Last month Tom Brown invited 45 chefs to Cornerstone in London’s Hackey Wick for an event in association with Udale Speciality Foods.
Tom Brown’s first solo venture only opened in April, but such is the chef’s stock that he’s already much more than just one to watch.
Brown trained under Nathan Outlaw, first at Outlaw’s at the St Enodoc hotel in Rock, Cornwall, before taking on the head chef role at Outlaw’s at the Capital in 2016. The chef made his mark by retaining the restaurant’s Michelin star and he is currently putting in an impressive performance on Great British Menu, having won the South West heats, after a solid showing last year.
So it was no surprise that no sooner had The Caterer made mention of the latest Chef Eats Out at Cornerstone, than it had sold out.
Some 45 fortunate chefs made the journey to London’s Hackney Wick last month, an area best described as undergoing regeneration, save for pockets of renewal such as Brown’s Cornerstone. Welcoming the chefs while they enjoyed the Cornerstone Rare Cornish Gin, created by Wrecking Coast Distillery for the restaurant, with accompanying tonic, Brown explained that the business was created as a result of the backing of his family and financed on a minimal budget before describing the dishes that they were to enjoy.
The welcoming family feel extends from the large open kitchen, where Brown and his brigade of four send out dishes that impressed all present with their simple elegance and respect for ingredients.
“When people are from the industry you want to impress, but that said, most of our guests are so discerning that there’s not much more pressure than a regular service,” Brown said. “It’s great to cook for your peers as everyone understands what you’re going through, but the guys here are so talented they make my life easy.”
Brown kicked off with pickled oysters with horseradish, celery and dill, providing a refreshing start to proceedings. “They were amazing – and they’re always a bit of a risky one as you have to be confident,” said Millers of Mansfield head chef Nick Galer.
The oysters were followed by cured red gurnard with almonds, grapes and sherry vinegar. This was a perfectly executed take on a white gazpacho with fantastic balance: the sweet grapes, acidic vinegar and salty, nutty almonds all worked together, while the addition of yogurt provided richness without heaviness. It was light yet punchy on flavour.
“The inspiration for the gurnard comes from a white gazpacho,” Brown confirmed. “The fish is cured in almond milk, salt and sugar for six hours. It’s a light cure and served with all the garnishes from a white gazpacho – smoked almonds, grapes and a really nice sherry vinegar.”
Steve Bennet from the Flitch of Bacon in Dunmow, Essex, said it was his stand-out dish. “It worked on every level,” he added. “They were flavours you know, based on ajo blanco, and everything was there but it was quite unexpected. It worked perfectly.”
Next up was a dish that Brown said is a mainstay on his menu – potted shrimp crumpet. “Everyone loves a crumpet,” he said. “It’s really nostalgic for me as we used to do potted shrimps with crumpets at a place I worked at years ago.” For Chef Eats Out, he served it with kohlrabi, gherkins and parsley, along with a hit of mace.
Brown adds: “We just put as much butter into it as we can and add extra punch with the spice and lemon. It’s an old-fashioned English dish. I keep thinking we should refine it, but the team rightly wants us to leave it rustic.” Following the crumpet was a dish that won universal acclaim: a take on surf and turf that comprised plaice with roast chicken butter sauce and leeks.
Andrew Nutter, owner of Nutters Restaurant in Rochdale, thought the plaice was “awesome”. “I had to order extra bread to dunk into the sauce, which was spectacular,” he added.
The rich, earthy chicken sauce, comprising a classic beurre blanc to which is added highly reduced chicken stock, impressed David Cavell from Tailors Restaurant in Warwickshire, too. He said: “The combination of superbly cooked fish with beautiful chicken sauce, with a little seaweed dusting on top, giving it that depth of flavour, was exceptional. Light yet robust fish, rich sauce – delicious.”
Then came the star of the show: braised octopus with Udale’s award-winning pork belly, apple and lentils. It’s a homely dish, with octopus stewed down until it’s incredibly soft, accompanied by slow-cooked pork belly. “Really, it could be a pork dish, but the octopus works perfectly with it,” Brown said. “When the octopus is stewed that long it reminds me of ham – a salty, gammon taste – so it pairs really nicely with pork and apple.”
Andy Watts, head chef at the Pheasant Inn in Andover, said he “loved the octopus”. “Having that with the pork belly worked so well,” he added. “With the lentils and apple, you get a burst of freshness too. It has a great balance. It’s not something you can’t do elsewhere, but it’s executed at such a level of detail.”
That level was again evident in the dessert, where Brown served a pavlova with blackberry, quince and vanilla custard. “So many places overlook the produce they serve, but when you have a young lad here showcasing the simplicity of seasonal ingredients, it’s fantastic,” Nutter said. “For example, the quince with the blackberry, coupled with the cloudy marshmellowiness of the pavlova was a sheer joy.”
Brown said that this simplicity, where ingredients are given the chance to really impress, is exactly what he aims for at Cornerstone.
“That’s what I always loved with Nathan,” he added. “The last thing you want someone to say is the food is bland. We try to serve clean and honest food. We put things together that people like and make it all about the cookery and execution.”
• Pickled oyster, horseradish, celery, dill
• Cured red gurnard, almonds, grapes, sherry vinegar
• Potted shrimp crumpet, kohlrabi, gherkins, parsley
• Plaice, roast chicken butter sauce, leeks
• Braised octopus, pork belly, apple, lentils
• Pavlova, blackberry, quince, vanilla custard
• Gin and tonic made with Cornerstone gin from the Wrecking Coast distillery
• Terre Silvate 2016, La Distesa, Marche, Italy
• Ad Libitum, La Granje Tiphaine, Ambroise, France
What the chefs thought
“All of it has great balance. It’s not something you can’t do elsewhere, but it’s executed at such a level of detail. To get to watch Tom Brown work with minimal kit is inspiring too. It’s a really cool place. You can see why it’s so popular.”
Andy Watts, the Pheasant Inn, Andover, Berkshire
“The sheer simplicity of the food and quality of the ingredients just shines. You can tell from watching the chefs at work that there is clear passion for delivering a great experience here.”
Andrew Nutter, Nutters Restaurant, Rochdale
“I really enjoyed the simplicity and the flavours were bang on. It’s not been over-complicated by trying to introduce too many elements. It’s very focused food. I can see why it’s a successful restaurant.”
Steve Bennet, the Flitch of Bacon, Dunmow, Essex
“All the flavours and dishes complemented each other perfectly. None are too heavy, too acidic or too rich – they work in harmony together.”
Kara Macmillan, the Pheasant Inn, Andover, Berkshire
“It’s an exciting restaurant and he served food you want to eat. When you look at it, it’s technical simplicity. There’s nowhere to hide with this kind of cooking and he nails it.”
David Cavell, Tailors Restaurant, Warwickshire
A message from our sponsor
It was fantastic to experience Tom Brown’s confident cooking at his new restaurant Cornerstone. The dishes he and his talented team produce are extremely precise and balanced, with the flavours of each ingredient really shining through.
It’s no wonder that the restaurant has already received such critical acclaim.
We are delighted to join forces with The Caterer to sponsor Chef Eats Out, as it gives chefs a chance to get an insight into the cooking of chefs of the calibre of Tom Brown.
The braised octopus, pork belly, apple and lentils, prepared using Udale products, showcased wonderfully our dry-aged pork belly, which was recently awarded three stars in the 2018 Great Taste awards. The pork, like the meat and poultry we supply, is aged for different periods of time in our Himalayan salt chambers, providing a real point of difference for chefs looking to create exceptional dishes.