In a new four-part BBC Two series, leading chefs take host Fred Sirieix – a French Maître d’hôtel best known for appearing on Channel 4’s ‘First Dates’ – to restaurants where they genuinely love to eat.
In the first episode, which airs on Wednesday (July 17) at 8pm, chef Angela Hartnett takes Fred to Venice to enjoy the food at her favourite restaurant Osteria Alle Testiere in the south east district of Castello. Opened 20 years ago by friends Luca de Vita and Bruno Gavangnin, it seats just 22 diners in a space of only 35sq m. Chef Bruno changes his menu every single day, offering local fish and seafood.
The next morning Fred and Angela are up early to meet Luca and Bruno at Venice’s Rialto fish market, next to the Grand Canal. There is a huge range of produce on offer, but chef Bruno will only buy fish and seafood that has been caught in the lagoon and he is very selective – rejecting anything but the best and freshest. Bruno only decides what is on the menu after he has bought his daily supplies and experimented in the kitchen to work out the perfect way to serve that day’s catch, leaving Luca with just an hour to rewrite the menu before the lunchtime customers arrive.
The historic centre of Venice measures less than 12sq km and nothing is grown there – so all the food served in every restaurant has to be brought in by boat and then by cart or by hand. Fred joins Thomas, who supplies fresh fruit and vegetables to Osteria Alle Testiere on the barge that brings his supplies into the city. It takes four hours to load the barge, reach Venice, unload the barge and transport the fruit and veg boxes to the market stall just outside the restaurant: a huge effort that leaves Fred more impressed than ever that Bruno and Luca never compromise on quality in anything they offer.
Angela also wants Fred to experience Caffè Florian in St Mark’s Square. Founded in 1720 and one of the oldest cafes in Europe, its ornate interior and terrace with views of the Duomo and the square can house 400 customers at a time.
Here the pair order coffees and treat themselves to ice creams and Florian’s signature semifreddo tiramisu. Angela thinks the desserts are excellent, and although pricey, made from the best ingredients. But for Fred, it’s not the food that really stand outs, it’s the service.
Impeccably dressed waiters serve every order on a silver tray that is expertly twisted as it is placed on the table, so that each drink or pastry lands exactly in front of the person who ordered it. Fred wants to try his hand at this kind of table service and is shocked to discover how heavy the trays are and how difficult it is to make service look so effortless. Angela is surprised to learn that the historic building that houses the cafe doesn’t contain a kitchen – instead the cakes, pastries and ice-creams are made 10 minutes’ walk away. The completed trays of cakes have to be carried over bridges, through tourist-packed streets and across St Mark’s square. It is exhausting and leaves Angela with even greater respect for the dedication of the Florian team.
The final place that Angela wants Fred to experience is a family run restaurant on the fisherman’s island, Burano. Chef Ruggero took over the Gatto Nero in 1965 and his son Massimiliano is in charge of front of house. Ruggero’s signature dish is a simple risotto, but Angela believes it’s the best risotto she has ever tasted. Fred joins Massimiliano on a fishing trip to catch the fish that flavours the stock at the heart of the dish. To Angela, Gatto Nero sums up so much of what she loves about Italian food: a family atmosphere and a complete dedication to traditional ingredients.
In episode two, which airs next Wednesday (July 24), chef Tom Kerridge takes Fred to Edinburgh to enjoy local produce at one of the city’s most famous fine-dining restaurants and to sample what he believes is Scotland’s best fish and chips.
Top of Tom’s list is Kitchin, a fine-dining restaurant in Leith, owned and run by chef Tom Kitchin. Leith is an old shipping port just north of Edinburgh’s historic city centre. Once famous as the location of the film ‘Trainspotting’, Leith has undergone a regeneration spearheaded by the restaurant and bar scene. Fred is excited, not just to be hanging with Tom Kerridge in the cool part of town, but because he has seen Tom Kitchin’s dishes on Instagram and is keen to find out if they taste as good as they look. Tom Kerridge is happy that he is welcome to a Michelin-starred restaurant wearing jeans and a T-shirt under his jacket.
Kitchin offers a range of menus from a £33 set lunch to a £150 five-course tasting menu, all designed to showcase the best of Scottish produce. Each diner is given a map that marks where in Scotland each item on the menu is sourced. Tom Kerridge points out that the ingredients he uses at his restaurant come from all corners of the UK, and that being able to offer this range of local ingredients is part of the magic of Kitchin.
Ordering from the a la carte menu, Fred and Tom both start with venison: a terrine, a liver parfait with bramble and apple and venison tartare, all made with Scottish seasonal roe deer. Fred is delighted to confirm it tastes every bit as good as it looks, while Tom Kerridge is fascinated that the chef has artfully used the whole deer to make the various elements of the dish.
Visiting the kitchen the following morning, Tom and Fred admire Tom Kitchin’s skill with ingredients. Each roe deer he buys makes 46 servings (with the cheaper cuts worked into terrine and served in the affordable set lunch), and buying the whole animal means Tom gets the prime cuts for a more reasonable price. Tom Kitchin also encourages suppliers to come directly to the back door of the restaurant to offer him any special items they may have that day. Whether it’s a giant turbot or some diver-caught scallops, Tom Kitchin can’t resist adding new items to his special menu and his team of chefs love this direct connection with the best products Scotland has to offer.
The next restaurant Tom wants Fred to experience takes the connection between plate and local produce to a new level. Before they get to eat, Tom and Fred hit the road in their 4×4 for a bit of ‘boys on tour’ banter and drive through some stunning scenery to a unique farm where retired businessman Moshin and his wife Martine produce wagyu beef. Wagyu beef originates in Japan, and the highly prized meat, known for its intense fatty marbling, sells for up to £400 per kilo. Moshin and Martine rear pure blood wagyu stock, but what Tom wants to see are their wagyu/Aberdeen Angus cross breeds which are called Wangus. Breeding is just part of what makes the meat so special and they do all they can to create a stress free environment for the cows – including the Japanese tradition of massaging the cows.
Fred rolls up his sleeves to have a go at cow massage, and learns that the high maintenance routine means it costs around £1,500 to feed and care for each cow. However, what matters is the taste and that means a visit to Moshin’s restaurant in what was once the local pub, five miles down the road from the farm. Fred is excited to try a Wangus burger while Tom is tempted by a wrap, made using grilled skirt and roast peppers, with both main courses less than £30.
The final stop of Tom’s tour is a newcomer to the Edinburgh restaurant scene which is housed in the recently renovated old Newhaven fish market. Fish Market has been set up by restaurateur Roy Brett, who runs the popular Edinburgh sea food restaurant Ondine in partnership with the Welsh family who have supplied many of Edinburgh’s top restaurants for decades.
In charge here is Ishu, who is responsible for delivering up to 700 portions of cooked-to-order fish and chips per night. To understand how challenging that is, Fred and Tom try prepping some of the 30 sacks of potatoes that get turned into chips here every day, and learn the secrets of mixing the batter. Trying their hand at filleting fresh-off-the-boat haddock, the veteran fishmonger Kenny Welsh gives Tom and Fred a real appreciation of the local ingredients – as does tucking in, at last, to their own fish and chips.