Words: Stefan Chomka
There’s something in the air in London’s culinary scene. All over the capital, creative, ambitious and bright young things are cooking up a storm in every area of eating out, from fine French cuisine in grand dining rooms to authentic Thai and tacos in makeshift restaurants. One chef at the forefront is Ben Chapman. Co-founder of Thai barbecue restaurant Smoking Goat in Soho, Chapman got tongues wagging when he opened his second restaurant, Kiln last year. Here, the self-taught chef cooks fiery Thai dishes, such as smoked sausage with turmeric and sour yellow curry of red mullet, unlike anyone else, using a wood-burning kiln and clay pots and woks red by charcoal. What’s more, Chapman is eyeing up another project, so watch this space.
Two other chefs that aren’t sitting still this year are Nud Dudhia and Chris Whitney, the duo behind the brilliant Breddos Tacos. Having spent four years bossing London’s street-food scene, they made the move to bricks and mortar late last year in Clerkenwell. Breddos stands out thanks to the fusion of authenticity with current food trends. The pair are looking to open a second Breddos in Soho this year. Kricket is yet another restaurant eschewing tradition, this time giving Indian food a modern slant.The first Kricket was in a tiny shipping container in Brixton, but founders Rik Campbell and Will Bowlby have just opened a second, larger Soho restaurant. Before launching Kricket, head chef Bowlby spent time in Mumbai, but his cuisine is more of a modern riff on the food he cooked there than a facsimile. Ravinder Bhogal’s recently opened Jikoni in Marylebone is another new-wave Asian restaurant. Bhogal – who had the dubious claim of being called Britain’s next Fanny Cradock by Gordon Ramsay – was born into a Sikh family in Kenya, but grew up in Britain. Her cooking is inspired by her heritage and by London, which is why you’ll find unusual delights such as prawn toast scotch egg on the menu.
London’s current food scene isn’t just about next-generation Asian and Indian cuisine, however. British food has rediscovered its voice in recent years, thanks to the likes of chefs James Lowe, Isaac McHale, Robin Gill and Ollie Dabbous, and now a fresh legion of chefs is continuing their cause. Most notable among them are Merlin Labron-Johnson and Mark Jarvis. Having worked in Michelin-starred restaurants in Switzerland, France and Belgium, Labron-Johnson returned to London a few years ago and made an instant impact. He was just 24 when Portland opened and won a Michelin star. His second, more casual restaurant, Clipstone is tipped to achieve the same accolade. Jarvis’s skill at Anglo hasn’t gone unnoticed. He was named Best Newcomer by Observer Food Monthly last year and his unassuming restaurant in Farringdon has wowed critics, including the Evening Standard’s Grace Dent and the late AA Gill, for its unfussy yet nessed food. Its ve-course tasting menu for £39 is one of the best-value lunches in London.
Another up-and-coming star is Chris Leach. Named Next Top Chef of London at last year’s London Restaurant Festival, Leach has just taken the reins at wine bar and restaurant Sager + Wilde in Bethnal Green. With experience at Kitty Fisher’s and Pitt Cue, Leach cooks British food with a European twist. Ben Murphy is also a chef of the moment. Having been named Chef to Watch by The Good Food Guide in 2017, Murphy was snapped up by D&D Restaurants to become head chef of its agship Launceston Place in Kensington. Murphy has worked at three Michelin-starred restaurants – Les Prés d’Eugénie and Epicure Restaurant in France and two-starred The Greenhouse in Mayfair – so big things are expected of him. And then there’s Chris Denney, head chef at recently opened 108 Garage in Notting Hill. Denney, who has experience in top restaurants, including three-Michelin- starred starred Piazza Duomo in Alba, ended up cooking on the site of a former garage after responding to a Gumtree ad for a chef’s job. His arrival has put the spotlight firmly on W10, with 108 Garage already one of the most talked-about openings of this year.
The success of such talents has no doubt encouraged others to take the plunge and open their own places. Tom Simmons is one who is about to open his eponymous restaurant in the new One Tower Bridge development. The Welsh chef was the youngest competitor to reach the quarter- finals in MasterChef: The Professionals in 2011 and is hoping to bring a flavour of Wales to London. Expect dishes such as roast cod loin with haddock scotch egg and hollandaise. Ruth Hansom is also likely to have her own restaurant in the future. At just 21, she is not only the Craft Guild of Chefs’ currentYoung National Chef of theYear, but also the first woman to hold the title. Hansom can be found at The Ritz where, under top chef John Williams, she is honing her skills in all aspects of classic French cuisine. Now, there’s a burgeoning talent to keep your eye on.