A year-and-a-half spent in the kitchen of London's Bali Sugar restaurant had a profound effect on Luke Dale-Roberts, for it is this background of fusion cooking - for which Bali Sugar and its sister restaurant, the Sugar Club, are renowned - which continues to be the biggest influence on his cooking style.
"Peter Gordon [the founding chef of the Sugar Club] is an absolute genius," says Dale-Roberts, who is in his first head chef position, at the Loft restaurant in the Mercure London City Bankside hotel, which opened in May. "His combinations of ingredients are incredible, and that's the type of cooking I aspire to."
The two best sellers from the current choice of eight starters demonstrate the fusion thrust of the restaurant - a salad of chorizo, fig, sweet potato and poached egg with a goats' cheese dressing (£6.50), and ballotine of foie gras with sticky grapes and black truffle oil (£8.50).
Similarly, the eight main-course dishes achieve their impact through unusual combinations of ingredients. Currently the most popular with diners are slow-cooked pork belly marinated in fermented black beans with baby choy, tamarind and sweet potato wedges (£12.50) and Moroccan-style Welsh lamb with couscous, aubergine and a tomato and feta chutney (£13.50).
But for Dale-Roberts the favourites are seared tuna with aubergine and coriander roll, wok-fried greens and a shellfish and tomato dressing (£13.50) and roast corn-fed chicken breast with polenta fritter, frijoles and a sweet corn salsa (£13). "I like these dishes because of their lightness, and also they are the newest things I've put on the menu," he explains. "I enjoy cooking the most recent additions because it's more of a challenge."
At dessert, too, Dale-Roberts's preference is different to that of the majority of diners. His top choice is peach poached in rose water syrup with vanilla panna cotta (£5), "because it's a stunning combination of flavours", while the top-selling dish is chocolate fondant with cherry ice-cream (£5).
At present, the 65-seat Loft is achieving an average of 25-30 covers at lunch and 40-50 at dinner, but Dale-Roberts and his nine-strong brigade are hopeful that this will increase during the autumn, following recent mail-shots to companies in the area.
And he promises that, however often diners come back, there will always be something new on the menu. "I can't stand being stuck with the same menu for three months at a time," he says, "so I change a couple of dishes every couple of weeks. It keeps me motivated, and the brigade on their toes and interested too."
The Loft Restaurant and Bar, 17 Lavington Street, London SE1 0NZ. Tel: 020 7902 0820