Your new restaurant, Oxeye, launches this month at Embassy Gardens in Nine Elms. What can we expect?
Oxeye has been coming for a long time; I’ve been working on it in my head. My dream is to bring together the connection of ingredients in how they grow, how they are reared, how they are created and the chefs that put all of that on the plate. There’s that huge disconnect between the people who cook the food and the people who produce it. I want to get rid of that.
I’m celebrating amazing ingredients, some of which are quite rare, and others that are best only if they are picked immediately. That’s why we work closely with amazing farmers and with a farm in Derbyshire where we grow our own ingredients and have our own herd of cattle and sheep and pigs. In this way we can try to control things a lot more and hopefully bring something new and exciting. It has been four or five years in the making: working with farmers and learning everything that we could about food production in the UK in a short time and bringing it into a restaurant. I think it is quite different, quite exciting and really delicious, which is the most important thing.
Will Oxeye have any signature dishes?
The way I cook, and the way the Oxeye kitchen works, is based on classical French techniques with a modern twist. One of our signature dishes is a Cornish turbot braised in oxidised English wine and finished with a ‘sauce Tillington’: a classic Champagne sauce but instead of Champagne we’re finishing it with an amazing single vineyard sparkling wine from Nyetimber called Tillington. We cook the turbot whole and carve it to order. It’s served with a very simple garnish of mushrooms and sea kale, a little bit of caviar and then we finish it in the room with fresh English sparkling wine. I think that sums up the cooking because it’s quite simple, but every element has to be quite technical and perfect. It’s all about the sourcing of ingredients, whether it’s the wine or the fish itself that makes the finished dish, hopefully perfect but definitely delicious.
You’re working with your partner Kae Shibata at Oxeye, is that right?
Yes, Kae and I own a chocolate company together, Cartografie, that we launched during lockdown. It’s an ethical chocolate company where we source cocoa and chocolate directly from either farmers or farming cooperatives in cocoa-origin countries. We work closely with them to try and make a positive change in an industry that is destroying the ecosystem and the lives of the people who actually grow the cocoa. Kae is also working closely with me as the pastry chef and chocolatier at Oxeye. Not only will there always be a chocolate course on the menu, but it will also be served in our dedicated Chocolate Room.
Are you excited to be part of Nine Elms and Embassy Gardens?
I am. Something that came about for me and I’m sure for loads of people in lockdown, was the importance of community. During lockdown London turned into a bit of a doughnut; nobody was going into Mayfair and Soho, because people found something beautiful near where they lived. I feel that lockdown has changed people and has made neighbourhood really important. It has also made the hospitality world concentrate on friendliness a lot more. I’ve been truly welcomed into the neighbourhood of Embassy Gardens; I couldn’t have expected a more positive welcome. It’s a huge development of around 200,000 apartments, one of the biggest in Europe, so it’s a massive catchment of customers and potential guests. Being part of a neighbourhood as well as being a destination restaurant is part of our plan. The reason for having Bar Rex [adjacent to Oxeye], the place to drink English wine and have some snacks, is because we want to see people from the neighbourhood every day that we recognise, that we know, become friends.
What have you learned in the past year and a half?
It’s allowed me to really narrow down the things that are important. Kae and I have a little boy now as well, and that has certainly changed a lot of things. It is incredibly important to me to do Oxeye right: to work with the right people and not rush anything, to do it in the right way.
What ingredient can you not live without?
There are so many delicious things, but it has to be salt, though I know lots of people would choose that. Salt, it’s an incredible thing. It turns bad home cooking into something quite delicious. It’s very noticeable when someone can season properly. We use amazing Blackthorn salt from the east coast of Scotland that is sustainable, ethical, zero carbon, zero electricity. They turn sea water into salt through the power of wind and gravity. Salt is definitely something I couldn’t cook without.
What are your passions outside of food and drink?
More food and drink! I spend all my money going out eating and going to restaurants. Since having our son, Rex, our lives have changed quite a lot, and family is hugely important now: being able to spend time together, even if it’s just going to the sandpit, or the playground, or going for a walk along the river, or taking him to the seaside. It’s amazing to watch a life develop and the creativity and learning that takes place.
Do you have a favourite London restaurant?
I just love A. Wong; I went back recently for the tenth time. Our first meal after lockdown was at The Clove Club. And we stayed at Chiltern Firehouse the very first day that you could stay in a hotel after a year or so of closing, and it was like their team never left. The service blew us away – it was unbelievable, world class. So, I’d pick those three because they’ve all given us an amazing time post-lockdown.
If you could cook for anyone from history or the present day, who would it be?
I would love to cook for a gentleman called Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, who was a French politician and gastronome. He cooked a little bit in France and was also an author; he wrote Physiologie du Goût, or The Physiology of Taste. He was ostracised from France and that book is about his travels, war, and his political career but it’s all based around food. He was probably one of the first real gourmands who managed to put down on paper what eating in France was like. It’s a real snapshot of 18th-century France and the crazy meals he used to have. I’d love to cook traditional 18th-century French food for him. I can just imagine sitting there with a few other guests for a Louis XVI-style feast.
What’s next for you?
We really want to focus on everything we’ve got now. The main thing is really to build Cartografie and Oxeye into what I know they can be and bring a bit of structure and routine into our family’s life, which we haven’t had for a long time because of Covid and lockdown.
Oxeye will open this month, 14 New Union Square, Embassy Gardens, SW11 7AX; oxeyerestaurant.co.uk