Hospitality is not just work for Tom Kerridge, it’s a vocation, and one that informs everything he does. The chef made his name at The Hand and Flowers in Marlow, the first-ever pub to gain two Michelin stars. The Coach and The Butcher’s Tap followed, plus TV presenting and a handful of best-selling books. Now he’s made his London debut as executive chef for a new restaurant here at Corinthia London. And for the near future, the restaurant will reopen after lockdown in a secret pop-up location, in an area of the hotel never usually accessible to guests.
It’s an exciting step-change — from 50 seats at The Hand and Flowers to 90 covers plus 50 in the bar at Corinthia Hotel London; from a small Chilterns town to the metropolitan heart of London: “It’s like getting on a rollercoaster. You don’t know where it’s going to go, you’re a bit nervous about it, but you know you’ll get off at the end and it’ll all be okay,” he laughs.
Kerridge is known for his big, bold flavours — and he promises to make eating at the hotel a relaxed, British brasserie-style dining experience. Refined, yes, but recognisable, nothing too fancy, faddy or fiddly: “There’s nothing fashionable about me,” he quips. “I like to make places feel like they’ve always been there. I don’t want to scare people off with technique or new flavour combinations. I’m not interested in pushing boundaries. I’m interested in finding great ingredients and treating them with love and respect and making sure they’re served simply so people can recognise it.”
It’s a theme he warms to: “I don’t want to make people say, ‘Ooo this is interesting.’ I want them to ask, ‘Why haven’t we eaten here before?’ We are a country steeped in history with amazing produce, and I want to play to the best of that.” Kerridge has made his name as a doyen of British food, but, unlike Italian or French food, it can seem undefined. He’s clear on what it means to him: “British cuisine is hugely eclectic. Britain has people from all sorts of backgrounds, which gives us a massive mix of flavours. I personally learned to cook with a classic French understanding of stocks and sauces and the use of dairy. Then I use British ingredients — British dairy, British beef, fantastic fish from Cornwall — in that style.”
The menu reflects British produce as it’s shaped by the seasons: “We’re really fortunate to have defined and different spring, summer, autumn and winter months which means we’ve got the opportunity to evolve our menus to suit your mood through the year. In the summertime we love salads and strawberries but in the winter we want to sit in front of a log fire and eat a beef stew. That’s great. It gives us the chance to keep things moving.”
This is part of Kerridge’s hospitality heart and soul, for you to feel like you want to come back.
“If you eat with us twice a month you’ll find something new to try; if you come two or three times a year and want to come back for the same thing, you can do that too.” This search for a partnership with the right heart and soul has meant he’s been biding his time for over four years: “At Corinthia London guests always come first and that’s something I’ve whole-heartedly embraced. I knew straight away it would be a happy marriage.” Surely putting guests first is obvious in hospitality… “Yeah, the clue’s in the name! You can distance yourself from it though and say, ‘I work in a restaurant’ or ‘I work in a hotel’. You can make it about the place rather than what the work is achieving. My mindset is different, it’s about making sure people have a nice time. That’s our role — not being a chef, or maître d’ or top barman…We’re very lucky you’re coming to eat with us. Of all the places you can eat in London you’re choosing us. That’s amazing. Thank you very much. I hope we live up to your expectations and deliver great food.”
In a city where there are hundreds of options and different cuisines, he’s unflustered: “I know what and how I like to cook. I hope that ticks the box for most people when they eat out. New, dynamic, fashionable restaurants are amazing but you might only eat in them once. I want to establish the kind of place where people come and eat once a week.” Because you, the guest, are Kerridge’s raison d’être. Not the alchemy of ingredients, plaudits from critics, or the need for status. It’s hospitality through and through.