Food & Drink

Gelling the Friendship

Lunch with Fergus Henderson, Margot Henderson & Jeremy Lee at Rochelle Canteen

Photography SOPHIE GREEN

It’s been some time since Jeremy Lee, Fergus Henderson and Margot Henderson all ate together, though in the 90s, when they were all making names for themselves as London cooks, that used to happen all the time.

Fergus guest-edited Port’s first food special, back in 2013. His nose-to-tail approach to cooking, popularised at St John, doesn’t seem as revolutionary as it might have done in the 90s, simply because it’s been so influential. We’re speaking in Rochelle Canteen; the restaurant Margot runs with partner Melanie Arnold.

Jeremy Lee: We skirted each other’s lives forever, so it would seem, amazingly. Because Ferg’s the same age as me, bar a few months. And both of us fell into cooking and the restaurant business. And I think when I started at Euphonium, because we only opened for dinner, I used to go down and buy bread at St John every day.

Margot Henderson: We were living in Earlham Street, which was quite a social gathering spot, wasn’t it? Literally, dinner party every week. I’d be on the phone, calling people, and then they would leave messages. I’d drop the kids off at school and stop in telephone boxes on the way, inviting people. And you wouldn’t know really how many people were coming.

Samir Chadha: You were working in kitchens all day and then hosting dinner parties at night?

MH: I did both. I mean, I was in the kitchen, but I wasn’t just in the kitchen, because I had small kids.

JL: There was still a lovely hub of food community in the West End, still, even then. A lot of which has moved on.

MH: But there is a new hub of restaurant community. They’re young.

JL: Yes, the youth, the next generation, who we love.

MH: But sometimes I feel that they think there never was, and they will think that it’s just all started. Yeah, I’m really sorry guys, it  was there before we were there, and it keeps on going.

JL: You have 400 years or so of restaurant history and food community, and growers and producers and makers. Particularly back then, if we weren’t cooking in kitchens, we were eating in restaurants. That’s what we seemed to do our whole time – or around the Earlham Street flat, and on occasion at mine. Yes, that always starts with a couple of pals, and then the next thing you know, you’re actually putting piles of magazines round the table and getting people to sit on them and going “I do need to get a few more chairs.” It was always an adventure.

MH: Building friendships, it’s often, for us, about sitting at the table. I always feel if you’ve invited somebody to your home, and they sit down at the table, that is sort of gelling the friendship. We were hungry for community, and we wanted all of that. And it’s fine to bump into people in bars and things, but if you really want to build on your friendship, you have to work on it, and it’s hard work. And to sit down, and once you’ve sat down and gathered like that, I think that is when you’re building on what is to come into the future.

JL: St John took off like a rocket. And this extraordinary thing, when folks suddenly realised there was such a thing as British food and produce and cooking. And what was so significant was this idea of – which had been bandied around forever – about keeping it simple, and seasonal, and use all of an animal. That strange thing, the Brits would go abroad and they would tuck into anything in Italy, in France, and then come back and go, you couldn’t possibly do it here. And what was Fegato alla Veneziana in Venice would be ‘liver and onions’ here, no one could eat liver and onions here. Call it Fegato alla Veneziana and they just tuck in with gusto, and you’re like, really?

MH: Do you sell much offal?

JL: We do, but we had to rein it in. You can have an offal starter and an offal main course, so long as there’s a balance, you know, of some other dishes. That’s what the pie is great for. It offsets everything.

MH: Fergus was really one of the first people to get the pie on the menu – back then, with his bone marrow, Trotter Gear, do you know about Trotter Gear?

JL: I love Trotter Gear, it was genius.

MH: Out of trotters, you make this sort of sauce, and that can go into things like your guinea fowl. So, [it can go] into more dry things to bring in moisture and succulence. And we have blocks of it frozen in the freezer.

JL: Infinitely better than an OXO cube.

MH: It was meant to go into Waitrose.

JL: It did for a while, didn’t it?

Fergus Henderson: About two days, it was.

MH: I’m worried about the pastry now coming with the pie. Jeremy’s about to eat it. Oh, my God.

JL: No! Delicious.

SC: What are your favourite places to eat these days?

MH: Noble Rot, Ciao Bella, Kiln, Canton Arms, it’s our local pub. I love Koya.

JL: Nick Bramham , Black Axe Mangal, Hoppers! You know, touch wood, but restaurants in London – they’re doing pretty well.

FH: You can come and stay anytime you like. You’re a good eater.

SC: It’s delicious and I will eat constantly, forever. Favourite pie, all of you?

FH: Pheasant and trotter, bone marrow in the middle.

MH: I always love a mutton pie.

JL: Guinea fowl and porcini, which we’re going to put on the menu at the pub next week.

MH: We make amazing rough puff at the pub. And it’s really good. And we use this incredible flour from Landrace. Which I’m going to show you. I want to buy their flour here. They bring it up to London – Leila’s gets it all.

MH: What’s your last meal?

JL: Grouse. Langoustines. Raspberries. And freshly churned ice cream.

FH: Sea urchins.

SC: What was yours going to be?

MH: I always feel like boiled ham and parsley sauce. It’s something I learned from Fergus and his mother. His mother was an amazing cook. You have a whole ham and then it’s poached really gently, with onions. And then you slice it thinly, parsley sauce.

JL: This is such a delightful, rare treat, to be sitting down properly and have some time with you. It’s the one thing – keeping up with your pals now is really hard. That’s a full-time job in itself.

MH: And if you’re not careful, they disappear.

SC: It’s a lot of work!

JL: Do it. You need it. These are important. Some of the most important people in my life.


This article is taken from Port issue 34. To continue reading, buy the issue or subscribe here