Chef George Dingle began his illustrious career cooking at now-closed two Michelin starred restaurant Hibiscus in London where he worked under chef Claude Bosi for two years.
I had the great pleasure of recently sitting down with chef George who took over at the start of the year as chef de cuisine of Corey Lee’s hip French bistro Monsieur Benjamin. How exciting for the restaurant to land this brand new international rising star.
He’s originally from Bath, Southwest England and lived in the countryside for most up his upbringing. His fondest childhood memories included his grandmother cooking and baking up a storm and the marvelous tastes of those creations had a great impact on his culinary curiosity and development. One of her most memorable dishes was her famous Victoria sponge cake with a rich cream and jam filling. As a teenager, he would come home from school eager to try various recipes from books and cooking shows, Jamie Oliver being one of his favorites.
His first real cooking job was at Hibiscus and he was humbled that chef Claude Bosi gave him a once in a lifetime opportunity even with his limited experience. Hisbicus was a difficult start to his career as working in such a high-end restaurant demanded perfectionism and was mentally and psychically exhausting yet it laid the fundamentals for the start of his chef career. After Hisbicus, he worked at the only pub in the UK to receive two Michelin stars, The Hand and Flowers.
In 2015 as chef George’s career was taking off, he had the golden opportunity to work under chef Corey Lee at the acclaimed Benu, a three Michelin starred restaurant here in San Francisco. This was a dream come true as he had a longing ambition of one day working in the states which had mesmerized him for years. He loved the diversity of the city which in some ways reminded him of London but just not as gray and gloomy (even though Karl, the fog has his days). He loved the eclectic food scene and the doorstep accessibility to impeccable produce.
For George Dingle, Benu was an eye-opening experience. There he had his first true outlet for creativity as every Saturday night all the chefs presented their “projects” following service. This was the first time he had ever got to experiment in a professional kitchen and receive constructive criticism of his creations. Some dishes he tested during these projects include okonomiyaki (Japanese savory pancake) and traditional English pork pies which helped him refine his pâté en croûte later on in his career. He also found Benu just as captivating as a diner with its dedication to precision, care, thoughtfulness, and intent of every detail behind every dish. Having a vegan family meal at Benu also demonstrated the immense versatility of cooking vegetables.
After an incredible year at Benu, he moved to Berlin to run the kitchen at Lamazére Brasserie as sous chef where he learned French bistro classics. Following his stint there, an old Benu colleague, Niall Keating, recruited him to help revamp luxury hotel Whatley Manor’s restaurant program in the UK. While working as head chef and managing the three different restaurant concepts, he helped The Dining Room gain a Michelin star within its first year under new leadership.
Chef George describes the cuisine at Monsieur Benjamin as classic French bistro fare but with a modern twist, utilizing outstanding local ingredients. Monsieur Benjamin’s palmier ice cream is a dish that particularly embodies the restaurant’s ethos to him. Here, crispy flaky homemade palmier biscuits and calvados caramel are folded into brown butter ice cream…the description clearly says it all. George’s favorite dish off the menu is the steak frites due to the meaty ribeye roasted in their Josper charcoal oven which imparts incredible flavor. His ambition for this year is to deliver really tasty plates of food that just hit the spot.
Monsieur Benjamin always serves up a festive time with its lively atmosphere, refined French cuisine, expertly crafted cocktails, and an ample selection of well-curated wines.
Chef George started us off with the new blue crab rillette dish; previously I’ve had their blue crab remoulade which I loved. This cold seafood dish balanced creaminess from crème fraîche, sharpness from Dijon mustard, and an acidic kick from lemon zest and juice. The accompanying homemade crackers were akin to a short biscuit dough flavored with garlic and Parmesan.
The lobster bisque, meant to be sipped from the cup, is not to be missed. Its rich intense lobster flavor is tempered by a cooling pernod and tarragon cream. The contrast of temperatures and flavors of the warm bisque and the aerated pernod cream are a match made in heaven.
Golden brown crispy frog legs were so expertly fried, providing the most supple tender meat sprinkled with sesame seeds. The accompanying sauce verte was a vibrant parsley mayonnaise that did not overpower the delicateness of the frog legs.
This homemade saucisson sec, a traditional dry cured French sausage, takes around three weeks to dry. Seasoned with garlic and black pepper, the salami had a nice toothsomeness to it.
This dish, served since opening day, is the crowd pleaser steak tartare. The subtly flavored egg yolk jam with its great texture adds complexity to the tartare. The homemade pissaladière lavash, cracker-like, is flavored with caramelized onions, dried black olives, and anchovies.
I never miss ordering one of Monsieur Benjamin’s signature dishes, the chicken liver terrine. Smooth and creamy chicken liver terrine is served with warm toasted homemade brioche and a slightly sweet apple compote. Decadent and delicious.
A newer dish to the menu is a pan-fried salmon dish served with their addictive sauce rémoulade, a hollandaise based sauce with chervil and tarragon and topped with beer batter crisps and chives. The charred leeks underneath were ridiculously good, so soft, tender, and sweet.
Another dish that has been served since opening, or a slightly tweaked version of it, is the quail which I had never tasted after all my visits. Stuffed with saucisson à l’ail (garlic sausage), the quail was simply oven roasted and brushed with a herb butter, leaving the meat succulent and juicy. The sauce chasseur, “hunter’s sauce”, was a rich demiglace with mushrooms and paired perfectly with the quail.
Both these iconic desserts have been on the menu since opening day and I would actually be quite upset if they were ever taken off the menu because they’re that good. Nowhere else in the city appears to serve gâteau marjolaine, a stunning classic French dessert. Their version consists of 13 layers of hazelnut and almond dacquoise, bavarois, hazelnut buttercream, ganache, and sponge cake all glazed with chocolate. This beautiful dessert not only tastes superb but also shows immense skill in the kitchen. Like chef George described earlier, the palmier ice cream is not to pass up.
With chef George Dingle running the kitchen at Monsieur Benjamin, guests can expect delectable creations that will transport them across the globe to France.