There is a paw print emblazoned on the front of the smart grey and burgundy chef aprons for the soon-to-open Kerridge's Bar & Grill, one that matches a tattoo of the same print on the inside of Tom Kerridge's left forearm. It’s taken from a cast of a paw print of one of the chef’s dogs, a boxer called Georgie (no longer alive) who stood in some wet concrete at the back of The Hand & Flowers in Marlow during the building of an extension to the multi-starred dining destination.
“The print is in the foundations of The Hand & Flowers and it now marks the foundations of everything we do,” says Kerridge when I remark on it.
“It seemed very fitting to continue this by putting it on show in London.”
It’s a neat touch and one that connects Kerridge’s grand eponymous new restaurant in the salubrious Corinthia hotel in Westminster to his earlier endeavours. And not just for him and his team, but his customers, too.
While it’s a given that people reading about Kerridge in these pages will be well aware of his two-star pub-cum-restaurant in Marlow, for most the larger than life chef (although a lot less large than a few years back) is probably better known for his numerous TV appearances on programmes such as Bake Off: The Professionals and Tom Kerridge’s Lose Weight For Good and book sales to rival one Jamie Oliver. As Kerridge stops mid photo shoot to pose for selfies with passers by, one feels it is not for his 27 years behind the stove that they want a picture.
KERRIDGE IS A BIG DEAL. Few chefs still active in the restaurant industry can boast of his profile, both media and professional, and his coming to London is something of a coup for Corinthia. With the opening of Kerridge’s Bar & Grill in the space that was formerly Italian restaurant Massimo, the chef and his long-term lieutenant Nick Beardshaw will embark on one of the most significant restaurant launches of this year.
Due to open in the middle of this month, the 90-cover restaurant – and 40-cover bar area – will finally bring Kerridge’s trademark hearty British cooking to the capital, which many believe has been long overdue. So what took him so long? It hasn’t been for want of trying, he explains.
“Over the past six or seven years lots of people have approached us about coming to London. I said yes to meeting with them all because they all become contacts and you never know where it will lead, but none felt 100% right.”
Despite taking a long time to come to the capital, Kerridge says it was an inevitability.
Having lived and worked in London for 10 years before moving to Marlow he says he is no stranger to the capital, with his media work often taking him there two or three times a week. With any natural progression being to either do something in the West Country where he grew up or in London, he chose the latter because of its proximity to Marlow.
It seems ironic, then, that having taken so long to find what he believed to be the right business partner, it turned out to be a false dawn.
Kerridge had initially intended to make his long-awaited London debut at Knightsbridge hotel the Jumeirah Carlton Tower, taking on the site of its Rib Room Bar and Restaurant. All seemed to be going to plan until in October last year when he suddenly announced that the deal was off.
He won’t be drawn on the finer details but Jumeirah had made a decision to re-open The Rib Room without the restaurant transferring management, leaving the chef in what he described at the time as “a very difficult position”. Since then he seems to have mellowed.
“It was a situation that arose, it just didn’t follow through,” he says in an offhand manner, seemingly unaffected by the debacle.
“No building work had started. There are no hard feelings.”
"We had a two or three hour conversation
and I left the room knowing we would do this"
Jumeirah’s loss is Corinthia’s gain. Following the announcement, Kerridge received a phone call from Thomas Kochs, who had been appointed as managing director of the hotel in May last year, to come in for a chat.
Kochs has a track record of helping hotels boost their restaurant offer, having been general manager at Claridge’s when it appointed Simon Rogan to launch Fera there in 2014, and Kerridge was impressed immediately by his plans for the hotel’s F&B offer, which has also included partnering with Marcis Dzelzainis and Michael Sager from Sager + Wilde to oversee the drinks offering at the hotel’s Bassoon Bar.
“Thomas has a very special aura about him. The synergy between my outlook of what the hospitality industry should be and his matched, even though the Corinthia is a five star hotel in the heart of London and we are a two Michelin starred pub just outside London. We had a two or three hour conversation and I left the room knowing we would do this.”
A 283-ROOM HOTEL IN WESTMINSTER IS A FAR CRY FROM A RESTAURANT WITH ROOMS IN MARLOW, as well as Kerridge's other ventures, his Michelin-starred pub The Coach, which was previously headed up by Beardshaw, and The Butcher's Tap, a pub/butchers hybrid that he opened in the town late last year. What made him want to buddy up with a hotel?
He says he looked at all options, including standalone freehold and leasehold properties, but the hotel world proved the most attractive.
“There’s something very exciting about hotels. I started off cooking in country house hotels and loved the hotel vibe, it’s very special. The Hand & Flowers has developed from a pub into a pub with 11 rooms, so that understanding of what a guest needs has gone from two hours at dinner or a boozy Sunday lunch to 16 hours of their lives from checking in at 3pm. I’ve grown from being a chef to looking at every contact point, so it was natural to move to a hotel.”
The location was also a draw.
“It’s an international hotel where you get an eclectic mix of people, and that’s exciting as it allows us to showcase Britishness, which is something we do well at The Hand & Flowers. And we’re next to Trafalgar Square, theatreland and 10 Downing Street. It doesn’t get much more British than that.”
While he acknowledges that not every big name chef hotel restaurant venture has been a smash hit – Rogan parted company with Fera just three years into a 10-year management agreement in 2017 (Kochs left Claridge’s in 2015) being one example, he points to many successful partnerships, including Bar Boulud and Dinner by Heston Blumenthal at The Mandarin Oriental.
“You’d be an idiot not to have spoken to people who have done it and analysed the businesses and how independent restaurants operate in hotels. I have spoken to a huge amount of chefs who have made that crossover – for some it has worked out, for others it hasn’t. David Nichols (group director of food and beverage at the Mandarin Oriental) has brought in two incredibly successful restaurants into a five-star environment and each has its own vibe and doesn’t necessarily feel like part of the hotel.
“I looked at the success stories rather than the ones that haven’t worked and asked ‘what it is that has made these places work?’. It runs deeper than the food. As long as the restaurant and hotel are working towards the same goal I can’t see that there’s a problem.”
WITH KERRIDGE'S BAR & GRILL THE PAIR ARE PLAYING WITH A STRAIGHT BAT. The menu comprises classic British dishes that anyone who has dined at the Marlow restaurants or seen Kerridge’s TV programmes will have come to expect, but with a Michelin feel (think Dinner by Heston Blumenthal meets The Coach).
Beardshaw describes the menu, which lists dishes including fish and chips with pease pudding; dry-aged rib of beef with gherkin ketchup and triple cooked chips; Creedy Carver duck breast and faggot with savoy cabbage; and chicken with braised gem lettuce, pickled lemon and soft polenta as “robust, hearty and solid” with cooking that is familiar.
“We want it to be timeless so that in 10 years’ time it still works. We’re not following fashions and trends.”
Starters begin at £9.50 while mains will be £24.50 to £38.50 and desserts all at £13.50. A three-course set lunch will be a more modest £29.50.
“When you’re in a five star hotel like this you’ve got to make it approachable for all walks of life,” says Beardshaw.
“People will come here from all over the world with different tastes so we’re going to have a hugely diverse client base, and the menu will reflect that. But we’re not going to compromise on our own cooking style. It’s a balance between being approachable, multi-appealing and true to yourself.”
With 90-covers, and a desire to fill the room at least once every sitting, the menu is also practical, with nine starters, 10 mains and the same number of desserts. The brigade will be around 30 chefs, with 16-18 in the kitchen at any one time and two in the 18-cover PDR if necessary.
A service kitchen will run with 10 chefs and there will be a prep kitchen downstairs with chefs working there throughout the day.
“All the hard work is in the preparation,” adds Beardshaw. “We call it being mis en place heavy and service light.”
That said, there will be a few curve balls, including a dish of Claude’s mushroom ‘risotto’ with Daniel’s crispy egg and parmesan. It’s a variation of a dish served at The Coach that borrows from both Claude Bosi and Daniel Clifford – both of whom run double Michelin-starred restaurants and who are close friends of Kerridge. The Daniel element of the dish is also a nod to the year Beardshaw spent at Clifford's Midsummer House before joining Kerridge. The chefs don’t expect all their diners to get the in joke, but are using the dish as a contact point for people to talk about.
“It’s worth six Michelin stars,” says Kerridge, flashing one of his huge trademark grins. “Once the new Michelin guide is published it might be worth eight if Daniel and Claude each get their third.”
The menu will also feature a starter of glazed omelette lobster thermidor, on at £29.50, that has a special place in Kerridge’s heart. He had wanted to serve it at The Hand & Flowers but couldn’t get people to part with the money so changed it to a haddock omelette, which has since become a signature dish. In London he’s trying again.
“Tom’s now got the profile and the location to finally put a £30 starter on the menu,” says Beardshaw. “It’s a nice thing to be able to do.”
The scale of the operation isn’t daunting either, and isn’t as far removed from The Hand & Flowers as one might image. While the Marlow restaurant has 54 covers it regularly does 90 to 100 covers a sitting.
“Being busy isn’t frightening; but being empty is. That’s terrifying,” says Kerridge with another booming laugh.
As for the room itself, this is where Kerridge is playing his trump card. He describes the dining room as “serious without being uptight” having been redesigned to feel more like a place in which to eat. Meat will hang in cabinets and the central focus will be two huge rotisserie grills each big enough to hold a suckling pig or 24 chickens on which chefs will cook all manner of dishes, including whole ribs of beef, saddles of lamb, chickens, ducks and monkfish tails.
For set lunch and pre-theatre menus the rotisserie will also be used to cook quails, grouse and pigeons as well as beetroot, celeriac and even for a dessert of salted caramel basted pears.
“The good thing about a rotisserie is there’s no temperature gauge, it’s about how close the product is from the heat,” says Kerridge.
“It’s proper cooking that leads to lovely flavours. We’re not doing anything that will blind people with science, you can come for a pint of real ale, beef cooked on a rotisserie and a vanilla and honey crème brûlée. But I want people to say ‘if you want a crème brûlée, that’s the fucking place to go’.”
Corinthia's owners are likely to want the new restaurant to be know for more than its crème brûlée and there is a strong chance it will. Given Kerridge’s profile, the critics will most certainly pay it a visit. While he’s no stranger to this, he admits that it has been nice to be off the critics’ radars for the past few years. He describes the thought of having to go through the process again as “horrible but massively exciting”, but in typical Tom Kerridge manner seems largely unfazed by it.
“Of course there are a few nerves about opening in London but it’s an exciting adventure. You can’t just open and expect it to be right,” he says.
“The critics will come. Some will love it, some will hate it. Those who love it will give the team a morale boost, for the ones who hate it we will pick up on the reasons and learn from it. That’s one of the biggest things I learned from Jason Atherton (another close friend). When he first opened Pollen Street Social he got a bit of a rough ride from some of the critics, and he listened and made changes.
“Restaurant critics went through a period of being the most powerful people on the restaurant scene, then through a period of being battered because everyone was looking at food bloggers. But the really good critics are very knowledgeable and understand the business and what you’re trying to do and you have to take on board what they say.”
“We don’t have to agree with them,” interjects Beardshaw. “But we’ll take a step back and ask ‘is there something in that?’”
"Using your name seems a bit of an ego trip.
But the more we talked about it the more it just felt right"
It's Kerridge’s name that’s at stake this time round, although he says he wasn’t keen on using his moniker for the restaurant at first.
“I might do a selfie on a bridge but I’m not 100% comfortable with it, using your name seems a bit of an ego trip. But the more we talked about it the more it just felt right. It doesn’t even feel like my name if that makes sense? But of course we should use it, we’d be daft not to.”
He’s keen to stress, though, that the new restaurant isn’t the start of a branding exercise and he won’t be following the likes of Marco Pierre White and opening a raft of Kerridge’s Grills across the country. Whether his restaurant empire grows further at all will all be dependent on his staff, he insists.
“I’ve never had a desire to build a restaurant empire. I’m madly in love with The Hand & Flowers, every single brick of it. It’s the heart and soul of everything we do. But the reason for growth comes from people. With The Hand & Flowers we have taken many of our staff on a journey and you need to continue to give them room to grow.”
The idea of opening The Coach wasn’t because he wanted another place but because Beardshaw was senior sous chef at The Hand & Flowers and had hit a ceiling.
“He had invested so much time in us so to keep his talent and nurture it we had to let Nick grow. Tom [De Keyser] is now head chef at The Coach and he might want to work somewhere else and so we might do something else in two or three years’ time, but I have no appetite for restaurant growth.”
TOM KERRIDGE IS HAPPY. He is also a changed man from the last time he graced the cover of this magazine, back in November 2013 when The Hand & Flowers was crowned the Best Restaurant in the UK. Pictured then carrying significantly more weight and with a pint of beer, the man who sits in front of me today is barely recognisable as the Kerridge of five years ago.
On his 40th birthday the now 45 year-old chef decided to make a change, stopping drinking alcohol – which had hitherto been a large part of his life – and taking up swimming and going to the gym. Thanks to a dopamine diet, about which he wrote a best-selling book, he has managed to lose more than 11 stone over the past three years.
He and his wife Beth, a sculptor whose art will feature in the new restaurant in the form of two bronze pieces, now have a son, Acey, who is approaching his third birthday. How have these changes to his personal life impacted on his professional one?
“Becoming a parent and not drinking means I want to look after my staff more,” he says.
“I want them to have more time off and, when they are, to not be massive idiots [with drinking]. If they want to enjoy themselves that’s fine, but I’m much more conscious about people taking care of themselves. And me not having to drink six pints of coffee and take loads of Nurofen every morning helps.”
He recalls a time at The Hand & Flowers when his weight loss came into focus.
“There was a point where Nick used to be a bit chubbier and Jamie the senior sous chef was also bigger and when we moved around the pass all our bellies would touch – that’s when we all decided to lose weight. I remember one day when all three of us moved at the same time and nobody touched each other. It was an amazing moment in The Hand & Flowers’ history.”
Kerridge welcomes what he believes is a healthier lifestyle that many of his staff now follow, and has worked hard to make his staff meals more healthy, ensuring they get a balanced meal every morning and evening and not just the residue of last night’s ingredients.
“I bump into chefs on a day off in Marlow and they are on their way back from the gym. In my day we were on our way to the pub. The attitude is now different.
He is now also a patron of Hospitality Action, a charity close to his heart.
“Without me recognising the situation I was in, it could have massively affected me – alcohol was a huge part of my life. I got to grips with it without help, but other people can get sucked into a world they can’t control. I’m now much more conscious of everything that’s going on in my working environment. Ensuring you look after people is key.”
It’s also given him a new lease of life. Kerridge describes himself as a man who likes to say yes to things, no doubt aware that nothing lasts for ever. As he says: “I don’t want to get to 60 years old and think we had the chance to do that but didn’t bother.”