Patrick Hanna, head chef
When you came here and set up the menu what was your inspiration?
Borough Wines is the company behind here, so the slant was very much to fit the wine to the food. We represent small wine growers around France, so it had to fit that quite well. The resulting effort is dishes that remind you of being on holiday, remembering plates you’ve eaten. So, gently French.
How often do you change up the menu?
God, every day. We have some favourites that we don’t really drop as if we took them off they’d be riots on the streets outside! Everything else is up for grabs. We take a lot of inspiration from the guys in the kitchen, they have a lot of ownership.
What’s the one dish that flies off the menu?
Steak tartare. We get through so many of those in the day – maybe 25 or 30 a day at weekends.
How does your way of making it differ from other restaurants?
It’s lighter. I love the herb rosemary, so we put a little bit of that in there. If you’ve been to Paris, they tend to mince the beef, where we tend to hand cut it. We can control how big it is. I’m not so keen on raw mince – I prefer to taste it. It feels nicer, to me. It’s a lot of the same flavours in the way that we carry it out.
Having the restaurant in Dalston here, do you think there’s anything that sells well here, but may not elsewhere in London?
We’ve got a very different crowd that come here from lots of different backgrounds . But a lot of them eat out three, four or five times a week in Hackney – it’s a very young crowd so we have lighter dishes. Whereas full-on French cooking involves lots of butter and cream and flour, we’re more lemon and salt and a lighter way at it. More Mediterranean than true French. We’re borrowing flavours but making it for here. Those lighter flavours make people come out more.
The whole sharing plates thing is a trend that doesn’t seem to let up. What are your thoughts on it?
Personally, I think “sharing plates” as a phrase is a bit irritating. But I do like to taste everyone else’s food so for me, I quite like that mid-point. I don’t like things that seem ungenerous. Here, we go for generous as it should be nice. We have people that use this like their living room and they feel comfortable so we do have those large dishes that make you feel warm, comforted and nourished and full, then we have a lot of little things that are designed to be interested and go with a specific wine. They’re not huge but they’re never mean.
Have you ever made any dishes that have just tanked?
There may be some dishes that I’d use an odd way to describe it that perhaps the guys on the floor don’t understand, so the customers don’t get. So day one, we don’t sell any, then someone will finally order one, then it will fly out. Octopus is a strange one as any where I’ve worked it’s always flown out the door, but we had it on one night and it didn’t seem to sell. Then we had one person go out and we sold all of them in about five minutes.
So it’s people looking over their shoulders at the food?
Yeah, food envy. We used to have a thing where I once worked where if nobody ordered something we really wanted someone to buy, we’d just make on and send a waitress around the restaurant anyway to get it moving.
What’s the one ingredient you couldn’t do without in the kitchen?
Lemons – definitely. Some things we entirely cook with lemons, it’s a desert island ingredient for me. We use a lot of single spices or at most, two, three or four indelible little flavours on the dish and they’ll drive the whole dish and so we keep it very simple.
You mentioned that this place is like a living room – was that casual dining the vibe you had in mind for L'Entrepôt?
Yeah, I think it’s kind of evolved that way because of where it is more than anything else but it can get a little unruly on a Saturday night and I love that about this place.
When you were growing up, was there one particular food or cuisine that you enjoyed?
To be honest, cooking was more about the feast, I enjoyed the event of sitting down with everyone, so things that bring me back are things like mussels where we used to go and pick them in Strangford Lough, where I used to live and big generous meal like that. Not necessarily grand racks of ribs, or anything like that but sort of cheap stuff that’s fun and you have lots of. I think that’s how I got into it.
You’ve worked in some great, small kitchens like the Rochelle Canteen and Duck Soup - what did you learn from those?
When you haven’t got that much equipment, you have to become ingenious. When I came to L'Entrepôt, the menu was quite small and static but now we’re allowed to be more imaginative because we know what we’re doing in the space, it’s one of the most open kitchens that I’ve ever worked with - you can hear the effing and blinding! The team have got the confidence to bring their own things to the menu so we’ve got a really good squad of people wanting to make nice food . That was the same with Duck Soup – it’s simple to make nice food.
Where do you go to eat?
Mayfields, over the way. I love that place – Matthew’s fantastic. Lyle’s down in Shoreditch has just opened and that’s fantastic, James Lowe. I like Beagle – sometimes more for cocktails. The Rochelle Canteen is still one of my favourite restaurants in London as I don’t get that much time off in the evening, so I love the whole lunchtime thing there – bring your own bottle of wine to a place like that is heaven.
What would your last meal on earth be?
Oysters and Guinness, definitely. Lambchops with lemon and salt. A good bottle – maybe two or three bottles. I like food, but I like booze too.