Your philosophy for staying motivated and on top of the culinary game? I try to find as much balance as I can, and it’s important to me to keep the people around me motivated: then we feed off each other.
How do you manage the pressure that comes with being ranked the 22nd best chef in the world? To be honest, I try not think about (the pressure). I immerse myself in the day-to-day stuff, such as dropping my son at school, and going to work. I visualise what I can do that day that’s going to make a difference — whether it be to my menu, a dish I’m working on, or to one of the staff.
What prompted the drastic renovation to the successful The Test Kitchen restaurant? I felt as if we had reached a junction. Remember, we started as a very small restaurant serving 20 odd guests, and we grew to serving 50 or 60 guests for both lunch and dinner, every day. If I’m honest, it was getting exhausting and was soon going to start to take away from the creative buzz and attention to detail that keeps us motivated. In the same way as when I left La Colombe, I needed a new space and a new environment to be inspired by the unknown to take my food to the next level.
Who did the new decor? It was a coming together of many minds. I worked with Maurice Paliaga on the plans and layout aspects; my wife, Sandalene Dale-Roberts, did all the soft furnishings.
Why the two dining spaces, light & dark? I just really thought it’d be fun to come in for dinner and have two dining experiences under one roof. I wanted to create a soft landing: a dark, moody sort of mysterious space where people are huddled over the table, eating with their hands, and there’s this energy of cocktails being shaken; then move over to the next section, and suddenly there’s something very elegant — white table clothes and crystal glasses. Like I’ve said before, I’m selling fun and I’m selling entertainment and enjoyment, and for me to see the people’s faces after the first 45 minutes when they move from the dark room, which is very quirky, into the light room — they are just blown away.
The idea behind opening only at night? This way we have more time to prep, and spend more time being creative during the day, so we can deliver a spectacular dinner service. The extra time is actually necessary for my kitchen in terms of pushing the creativity.
Most exciting dish on your new menu? There’s a really cool sweetbread dish, based around pine needles. We make a pine nut and pine needle milk; we smoke the sweetbreads over pine needles; we wrap them in pine needle cured ham, over a stuffing out of ox heart — it’s quite a primal dish.
SS: The Pot Luck Club is still a fan favourite — any changes ahead? No, I love the space and the energy at the moment, and will keep that as it is. We have changed the menu quite a bit: we’ve gone back to where it all began with a more simplified menu centred on sharing — just like it was in the beginning. The Sunday brunches are also still very popular, so we won’t take that away just yet.