I was very lucky to be invited to experience a Nordic Afternoon Tea last week at the new Aster restaurant in Victoria.
I was invited to ‘come, be fed and be entertained in honour of International Women’s Day’, where there would be a panel of female Head Chefs talking about how it is to work in the kitchen of a top restaurant.
As food groups go, this was gold for me. Two of my favourite things – food and personal development.
Actually I lie! Three if you count the Prosecco.
Aster is located at the new Nova Quarter in Victoria. This is an area that has seen some changes since I worked there many years ago. Many of the changes are ongoing but Victoria is going to be quite something when it’s finished.
We enjoyed a drink in the well-stocked downstairs bar whilst keeping an eye on the time with this gorgeous clock.
Aster resides almost opposite the station on Victoria. A beautiful glass frontage is home to this new eatery from D&D.
D&D are behind many of the old favourites such as Quaglinos and Pont de la Tour as well as many new locations that have been added to their collection. Aster is the first in a series of new restaurants for D&D this year.
Executive Head Chef, Helena Puolakka is the inspiration behind the Nordic-French influence at Aster.
Helena explained that Aster has been created to look at the whole dining journey – recognising the importance of creating an environment that suits everyone. Aster is all about giving the diner lots of reasons to visit and to enjoy all the different parts of the restaurant.
Aster certainly offers a variety of dining choices and areas. There is a relaxed café and wine bar on the ground floor whilst the upstairs houses the restaurant and cocktail bar.
There are many striking and photo worthy pieces in the restaurant. Not least the design of the amazing staircase.
Interestingly, the designer is the same creative behind the legendary and much photographed staircase in Quaglino’s and also that of 100 Wardour Street (formerly Mezzo) and the home of my first date with my husband in 1997!
And how is this for some wall art.
We were shown to our table on the second floor and our glasses were filled with Prosecco. My eye was firmly on the marble plates! Aren’t they gorgeous?
The first course of the afternoon tea arrived looking strikingly colourful.
The Blackcurrant Smoked Herring was testament to Helena’s love of fish which we were to hear more about later in the afternoon.
And of course there were cakes. Once again beautiful to look at and incredibly photogenic.
I am sure you can see from the picture how much fruit is oozing from the Blueberry Pie, the Croute was something else and the flavour divine.
Macaroons will always be my true love and this lingonberry one was no exception. Even more delightful was the fact that they were so big!
Two plates of cakes ensured that our palettes were well and truly sated whilst we listened to the panel talk of their experience of being female Head Chef in their respective restaurants.
Helena was joined by Skylon’s new Head Chef, Kim Woodward and The Modern Pantry Head Chef, Anna Hansen, MBE, discussing a wide range of topics, including how they rose to the top of their trade, what it means to be a woman in a high-pressure environment as well as discrimination in the kitchen.
Given that there are so few women in these roles, the need to be discerning in order to go every step of the way in the kitchen as a woman was explained. Yet despite it being industry where it is mostly men in the kitchen, there is respect for women and it is an enjoyable and challenging career.
Also discussed was the fact that it is a man’s world and having so few women present in the industry means that, as a woman, you do have to work twice as hard. Nevertheless, it was acknowledged that the possibilities are there.
All of the ladies agreed that there needed to be a social shift towards ambition in women in general, saying that it is OK for men to be pushy but if women are, they are perceived as bossy.
The fact that historically the kitchen is seen as the preserve of women, wasn’t lost on the audience.
It was also interesting to see hear the chefs views on how the dining landscape is changing.
All agreed that the London restaurant scene has changed and that diners are more relaxed and casual.
And that there is a need to accommodate this ‘new diner’. To understand what people want to eat and to follow the trends that bring people in. People eat out so often now and restaurants are more accessible.
All of the ladies agreed that there was a move away from fine dining, towards a more relaxed style. Dining is more of an experience, with diners looking for something different and more of a social feel. There is also a trend towards more sharing plates. A social sharing.
And the ingredients getting these ladies excited as we go in to the new season – lamb, asparagus and black garlic!
When asked their thoughts on the key to success, Helena was first to answer in saying that it was her team. She went on to say that they had all worked for her before. When asked of her inspiration, Helena spoke of her love of food, a passion to succeed, being hugely ambitious and her two daughters.
Particularly delightful was that each of the ladies took the time to chat to us at our tables. Helena told us how the Nordic French inspiration that inspires the restaurant comes from her childhood. She remembers fondly how back in Finland, she went fishing with her granddad and how, together, they would smoke the fish they had caught.
All in all, a fabulous afternoon in a superb setting with delicious food, great company and lots of inspirational chatter. Thank you Aster. You will all be most welcome in my tiny kitchen anytime!