The chef and restaurateur Nico Ladenis, who has died aged 89, achieved his final ambition of three stars within the Michelin Information just a few years earlier than his retirement in 1999. He stood out from his friends on many counts, however two deserve especial point out. He got here to his occupation a lot later in life than most, not cooking for the general public till he was almost 40 years outdated; and he was solely self-taught. His solely tutors earlier than opening his first restaurant had been a cookery e-book, Masterpieces of French Delicacies, and an in depth good friend who occurred to run a Greek taverna in London, the place he spent a couple of months testing the waters in 1972. From the outset, his intent was to earn three Michelin stars – in his eyes, the only litmus-test of classical French delicacies – and he pursued this objective in a succession of London eating places of accelerating standing and elaboration.
Whereas embracing the tenets of haute delicacies, and reserving explicit affection for its luxurious objects, resembling foie gras, truffles, mushrooms and shellfish, Nico was open to a wider world of flavours because of his childhood years in Tanganyika (now Tanzania), spent consuming tropical fruits, spices and wild animals. This knowledgeable a few of his cookery, giving it a larger vary than his colleagues’ in addition to guaranteeing, maybe, a depth of flavour in his sauces, soups and candy dishes that was his trademark and chief attraction.
Whereas his profession coincided with the rise and unfold of nouvelle delicacies, he didn’t endorse its microscopic parts, outlandish combos or valuable presentation. He did, nevertheless, reap the benefits of its emphasis on the position of the chef-proprietor, the fantastic thing about its giant white plates, and its tendency in the direction of lighter sauces.
Nico was typically observed for his pugnacity and, generally, aggression in the direction of his personal clients, meals critics, the world at giant with whom he disagreed (notably the English provinces), and fashions in eating places and cookery that displeased him. Whereas no maverick, he was his personal man. He may need been a agency taskmaster, however he didn’t indulge within the mad behaviour that has come to be related to the commerce of chef. What mattered to him was that he achieved his ambition.
Nico was born in Tanganyika, the fourth little one of Peter Ladenis and his spouse Constandia (nee Antoniadou). His mother and father had been of Greek parentage, hailing from both aspect of the Sea of Marmara in Turkey. His father managed a sisal plantation there, however had earlier emigrated together with his brother to Kansas Metropolis within the US the place they’d established a small chain of eating places. After some years of English-style boarding at Prince of Wales college, Nairobi (therefore his alternative of Onward Christian Troopers on Desert Island Discs), Nico pursued his schooling within the UK, passing via the Regent Avenue Polytechnic and the London College of Economics earlier than doing a level in economics in Hull. In 1963 he married Dinah-Jane Zissu, of Romanian and French parentage, they usually went on to have two daughters, Natasha and Isabella.
His profession in British enterprise (principally promoting or PR), which took within the oil firm Caltex and the Sunday Instances, got here to an abrupt halt after a bruising interview course of for a submit with Shell Oil Brazil when he was knowledgeable he was “non-conformist, argumentative and unemployable”.
The shock to his amour-propre required a yr’s sabbatical amongst Dinah-Jane’s relations in Provence to take inventory of what to do subsequent, as a household man properly into his 30s. They solely haltingly, because of good restaurant meals and that inspirational cookery e-book, concluded that operating a restaurant may be the best way to go. Unable to seek out wherever close to the centre of London, they took a store in Lordship Lane, East Dulwich, and opened the primary Chez Nico restaurant in 1973. It may need been small they usually may need been strapped for money, however compromise was not Nico’s model.
Cooking of very excessive calibre was perfected, exemplified by his hen with vin jaune de Jura and morel mushrooms. In case any buyer may suppose in any other case, rather than the legally required show of a priced menu on the entrance, Nico posted the discover “We don’t really feel we’ve got to supply our menu to indicate you ways good we’re. To your info, we don’t serve prawn cocktails or well-done steaks.” Salt and pepper had been banished from the tables: apocrypha would have it he delivered a sack of salt to at least one diner who insisted.
However the meals was certainly good, as endorsed by the readers of the Good Meals Information who quickly awarded him their prime mark of distinction. In direction of the tip of the Nineteen Seventies an additional stimulus was delivered by his introduction, because of the great workplaces of Michel Roux, to the French chef Roger Vergé. In 1979 he spent a couple of weeks at Vergé’s three-star restaurant in Provence and its affect was transformative.
Not lengthy after his return to Britain in 1980, he was capable of make good his inspiration by a transfer barely nearer to the centre of city, in Queenstown Street, Battersea. The larger elaboration and vary of his cooking was rewarded by his first Michelin star in 1981, adopted by a second in 1984. Albeit, native youth delighted in hurling bricks via his smoked-glass home windows. In pursuit of the posh and setting needed for the award of a 3rd star, Nico then took the now-legendary misstep of transferring to the nation. Buoyed by contemporary capital raised via a enterprise growth scheme, he purchased a former rectory at Shinfield, south of Studying, in 1985.
His encounter with the natives was bruising and brief. Acquainted with the relative sophistication of London, he discovered the native love of gin and tonic, sorbets between programs, nevertheless temporary the meal, dangerous timekeeping and brutish behaviour greater than he might abdomen and retreated precipitately to new premises in Victoria and a brand new identify, Merely Nico, earlier than a yr was up. Equilibrium was restored, although house was restricted, and critics resembling Jonathan Meades of the Instances took enjoyment of his confit de canard (which he was instrumental in making a restaurant normal).
After three years in Rochester Row, he took on bigger premises in Nice Portland Avenue, reverting to Chez Nico as soon as once more (Merely Nico being retained as a bistro). He saved his two stars however confronted lack of enterprise because of the recession of the early 90s. He welcomed, subsequently, the cushion of huge company backing that got here with an invite from the Forte household to open throughout the Grosvenor Home lodge on Park Lane in 1992. This super-luxurious institution, first known as Nico at Ninety, altering to Chez Nico at Ninety Park Lane later, was properly fitted for three-star standing.
So it proved in 1995, when Nico greeted the announcement of his Michelin promotion with tears. Enterprise continued with out upset till a analysis of prostate most cancers in 1998, which triggered him to surrender his Michelin standing and go into semi-retirement in France.
Squabbles however, Nico was invariably lauded by guides apart from Michelin – 10 out of 10 within the Good Meals Information, restaurant of the yr in Egon Ronay, and his face was saved earlier than the general public by the ready publicity of the late Alan Crompton-Batt, a pioneer of restaurant PR. Nico’s two books, My Gastronomy (1987) and Nico (1996), had been valued for his or her glorious recipes in addition to explaining his worldview, whereas his tv appearances, notably in Take Six Cooks (1985), prolonged his fame past the capital.
Nico’s ventures in cookery had been supported to the hilt by Dinah-Jane. She was ever the diplomat, when such abilities had been required, in addition to the elegant and exacting director of the entrance of home. Her daughters had been equally succesful. Their presence gave Nico’s eating places the texture of a household affair, unusual in locations of such stature.
Nico is survived by his spouse and daughters.