Chef Tony Fleming: "I hate all this 'temple of gastronomy' bollocks"

By Sophie Witts contact

- Last updated on GMT

Chef Tony Fleming: "I hate all this 'temple of gastronomy' bollocks"
Tony Fleming cooked under Marco Pierre White at The Oak Room and Richard Neat at Pied a Terre, before winning a Michelin star at Angler at South Place Hotel. He is now head chef at the newly-opened L’oscar Hotel in London’s Holborn.

You held a Michelin star at Angler, why did you want to move?

Angler was a great gig and crazy busy, but I know if I stayed and watched L’oscar open I would want to be part of it. It’s in the former headquarters of the Baptist church​ in the UK and is Grade II listed. The restaurant is on an upper level overlooking the bar in a domed chapel, and there’s a café on the front of the hotel on the corner of Southampton Road. What’s special about L’oscar is that nothing is outsourced. We do everything in-house as one kitchen team to keep it consistent.

That’s becoming unusual for London…

It’s rare these days to see a chef who can go to a hotel and do everything, but I love the diversity of it. It can get a bit groundhog day if you just have a restaurant, so I like doing breakfast, room service and the events as well. Nowadays you get so many hotels in London that will outsource their restaurant to a starred chef. I would never work anywhere that did that. I don’t want to come in and give the reins to someone else.

We’re 24-hours a day here, so we might be serving burgers in the bar at 3am and then doing lunch for 40 people in the grill and feeding 130 staff. It’s a lot to take on but I love the madness of it.

Tell us about the restaurants at L’oscar

There’s a very relaxed café concept open 7am-11am where you can come in for breakfast, coffee, a three-course lunch or afternoon tea. In the evening it’s more like a wine bar where you can have a drink, order desserts from a trolley or have snacks or small plates.

The more traditional Baptist Grill restaurant is in the back. It’s a grand room but quite relaxed. There’s an a la carte menu of ten starters, ten main courses, six or seven desserts, and a carving trolley for lunch - none of this tasting menu rubbish. We’re buying the best meat and fish we can and complimenting it with some great flavour combinations – but nothing overworked, pretentious or fancy.

baptist-bar

So you’re not a fan of tasting menus then…

No, I decided that three or four years ago. When we got the star at Angler people began asking for tasting menus, so we started to do a lot of them. I don’t find it particularly exciting as a chef to cook that way, it’s very controlled and clinical. It’s not the way forward anymore.

We’re a very high-end luxurious hotel, but we don’t want people to think we’re exclusive or stuffy. I hate all this ‘temple of gastronomy’ and ‘bowing down to the chef’ bollocks. We’re serving a real humble a la carte menu. It doesn’t make sense for me to open with a tasting menu showcasing our great dishes when I don’t know what they are yet. I would only do a tasting menu if guests ask for it, if there’s a call for it we’ll do one.

So what’s on the menu?

It’s heavy on meat obviously. In the grill we’ve got rib-eye and bavette steaks from the Lake District which we cook over coals to give a chargrilled flavour. The rib eye comes with cassis shallots, snail raviolis, and bordelaise sauce. There’s a rabbit tart made using rabbit livers and braised rabbit legs with pickled carrots, marjoram and prunes; and plain meuniere dover sole with morels, garlic and parsley. Desserts include lime tart with dark chocolate sorbet; and blackcurrant and liquorice pain perdu with white chocolate crumb.

We want The Baptist to be more standalone and it’s got its own entrance outside the hotel. L’oscar only has 39 bedrooms so 95% of the customers will come from outside.

lime-tart-l'oscar

Are you aiming for a star for The Baptist?

No definitely not. If someone wants to give us a star fantastic, but it’s out of my control. It’s not something we’re driving for because if you don’t get it then you’re not left with much. I’ve seen it before in other people, they use the star as their motivation and focus and it becomes very suffocating and distracting. Every decision you make you think ‘is it star-worthy’, you can’t concentrate and you focus on the wrong thing. I love Michelin and it’s a great motivator that’s done so much for restaurants, but it’s up to them to give the stars, chefs should focus on their restaurants and guests and let Michelin do their thing.

You’ve been in the industry over 20 years, how has it changed over your career?

When I first came to London in 1996 there were not many good restaurants to work in and lots of chefs looking for jobs. These days it’s completely flipped. I used to write to restaurants to get a job and they’d say they were full and put me on a waiting list. From a skill level it’s definitely diluted, so from a chef’s point of view it’s a struggle. When you’ve got good chefs you need to look after them or you can’t keep them.

What advice would you give chefs starting out now?

They need to get in to the right kitchen. Young chefs often get in to the wrong restaurants because there’s so much choice they don’t know where to go, but they need to work for someone who has their best interests at heart. I’ve seen good chefs go to kitchens where they’re not looked after and sometimes they lose their way. We’ve got 27 chefs at L’oscar and at least 15 have worked with me before, and they’ve been waiting two years for this place to open, because we look after them.

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