You can usually find chefs Freek van Noortwijk and Guillaume de Beer in the kitchens of their Amsterdam restaurants, Guts & Glory and BREDA . But for a recent morning service, they came to London to cook an unconventional breakfast feast with chef Merlin Labron-Johnson.
Merlin Labron-Johnson , executive chef of Portland and Clipstone, both in London's Fitzrovia
This is our third brunch that we've done where we've collaborated with another chef. Every Sunday, we invite a restaurant or a chef that we admire and respect. The idea is that I don't want it to be all about the chef or take things too seriously. I invite people who I think are going to bring nice food, but also a lot of fun and a style that's a bit different to what we're doing at Clipstone.
I first heard about Freek and Guillaume from Guts & Glory and BREDA through a customer at Portland. He's a chap who had been to their restaurant and said to me that I should check them out. He thought that we had a similar philosophy and way of doing things. Then I just kept hearing about them through different people. Kate from our team suggested that we invite them to do a brunch then Will, one of Portland and Clipstone's owners, happened to be in Amsterdam a few weeks after. He went to eat at both of their restaurants and was really impressed.
We let them take the lead on what they want to cook. I usually say the menu will be five or six dishes long—whoever's visiting will do a few and then we create and build in some of ours. So, the tortellini with hay-baked pumpkin, the barbecue Devon rose veal with chopped veal brain, and the pistachio chouquette dishes were ours and not something we'd ever done before.
The guys actually brought most of the produce with them. We got the Porthilly oysters for them from Cornwall, which were beautiful and they were really happy with them. Other than that, it was really just some cauliflowers!
Most of the stuff they bought were things that didn't need to be in the fridge. They'd frozen anything that needed to be kept cold so by the time it got to us, it was still mostly frozen or cold. They'd bought some vacuum-packed butter and their frozen cucumber sorbet in a cool bag. They actually bought the whole of the sorbet dish with them, including meringues in a huge, airtight box.
Part of these are events are also about learning things that we wouldn't have been exposed to before. When we had the guys from Taberna do Mercado in, it was all about Portuguese cuisine and they talked to us about how they cook stuff. At the weekend, Guillaume was deep-frying cauliflower—I'd never seen anyone do that before!
They were really nice guys and I think we're going to go to Amsterdam and do a return event.
Guillaume de Beer, chef-owner of Guts & Glory and BREDA in Amsterdam with Freek van Noortwijk
When we started Gut & Glory, we chose four animals: chicken, fish, pork, and beef. We were making menus around those four animals so, over the courses, we'd use the whole animal. Then we did vegetables with an all-vegetarian menu and after that, we started doing cuisines. We've done Italian, South American, and now we're doing French classics. BREDA is more relaxed and we do modern international cuisine.
When we were thinking about which dishes to cook at Clipstone, we thought about dishes that might work well at brunch, like a cauliflower. The cauliflower is deep-fried in brown butter and served with a ham emulsion and shavings of black truffle. It's a dish that comes from BREDA. We also thought about what would be easy to make and take with us. These are also some of our most popular dishes back in Amsterdam.
We took a big suitcase to London, which was way overweight. Merlin just needed to order oysters and cauliflowers! We had all the sauces and pickled stuff. I got more funny looks because the suitcase was so big than for its contents.
When we arrived, we went straight to Bob Bob Ricard [a restaurant known for having a Champagne bell on each table] which was a really over-the-top restaurant but in a good way. We pressed for Champagne a few times! In the evening, we went to StreetXO. The place is mental (literally) but the food was very good—it was like flavour bombs in every plate. We're sometimes told that our food is a bit spicy or too high on flavour but that was way beyond that! It was a funny experience but very nice.
Service went really well, it was very chilled and everything was well prepared. One couple who were there actually flew over from Amsterdam to come to the brunch. They said they'd never been to London before and they'd woken up at 4 AM, went to the airport, came to Clipstone for brunch, and then went straight back to the airport after! That's a big compliment so we're going to do something special next time they come in.
It was a great opportunity to cook abroad. The London restaurant scene is definitely more progressive and there's more money spent on decoration than in Amsterdam. The look of some restaurants is amazing and I think that's sometimes what Amsterdam wants to achieve. It was great to visit.
As told to Daisy Meager.
All photos by Liz Seabrook.