Since opening its doors in 2015, the elegant European eatery known as Lord Stanley has racked up plenty of acclaim, maintaining a Michelin star year over year, and clinching the #3 Best New Restaurant in America spot from Bon Appétit, in 2016. Behind this Russain Hill sensation are chefs Carrie and Rupert Blease, a husband-and-wife team that’s been cooking together since meeting as young cooks at fine dining destination Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in Oxfordshire, England.
With a combined resume that includes star-studded restaurants like Texture (London), plus Blue Hill and Per Se (New York), the duo is fiercely aligned in their cooking styles, taste in produce, interest in wine, and excitement around participating in Off Menu Week. We went Off Menu with Carrie Blease to chat about what drives Lord Stanley—from a commitment to highlighting peak-season ingredients to a mantra that champions innovation in the dining room and beyond.
Resy: How did you and Rupert [co-chef and owner of Lord Stanley] first meet?
Carrie Blease: We met in England working together. I had gone to culinary school in San Francisco and for my internship I went to Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, just outside of Oxfordshire. And that’s where Rupert was working.
From there, we moved to New York and we actually worked separately. I was at Blue Hill and Rupert was at Per Se. And then we ended up moving back to England, to London, to help open a restaurant called Texture for a chef from Le Manoir that we had worked for. We moved out there to help him with the opening.
Why did you choose San Francisco for your own restaurant?
It just made sense. We didn’t really want to stay in England. We’d already lived in New York. I’m from California, originally. I’m from LA, but, of course, I’d lived in San Francisco, so it’s somewhere that we would always come back to visit. We kind of always thought of [the restaurant] being here; San Francisco has the charm of a big city, but it’s small, and obviously the produce is amazing. You can get out of the city really easily and go up to Tomales Bay [for] amazing oysters, and go south of the bay for spot prawns. There is a lot of variation, and a lot of the produce that we were looking forward to using.
How would you describe Lord Stanley, and what was important to you when you were opening it?
Ultimately, we have fine dining backgrounds. We’ve worked at a lot of Michelin-starred restaurants, one and two stars. And we like refined food, but we always saw ourselves opening something that had a more casual atmosphere. We wanted to take from our experiences, use precise techniques and treat food in an important manner, but also keep it really simple. We never wanted [Lord Stanley] to feel daunting or like somewhere you would just go for a special occasion. So, we have our a la carte menu and our tasting menu to give our guests the flexibility of coming in and having a couple of dishes after work before they go home or coming in on a Saturday night and having the tasting menu with wine pairings—something a little more special.
Lord Stanley is often described as equal parts European and Californian. Do you think that’s an accurate description?
Yeah. Rupert’s British, he grew up mostly in France and so his training is predominantly European. Having worked with him there, that’s our cooking style. However, we obviously use California ingredients, and the ethos of changing menus frequently and using what’s local is definitely Californian.
For Off Menu Week, you’re serving “Lord Stanley classics”. How are these dishes representative of the restaurant’s spirit?
We always try to keep [each dish] to five ingredients or less, and treat those ingredients with respect so as to highlight them appropriately. One of the dishes is our take on Duck à l’orange. [We take] something that’s very classic French, but lighten it up a little bit using California ingredients, keeping it really simple. That was always our vision for Lord Stanley. We call them Lord Stanley classics, because we opened with [these dishes] and we really loved [them], but we change the menu really frequently and we try to never bring dishes back, to keep it interesting for everyone. [Off Menu Week] was a fun way to bring stuff back that we really enjoyed that might not have come back on the menu otherwise.
How often, exactly, are you changing the menu?
Something every day changes. We only have one [dish] that’s never left than menu: the onion petals, one of our little snacks. It’s little blanched, cippolini onion petals that are filled with a sherry vinegar soubise. Other than that, we do try to switch it up a lot. It’s really due to availability; some days we just can’t get certain ingredients or [an ingredient] is not as good as it should be, so we have to use something else instead. We’ll change aspects of a dish to accommodate what’s available.
What’s your process for editing dishes and crafting new ones?
It depends on which menu format it’s going on. We offer wine pairings with dishes [on] the tasting menu, so that’s something that we have to work with our wine director on. We have a natural wine list and a lot of our producers are really small and do limited production, so we don’t have a lot of certain wines. So we work with her to [understand] what we have that we can pair with a specific dish. Those definitely take a little bit more planning. We have meetings every night with the kitchen where we [look at] what we have left from the evening, what didn’t come in that day, [and] what can we change tomorrow to make things better. And then the next day, we see what does or doesn’t come in, and make changes as necessary.
How do you and Rupert divvy up the work? Do you share in everything equally, or are there certain roles that each of you play in the restaurant?
In terms of menu planning, we talk about everything together. I definitely say that I am more of the pastry side than Rupert. So I’ll work with our pastry chef on what changes are being made and developing recipes. The rest of the menu is more of a collaboration. And then I also [oversee service], so I split my time between back-of-house and front-of-house.
What are your favorite ingredients to work with, when they’re in season?
I am really excited that it’s summer right now and we have stone fruit and cherries. Those are the [ingredients] that Rupert and I always have to fight over which menu item they’re going to go in, because obviously a lot of that stuff is amazing for savory, too. We really like to pair barbecued fruits with meats. So it’s always a big discussion. And, of course, when tomatoes are in season… right now, I’m getting into my dream ingredient list.
What’s your favorite Lord Stanley dish of all time?
We have a cabbage dish, which [we’re serving for] Off Menu Week. It’s just green cabbage and this buttermilk sauce that we do, but [there is an element of] surprise. It looks super simple, but when you eat it, it’s really [complex]. We make our own butter in-house, so we always have a surplus of buttermilk. The dish came about from us figuring out a way to utilize it. The sauce pairs really amazing with the cabbage and our wine director has a lot of fun pairing wines with it because it has a lot of flexibility. We have variations of it, too: we’ve done it with chicken skin and poultry jus or sea urchin bottarga.
As a diner, there are multiple ways to approach Lord Stanley: tasting menu, a la carte, prix-fixe, and Sunday Supper. How are you able to support so many different offerings in a given night?
We’ve always wanted to do a tasting menu, to have something that’s set. We like to eat tasting menus every once in awhile. But in wanting to be approachable, we never wanted to lose our a la carte menu. We offer prix-fixe for large parties; it makes it easier for service if everyone’s on the same page. And then our Sunday Supper menu is something fun we’ve been doing at the end of the week. We love the idea of not having [too much] choice, there’s just one menu with a couple of options, and we’ve been really successful in offering it on last Sunday of every month. It’s more in-demand that way, and we always [book] up pretty quickly.
Have you developed a regular following for the Sunday Suppers?
We have, actually! Which is great. There’s one couple that’s super cute that always comes in because it’s the only night that they can get a babysitter. And so they just come once a month on Sundays.
What are your favorite places to eat in San Francisco?
Oh, so many. One of our favorite restaurants, funnily enough, is House of Prime Rib. We love it. We go all the time. It’s one of those places that’s really classic. You know exactly what you’re going to get, and it’s just a fun atmosphere. All of our friends’ restaurants are amazing. We love to go to Mister Jiu’s, although we don’t make it as often as we would like to since we share the same days off. Commonwealth [is another one]. We love Del Popolo. They have an amazing wine list. We know it’s always going to be super tasty, and their menu changes pretty frequently.