He was the chef who famously decreed that no diner in his restaurant would be allowed to order a second G&T, ask for the salt or slump in their chairs. In the three decades that he worked in the London restaurant scene Nico Ladenis was someone who defied all conventions. He was self-taught, reached the highest peak of any chef in the city and – at that height – ended up giving back the stars he’d worked his whole career for.
Ladenis’s first restaurant Chez Nico opened in Dulwich in the late 70s and won first one then two Michelin stars at its next location in Battersea. The current trend of big-name chefs running restaurants in London hotels was kickstarted by Ladenis back in 1992 when he opened Chez Nico at 90 Park Lane (where Corrigan’s Mayfair is now) a move which raised a lot of eyebrows at the time. But it proved to be a successful alliance.
Chez Nico was one of those rare restaurants that boasted a perfect 10/10 score in the Good Food Guide, 5 AA rosettes and – the piece de resistance – three Michelin stars. Michael Winner remembered dining in the restaurant the day that Nico was told that he’d been awarded a third star when he’d had “as good a meal as you’ll find anywhere in the world.” A signature dish that never left the menu was the hot foie gras with caramelised oranges on toasted brioche.
It wasn’t all fine dining though – Nico also had two more casual restaurants Simply Nico and Nico Central – which were more bistro-style affairs.
In 1999 diagnosed with prostate cancer and declaring himself disillusioned with the London restaurant scene Nico gave back his three Michelin stars. He later opened two more restaurants with his daughter – Incognico and Deca – but retired from the restaurant business for good in 2003.
A big part of Nico’s legacy will be the many chefs who trained under him. Talking to the Good Food Guide in 1984 he said: “My own kitchen is staffed entirely with young Englishmen, whom I find to be dedicated, cool under pressure, and infinitely painstaking. Just to watch them work gives me confidence and strength.” That brigade at various points included Marco Pierre White, Paul Flynn, Jason Atherton, Björn Frantzén, Jun Tanaka, Jeff Galvin, Andre Garrett – the list goes on. Those chefs and others in the food world were quick to pay their respects on learning of Nico’s death.