That vision celebrates the very best of Irish and British cuisine, crafting dishes that blend tradition with contemporary techniques.
Here, he talks to Hospitality Ireland about creating identities – for himself and the much-loved restaurant.
This article was originally published in the Autumn 2023 issue of Hospitality Ireland Magazine, in October of 2023.
Tell us about this new chapter at the Cliff House.
The new chapter at [the] Cliff House Hotel has mainly been about curating dishes that showcase the produce creatively and deliver it in a way that gives the customer something that they might not have very often. It also incorporates various flavours I have experienced during my travels.
Tell us about your background – where you grew up, studied, etc.
I grew up just outside London and have been lucky to work in different Michelin-starred restaurants in Paris, London and Copenhagen.
I have also worked as a private chef, which enabled me to travel the world.
What first drew you to hospitality? When did you first realise that you wanted to do this professionally?
I was first drawn to hospitality because I was lucky enough to go and eat at different restaurants as a kid – it really helped plant and nurture an interest in the culinary world.
My professional journey started when I pursued an apprenticeship at 16, and I have never looked back.
What was your first big role? What was that like?
I would class all the roles that I’ve worked in as big roles, as they have all been massive in the growth of my career, however, Tony Parkin at the Tudor Room – at Great Fosters Hotel in Egham – was the first restaurant where I had my name above the door.
I was also successful in achieving a Michelin star in just five months, so that felt extremely special.
That role was incredibly challenging, as Covid hit whilst I was there, however, I achieved some great accolades and the restaurant was fully booked months in advance.
I also felt that’s where my own identity on a plate really began.
Why did you join the Cliff House?
I joined the Cliff House because I felt that I had achieved everything I could at my last venue.
I needed a bigger platform and wanted to enhance a restaurant that already enjoyed a good reputation and take it to the next level.
How have you found that?
It’s been tough. At no point did I think at 38, I would up and move my family to another country and start all over again.
However, my cooking has improved, and my lifestyle is a lot better than it was before. I feel less stressed – sometimes.
What developments can we expect to see at the Cliff House? Tell us about the ethos, food, service, etc.
The gastronomic offerings are less about foraging and the Nordic style of cooking.
I’ve put a lot of work into the sourcing of products and try and play around with it as little as possible.
The idea is to get the best out of the product and let the ingredients speak for themselves.
The service is relaxed and knowledgeable, however, it’s all about cooking some great food, with a great view, and to enjoy yourselves – as that’s what going out for dinner is all about.
What makes a great restaurant?
I think a great restaurant is all about feeling relaxed and not over-thinking everything.
I like to cook what I like to eat and serve it to the customer in a recognisable way.
My food is not always to everyone’s taste, but the way I look at it is: if every chef cooked the same, all restaurants would be very boring.
What are the changing trends in hospitality – people’s expectations, new elements, etc.? What are the main opportunities?
I think there’s the trend that local is better – which it is, in some cases – but there are other means out there that sometimes just elevate it to another level.
I would never pigeonhole my food to one area, as I have travelled so much – I bring some of those elements into my food.
Look at Ahmet Dede, for instance. He’s just one example of a chef using local ingredients whilst infusing his food with his Turkish heritage. That’s pretty much what we do – use local products for the menu and elevate them with global techniques.
What are the major challenges at the moment?
I think the major challenges are what all restaurants and hotels face, which is the constant, growing costs of everything – but this is all doom and gloom, so I’m going to move on.
What do you do when you’re not working?
When I’m not working, I pretty much chill out with my wife, take the dog for a walk on a Sunday, and go and eat out whenever I can.
I haven’t had a great time off this year, due to being so busy getting the restaurant up to speed, so I’m looking forward to some downtime.
Any other plans on the horizon for the next year or so?
There are a few bits and pieces I’m planning on changing with the menu, and maybe the format, however, I think it’s more about focusing on refining everything and just moving the restaurant forward.