Anissa Helou

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 13 March, 2011, 12:00am

What do you like or dislike about restaurants?


'I went to [Heston Blumenthal's] Fat Duck many years ago and wasn't impressed. Everybody was raving about it. And I went to [Blumenthal's new restaurant] Dinner when it opened and didn't like it - it was like a tourist experience. It's not like it was bad food but it was like a theme restaurant. We tasted eight dishes plus the puddings and ice creams. It does hydrogen ice cream - it's a show thing, and there's a wood-fired oven in the kitchen, which is glass so you can see everything. It's a beautiful room, big and expensive, but it's culinary tourism.


'My new favourite restaurant is Brawn. It's fun, good quality and it's a beautiful room with lots of light. It's within walking distance of my house in Shoreditch [in London]. I love St John [Bread & Wine, in Spitalfields]. I'm lucky because I have at least half a dozen restaurants within walking distance that are really good.'


How did you get involved in art?


'I started off wanting to be an interior designer and went to the Inchbald School of Design [in London] - it was very 'Sloane ranger'. A friend, Zaha Hadid, who's now a super-famous architect, said, 'Why don't you take Sotheby's Works of Art course?' I knew nothing about art. I got an interview and crammed a book on Cezanne so it would appear that I knew something. I felt confident, then the interviewer asked me about Meissen and I said, 'Who?' I realised it was a terrible mistake so I switched the conversation to Cezanne because I had memorised the book. I impressed the guy and was accepted. They taught us to have a good eye and my collection was arts and crafts, furniture and objects, Victorian paintings, beautiful turned-wood objects and fishing.'


Fishing?


'I always like to anticipate the market because I didn't have that much money - I wanted to collect but had to be clever about it, so I was buying things other people didn't want. Nobody was buying fishing objects and by the time my collection was sold by Christie's, in 1990, I had 500 pieces. One of my fishing cases with lures was the most expensive fishing object sold - it was a world record price.'


You wrote The Fifth Quarter long before anybody was interested in offal.


'I ate raw liver when I was four - my grandmother would put it in my mouth. We ate everything - chicken feet, chicken heads. With the Brits, offal was never elegant food - not like with the French or Italians. When you buy offal in Italy or France, it's beautiful, it's perfect. When you buy a pig's head at an English butcher, it's snotty, it's disgusting. Some food in England is very good because they have great ingredients but they don't understand elegant, refined, complicated and elaborate dishes - and they certainly don't understand textures. Oxtail has a texture that's divine but it has to be cooked long enough so you get the stickiness and softness.'


Do you plan to open your own restaurant?


'I got very close to it this year - we had the best location in south Kensington, but the chef I was going to work with pulled out. I'd like to do more than Lebanese [cuisine] - Middle Eastern, Turkish, Moroccan and Persian. The three richest cuisines in the Middle East would be Ottoman - which is Turkish but includes Syria and Lebanon - they're similar enough; then you have Morocco and Iran.'