How did the opportunity come about?
I had known for a while that Thomas (Kochs, managing director at The Corinthia) was looking to take the hotel’s F+B operations in a new direction. We had a conversation about his ideas, and from there an opportunity arose.
Were you on the lookout for something new?
In some respects. After I joined Cliveden, I assumed I’d never want to return to London for work. And I had become so proud of everything I had achieved there; the restaurant was magnificent, and the menu complemented it perfectly. But recently I had faced a couple of difficult patches in my personal life, and the opportunity to come back to London felt like a real chance at a fresh start. The Corinthia is a beautiful property, with lots of potential. I couldn’t really afford to turn it down.
Did you not think of opening your own restaurant independently?
When I went to Cliveden I did. And as I was preparing to leave I thought about it too… but I don’t think I will now.
My mum would probably tell you that I’m not a risk taker. And I think if I was ever going to do it then I think it would have happened already.
How does The Corinthia compare to Cliveden?
It’s a bigger operation, certainly. Here I’m not just overseeing a restaurant; I’m overseeing all the food that’s served in the bar and lounges, the breakfast service, afternoon tea and events, as well as a restaurant (The Northall). I love the dynamics of the operation, and there’s a real buzz to cooking here. Cliveden was more of a destination restaurant; busy at the weekends but quieter during the week. The Corinthia is a five-star hotel in the heart of London. We have guests who dine here, but we also have plenty of non-residential trade so it’s much busier.
Has London’s restaurant scene changed since you left?
Yes, drastically. Back in the day I would always see restaurants with full dining rooms and queues out the door, but there’s less of that now. The market has grown, and attitudes have changed; now it’s the customer that’s firmly in control and that includes dictating what appears on the menu. For me it’s all about finding a balance. Like a lot of chefs, I have grown to have a very commercial head on me. The Northall is part of the hotel, but I don't want it to be perceived as a hotel restaurant; it’s a restaurant within a hotel. So whether you’re after something simple like a Caesar salad or you want to enjoy the luxury of a top-class tasting menu, I’ve got to make sure I’ve adapted my food style to cater for both; so starters can range from English asparagus and Dorset crab, to Oscietra and Beluga caviar.
And have you been given the freedom to do that?
Yes. There’s a remit, obviously, but in general the menu is not something that has been heavily managed from above. Beyond directing operations and having my name above the door, what was really important to me coming here was ensuring I had my own signature on the food and you can see that across the menu; particularly in the Dover sole, which you can have simply grilled or served in a meunière-style. I wanted the menu to demonstrate an elegant range of dishes and flavours, and they’re letting me do that.
Hotel restaurants used to be considered quite stuffy environments, do you think this is still the case?
I don’t, and that’s why we’re seeing more chefs like myself and Tom (Kerridge, who runs The Corinthia’s other restaurant: Kerridge's Bar & Grill) taking up residence in hotels. These restaurants are no longer just extensions of the hotels they’re housed within, they have their own distinctive features. They’re comfy and accessible in way they never were before.
Tom Kerridge’s arrival at the hotel was a bit more high-profile than yours…
There was more of a story when Tom arrived: Kerridge's was a very different concept to what was there before, and it was his first restaurant in the capital. He was the big change, whereas with The Northall that big change is still ongoing. I’ve arrived and have redeveloped the menu, but this is only one of many changes we’re making to the restaurant.
Do you feel that you’re playing second fiddle to him?
We’re building up to something big. The dining room is going to be refurbished, and the name is going to change. The Corinthia has two amazing spaces, and while this won’t be a standalone restaurant in the same way that Tom’s is, it will have its own personality and its own entrance. The menu already has my stamp on it, and in time I hope to see the dishes transition and develop so that they can be ordered by customers dining in the bars and attending the banqueting events too. Our ultimate aim is to grow this business together.
How do you view your future at The Corinthia?
My hope is that I’ll be able to say I run one of the best hotel restaurants in London. I'm 47 now, and I don't want to feel like I’m messing around. I want to be happy, and proud of what I've achieved. And I want it to be busy: I want people to come and eat here because they want to, not just because it’s part of the hotel. I want to look out from the pass and see a full dining hall; and if I can do that, I’ve succeeded.