Two minutes with Phil Howard

Two minutes with Phil Howard

Updated on • Written By Eamonn Crowe

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Two minutes with Phil Howard

After 25 years at The Square in Mayfair, Phil Howard sold up shop and now has a new Chelsea restaurant called Elystan Street serving classic British dishes. We caught up with Phil a few days before the opening to find out more.

Elystan Street London Kensington restaurantChelsea Elystan Street Phil Howard The Square The Ledbury restaurants restaurant London squaremealElystan Street London Kensington restaurant

How will Elystan Street differ from The Square?

The intention is have a restaurant that is slightly more informal and accessible in terms of the price and cooking. It’s still a highly ambitious and serious restaurant, but it doesn’t require you to come in and worship it.

Are you aiming for more Michelin stars?

The fulfilment for me will be about getting it right and that’s about having a full dining room – I want to hear those phones ringing. Having said that, it’s a restaurant that will only succeed through excellence, so I’m expecting to be in those guides somewhere.

Is the notion of ‘fine dining’ no more?

I don’t think it’s no more – far from it. There’s nothing more enjoyable than sitting down and being thoroughly looked after, and I certainly hope that doesn’t go away. Great food can be had in a myriad of different styles and operations in London, and the fine-dining market is certainly shrinking, but I don’t think for one second it will disappear.

Does changing from a Mayfair clientele to a Chelsea one present any challenges?

It’s not a challenge but there’s certainly a difference that’s for sure. When I was 23 and opened The Square, it was all about ‘what am I going to cook?’, but now it’s more about who is going to walk through the door. In Chelsea, at lunchtime, the lion share of our business will be people’s own money, locals, lots of women and food tourists. That means the food will be casual, easy and light. In the evening, the approach will be more upmarket and sophisticated. The food is very much conceived to meet the market, rather than the other way round.

Elystan Street London restaurantElystan Street London restaurant

Do you think the Mayfair dining scene has changed for better or worse?

I think it’s just different. Mayfair used to be very grand and old school, and The Square fitted into that perfectly. As it’s evolved, Mayfair has become shinier, younger and more fashionable, so that old style of dining is less relevant now.

What will be on the drinks menu at Elystan Street?

The list at The Square was huge, but at Elystan Street we will have less, while keeping the quality high. Great wine is an important part of what we do – my cooking lends itself to it because it's very classical. If someone wants to come in and drink, well, they’ll be able to do that here.

You told us in 2012 that you would be overjoyed if your children decided to go into cooking – any progress?

No real clear signs. We are a food family and we’re all passionate about it, but I’d bet a lot of money that my children won’t follow in my footsteps.

Elystan Street London restaurantElystan Street London restaurant

What dish from the Elystan menu are you most looking forward to cooking?

We made a dish last night, which was hand-rolled spinach linguini with sardine vinaigrette, and this is exactly the kind of dish that I enjoy. It’s a pasta dish, but it’s utterly delicious to eat and requires skilful cooking. It’s a wonderful thing to prepare and serve, but it’s also really simple. Having the chance to cook food that’s genuinely about the eating is really exciting for me.

You’ve previously said you want to ‘bow out in London’ doing this kind of food. Is this the end of your chef journey?

Yeah I think so. I had come to feel that cooking at the level we were doing at The Square required more of me than I was willing to give. I just wanted to do something different, but saying that, there’s no real radical change here. Some dishes are very much the kind of thing we served at The Square because that’s the type of food I cook. My intention is to stay cooking here until I hang up my pots and pans. This is it for me – this will be my last hurrah.

Elystan Street is open now

This article was published 27 September 2016

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