How I Got Here: Mike Davies

pub & bar

By James McAllister

- Last updated on GMT

How I Got Here: Mike Davies London-based chef director behind The Camberwell Arms and Mike's Peckham

Related tags: Mike Davies, The Camberwell Arms, Pub & bar

The London-based chef director behind The Camberwell Arms and Mike's Peckham on the importance of compromise, championing 'real hospitality', and the meditative qualities of deadlifting.

Why restaurants? 
I was lucky to grow up with a mum cooking delicious food almost every day. The gesture of making food for someone to enjoy has always resonated with me, perhaps because of that. A good restaurant is somewhere people go to be taken care of. I suppose at the most basic level I wanted to open restaurants to make people happy, with the food that I love to eat.  

Tell us something you wish you had been told at the start of your career?
There’s no rush. As much as I’m proud of how hard I’ve worked to open, and keep open my businesses, I do feel at times that I was pretty young, maybe too young when it was happening. On the one hand the resilience of youth, and bloody mindedness certainly helped me at times, but on the other hand I’ve not always worked in the most sustainable way, and I think patience and time to reflect would have helped, but weren’t things which I valued enough to practice.

What’s your favourite restaurant or group of restaurants (besides your own)?
I love 40 Maltby street. I think Stephen’s (Williams) menu is always one of the best in London. Simple dishes, but underpinned by proper refinement and skill, I’ve always been a cheerleader for him and for them.

What motivates you?
In a very visceral way I love ingredients, cooking and eating. But honestly I’m motivated by the idea that people can come to our restaurants and be happy. If you strip away all window dressing, of which there can be a lot in our industry, proper hospitality is such a beautiful thing and I work to bring that to what we do more than for any other reason.

What keeps you up at night?
Not too much these days, but staffing and the general hole in our industry’s ranks left by Covid is certainly a thorn in my side.

Which colleague, mentor or employer has had the biggest influence on your approach to the restaurant business?
Honestly my partners Frank Boxer and James Dye, and our recent addition to directorship and long standing employee Victoria Chiriga, have all played substantial roles in shaping how I work. I’m a creative person, the kitchen was a space for me to express that creativity, but when I moved into a less kitchen focussed role It was the support and guidance of my partners that helped me to properly progress.

Coffee or tea?
Neither, I don’t drink hot drinks. But having said that, I’m an unashamed hot chocolate fan.

How do you let off steam?
I’ve gotten quite into deadlifting, its meditative for me, and I find it to be a great release if I’ve got a lot of things going round in my head.

What’s your signature dish to cook at home?
Pasta with fresh tomato sauce, capers and basil. Easily my most cooked meal at home, so simple, and so satisfying. 

What’s the most spontaneous thing you’ve ever done?
I want to answer this just to say that I resent the idea of the brilliance of spontaneity. Good things happen after thought, and possibly even planning. Bah humbug.

Favourite holiday destination?
I love Greece. Very beautiful place to enjoy very cold small cans of lager on the beach, ideally alongside a Greek salad and some oily holiday chips. Simple pleasures.

What boxset are you currently watching?
Succession​. Faultless.

Best business decision? 
Buying out my original partners in The Camberwell Arms with Frank and James, it took a while to happen, and then even longer for things to stabilise after the changeover, but It had to happen, and the pub wouldn’t be the business it is today if we hadn’t taken full control of it.

Worst business decision?
This is a difficult one because I think there a positives and negatives to be taken from almost all decisions even if they appear bad at the time, but I think I could have done with waiting a few more years before opening The Camberwell Arms. It’s a very successful business these days and who’s to say if that would have happened if I’d waited, or even if it would have happened at all, but 25 was young to take on the responsibility of a new opening in London as an owner head chef. As positive as the outcome as turned out, I wish I’d started with a few more years of experience under my belt, and frankly that I’d known what I was getting myself in for!

What piece of advice would you give to those looking to climb the rungs in the business? 
Compromise can be a good thing. My cooking evolved during my years in kitchens, but I was certainly very hard headed for a long time about what I thought was right or good. The truth is that striking a balance between what you believe in and find exciting and what people actually want is where the path to real success lies, if you can let go of your ego, and learn to compromise that is often the first step towards a successful progression.

If you could change one thing about the restaurant industry today, what would it be?
I feel as if our industry often forgets its name. Real hospitality, taking care of people, showing them generosity and being welcoming is the reason for the existence of restaurants, I wish that that was celebrated more than the cult of the chef.

Bio

Born in London, Davies spent one year at Manchester University studying biology before leaving to get his first job in a kitchen. He had no formal chef training, and learned on the job. He went on to work at The Anchor and Hope in Waterloo before launching his own business, Frank's Cafe, in Peckham in 2008. Alongside Frank's, Davies continued to work at The Anchor and Hope and later moved to The Canton Arms, before opening The Camberwell Arms in 2014. Last year, right as lockdown was lifted, he also opened Mike’s Peckham pizzeria.

Related topics: People, Pub & Bar, Profiles

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