Behind the scenes

From a huge cauldron, the eyes of several halibut stare up at the ceiling. Fabrice is soaking them for stock. At the corner of the plancha another great vat of pig’s cheeks bubbles quietly. These will appear on the evening’s menu. How will he be serving them? He shrugs his shoulders. “I don’t know yet.”

There is never a quiet moment in this kitchen. Simon Howie Butchers pops in with some mighty cuts of beef. The maitre d’, needs to know which items on the lunch menu are suitable for a customer who is allergic to onion and garlic. A waitress collects a basket of bread (fresh from Fabrice’s oven) and then returns to find olive oil for a customer who doesn’t like butter.

The first orders come in. Fabrice pops a piece of salmon onto greaseproof paper where it will sear slowly at the edge of the plancha. A vaccum-packed steak bubbles in the waterbath, which resembles a fish tank. From an immaculately-arranged drawer of freshly prepped vegetables, chopped herbs and other ready-to-go ingredients, he produces a few chickpeas to add to some ratatouille for an unusual salad. Isn’t this sacrilege for a French chef? He shrugs. “I love chickpeas.”

From another chilled drawer comes a bowl of beef jelly. Heated up, this transforms into gravy. By now there are seven pans on the plancha, including one of mashed potato. He loves cooking with game, with unusual cuts of meat: feather blade, gizzards. “I wish”, he says plaintively, poking the salmon with his asbestos fingers, “that I could use more gizzards”.

His accompaniments are full of imagination and surprising ingredients. Fregola, a Sardinian cross between pasta and couscous, is a toothsome alternative to both. A rich mushroom and tarragon pavé is a perfect with pork.

A tray of his famous apple tarte tatins sits beside the oven, ready to go. After popping one into the oven, Fabrice fires the Thermomix into action. A turbo-charged food processor, this whips solid frozen custard into the lightest imaginable ice cream in two very loud minutes. Apparently it is also very good for mousse. “That’s what I’ve heard,” says Fabrice, picking up the next lunch order and putting yet another pan on the plancha. “I’m getting round to it.”