AMAGAZINE talk Manchester’s food scene with Marco Pierre White and get his no-nonsense tips to nailing Christmas dinner.
Why is it important to you to keep the British chophouse tradition alive?
Well, chophouses were created in the seventeenth century and I like the simplicity of chophouses. They’re always generous, aren’t they? When you think of a chop-house or steakhouse, you don’t think of twelve, fourteen, sixteen, eighteen, twenty courses, each tiny – you think of generosity.
What makes a great restaurant today?
The most important aspect of any restaurant is the environment you sit in because if you don’t feel comfortable, how can you enjoy yourself?
Number two is service with a smile. A smile is way more important than technical ability. So, as long as your staff are competent and they’re kind and they smile, you don’t look at anything else.
Thirdly, food at a price point which everyone can afford. If I said to you, what’s your favourite restaurant, I bet it hasn’t got a Michelin star. Why is it your favourite? You like the environment, right or wrong? You like the service, right or wrong? And then they deliver a standard of food to a price point you’re happy to pay, right or wrong? That’s it.
Who would you like to see eating at Mr White’s English Chophouse in Manchester?
How do you think the restaurant industry has changed in the UK over the last few years?
Oh, I can go back a lot further than that! It’s changed a lot. Now a lot of restaurants are run by corporates.
Is that a bad thing?
It’s not the same as an independent, is it? If you look at a lot of corporates, well they’re chains, aren’t they? They’re not the same as independent restaurants. My favourite restaurant is a restaurant run by a lady called Nancy Lam where her husband is in the kitchen with her, their children are up front serving. It’s all the family. I like going to those restaurants where it’s all run by the family.
Some people think the downfall of the high street and chain restaurants is that they’re rolling out the same concept in different locations with no feel for each city. What are your thoughts on that?
But they also serve their purpose, let’s not forget that. But I like the independents. Having said that, every so often I find myself in McDonald’s, like most people I suppose. Every so often I become that 1% of the world’s population that has a McDonald’s every day. Interesting stat that, isn’t it? McDonald’s feed 1% of the world’s population every day. Everywhere has its place. Sometimes we just go shopping, just drop into Pizza Express and have a pizza. But me, I always prefer the independents.
What is the restaurant scene is lacking at the moment?
I don’t think like that. I think, if anything, we’ve got too much choice, rather than lacking. We’ve got everything, haven’t we?
Definitely, but restaurants seem to come and go very quickly these days.
But that’s life, isn’t it? That’s the world that we live in. I mean, not so long ago there was BHS wasn’t there, there was Woolworths. Nothing lasts forever.
Is the restaurant scene oversaturated?
So, its supply and demand, isn’t it? If the demand wasn’t there then there wouldn’t be so many restaurants. I mean look, we’re a generation that dines out, am I wrong? I dine out seven days a week. Even going to a deli for a sandwich is dining out. There’s so much to choose from and we live such busy lives that we don’t have time to cook anything. Dining out adds an extra dimension to our lives. If people didn’t want to dine out, then there wouldn’t be so many restaurants. And that’s how you’ve got to look at it.
What would you say has been the biggest challenge of your career so far?
When I look at a glass, it’s always full. A glass is never half full to me.
What’s your greatest achievement?
Proving everybody wrong.
Are you always trying to do that?
Yes – just proving them all wrong. If you have a dream, then you have a duty and a responsibility to yourself to make it come true. I think it’s what’s within you – that’s what’s got to come out, whatever that may be. You keep on working hard at it to better yourself, to better your craft.
What do you think Mr White’s English Chophouse adds to Manchester’s food scene?
Well, if we look at the Manchester restaurant scene, it’s a giant jigsaw and the chophouse is just one of those little pieces which contribute to it.
What are your tips for an amazing Christmas dinner?
Strategy. What I’m saying when I say strategy is that we all cook turkey, so, number one don’t buy a turkey larger than twelve pounds.
Number two. Buy a hen bird, not a stag. A stag is a male bird – buy a hen bird. Better meat.
Number three. Buy a bird between ten and twelve pounds. Get your butcher to break it down.
Number four. Make your stuffing the day before. Braise your red cabbage the day before. Prepare your vegetables the day before. Make your gravy the day before. Then you don’t have to assemble it on Christmas day itself, so you can enjoy the day instead of getting stressed.
Find out more at mpwrestaurants.co.uk.