Meet The Chef Behind Kitty Fisher’s And Cora Pearl
Fish stew with croutons. Photograph by Mr Alex Maguire, courtesy of Cora Pearl
MR PORTER talks to Mr George Barson as he prepares to open his second restaurant in London.
Mr George Barson, head chef of Kitty Fisher’s, the grill-oriented restaurant in Mayfair, London, that’s loved by food aficionados and countless celebrities, is soon to helm a second kitchen, Cora Pearl in Covent Garden. Launching in a matter of days, Kitty’s decadent sibling is sure to have critics and scenesters queuing up to try its innovative theatre-land menu. For Mr Barson, however, who is fine-tuning dishes and overseeing logistics, fuss and fanfare are a distant concern.
Mr Barson grew up in the tiny Devon village of Colyton. He would spend hours watching the chefs at the restaurant where his mother worked, rapt as they sautéed and whisked, occasionally tasting titbits. At home, his grandfather, who took to cooking with gusto after retiring, ensured that Mr Barson and his friends were never short of a lavish feast. “He was my father figure,” says Mr Barson, “and he liked cooking quite outrageous stuff – great, classic, British cookery. He had a little book of his own recipes, so any chutney that I make is always one of his.” Duly convinced that cooking was his vocation, Mr Barson went to catering college and then spent four years at Mr Hugh Fearnley-Whittingtsall’s River Cottage in Axminster, working with whatever could be foraged or fished that day (or even that hour), often cooking it over fire. This experience is in evidence in the inventive dishes at Kitty Fisher’s that celebrate seasonal produce.
Having made his way to London, Mr Barson then spent time at Mr Nuno Mendes’ exhilarating game-changer Viajante and Mr Heston Blumenthal’s urban bastion of molecular gastronomy, Dinner. At Viajante, Mr Barson got to grips with innovative techniques as well as the frenetic pace of service at an east London hotspot. At Dinner, it was similarly pressurised. “It was this huge, amazing operation with 30 chefs cooking for 300 or more covers with every recipe written out as a methodical formula, which you have to follow, even down to how you clean a machine,” he says.
After a further summer working at River Cottage, Mr Barson was lured back to the capital and landed a creative development role at Mr Jamie Oliver’s original Fifteen. While there, he received a call from Mr Tom Mullion, the co-owner of Kitty Fisher’s with Messrs Oliver Milburn and Tim Steel, asking him to fill the head chef vacancy left by Mr Tomos Parry.
Mr Barson wasted no time in shepherding Kitty Fisher’s into a new era. “I’ve changed the concept considerably,” he says. “Kitty Fisher’s was considered Spanish – Basque wood-grill cooking – and, obviously, the grill remains central, but my style is slightly more British, more complex.” As he lists the manifold ways his team use coal (to roast squashes overnight), smoke (to infuse sugar syrups) and fire (to render beef fat for slow-cooking celeriac), it appears Mr Barson is driven by a desire to make the most of his ingredients and resources.
As Cora Pearl’s opening creeps closer, he is fixated on finessing his new menu, well aware of the pitfalls of presenting nostalgia-ridden classics, including a deluxe ham (pig jowl) and (Montgomery) cheese toastie. “You’re up against what people remember having as a kid or student,” he says. “So there’s quite a bit of pressure.” As well as a New York-inspired shrimp Newburg starter and a strawberry, Earl Grey ice cream and sablé pudding that nods to Mr Barson’s fondness for a Devon cream tea, diners in the opulently furnished, parquet-floored space will be able to enjoy brill and devilled crab. “It’s a ridiculously expensive dish – luxury upon luxury – that encapsulates Cora Pearl’s decadence,” says Mr Barson. “We’ll also be serving grill-cooked rose veal fillets with sauce Bordelaise.” This being 2018, and Mr Barson being a conscientious fellow, vegetarians will also be catered for, albeit on an ad hoc basis. “It’s good when somebody who’s vegan or has a dietary requirement comes in because you almost want to over-compensate, to shock them as to how good it is,” he says. It seems one and all are bound for an indecently delicious time once London’s latest culinary star officially arrives.