Henry Harris

Henry Harris

Henry Harris

Henry Harris’s cuisine recalls the fine traditions of French bourgeois cooking with affection and generosity.

A self-confessed classicist; Henry Harris simply cooks the food we all want to eat – and plenty have thanked him for it over the years.

Henry grew up obsessed by food, and the joy of eating. Throughout his childhood it was food that created the most vivid memories, and both his parents were accomplished cooks. His mother was a superb home cook, and his father ran a successful restaurant in Brighton called Le Grandgousier. It was the simple but classic French menu here that first enlightened young Henry to the joys of French bistro cuisine. 'You'd get a half bottle of wine, crudites, lentil salad, aioli, chicken liver pate, a basket of salamis, a plat de jour then brie and a dessert. Coffee was extra,' he recalls.

Inspired by a familial passion for haute cuisine, Henry worked in hospitality as a waiter before deciding to try his hand on the other side of the pass. He trained at Leith's School of Food and Wine in 1983, and immediately realised he had found his passion. 'For the first time in my life I was doing something I really loved,' he says in the introduction to his cookbook. 'I never revised, never did any preparation and every day learned something new. an instinctive sixth sense? I've no idea. I just spun from one day to the next absorbing everything and seemingly forgetting nothing. This wasn't work, this was sheer pleasure and I wanted more of it.'

By sheer chance, Henry encountered Simon Hopkinson whilst readying to finish his time at Leith's, and he was offered a job by the chef at his restaurant Hilaire in South Kensington. He spent two and a half years there with Simon, who piled fuel on the flames of Henry's Gallic passions, adding to the classic French foundations he had learnt at Leith's. In 1987, the pair moved to a new premises in the newly refashioned Michelin House down the road, and opened Bibendum – a restaurant that would become legend in London's evolving culinary scene.

Henry spent four years as sous chef at Bibendum, and though the pair made the restaurant one of the capital's best, it's the legacy of Bibendum that proves vital to London today. The likes of Simon Hopkinson, Alastair Little and Rowley Leigh changed the course of British food, and Henry Harris was right in the centre of that movement too.

In 1991 he was approached by Dominic Ford – previously an assistant manager at Hilaire – who needed a chef to head up a new restaurant opening in Knightsbridge department store Harvey Nichols. The entire fifth floor had been cleared out to make way for a food court, which would include a restaurant, cafe, bar, a wine shop and a food hall with fresh fish, meat, cheese, vegetables and dry good. Henry went from serving 150 covers at Bibendum to double that at the Fifth Floor restaurant, and a thousand more in the cafe. It was quite the change – Henry established himself as a hot talent, but the style of cooking was never truly his own, so after serving ten years in the vertiginous location he left to open a restaurant that would truly be his own.

In 2002, Henry left Harvey Nichols and opened Racine, not far from the front doors of the lofty department store. Over the next thirteen years, Henry would exercise his right to cook the food he truly loved – bistro classics like filet au poivre, rabbit with mustard sauce and bacon, beef carbonnade and creme caramel – dishes that would make Racine into London's primo destination for French provincial cooking. He was described by Tim Hayward of The Guardian as, 'the best French chef with the decency to be British'.

Rising rents in Knightsbridge forced Henry to leave Racine in 2013, but he appreciated the chance to take a break after nearly thirty years in the kitchen. A few consultancy gigs came and went, and Henry eventually made contact with the Harcourt Inns group, responsible for renovating a number of old pubs across the city. Today, Henry is chef director of Harcourt Inns, and responsible for the menus at four London gastropubs – The Hero of Maida in Maida Vale, The Coach in Clerkenwell, The Three Cranes in Farringdon and The Crown in Chiswick, where his bistro cookery fits perfectly with the homely-but-delicious gastropub vibe.