Five minutes with Jason Atherton

The award-winning chef on his new restaurant The Betterment, Marco Pierre White and sprinkling sea salt on ice cream

Food and Drink 25 Jul 2019

Chef Jason Atherton

What can we expect from your new restaurant, The Betterment at The Biltmore hotel in Mayfair?

As a group we don’t look to expand, so it has to be something really special to get our attention. I know Grosvenor Square well from working at Maze and I think it’s the most beautiful part of Mayfair, and then when I saw the space I could see the huge potential of the site. It has its own big garden, something that’s so unusual in London and it makes the restaurant almost feel like it’s in the countryside.

The Betterment will be based in The Biltmore Hotel, Mayfair
The Betterment will be based in The Biltmore Hotel, Mayfair

We’re planning a menu that showcases the best of the British Isles. We will have a big open fire so we can cook on wood and charcoal. It’s not a concept restaurant, as I don’t believe in them, I just want to cook food that people want to eat. The menu has a ‘For you’ section, which will be proteins cooked over a grill to share and then customers can add sides, which are really the stars of the show. It won’t be the traditional green salad or chips, but instead a journey across the world so you can order turbot and make it feel Filipino by adding green papaya salad with fermented shrimp. The restaurant will also have really nice desserts inspired by British artisans and a great brunch, as well as a lovely afternoon tea in the hotel lobby.

Illustration of The Betterment, opening in September
Illustration of The Betterment, opening in September

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

Back when I worked for Marco Pierre White as a young chef and I’d worked six 18-hour shifts in a row and was exhausted, he said to me that the only thing of any value that we have is our brains and that at that stage in a career we’re like sponges. So while he was being hard it was so we could learn and take our careers to the next stage. It’s something I tell young chefs I work with – don’t drift into nothingness, get good and do it quickly.

Who is your role model?

Marco Pierre White is definitely one of them, he taught me everything I know about food and techniques. Gordon Ramsay is another one, he taught me how to be a restaurateur.

What ingredient can you not live without?

Sea salt – I love it. I even sprinkle it on ice cream; it really brings the flavour out. Pistachio is my favourite ice cream to add a bit of salt to.

Apart from your passport, what do you always take with you when you travel?

My chef’s jacket. I’m always working so I always have it with me, so that I’m ready to work. If I’m travelling for leisure then I always take my family with me.

Where do you like to eat out in London?

I love Core by Clare Smyth and Gloria, the new Italian in Shoreditch. I’m also a big fan of The Ledbury, the simplicity of Flor in Borough Market by the team from Lyle’s, Bibendum for celebrations, Goodman for steaks and Swift in Soho for cocktails.

What do you do on a day off?

Family time – I spend time with my kids and wife. I like to go out and try nice restaurants in town. I’m also really into men’s fashion and I enjoy shopping.

What are your biggest passions outside of food?

Fashion is definitely a big one. My 50th is coming up and what I really want to do to celebrate is go to Naples with my friends, eat amazing food, drink great wine and see all of the old-boy shirt makers, tie makers and suit makers and treat myself to some new clothes.

If you could choose anyone from today or history, who would be your ideal dinner party guest and why?

I’d choose Margaret Thatcher – it might be a controversial choice but I don’t think we’d be in the mess we are today if she was still in charge. She’s divisive but I think she did a lot of good for the country. I’d make her some British classics: my fish and chips with caviar as a starter, then sea bass with cockles and Jersey Royals and for dessert, the ‘tidy’ Eton mess we serve at Pollen Street Social.

The Betterment at The Biltmore, Mayfair – LXR Hotels & Resorts – opens in September;