Five minutes with… Jay Patel

The co-founder of Italian restaurant Legare in Bermondsey discusses his love of Puglia, spaghetti vongole and inviting Michael Jordan to dinner

Food and Drink 13 Nov 2020

Jay Patel of Legare

Jay Patel of Legare

 Can you introduce us to Legare and your vision for the restaurant?

Legare was born out of this idea of bringing simple, beautiful Italian food to a good local neighbourhood restaurant. We felt that there were great restaurants in our area serving amazing pasta, but there weren’t many local London restaurants offering a full Italian experience. Obviously people know about Trullo and there were a few other great restaurants in Chelsea and Kensington, but none near us in Bermondsey. I went to New York and Toronto a couple of years ago and realised that great local Italian restaurants are really prevalent in those cities. Restaurants with great pasta, a beautiful crudo selection, great antipasti, a few simple desserts and a really nice, simple wine list focused on the wines they love drinking. I wanted to bring that to London because I didn’t feel that we had anything like that.

Legare focuses on incredible pasta and honest Italian food and wine
Legare focuses on incredible pasta and honest Italian food and wine

You recently went to Puglia; do you often visit Italy to research?

It’s more that when I go on holiday we make an effort to go to really local places. We’re always trying to find small local places where they’re serving almost hyper seasonal food. A lot of these places don’t even have menus. These are the places that inspire Matt (Beardmore, Legare co-founder) and I. I’ve always been really inspired by the food of Southern Italy more than the north. It’s not to say that I don’t like the food in the north, I just prefer seafood and the lighter vegetable dishes. And also, the south of Italy is the environment I like to eat in: sunshine, outdoors, feet in the sand. Puglia was the best food I’ve had in Italy. The food is very reasonable, it’s super fresh, the wine is amazing, the beaches are beautiful, the people are lovely. It’s a very honest place.

Do you have a favourite pasta dish that you like to cook at home?

Spaghetti vongole, I don’t think I’d ever get bored of that dish. I love clams in any iteration, but with pasta thrown in there, it’s just so good. I make mine with dry pasta, it works much better than fresh with vongole.

Who is your role model and how have they influenced you?

Role model-wise, my late mother because she was extremely hard working and instilled that in me from a young age. And then my father-in-law as a businessman, he is the best businessman I know. Both my mother and my father-in-law are very tough-love characters, they’re not lovey-dovey people and I think you need that toughness. From a work perspective, working with the Hart brothers at Barrafina taught me how to do things properly. They were just so organised, classy, no stone unturned; everything is just so on point at their restaurants. In terms of a global influence and somebody I aspire to be like, it would be Nancy Silverton. What she’s been doing for the past 30 odd years in Los Angeles with her food and her passion for Italian cuisine are really inspirational to me. I went to her pop-up at Passo in London in 2018 and met her, just to say ‘hi’. I don’t know her but to be that driven at that age, and spend 30 years as a woman in male-dominated kitchens, she is incredible.

Legare is a celebration of Italian food and drink

What ingredient can you not live without, and why?

Maybe this sounds weird but I would say salt. I feel it is really under-utilised. When you go to Spain they cover things in loads of salt and it adds so much more to a dish. I think in the UK people are afraid to use salt sometimes. I love garlic too – garlic and good olive oil can make most things pretty tasty.

Where are your favourite places to eat in London?

Brawn on Columbia Road – I just love everything they do. 40 Maltby Street too, they are very similar restaurants in a way. In terms of casual restaurants, Tas Firin in Bethnal Green – I really love Turkish food and I love places like that because they get it so right every single time. It’s good, honest food.

What do you like to do on a day off?

I like to train and go to the gym. Also, I love to go to the market and cook something nice for dinner because it’s the only time my wife and I have an evening together. But that’s it really, on my day off I like to take an actual day off because right now work can be very all-consuming on all areas of my life.

Apart from food, what are your biggest passions?

Health and fitness, football, mixed martial arts, interior design. I have a background in graphic design so I still always flip through online journals to look at interesting design.

If you could invite anyone to a dinner party from history or the present day, who would it be?

I have this weird obsession with extreme winners in sports and the mentality the highest of the high need. So it would be someone like Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Michael Phelps, or any top sportsperson. I would ask them about their motivation and drivers, because I feel like once you reach the top, it’s so easy to get bored and settled in your ways. Also it’s just nice to not be about food sometimes – we talk about it so much it’s good to talk about something else!

Legare is currently closed, following government guidelines. Check the restaurant’s website for news of its reopening in December and for takeaway and “Legare at Home” boxes to enjoy in the mean time.