Seven Park Place is a restaurant where the normal rules of space and time do not apply. While the hours and minutes rush by outside on the blustery, impatient streets of central London, the dining room moves at a different pace: calmer and more civilised. Conveniently situated at the St James’s Hotel and Club, a mere stone’s throw from Green Park and the throngs of Piccadilly, there can be few better places to take refuge, whiling away the hours with fine wine, good conversation and the celebrated cuisine of one of the UK’s most-respected chefs.
This considered, leisurely, approach to dining is no accident. Head chef William Drabble is a man who knows that good food, like most things, takes time. From sourcing the very best local produce to slow-cooking techniques that maximise the impact of his ingredients, his ethos is one of care and meticulousness, and its influence is apparent at every stage of the cooking process — starting at the very beginning.
“I like to know as much as possible about our produce, especially with the meat and fish,” he explains. “We know exactly which field an animal has come from and that’s very important to me. We know exactly how it’s been farmed, that it’s been given time to grow in the field. If it’s rushed, the flavour isn’t as good. So if I want something such as pork belly on the lunch menu, I’ll tell our butcher well in advance and the farmer will fatten the pig up for me so that I’ll get a nice bigger cut of pork belly. That’s the sort of effort we go to; to make sure the product is right.”
Raised in the idyllic surroundings of England’s Norfolk Broads, country life has clearly influenced Drabble’s approach to cooking. A city boy by birth (Liverpool), an early move to the country exposed him to a previously unseen world of fresh produce, grazing livestock and seasonal change. He began cooking at the tender age of 14, learning his trade in the kitchens of many country-house hotels before continuing his culinary education in Eastbourne on England’s south coast — another locale famed for its slower pace of life.
Since then Drabble’s career has been an unbroken ascent. The inevitable move to London resulted in stints at The Capital, Ninety on Park Lane and Pied à Terre, before relocation to the Lake District saw him take up the head chef’s position at Michael’s Nook in Grasmere, earning the restaurant’s first Michelin star in less than six months. He subsequently took over at London’s Aubergine after the departure of Gordon Ramsay, retaining its Michelin star for more than a decade before departing for Seven Park Place, soon earning what he claims is his most significant Michelin star of all.
“When we achieved it for the first time here, it probably meant more than the previous 11 or 12 years, because we really worked so hard to get it back,” he recounts. “Everybody here was new — the restaurant staff, the kitchen staff — it was two new teams together and it took an awful lot of hard work. It was a huge achievement.”
As a chef with a commitment to locally sourced ingredients and sustainability, the need for commitment is something Drabble understands all too well. While the kitchen is a place where only the most dedicated and thick-skinned survive, he knows that the hard work begins long before the delivery van arrives, and is keen to praise the efforts of his many suppliers.
“I don’t think people realise quite how much is involved in getting a scallop from Scotland to the table in front of you,” he says. “A guy actually got up early in the morning, got up on a boat, sailed out around the islands, went diving to the bottom of the sea, picked it by hand and then returned to port. After that, it’s driven to the place where they box and pack them in ice, they are put on a lorry, driven to the station, and put on an overnight train to London. By 9am in the morning they are in the kitchen, still alive, and then, by lunchtime, you’re eating it.”
The dedication of Drabble’s nationwide network of suppliers is regularly celebrated at Seven Park Place. The restaurant hosts a series of ‘slow-food’ dinners themed around seasonal ingredients such as white truffle, championing the cottage industries that make a stand for quality and tradition in a fast-food world of increasing commercialisation. The dinners are part of a wider movement to promote better eating and a slower pace of life, something that fits perfectly with Drabble’s own philosophy. So far, the initiative has been a great success.
“The guests were very keen to know more about the suppliers, there were lots and lots of questions,” Drabble recalls. “At the end of the meal I sat down and they were all asking ‘how do you make the truffle ice cream?’, ‘how do you make this?’ and ‘where does this come from?’ It was very interactive.”
In the intimate, relaxed surroundings of Seven Park Place it’s hard not to buy into his message. When the chef, his team, and a nationwide movement of farmers and artisans are taking their time to bring you food of this quality, it would be criminal to rush things. As diners, we ourselves have a responsibility: to sit back, relax and enjoy good food as it’s meant to be enjoyed. Slowly.