Silvena Rowe is a striking figure as she strides across the restaurant floor of Quince, her restaurant set in the May Fair Hotel, moments from swish Berkeley Square. Her shock of blonde hair, often shot through with a flash of purple, pink or blue, will be recognisable to many from her TV appearances and cookbooks.
The menu at Quince is inspired largely by the history of the Ottoman Empire and her Turkish father, with Turkey remaining one of her favourite places in the world.
“I’m looking at where the Ottoman Empire visited, such as Morocco, Tunisia, Lebanon, and the menu firmly has its roots embedded in Ottoman history.”
Her menus read beautifully with some intriguing combinations, evoking the heady smells and bustle of a spice market: Za’atar; Sumac; Pomegranate; Labneh. The fascination with food and travel remains:
“I romanticise about food, I enjoy the process of thinking about food and I enjoy the whole creativity around it. To put a menu together that no-one has seen before, this is what makes Quince special.”
Amongst the ingredients there are the unexpected too, like wasabi and a soft shell crab with laksa sauce, which appear to veer away from the message. Cumin and sumac crusted whitebait, wasabi and red chilli mayonnaise is one of the eye-catching new menu items.
“I’m free to interpret and create dishes, and of course I want to keep my chefs happy, and we have guys in the kitchen from all over the world including Turkey and Lebanon, and they have had experience from all over, including one who has spent time at Zuma. I don’t want to call it fusion though. Istanbul sits at the crossroads of the world, of the spice route, so there has always been a kind of natural fusion going on there.”
The menu is about to undergo its first major change, with about sixty-five percent of the dishes being new additions. All of the dishes will be sharing plates, and the new menu should be unveiled in July. She’s happy with where Quince is now since opening last year.
“We’ve proven ourselves to be a destination and most of our customers are coming from outside the hotel. We’re also commercially successful in what has been a difficult period for many restaurants. We have an amazing team here, I’m very happy with my chefs and we have almost zero turnover of staff.”
Somehow she finds time to fit in plenty of cookbook writing and TV work, and there’s plenty happening in tandem with her work at Quince. There is an American show on the ABC network airing in 2013, Time Machine Chefs, where she will be the judge over “the crème de la crème” of US chefs in a “culinary Dr Who”. It all sounds wonderfully, exuberantly American. Some filming in Turkey for Turkish TV is on the horizon, and she is in talks with the BBC about a new series of her own. Does she find time to wind down amongst this constant flurry of activity?
“I find time for Pilates and cross-training at the gym, and another pleasure is driving my car with the music on. When I cook for myself and the family at home I love to cook a Sunday roast dinner, and things like stuffed vine leaves. Thai and Malaysian curries too.”
Finding time to keep up with the rapid pace of London restaurant openings must feel like an impossible task for her, although she still finds time to eat out.
“I like Brawn and Nobu, but I’m not really interested in the new and trendy restaurants. Nobu is my favourite, the level of execution is fantastic, and the way they keep doing it year after year is incredible.”
It always seems to be Turkey however, and Istanbul in particular, that keeps her going back for more.
“I love Istanbul and the Bosphurus. It’s still something of a secret and I think it’s underrated. It beats New York any day. I hear the call to prayer and I feel totally at home – it’s not just a romantic notion.”
Stratton Street, London, W1J 8LT
Online booking available here
Monday – Friday: 12:30 – 15:00 & 18:30 – 22:30
Saturday: 18:30 – 22:30
Sunday: 13:00 – 16:00 & 18:30 – 22:30
Quince Express Lunch – £19.50 per person
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