A U.S. presidency-inspired restaurant will open on Albert Embankment 31 October. The timing — Halloween, during the Trump presidency — is interesting.
Potus (POTUS) will open at the Crowne Plaza hotel adjacent to the new U.S. embassy, which recently relocated south of the river to Nine Elms. The kitchen will be led by chef Pablo Peñalosa Najera, who has spent time at El Celler de Can Roca in Spain, and is Mexican by birth.
The chef says he is excited to mentor and instil in his team this motto: “to produce ‘plenty of flavours — like a rollercoaster’ and working with ‘honest, quality suppliers in the capital.” Later, speaking to Eater London, Najera explained that “It’s a great opportunity. London is full of great ingredients, that can help me to diversify. It’s American, but I’m going to try and bring a lot of classics and flavours. [With our] cioppino (a traditional San Franciscan fish stew by way of Italian immigrants), I want to transport my guests to Fisherman’s Wharf. Enjoying food as a kid. It’s very personal.”
Najera’s career to date has taken in Mexico, Colombia, Spain, and London: “I started as a waiter at 16 in Mexico City, and after that I went to university to study gastronomy, to understand more about it, and I worked at several places in Mexico.” The move to Spain took Najera to Restaurant Martín Berasategui, a three-Michelin-starred restaurant in Lasarte-Oria, near San Sebastián, and then came El Celler de Can Roca, once the so-called ‘best restaurant in the world’. “A different level of perfection in food, knowing more techniques, getting an understanding too of Japanese culture, how they feel the food in a different sense of respect.”
Dishes at Potus include New England clam chowder, dry-aged steaks with a house — POTUS — rub of cayenne pepper, onion, garlic, paprika, salt, pepper and coriander seeds, and the classic New Orleans dessert, bananas foster. Najera told Eater London that, “The dishes are like having 11 children, it’s hard to pick one ... We are changing the menu by the seasons, and by inspiration, and through America.”
When asked about the current resonances of the restaurant’s name, Najera was adamant that, “it’s 45 presidents, different personalities, we can talk about JFK and so on. I believe that if people think about POTUS just for the politics, it would be wrong. It is not about politics, it is about representing them with the food. It’s about the nation, representing the nation with food.” Food’s inextricable connection to cultural identity — what the cooking of a steak says about character, how dining confronts immigration and assimilation — means that, for many, that resonance will likely be inescapable. A restaurant in the office of a man whose political campaign was launched by explicitly discriminating against the country its head chef counts as home; a restaurant in the office of a man whose staff are being refused service, at restaurants.
Perhaps therein lies the key to understanding Potus. It is a victim of historical circumstance; imagine its opening during the middle of the Obama presidency. Its symbolism, regardless, is no less acute. While Najera hopes to enjoy a long success in reference to the office — not its current incumbent — to open such a restaurant right now is inviting interrogation about the necessary intersection of how we live and what we choose to eat.