Fresh from opening his seventh London restaurant and with another three on the horizon, Jason Atherton takes time out of the kitchen to tell Ben Norum about his favourite London restaurants, the best sushi in town and his desire for another Michelin star.
You’ve just opened Spanish-influenced Social Wine & Tapas. What other Spanish restaurants in London do you rate?
Your wife, Irha, has been a big part of Social Wine & Tapas and is now very involved in your business generally. Has working together been challenging at all?
Actually, no – it’s been great. Head office is her domain which leaves me to get on with the fun stuff and as I’m such a workaholic it’s the best way to ensure we get to spend more time together.
Pairing up: Atherton and his wife worked on Social Wine & Tapas
Your next London restaurant, Sosharu, will serve Japanese food. Which Japanese restaurants in London do you hope to emulate?
The Araki is the best Japanese restaurant in London hands down – it’s as good as anything I’ve ever tried in Japan. The food is mind-blowing and the chef is inspirational, I’m happy to bet my shirt that it will get a Michelin star. It is very expensive, but worth it. On the cheaper side of things, I love Also Atari-Ya in Marylebone. It looks like a dump from outside but the sushi is fantastic. It’s a supply company originally and a lot of top chefs buy their fish there, so it’s probably the freshest you can get. We won’t do sushi at Sosharu as it is a very specialist area which we don’t want to venture into – it should be left to the experts.
Sosharu will have a Japanese hip-hop bar in the basement. Are you into this kind of music?
I used to love my hip-hop when I was a kid, so sort of. Japanese hip-hop is something you don’t see very much and so it felt like an interesting idea. The cocktails at the bar will be taken very seriously as at our other bars but I hope people will enjoy a bit of a dance here as well as a drink.
Then there’s the Italian in Victoria…
Yes. We’ll open an Italian restaurant near Victoria station around Autumn next year (2016). It will be a continuation of Social Eating House. There’s a real shortage of good dining options in that area.
Going South: “I’m keeping a close eye on Battersea”
And you’re due to open in the former Bow Street Magistrates’ Court in Covent Garden, too?
Yes. It keeps getting pushed back as it’s an old building and there are a lot of hoops to jump through, but it’s definitely happening. It should be ready to open around March 2017. The restaurant will be very Theatreland, something quite cool and glamorous. It won’t be too dissimilar to Little Social – expect something along those lines.
Busy man. After all these launches do you have any other areas in your sights?
There’s nothing else in the immediate pipeline but there are a lot of areas off-centre that are starting to boom. I’m keeping a particularly close eye on Battersea Power Station; what’s going on there is very exciting.
Which London chefs do you particularly admire at the moment?
Ollie Dabbous (Dabbous), Robin Gill (The Dairy and The Manor) and Nuno Mendes (Chiltern Firehouse and Taberna do Mercado) come to mind straight away, but there are a lot of great chefs out there – we’re really privileged in London at the moment.
Nuno Mendes: Atherton admires the Chiltern Firehouse chef
As well as London you now have restaurants in New York, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Singapore and Sydney. How do theses cities compare to London?
I think London is the hands down the most amazing city for eating and drinking; we’re spoilt for choice. New York and London are very similar in how challenging and competitive they are: you have to be on top form 24/7 or you’ll just die a death. Quality of produce is another thing I’ve noticed. We have it so good here but we don’t give our British farmers enough credit. It’s very hard to source produce for restaurants abroad which can match what we have here.
Out of all your restaurants do you have a favourite?
It’s hard to answer that, it’s a bit like choosing between your kids. But I do have a soft spot for Pollen Street Social; aside from a new launch it’s the only one where I still do shifts in the kitchen. I really hope that one day it will get a second Michelin star.
Finally, what’s your favourite restaurant in London?
It changes all the time and I really can’t pick just one. I loveBarrafina and The Ledbury. Hibiscus is right up there too, it’s on such good form after its recent refurb. And I’m a bit of a regular at Pizza Pilgrims these days.