For Mauro Colagreco, opening a restaurant in London felt like a worthy new endeavor. The Argentinian chef is best known for his three-Michelin star restaurant Mirazur, located in Menton, France, but he was interested in how his sustainable cuisine could translate into a cosmopolitan city. So in late September, he opened not one, but three restaurants inside the brand-new Raffles at the OWO hotel: Mauro Colagreco, Mauro’s Table and Saison.
Raffles at the OWO is one of London’s most notable hotel openings of the year, thanks in part to its historic building, which was once Winston Churchill’s war office, and Colagreco’s restaurants take a prime location at the front of the property.
“London is a huge city with a very competitive gastronomy and very nice concepts everywhere, so it’s a big challenge,” Colagreco told Observer. “But it’s an exciting challenge as well, because I love the city. I feel we have the possibility to offer something new or something a little different, and the [hotel] is spectacular. It feels like a really good moment for us to arrive in a place where we can learn a lot. Menton is a little town in the south of France, and we’ve come to a big city like London where we are learning about the products. As a chef, that’s always the most exciting and most interesting thing—this contact with the products in different cultures, in different territories, in different weather. The quality of the vegetables and the people who really care about the soil, the environment and the impact have been [beyond] our expectations, so that was a very nice surprise for us.”
The menu at Mauro Colagreco, which looks out over London’s Whitehall from the dining room and kitchen, is product-driven. The dishes incorporate more than 70 types of local, seasonal produce, with a focus on vegetables and fruits as the “hero” ingredients. Each course arrives with a beautifully-illustrated postcard featuring that ingredient, from lettuce and citrus to radicchio and mushrooms. Guests can opt for the “Land and Sea” tasting menu, which runs £165 (about $200) per person, or order à la carte from the “Discovery” menu, but the tasting menu is the best way to experience Colagreco’s interpretation of British ingredients.
“In all my restaurants, we try to have a link [to] Mirazur,” Colagreco explained of his love for produce and how it connects to his restaurant in France, known for its creative fine dining and eco-conscious approach. “In terms of sustainability and environment, we believe the balance between vegetables and proteins needs to be rebalanced. In Mirazur, that is perhaps more evident because we are in the middle of nature; with the ocean, with the mountains, with our gardens. It’s all part of the experience. But here we are in a city, so we need to express more in our dishes about this need in our cultures, especially in Western cultures, to have more vegetables in our diet.”
The possibilities for each vegetable feel limitless to Colagreco, who says you can create more textures and components with a vegetable than you can with meat. “You can juice it, or you can make a sauce or a puree, or you can make a cracker. You can make everything work with one vegetable,” he said. “I love to work with vegetables. For me, it’s an opportunity to bring my vision of my cuisine and to introduce a vision about what I believe food should be.”
The standout dish on the “Land and Sea” menu is simply called Lettuce. It incorporates red oak lettuce with smoked haddock and an indulgent vermouth cockle sauce, with a distinctly fresh taste that evokes the English countryside. Surprisingly, though, that lettuce is grown less than a mile away from Raffles at the OWO in an urban hydroponic farm in Elephant and Castle in South London. As an UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Biodiversity, it was important for Colagreco to not only take advantage of British ingredients, but also those local to the hotel. His mission as a chef is to source seasonal ingredients, reduce food waste and embrace regenerative practices, which is exemplified by the deceptively simple lettuce dish.
“As a Mediterranean chef, when I thought about vegetables in [the] U.K., I started to say, ‘Oh God, what will I do?’” he recalled. “But when I arrived, I was super surprised. It was so nice to say, ‘I was really stupid to think that.’ Because the quality of the products is amazing. This lettuce? Wow. The freshness, the crispness, the taste and then the source. It’s a simple salad, but we can take pleasure from a salad like this. Perhaps you can take more pleasure than with beef.”
He added that he doesn’t necessarily think becoming vegan or vegetarian is the solution. Instead, restaurants should use all ingredients with an eye towards sustainability and biodiversity. “I think our society must have a balance in its approach with everything,” he said. “And in my role, as a chef, we must also have a balance.”
Mauro’s Table, located adjacent to Mauro Colagreco, offers a more intimate dining experience and can be booked for a private group thanks to its adjustable round table. Saison, impressively situated in a former library, is more relaxed and serves all-day Mediterranean dining inspired by the French and Italian Riviera. For the chef, who also recently opened Cycle in Tokyo, joining the flourishing London culinary scene feels like a big moment in his career.
“It’s super exciting arriving in a place where you have the richness and variety of products and styles,” Colagreco said. “And the feeling I have is that the British guests love to eat in restaurants, and enjoy eating and drinking. What I also want to do is have the opportunity to invite some of my best friends [who are] chefs to come to cook with me here, to integrate another approach of vegetables into this cuisine. I want to open the doors to our kitchen and give [other chefs] the opportunity to express themselves in a place like this.”