By Drew Ratter (Shetland Times)
I was fascinated to be sent a restaurant review from The New York Times. It was very positive, but at first I was not entirely clear why I had received it, until half way down, I discovered that one of the things eaten at this highly lauded eatery was Shetland lamb, sourced from Shetland.
Pursuing the matter further, I phoned Hedone, and spoke to a staff member. She said she would give me the chef, Mikael Jonsson’s email address, so I sent him an email.
He replied, and we ended up having a chat. The restaurant opened in July of 2011, in Chiswick. Mikael is a self-taught chef, from Sweden, but who spent 15 years in France before moving to London. Since the restaurant opened, it has won several awards, including One to Watch at the National Restaurant awards. Hedone also got five stars for atmosphere and five stars for food from AA Gill in The Sunday Times. Mikael said quietly that he was not sure if that had ever happened before.
His philosophy of food is based on sourcing the best possible produce. This, he
reckons, is a principal area of expertise for him, and one which he has studied a lot. This has lead to him sourcing his venison, Sika, from a single stalker, all his fish from the south-west of England, his vegetables from France, as he does not think you can get good enough vegetables in England, and last but far from least, his lamb from Shetland.
The lamb is sourced through Shetland’s Finest, which deals with SLMG. This give Mikael what he regards as lamb which is better than anything else he has tried in Britain (and he has tried a lot), lamb which is equal to Breton Salt Marsh lamb, and better than anything else France can offer.
This has been vouched for by critics and diners alike. It is also consistent in quality, a very important point from a restaurant point of view. I told him that one or two year old Shetland hill wether was even better, and he is planning a trip to Shetland, where we can perhaps prove that!
It seemed to me sensible to close the circle by speaking to Alasdair MacPherson, the guiding spirit of Shetland’s Finest. Alasdair trained with Morgan Goodlad at the NAFC in Scalloway, who he credits with giving him his understanding of the principles of marketing, and then went to Whalsay with Shetland Seafish, where he worked with John Tait, another excellent mentor.
When Shetland Seafish changed hands, he took redundancy, became self-employed and set up Shetland’s Finest, to see if he could do a job he thought very necessary. The plan was to sell Shetland’s best quality produce to discerning end customers, with a minimum of middle men taking their cuts and diluting the brand identity.
This he has been doing with growing success, and he got in touch with Mikael and Hedone when Mikael found Shetland’s Finest. Alasdair had already been supplying Jamie Oliver, so was well known at the top end of the restaurant trade.
Through SLMG, he has been sending Shetland lamb to Hedone since November, to a very gratifying reception, see above! Alasdair sees Mikael as a perfectionist, and therefore regards it as necessary for Shetland’s Finest always to go the extra mile.
It is a classic of exactly what Shetland should be doing with process, and precisely aligned with the work that was done on the Shetland Brand. Customers at Hedone are representatives of the successful idealists, who desire authenticity and quality, and will pay for it, if they believe in it. It is as far from dumping quantity into a mass market as you can get.
Alasdair stresses the fact that the kind of customers Shetland’s Finest deals with are highly professional people who want to be dealt with in a professional manner. He sees himself as a buffer between excellent producers, who may not have the time to learn the finer points of marketing, and discerning customers.
It needs to be the best product, handled in the best way, and then, although price still matters, it is a somewhat lesser consideration. The meeting of minds between him and Mikael Jonsson seems to bear that out very well, and is the kind of market and product recognition that more and more Shetland producers need to be chasing.