Once dubbed the ‘enfant terrible’ of the British food scene for his hell-raising style and razor-sharp tongue, Marco Pierre White arrived in Newcastle this month with an altogether more cordial ambition. North East Times found out more.
White, at one time the youngest ever chef to win three Michelin stars, opened his Fenkle Street restaurant on June 1 with the aim of bringing his own brand of affordable glamour to the city.
Part of the new £20 million Hotel Indigo development by Sanguine Hospitality, the 100-seater Steakhouse Bar & Grill is set to become a mecca for North East food lovers.
“I can’t wait to have another ham and pease pudding stotty”, says the great man when asked what he’s most looking forward to on his next visit to Newcastle. “I was in town a few months ago, checking on the progress of the restaurant, when I discovered this local delicacy. Some of my favourite foods are the British classics – dishes like Lancashire hot pot, sherry trifle or beef and dumplings – and that’s the kind of food our Newcastle guests can expect to enjoy.
“For me, it’s all about quality food, well cooked and served in a relaxed, convivial atmosphere. Your typical working man and woman, they go out for dinner much more often than they ever used to, which means you have to offer real value and more than just a loose sentiment of expensive exclusivity.
“More often than not, people go out to spend good times with family and friends. If at the end of an evening their party of four is presented with a £150 bill and think to themselves ‘the service was great, we’ve had a fantastic time in a nice environment’, then they’ll come back a few weeks later.
“That’s the business we are in and that’s what we want to achieve – affordable glamour. We could serve the best food in the world and charge through the nose, but if our guests don’t enjoy the experience, then what’s the point?”
After leaving Allerton High School in Leeds, White trained as a chef at the Hotel St George in Harrogate and latterly the Box Tree in Ilkley. At the age of just 16, he moved to London, where he undertook his classical training under the likes of Albert and Michel Roux, Pierre Koffman and Raymond Blanc, before opening his first restaurant at Harvey’s in Wandsworth Common.
“Harvey’s was the toughest time of my working life,” he recalls. “I’d gone to London with a few pounds in my pocket and a bag of belongings, now here I was at 25 with my own kitchen, two assistants and absolutely no knowledge of business. All of my training had been focused on perfecting my cooking skills, but now I had to balance that with other skills like people management and in hindsight I did well to survive.”
By the age of 33, White had become the youngest chef to win three Michelin stars and helped to guide the careers of some familiar industry names. However, 12 years later he decided to retire from the kitchen and returned his coveted stars, citing a refusal to be judged by people with less knowledge than himself.
He reflects on his retirement: “When you’ve spent more than 20 years working in a kitchen, six or seven days a week over very long hours, all of your efforts go into the food and the career. While I found my talents and the food had developed in that time, the same could not be said of me as a person, so I had to leave to discover who I really was.”
White’s Newcastle eatery will be his latest venture in conjunction with development partners Sanguine Hospitality Ltd, a relationship which has seen him open restaurants in Chester and Bristol, plus two alongside Hotel Indigo developments in Liverpool and Birmingham.
General manager Adam Munday will oversee the day-to-day operation of the entire venue, relocating his family from Cheshire for the opportunity to work with White and the Sanguine Hospitality team.
Munday says: “This is a fantastic opportunity for me to lead a really strong team with decades of combined experience. Our restaurant manager, George Liddle, has worked at The Ritz and several other fine hotels, so our guests will know they’re in safe hands.
“Newcastle is such a vibrant city with a real thirst for life and I’m thrilled to be here. We intend to raise our guests’ expectations by providing quality food, drinks and accommodation in a welcoming environment. Marco calls it affordable glamour and that’s exactly what I aim to deliver.”
Former Hell’s Kitchen star White says the partnership has been a recipe for success and believes their first foray into the North East could prove to be the cherry on the icing.
“There are a number of high quality restaurants in this region and it’s impossible to overlook the impact that restaurateurs such as Kenny Atkinson and Terry Laybourne have had on the North East food scene in recent years,” he says. “We want to add something different to that mix, stir things up a little.
“If you look at Newcastle itself, a cluster of two or three restaurants has dominated for a long time - our aim is to join that group but at the same time stretch the boundaries of what people expect and bring the overall quality up another notch.”
Marco Pierre White Steakhouse Bar & Grill opened its doors at Hotel Indigo Newcastle on June 1. White will host a special event on Thursday 19 July, where guests will be able to enjoy a three-course lunch or dinner and receive a signed copy of his latest cookbook.