Pascal Proyart has quietly been waiting in the wings of the London restaurant scene, but now, with a newly refurbished restaurant, it's time for him to take centre stage
It was a clear chill day last winter that found Pascal Proyart, me and a group of chefs and journalists from France bobbing up and down in a fishing boat out on Varenger Fjord – over 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Wrapped up warmly in our coats and scarves, we were waiting for Erik, a local fisherman to cook up the breakfast he'd just reeled in for us: fresh king crab, simply cooked and unadorned. An idyllic scene, had it not been for the French contingent who frankly, weren't happy.
Poor Erik, you see, had made the fatal error of salting the seawater for cooking (yikes) and – even worse – of boiling the living daylights out of the precious king crab for 15 minutes. Thank God, then, for the saviour of the hour – and the crab – Proyart, chef of Restaurant One-O-One in Knightsbridge.
"Do you want to taste crab or salt?" he asks a bewildered Erik, taking over the stove. "Crab, right?
And don't give it all 15 minutes – the legs will be ready after six but do the shoulder longer then let it rest after cooking. I like to crack it and steam it gently at 95?. Awesome."
It's all a bit cheffy for poor Erik but he's thrilled with the impromptu masterclass. As for the French chefs, they're ecstatic: the crab's perfect. This scene is pure Pascal Proyart – a total enthusiast for sparkling fresh seafood at its finest – he can't bear to see compromise and wants everyone to share his passion. It also sums up the hands-on approach he has to his ambassadorial role with Norwegian Seafood, enthusing the fishermen he meets as much as the top chefs he fraternises with.
Fast forward to this summer and the grand reopening of his Knightsbridge restaurant One-O-One after six months' closure and £1m refurbishment. Though the building work was beset by delays, when I meet Proyart, he's his usual chipper self and, if anything, he's more fired up than ever. Proyart wants to inspire absolutely everybody – not just one Norwegian fisherman – about the best the seas have to offer.
Proyart's fresh back from the closest thing a responsible grown up gets to a ‘gap year' and is suitably rejuvenated as a result. When One-O-One shut temporarily in February for a new look, it presented what Proyart calls ‘The opportunity of a lifetime' "Everybody was so jealous."
First off was a trip back home to Brittany with his good friend Eric Chavot of The Capital to hunt for new suppliers in Cancale to bring the town's legendary oysters to London, and also to get into a few kitchens, namely La Ville Blanche in Lannion and the three Michelinstarred Les Maisons de Bricourt in Cancale. Next up was another homecoming, this time to Yves Mattagne's Sea Grill, the Brussels institution with 19/20 from Gault Millau where Proyart worked for six years. "Mattagne has worked with everybody. He's travelled all over and is using a lot of new techniques, which is very exciting me."
He also took the chance to get out and about in London, going out to eat two or three times a week with One-O-One's restaurant manager Darren Neilan. "We get so closed in what we do in London, it's useful to see what's happening in Europe. My knowledge of European cooking has increased enormously," says Proyart. "My cooking's still going to be the same but I've travelled a lot, seen some good ideas, and been able to put 100 per cent of my focus into this new menu without the usual distractions."
The new menus are comprised of ‘petit plats', organised under sub-headings ‘Low Tide', i.e. shellfish, "Delicacies from the Shore and Beyond", "High Tide" i.e. seafishing, and "The Sea and Earth". It's a roll call of fabulous produce from the aforementioned Norwegian Red King Crab to Tsarskaya Oysters from Cancale, Brittany Blue Lobster and Joselito Ham. There are also some outside-the-box ‘surf and turf'
combinations: lobster and sweetbreads, king crab with pigeon, and tuna with foie gras.
There's a strong sense that this is Proyart's moment. He's discreetly been building up his reputation over eight years at One-O-One, and has won accolades and awards aplenty, but has somehow remained London's least known top chef. In fact, One-O-One is about as much of an insider secret as a restaurant can be after nearly a decade's business in the flash Sheraton Park Tower in Knightsbridge. Arguably, One-O-One's dowdy old dining room was not the finest showcase for his talents. Proyart agrees it's time: "I've been quite discreet here, but there's a time for everything, and I think this is now a great chance for me to make it really happen.
Previously my cooking didn't fit with the restaurant, but now people can come to a really special place to taste my cooking."
The key difference is the glossy new interior by Forme and the ‘tasting' style menu, which Proyart describes as "in the same spirit as Atelier [de Joël Robuchon] or Club [Gascon] but around the ocean." He agrees it's trendy, but the idea's born of customer demand, not fashion.
"Looking around, talking to friends, I've concluded that we have to respond to the customer's demand for flexibility. They're going out more often – not just every once in a while – and they're watching the budget more as a result. Look at Paris, Brussels, all over Spain – this is the way to go. That they've started doing it in France, now that tells you something," he says with a chuckle. "We French like our classics."
Accordingly, it is a shade less formal than before, and open an hour earlier, at 6pm, with tapas-style dishes in the bar and the full menu in the dining room proper. The average spend is closer to the £50 per head mark, down from the £60-80 from when the restaurant was for special occasions only. The weekly changing lunch menu offers a selection of six dishes from which you can build your own menu of between two to six dishes (£15-£35).
Although Pascal is nominally ‘head chef', he wants it to be more like a ‘chef patron role': "It's my place. I've chosen every plate," he says with feeling.
"It feels as much of an investment for me as it would if it were my own. I've got ten times more say in it than I had before. I'm not so involved in the rest of the hotel now. I need to focus now.
That was a dealbreaker; otherwise, I wouldn't have committed to this. The hotel's put its trust in me and given me carte blanche. I want to do my part in return."
And like any French chef worth his sel de guérande, Proyart wants Michelin recognition.
"I'm really going for it," he says unequivocally. "Not getting a star has taken a toll on me. If I don't get one with the new restaurant and the new menu in time, I'll have to accept that maybe my style hasn't adapted to the London market. But now I'll have no excuses any more. I'm ready to prove my point to the London public."
On the Menu?
Chilled Tsarskaya Oysters from Cancale with Yuzu Sorbet and Vodka Foam; Warm Norwegian Red King Crab with Sauce Vierge and Cockles; Red Tuna Tartare with Soft Shell Crab Tempura; Pan-seared Langoustine and Duck Foie Gras, Peking Duck Consommé, Hoi Sin Froth.
Size? 50 covers in the restaurant; 22 in the bar; 10 in the salon privé.
Where? One-O-One, 101 Knightsbridge, London, SW1 7RN, 020 7290 7101
PASCAL PROYART'S NORWEGIAN RED KING CRAB RISOTTO – LITTLE PARMESAN EGG PANCAKE
For those who follow fashion, it seems king crab's the new lobster. Pascal Proyart's been championing it since he fi rst came across it at the Sea Grill in Brussels. Since then, he's got his London colleagues into it – Gordon Ramsay is the most recent convert.
It's still a relatively new delicacy on the fi ne-dining menu, having only been fi shed commercially in Norway since 2002. The crabs aren't, however, native to Norwegian waters, having been introduced to the Barents Sea north of the Soviet Union from North Japan during the 1960s when stocks of fi sh were very low. The fi rst king crab was caught in Norway in 1977.
Since then, their presence in the seas around has changed the face of the fi shing industry, giving the local economy a boost and offering a high profi le, high end product. 20 per cent stays in Europe with the vast majority of the rest going to Japan, although that balance is set to shift if Proyart gets his way.
The fishing season is from September to December but the farmed variety is available live year round which Proyart gets from Pembra in the UK, taking as many as six 12kg cases of king crab a week. King crab's also available from Alaska, but the big difference is size: in Norway, the crab are caught at around eight years old and an average weight of 4.1kg; in Alaska, the average is closer to 3kg.
- 4 king crab legs
- 30g unsalted butter
- 45g wild mushrooms
- Micro salad leaves
- 1tsp chopped shallots
- 40g light crab bisque
- 100g cold unsalted butter
- 1tsp black truffle oil
- 120g arborio rice
- 3tsp olive oil
- 20g white wine
- 120g light crab bisque
- 80g light chicken stock
- 2tsp chopped shallots
- 2 chopped garlic cloves
- 20g freshly grated parmesan
- 2tsp whipped cream
PARMESAN EGG PANCAKE
- 500g full milk
- 3 eggs
- 1tsp grated parmesan
- For the pancake, whisk the eggs, milk and parmesan in a bowl with a touch of salt and pepper. Cook the pancake in a non-stick pan on a low heat until the mixture is cooked but do not colour it. Cut it into a round shape in the pan and carefully remove it. Reserve it on a piece of baking paper. Warm it for exactly one minute in the oven.
- Remove the cooked crab meat carefully from the shell. Cut it like a canon so it can stand on the plate. Reserve the trimmings for the risotto.
- For the crab froth, bring the crab bisque to a boil, then add diced cold butter and truffl e oil. Blend with a handblender until all the butter is dissolved in the sauce and is light and froth like a cappuccino. Reserve in a warm place until the risotto is cooked.
- Make a little beurre noisette with 50g of butter. Reserve in a sauce bowl.
- To cook the risotto, put the crab bisque and chicken stock in a casserole and bring it to a gentle boil, then take another casserole and add the olive oil and sweat the chopped garlic and shallots in it. Add the risotto rice and ‘pearl' it for a minute. Add the white wine, and cook gently until the risotto has absorbed all the wine. Add the warm stock and cook it gently for about 15 minutes. When the risotto is al dente, add the parmesan, whipping cream, some chopped truffl e and a touch of truffl e oil. Season and fi nish with a teaspoon of chopped parsley.
- Warm the crabmeat and the pancake in the oven for 2-3 minutes. Garnish each plate with a half candied tomato (slow-cooked in the oven for three hours with olive oil, pepper, salt, sugar, garlic and lemon thyme), with the egg pancake. Add one spoon of cooked risotto in the pancake and fold into a half moon shape. Place two canons of crab next to it, some seasonal salad leaves, parmesan shavings and a few (optional) truffl e slices. Warm up the sauce, blend it again; then just taking the foam off it, drizzle on the dishes. Finish with a few drops of beurre noisette.