Today, I’m going to write about a restaurant and a style of cooking that is vastly different to what I’ve been proposing and sharing with you on this blog.
I need to also mention that I happen to work at this restaurant. Therefore, do not look for an unbiased review of the place. That being said, I write this piece with integrity and with a simple desire to celebrate a chef, and a place, that I think should be rewarded with praise. I’ve worked in a great many restaurants, enjoyed an even greater variety of delicious meals in my life and would not praise a restaurant simply because I work there.
Lawrence is run by 2 young couples, and its kitchen is headed by the very talented chef Marc Cohen, a 26 year old from Kent, England.
His approach to cooking is deceivingly simple: make straight forward recipes taste great by promoting the distinct flavors of its various ingredients and by serving the best quality ingredients available. The work behind the scenes is anything but simple however. Marc and his staff spend hours and hours preparing for the lunches, brunches and dinners that feature almost entirely “restaurant-made” elements. The burgers, wonderfully flavorful, are ground freshly during the week in order for them to be served med-rare, the milk bread buns on which they are served baked daily, the english muffins for your perfectly prepared eggs benedict are as well, the salmon served for brunch is smoked in house, and so are the pig parts he needs smoked. He also pickles, cures, ages, and does all the butchery in house.
Recently, in an article for the local weekly newspaper(The Mirror), he was quoted as saying that “I don’t like buying small pieces of meat. I think it’s important that each part of the animal has its own qualities. Instead of deciding what the menu is going to be and doing the ordering, we do the order for a pig or side of beef and then we write a menu around that.”
Marc Cohen’s recipes are also deceptively creative, playfully mixing the rustic and the modern, a home cooked meal with the fancy and perfected cuisine of a high end restaurant. The flavors and textures speak for themselves. He as no desire or urge to avoid fat, in fact he uses it by the bucket load. Duck fat, pig’s fat, butter and so on. The menu changes weekly, at times daily and reflects the ingredients available locally and in season. He also needs to adapt the menu in relation to what is left of the animals he cooks. One frequently finds organs on his menu, kidneys, liver, heart, tongue, blood pudding, head’s cheese, and even brain. All of which, when prepared by Marc, taste remarkably delicious.
It is this approach of using the whole animal that I find so inspirational and healthy. So much of our consumption discards enormous amounts of edible cuts and meats because of our ignorance and hypocritical disgust at some of these ingredients. Marc demonstrates that these foods can be made well, can and do taste very good, offering his customers a variety of flavors and textures frequently missing in today’s restaurants.
It’s always a pleasure to look at a menu before service starts, notice the amount of dishes such as heart and liver that one would think might scare off customers, and see how popular those very dishes become. For example, as an appetizer, he might make a small brochette of duck hearts or an offal salad of quick pickled veggies containing tongue, kidney and heart, and as a main course he might have stuffed lamb’s heart over a rustic bed of puy lentils, or a pig’s liver with soft cheesy polenta and swiss chard, and as waiters we’ll frequently see customers starting with one of them and following with another. There is a market for this kind of food and Marc proves it week after week. Of course, he also prepares them at a level beyond what most kitchens are capable of.
The restaurant also features a wonderful pastry chef duo. Shannon Stainsby and Michelle Diamond carefully put together a classic mix of desserts, most of which we are familiar with, and work methodically at perfecting them for our salivating taste buds. Millefeuilles are carefully prepared, flaky, creamy and irresistible. A banana maple syrup creme caramel will knock you off your chair. An apple tarte tatin made a la minute arrives at your table 30 min. after ordering it, rich with borderline burnt caramel fragrances and a perfect level of sweetness topped with a dollop of crème fraîche. Donuts stuffed with cored apple slices marinated in spices and alcohol are crispy on the outside, soft and delicate on the inside and paired with a lemon and vanilla ice cream. The desserts change as well, and are simple, rustic, homey, consistently executed.
To round it out, the restaurant is run in a precise and efficient manner, which makes the casual atmosphere that much more enjoyable. Owners Sefi, Ethan, Annika and Marc have a precise vision of what they want and they go about providing it to their customers with the necessary zeal and passion for success. Finally, the sommelier, Etheliya Hananova, offers a knowledgeable and well constructed wine list with a variety of rare and unique options that are well priced.
Lawrence offers a decadent, comforting and rustic experience. I for one, as an employee, and frequent client, marvel at the whole thing.