here it came whipped and stuffed inside a piece of marrowbone alongside a warm marrowbone brioche (above). For some reason I also ordered a side dish of green beans with a mustard sauce (below) that constituted the most delicious combination and would have sufficed on their own. For dessert I chose a sourdough soft-serve ice cream that showed off Williams’ craft: it was hugely successful and used up sourdough remains that would otherwise have gone to waste. I paid my bill of £42.64 and left with a smile on my face.
I decided to return as soon as possible with Jancis, particularly as their wine list looks so exciting: a Hungarian dry Furmint, an Eva Fricke Riesling, a Mencía from Bierzo, a Volnay from Comtes Lafon; unfortunately there was a line already through the list’s bargain, a 2017 Volnay from Domaine Lafarge priced most reasonably at £75. Instead, we drank with great enjoyment a 2017 Kopp Spätburgunder from Baden for £72.
And we ate just as well despite the restaurant seeming so different. The place was packed, the noise level was high, but we could easily talk and the service team seemed capably in charge, although the calming presence of the veteran maître d’ John Davey definitely helped here.
We ate as well as I had done at my much quieter lunch. A plate of crisp, spicy ribs of sweetcorn with lime delighted Jancis as did the scallop tartare. The croquetas seemed heavier on cheese than the advertised cauliflower. For me the main attraction was a cod’s head with a spicy sriracha sauce (above). This was a monster of a head, cut down the middle and home to a plethora of delicious pieces of flaky meat. This was a great dish and it is easy to see quite how popular it has become here. We followed this with another serving of soft-serve ice cream (below) and their own Chelsea tart, a Williams creation, the consequence of boiling sweet whey down to an almost dulce de leche consistency, then forming it into a tart and serving it alongside some equally sweet caramelised whey. I paid my bill of £180 and we left extremely happy.
Forty-eight hours later I was back at Fallow to shake hands with Croft and to sit down with Murray to listen to their ambitions for this exciting restaurant.
He began resolutely. ‘Eating out in restaurants by its very nature is not sustainable and in fact we believe that the word sustainable may have been completely debased by now. But we believe that we are a forward-looking restaurant and that we are dealing with excess supply situations of food as we come across them. The cod’s head is a good example. It’s an ingredient I used to see regularly but only as part of the staff meal at Dinner. Here, we use two fish suppliers and when we started to buy them they would be sent in slightly damaged or bruised, maltreated as it were. Now with daily orders up to 25 heads, that is 50 portions, they come in pristine. I would like to think of this as conscious creativity. I am planning to do the same with another ingredient, a stuffed goose head. We are also growing our own mushrooms in our kitchen. Would you like to have a look?’ I nodded eagerly, never having refused a trip around a professional kitchen, and followed Murray down two sets of stairs.
Here was a vast room full of hard-working chefs and butchers. Murray led me round the side to our first stop, the meat-curing fridge in which ribs and sirloins of beef were maturing alongside trays and trays of sausages and bacon. ‘This is all for when we switch from being open six days a week to seven. Shortly after that we’re planning to open for breakfast’, he explained.
Then it was down to the kitchen, past Richard, ex-Rules, who was manhandling a vast sirloin of beef, carefully trimming most of its fat off before breaking down the carcass, as Murray led me to the far corner of the kitchen. Here he opened a door and pulled out a ladder that inconveniently ran at 90 degrees, before asking me to climb up the bottom two steps. Up there were boxes of mushrooms growing extremely happily. ‘The moisture is controlled by this device on my iPhone’, he explained, ‘and we use the mushrooms for the parfait.’ This is a dish I have not tried yet but plan to on my return. We walked past the chefs and a large dish of the whey as it was being reduced. I followed Murray out somewhat reluctantly.
I was about to leave when I remembered about John Davey, a man whose career includes years with Frédy Girardet in Crissier, Switzerland; the opening of Bibendum restaurant; and Mossiman’s, the private members’ club. ‘He runs his own consultancy’, Murray explained, ‘but when we met we immediately saw how useful his experience could be. He is absolutely wonderful at inspiring what is still a very young team and he does seem to have eyes in the back of his head.’ With that we shook hands and Murray went back to his kitchen duties.
I hope that I have given some notion of how exciting I think Fallow is: the amalgamation of youth, years of experience, and an overall eagerness to please. It is hard to think of anywhere else in London that has generated such excitement this year.
Fallow 2 St James’s Market, St James’s, London SW1Y 4RP (no phone number published on their website; no receptionist?)