Summing up the ethos of his first self-titled restaurant at London's Tower Bridge, with a menu of British-French cuisine with a Welsh twist, Pembrokeshire-born chef Tom Simmons says: "We're not going to use something just because it's Welsh."
The restaurant's beef and lamb come from the Rhug Estate near Corwen, Denbighshire, and all bottled water is Welsh. Vegetable supplier Natoora works with British suppliers but also sources from further afield in Europe.
"If you were Welsh and you came in here, you'd know there's a lot of Welsh influence, but for anyone else it wouldn't jump out," says 29-year-old Simmons. "For us, it's just about trying to support as many people back home as we can, and championing Welsh produce."
The double-height, glass-fronted space is classic but not overly formal with only minor hints to Simmons's heritage, such as a few Welsh photography coffee-table books and artwork. You wouldn't know the tables are from Carmarthen or that the banquette stitching is Welsh. "We don't want to alienate ourselves against the English," laughs the chef-patron. "You won't see any Welsh banners or leeks hanging from the ceiling."
The restaurant sits within the city's new One Tower Bridge development alongside an Ivy Brasserie, the Coal Shed restaurant and the new Bridge Theatre, which are topped by flats and expected to be joined by a Rosa's Thai Café and Brazilian-Japanese fusion chain Temakinho in the new year.
The restaurant started off quietly, Simmons admits - they opened in August and were one of the first venues to open, but trade has since picked up.
"Because the Ivy is the first restaurant you hit when you come off the bridge, they take a lot of the tourism trade, which is fine because we've noticed that the people we really want to focus on are those who don't just stumble upon it. They come here because they've heard about us, they want to come and eat our food, and we get a lot of repeat custom from residents and local businesses," he says.
The 50-cover restaurant is currently doing approximately 15-20 covers for lunch and 30-plus in the evenings with a brigade of seven, and is hoping to make a name for itself in the local Sunday lunch market. Simmons's partner Lois Thomas oversees front of house.
The chef says he decided to launch in London because of the massive food scene in the city, and because London is such a good platform to start a successful restaurant business.
"We get asked all the time why it's not in Wales," he says, "but it's nice to do something somewhere else. I can always go back to Wales - it's always going to be there."
mons started off his career in local pubs but, looking for a challenge, he came to London to work as a chef de partie at Gordon Ramsay at Claridge's for a year, during which he was the youngest competitor to reach the quarterfinals of BBC Two's MasterChef: The Professionals in 2011. He then did a season at L'Atelier in
Morzine, France, before moving back to Pembrokeshire to spend three years as head chef of Wolfscastle Country hotel near Haverfordwest, where he won two AA rosettes. Working a busy hotel with functions taught him to simplify his plates for larger-scale dining - something that has influenced his cooking since.
Seasonality and produce are also a big focus for Simmons, who regularly changes the menu according to what is in season and describes his food as "simple, well-executed food that people want to eat".
As well as the snack of fried cockle 'popcorn' with Pembrokeshire seaweed mayo (£4.50), he says one of the best-selling dishes has been the short rib of beef with pommes purée, pancetta, roast shallot and beef jus (£19.50) - Simmons's take on a beef bourguignon. The short rib is brined for 24 hours in salt, sugar, star anise, coriander and bay leaves before being sealed in a hot pan and cooked for another 18 hours at 95Â°Cs in veal stock, red wine, carrots and celery. It is then pressed for another 12 hours before being portioned and reheated in a beef glaze ("so you get that sticky, rich outer crust") and served with brown butter panko breadcrumbs for texture.
mons's signature lamb rump (£19.50) is slow-cooked with olive oil and rosemary, and served with a Jerusalem artichoke purée, roast salsify and a kale compote. The kale is cooked down with onions, coriander seeds, fennel seeds and lemon zest for about half an hour, and then blended with olive oil - bringing the deep flavours of kale to the dish without serving a mound of it on the plate. It's certainly a different way to serve kale - but Simmons says his priority is not to be different for the sake of it, but to serve really good food, consistently.
"We're not thinking about doing anything else until this place can do what it set out to do: produce good food all of the time," he says. "I would really like to open another place in the future, maybe a gastropub, but this place needs to thrive first."
From the menu
•Celeriac velouté, chestnuts and truffle oil £7.50
•Crispy pig's head, piccalilli purée, apple compote, radish £8.50
•Chicken liver and lardo terrine, tomato and onion chutney, brioche £8.50
•Jerusalem artichoke risotto, Burford brown yolk, Parmesan, kale £16.50
•Short rib of beef, pommes purée, pancetta, roast shallot, jus £19.50
•Roast cod loin, charred cauliflower, 'nduja butter, Swiss chard £22.50
•Barbary duck breast, carrot purée, glazed plum, spiced port jus £22.50
•Baileys panna cotta, espresso, caramel £7.50
•Chilled rice pudding, Granny Smith sorbet, toffee, almond crumble £7.50
•Dark chocolate fondant, pistachio ice-cream £8.50
2 Still Walk, London SE1 2RA
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