We speak to......The Kensington Wine Rooms

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image from Shutterstock

Here we visit the Kensington Wine rooms, one of London's best reputed wine bars located in London's Notting Hill to interview head chef Patrick Strauss, owners Thor Gudmundsson and Richard Okroj and general manager / head of wine Ollie McSwiney on the food and wines they recommend and also on the unique wine 'self service' concept this restaurant has.

What is your favourite dish to cook on the menu currently?
Patrick Strauss (Head Chef): Octopus; I like to prepare this starter for the challenge of cooking octopus to perfection; the pak choi and sun-dried tomatoes make it a remarkably fresh dish.

What do you like to cook at home that you don’t make at the restaurant? Patrick Strauss: I like to slow-cook a nice piece of meat and enjoy it with some great wines. image from shutterstock

What sparked your interest in becoming a chef and who in your opinion is currently cooking the best?
Patrick Strauss: As a 16 year old in Switzerland I met a chef called Thierry von Kaenel. In 30 minutes he managed to transmit his passion and all I wanted to do after that was become a chef. It’s impossible to be so absolute about something as personal as food, but in London Nuno Mendes stands out for his style, quality and search for perfection.

What trends do you see emerging in the food industry right now?
Thor Gudmundsson (Owner): After years of opening up to world cuisines, which is brilliant and has fundamentally impacted on people’s tastes, there is now a definite trend in London for simplifying things, for focusing on quality, traceability and sustainability rather than overcomplicating both in terms of cooking and presentation. Likewise the success of the ‘Natural’ wines that now make up a sizeable part of our list is part of a similar desire to rediscover authenticity.

Do you have any disaster stories throughout your career as a chef that you can share with us?
Patrick Strauss: This was in Switzerland, and we were doing a cocktail party for 300 guests by the lake. We were hit by a surprise thunderstorm, which caused a right panic!image from shutterstock

How does Kensington Wine Rooms source the best possible ingredients?
Richard Okroj (Owner): We work closely with our suppliers to source quality ingredients, often from tiny artisanal producers. We’ll often visit the individual pig farmers or cheesemakers whenever we get a chance! Ollie McSwiney (Head of Wine and GM): Likewise with the wines, we have a diverse group of importers that supply us with wines made by ‘vignerons’ rather than in factories, and we like to go out there, see the vines and meet the people who grow them!

In your opinion, what is the best food and wine match on the menu? ~
Patrick and Ollie: we both agree on the Octopus, with the Saumur Chenin Blanc ‘L’Insolite’ from Thierry Germain, although the Beerenauslese with the foie gras comes a close second.

Do you use any particular wine in any of your dishes?
Patrick Strauss: I like to marinate my foie gras in Port, it adds just the required amount of sweetness to create a perfectly balanced taste.

Where do you tend to buy wine for yourself at home?
Ollie McSwiney: obviously, at either of the Wine Rooms, as we spend a lot of time selecting our wines, most of which are available to take away. But I like to browse through the shelves of small independent wine merchants for something new, fun and unusual.

Have you come across any unusual food and wine matches?
Ollie McSwiney: Bollinger RD and Marcel Petite's Comté cheese - at the end of a meal at Bollinger Thor Gudmundsson: At a high-end Teppanyaki restaurant in Tokyo, Beaujolais Nouveau with Foie Gras, Alaskan Crab and Abalone – those were the 90’s!image from shutterstock

You have the unique ‘self service’ concept for the wine in your restaurant – how do you think this has benefitted the dining customers?
Thor Gudmundsson: the decision to make the wines by the glass available on a self-serve basis is about making the experience, fun, approachable and didactic; it’s about demystifying the choice of wine and empowering the customer. We are here to advise rather than prescribe. Patrick Strauss: I think it’s amazing, as customers are not limited by having to choose a bottle that appeals to the whole table, they can match the wines to the dishes each guest wants to eat.

What audience does the restaurant cater for?
Richard Okroj: Most of our customers are interested in what they eat, provenance and seasonality. They’re also interested in trying different wines, in stretching their knowledge. We encourage our customers to be open-minded.

If you weren’t in the food industry, where do you think you would be?
Patrick Strauss: I was interested in a career in the military; there are some obvious parallels with how a kitchen is organized! Also in a wine career, but for different reasons…