British fashion designer Nicole Farhi always had a secret yen to include "restaurateur" on her résumé. But her ultimate reason for opening Nicole's, the restaurant in her eponymous London shop, was much more practical: "Our store was so large I didn't have enough clothes to fill it--I needed to find something else to do with the space." When Farhi and her business partner, Stephen Marks, launched Nicole's in 1994, they were determined to weave it seamlessly into the fabric of the boutique, which sells clothing and housewares. "In everything, I try to be as simple as possible, but with the highest quality and an unexpected personal quirk," she says.
For the American outpost of Nicole's, which opened in the fall of 1999 in her new New York City store, Farhi brought in Annie Wayte, her executive chef in London. Wayte, a devotee of Alice Waters's freshness-first style of cooking, adapted her London menu for the new setting. She also found a Chez Panisse-trained American chef, Anna Kovel, to be her second in command. Not only is their food stylishly presented (of course), it's also delicious. For the busy home cook,Wayte and Kovel have adapted some of their favorite dishes, like the warm feta salad with sautéed greens and the seared tuna with baby artichokes and aioli.
All their food is tasty and unfussy--the antithesis of the much publicized dramas of the fashion world. And that's Farhi's goal: "I wanted the store to be friendly and to have very friendly food," she says. To that end, the New York Nicole's features a glass-encased kitchen so diners can watch the chefs in action and a long, marble communal table where shoppers can grab a quick lunch without reservations. But there's no question who the restaurant's biggest fan is: Farhi herself. "During my last stay in New York, I ate at Nicole's for breakfast, lunch and dinner!"