Gary Lee on swapping The Ivy for Joe Allen

By Stefan Chomka contact

- Last updated on GMT

Images: Charlie McKay
Images: Charlie McKay

Related tags: Gary Lee, Restaurant, The Ivy, Joe Allen

The former executive chef at The Ivy has moved from one famous Covent Garden restaurant to another, joining Joe Allen as head chef

You were at The Ivy for a long time, why did you leave?
I felt that a change would do me good. I was at The Ivy for 17 years and that’s a long time, it was time to spread my wings and see where else I could move onto. I wanted to go to another restaurant and help it push itself forward.

But you’ve not gone far…
No! I used to nip round there on regular nights after work. It was a mad place, just crazy. I’ve always liked it, but I never thought I’d end up there. I love to nurture and try and bring on talent and help the next generation and Joe Allen is a small independent restaurant that is trying to push itself forward among all the big boys. Tim [Healy] and Laurence [Hartley, Joe Allen’s owners] are such fantastic people to work for, their vision is great. I’ve been offered various jobs and I looked at lots of other things, but I thought ‘do I want to go back into a large corporate company or go to somewhere where I can build something again?’

You must know Covent Garden well. What expertise will you bring to Joe Allen?
Joe Allen has got a great reputation, but not necessarily for its food, so there is a good opportunity to help with that. Over the years I learnt how things sell, what people want and what to bring to this end of Covent Garden. Joe Allen is very much like The Ivy of old, it reminds me of it in lots of ways - when the lights go out at night and there’s candles on all the tables that make it feel special – and we need to stick that and not lose track of what we represent.

joe-allen-food

What are your plans for the menu?
I’ll be leaning on the American/Italian nature of Joe Allen but doing something a bit different – but slowly to show people who come through the doors that they can have something other than what they might be used to. At The Ivy I introduced Asian style food and sharing plates and kept all the classic dishes down the middle and it worked so at Joe’s I’ll be doing the same thing. The hotdog will stay but we’ll break it down and look at the sausage, the bun and the garnish and I’ll introduce new lighter dishes as well as big sharing platters and those with an Asian influence. I’ll be making lots of changes on a regular basis to try and create a menu that people will want to chose from again and again.

Are there any dishes you’re most proud of?
I don’t want to say too much as I’m still working on so many different things. The shepherd’s pie at The Ivy is renowned and I’m going to put a little thing on the menu called a shepherd’s tart. It’s a tiny message that I’m bringing it over to Joe’s. I feel very relaxed. My hands were tied up to a certain point at The Ivy, there was understandably only certain things I could do there, but here it’s a free rein. It’s not about being too clever.

Joe-allen-interior

You’re working alongside Russell Norman, who’s overseeing the bar menu. How will that work?
I’ve known Russell for years. He is very funny and inspirational and incredibly knowledgeable and what I feed of him is the input you get from customers. We will work that bar – it’s only a small space but things will evolve. He’s got loads of ideas.

The restaurant has been closed since the start of the pandemic. What are you most looking forward to when it reopens?
Happy faces. People who want to go out and eat and sit and enjoy themselves. What I like about Joes is you don’t have to be dressed to the nines, you can sit down and enjoy the ambience with the piano tinkling in the corner and old school waiters - it’s nice to have that kind of restaurant. The amount of people we’ve met who are so happy we’re back is incredible. We need to keep our identity and that’s what we want to do there.

 

 

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