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FIRST LOOK: California English

The new decades-long project by celebrity chef Richard Blais is set to open on February 2

Richard Blais has been working on the menu for California English for more than a decade but the concept started long before that, when Blais was just a teenager. “I’ve always wanted to do fish and chips at a restaurant, ever since I worked at McDonald’s at 14-years-old and was the ‘poissonnier’ on the Filet-O-Fish station,” he says.

Through his storied career—which includes Juniper & Ivy, Crack Shack, and Ember & Rye in San Diego, plus a few books and TV shows (Top Chef, Next-Level Chef, etc.)—California English marks the first time Blais has put fish and chips on a menu. He pulled out all the stops for the iconic dish. The chef is as fanatical about fries as he is about the crispy battered fish; he created a three-day process for the perfect potato.

Blais, who is 55.3 percent British himself, had been thinking about creating a British SoCal fusion restaurant since his London honeymoon, jotting ideas into a moleskin. “It’s an interesting time in my career; I can look back and say I’ve always wanted to do this, and just do it,” he says. “A couple of months ago I spent 40 days living in West London in preparation for this project, marching around eating. I’m a massive futbol (soccer) fan; I have a vision of this place being a happening Saturday and Sunday futbol scene. I look forward to those 7 a.m. mornings, turning this place into the poshest of futbol viewing venues.”

Located in the Biovista life sciences campus, California English is a partnership with Longfellow Real Estate Partners—which has 200 employees in bio-innovation clusters across the US and the UK. They plan to open another restaurant together nearby sometime next year. “Sorrento Valley is close to everything, next to nothing,” says Blais. “So California English will be a destination.”

At 6,000-square-feet, California English is smaller than many of Blais’s other concepts, but just as visually stunning.“I always feel like a chef, so sometimes I struggle with being a restaurateur,” says Blais. “Ten years ago, I wasn’t necessarily thinking about lighting and sound and the material on chairs. But the food and space have to match.” PGAL Architects designed both the interior and exterior space at California English with a style they describe as whimsical and approachable. The playful wall mural is an art piece by San Diego-based Matt Forderer depicting flying bowler hats over an English castle; another installation is planned for the hallway.

The British influence is notable in the small marketplace filled with UK snacks like prawn crisps and scones. The restaurant menu focuses on reimagining English dishes with Southern California ingredients. “It’s not traditionally British, it’s California English,” says Blais. “Fusion gets a bad wrap but when it’s done right, it can be great. It’s interesting when you look at global cuisine and you realize how much we all have in common.”

In addition to the signature fish and chips, the menu will also feature a Scotch egg, the soft-boiled egg comes wrapped in bangers and dipped in vindaloo chili oil, served with whipped maple. The burger will get a British spin by being lathered in Welsh rarebit sauce, a combination of cheddar, beer, and Worcestershire sauce. Within the cocktail program, look for options like the London Fog, a martini of Bombay Sapphire, St. Germaine, lemon, simple syrup, and muddled fresh raspberries, topped with a signature Blais bubble scented with elderflower.

Mouths were made for this.

By Michelle Stansbury

Michelle Stansbury is a San Diego-based freelance writer who writes about travel, food, and parenting. Misuse of the word "literally" drives her figuratively insane. @discoverwithmichelle

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