Koffman goes for one final foodie push

WE ARE the Napoleons of the kitchen,” chuckles the affable Pierre Koffman. He is sitting with his trusty lieutenants, fellow Michelin-starred chefs Eric Chavot and Bruno Loubet, in the lounge area of his restaurant on the roof of Selfridges, sipping a ristretto after the lunchtime service.

They have certainly earned it. Since Koffman came out of retirement last month with this pop-up – initially for just six days – the three of them, along with eight younger staff, have been battling from 8AM until midnight every day to serve 240 people a day. Koffman is clearly loving being back in the trenches.

As Loubet says, even the 61-year-old – “chef”, as even these two respectfully call him – has been mucking in. Despite the hours, the youngsters have not uttered a word of complaint – and why would they? This kitchen has more Michelin stars than any other currently operating in London, and Koffman is spoken of with awe by most of today’s crop of chefs. After beginning his career in the Roux brothers’ Le Gavroche, he opened La Tante Claire in 1977 and his honest, gutsy food earned three Michelin stars. Many of today’s culinary stars passed through the kitchen, including Marco Pierre White, Tom Kitchin and Tom Aikens. His return to the kitchen has been the most exciting thing to happen to culinary London this year.

It’s a testament to how much the whole gang are enjoying the experience that last Thursday they decided to extend the run. The restaurant will now be open until 27 November. If you have so far missed the chance to eat here, you should call quickly: when I ate there yesterday, only a smattering of people were in – the word hadn’t yet got out – but the phones have started to ring.

Even without many people to feed, though, the chefs say that there is still plenty to do. For example, “de-boning pig’s trotters,” as Loubet says, with a little laugh. Ah, the famous pig’s trotters. I wondered how long it would be before we got on to them. Stuffed with sweetbreads and morel mushrooms, the skins with the flavour of the armagnac that they have been soaked in, this is the dish that Koffman is most famous for. Of the 240 people who are eating at Roof Top every day, about 80 are eating the dish. Over the whole run, they estimate that they will serve up to 2,500. They should get a cartoon of a pig in a wheelchair, they joke. Of course, I tried it. It is worth all the hype. A deep, flavoursome plate of food, it somehow manages to be subtle too. I ate a version of this dish at a Marco Pierre White restaurant a few years ago and felt overwhelmed by the piggishness of it – the original was a superior affair.

Although he has been officially out of action, Koffman has kept up with the restaurant scene – among his favourite among the current crop of restaurants are Arbutus in Soho, the two-starred Hibiscus, the Icelandic eatery Texture. Recently, he has also been consulting for a number of restaurants, among them Clerkenwell’s revered Bleeding Heart, news which excited foodies.

Even more exciting is the news that the Selfridges project is more than just a one-off. Koffman tells me that he is seriously looking to come out of retirement and open a restaurant serving unpretentious Gascon food. “The sort of food I like to eat. Not a fusion restaurant,” he twinkles. “Sorry to spoil your scoop.” He and his partner Claire are currently looking for a site, and for backers. Interesting for those of us with a passion for pig’s trotter, of course, but why bother starting another campaign? With a typically matter-of-fact shrug he explains: “I get bored doing nothing”.

Restaurant on the Roof, Selfridges, Monday-Friday, until 27 November. Tel: 020 7318 7778. Email: restaurantontheroof@selfridges.co.uk