The Brits are catching up to the French, says Le Pont de la Tour head chef Tom Cook

Melissa York
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Tom Cook, head chef at Le Pont de la Tour
Tom Cook tells Melissa York that French food doesn’t have to mean heavy
A Salade Lyonnaise is a very traditional dish that we serve in the Grill, which is a sort of brasserie with lighter, more traditional dishes than the fine dining restaurant. During the winter we have two or three salads on there, but in the summer that goes up to four or five so it will definitely be coming back on the menu in the next few weeks.
Poaching the eggs is the thing people struggle with most when they’re making it. You have to put the right amount of vinegar in the water, so it coagulates and your eggs have to be fresh otherwise the whites will be too runny and they’ll escape from the yolk so you won’t get that lovely rounded shape.
For the vinaigrette, I’ve just started using a rapeseed oil that comes from a small supplier in Sawbridgeworth, not far away from where I grew up in Harlow, Essex. I mix in some sherry vinegar, a nice amount of chopped raw shallot and a bit of salt and pepper. It’s a very simple dressing; that’s my style because if you play around too much you’ll ruin it. If you have some good quality products to start with, then they’ll shine through in the end.
I’ve been here three and a half years, a fraction of the age of the restaurant, and the views of Tower Bridge still amaze me.
Le Pont de la Tour certainly shouts French, but I like to lighten the dishes up, put a modern twist on them. When people think of French food, they think cream, butter; heavy food. I don’t want people to think that of the restaurant because people don’t want that anymore.
The French invented modern cuisine, that they were the start of fine dining. Top restaurants in countries around the world still use the format of French kitchens; the hierarchy, the menu layouts, the techniques of making sauces and dressing. They are definitely the people who got the ball rolling. Cooking is part of their everyday life.
In England, it’s becoming bigger; just look at the amount of TV shows about food. I grew up in Essex and sometimes you’d be lucky if you got beans on toast, but nowadays people are showing more interest in food. There are farmers markets popping up everywhere and even the supermarkets are getting better.
When I lived in Paris, the markets were incredible. There weren’t many products, but whatever’s in season is piled up high and you get thousands of people buying fresh food to go home and cook. All the people I met, regardless of whether they were chefs, knew how to talk about food. It was great to live there, to experience that passion for food, even if most people end up arguing that their mum can cook their favourite dish better than I can.

Dish of the day

Salade Lyonnaise
by Tom Cook, head chef at Le Pont de la Tour
■ 4 medium eggs (fresh)
■ 200ml White wine vinegar
■ 300g smoked bacon
■ 2 medium onions
■ 1 garlic clove
■ Ficelle bread (baguette would be fine)
■ 2 chicory
■ 200g rocket lettuce
■ 2 baby gem lettuce
■ 1 shallot
■ 100ml rapeseed oil (Duchess brand if poss)
■ 35ml sherry vinegar
■ Sea salt
■ Pepper
• Put a pan of water on to boil with about 1 litre of water and the white wine vinegar inside.
• Peel and remove the root of the onions, then finely slice and put into a pan on low heat to slowly cook down and caramelise, this will take at least 30 minutes. Once ready remove and leave somewhere to cool.
• Finely slice the bread and toss in a bowl with chopped garlic a few drops of the rapeseed oil and seasoning. Then lay out onto a tray and bake in a preheated oven until golden brown.
• Then cut the baby gem & chicory into leaves and wash in cold water and drain. Also wash the rocket and drain.
• Cut the bacon into lardons and sauté in a pan until nice and golden, drain off the fat (you can add this to the dressing if you like)
• For the dressing finely chop the shallot then simply add the vinegar to the rapeseed oil and season.