Chris Denney: “Fiend is less schizophrenic and frenetic. It’s a more grown-up restaurant”

By Stefan Chomka contact

- Last updated on GMT

Chris Denney: “Fiend is less schizophrenic and frenetic. It’s a more grown-up restaurant”

Related tags: Chris Denney, Fiend, Restaurant, Fine dining

The creative chef-patron of 108 Garage in Notting Hill has made a triumphant return to the area with his new restaurant Fiend.

Tell us about Fiend
It’s a bit of a beast for me. I’m used to around 40 covers but we’re up to 70 here. My investors wanted to do a bigger project, so it’s double the size of my previous restaurant. But the infrastructure is more slick - we’ve got an accounts and HR team which is all new to me. It’s more grown up. It’s got a bit of neo bistro vibe, it’s laid back and it isn’t too formal.

How did it come about?
My business partner was involved in the beginning of 108 Garage, but he pulled out for various reasons. We’d always kept in contact and we said one day we’d open a restaurant together. People thought we were mad to as we didn’t have all the money ourselves, so we needed to procure investment, it was a weird time. When we found the site, we went to Ibiza when the flights had restarted and thrashed out a business plan and then came home and started approaching people.

And you’re back in Notting Hill...
I didn’t want to be this side of London at first because I’d done the last project here. We walked north, east, south and west around London looking for a place and then we found the Santo site on Portobello Road, which was spitting distance from 108. At first and I was reluctant as it was too close to the ex. We do get a lot of people who used to eat at the previous place – that’s where the familiarity comes in.

How different is Fiend to 108 Garage?
We had a great three years of trade at 108 but it had run its course. I learned a lot of things and made a lot of mistakes and I’ve since made a lot of re-evaluations. It’s less schizophrenic and frenetic now. I was constantly cooking on the fly at 108 and I enjoyed that, but it was due to space ramifications. Because of the small size of the kitchen, we couldn’t bulk hold or bulk prep anything. We were getting a morning and afternoon delivery so everything that came in was for that lunch or dinner - there was nothing you could vac or keep upstairs in a walk-in fridge. Here I’ve kept that constant play and things are always in flux but I’m now able to look towards the future and speak to suppliers and get ahead. There’s a lot more clarity and I do believe that is passed onto to the dishes and to the customer.

How would you describe your approach?
My way of cooking is very personal to me, we’re constantly playing without being over fussy. I do like to bring in my luddite palate – I like sweet and sticky food – but I’m also very worldly. I have lived in Bangkok and Delhi and have travelled a lot and I always take things from my experiences but at the end of the day Fiend is a staunch European restaurant.

Tell us about the menu
There’s three of four small dishes then nine or 10 larger ones on the a la carte, ranging from £12 to £22 (dishes include leek, hollandaise, hazelnut, mushroom, summer savory; veal sweetbread, bulgogi, fermented cabbage, spring onion; Vesuvius tomato, peach, aubergine, stracciatella; and kurobuta belly, white peach, eel glaze, rock samphire). We have gone a bit more plant based. I’ve always loved cooking vegetables and having time to play with them. We exhaust every vegetable when it comes in season – there has been a huge amount of play that has gone into our leek dish and we’ve finally got to a point where we’re happy with it. I’ll never go fully plant based, I enjoy cooking meat, but vegetables are not second fiddle to our protein anymore. We’ve had a lot of customers come up to the pass and say: ‘just keep doing what you’re doing - don’t be too quick to change something when it doesn’t need to be changed’ and I listen to them. You could come on three consecutive nights to 108 and have three very different experiences, people would come back for a specific dish, but we’d had reworked it. Fiend is definitely now more of a solid approach.


Fiend has been open a few months, how is it going?
Lunchtimes can be quite hard at times; we’ve opened for Sunday lunch because the demand is there, but we are not open on Monday or Tuesday. We are hoping to open our downstairs bar in time for Halloween - we couldn’t wait any longer to open the restaurant and get going. We’ve managed to retain from opening all our staff. They are working mega hours. It would be good to do the four days on and three off model and not overwork everyone but they know at the moment they have to do everything they can possibly do to get this baby restaurant off the ground, and they’ve done it.

How did you spend your time during lockdown?
I was working on a building site with my brother. Labouring in Northampton during that cold snap winter was a baptism of fire. It made me realise how much I actually missed what I do. But I enjoyed being outside, I am now a lot fitter than I used to be. At Fiend I’ve found a lot more zen but I’m still a stove monkey. I’m on the stove every lunch and every dinner and that’s where I’m at my happiest.

301 Portobello Rd, London, W10 5TD





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