Star quality

Bonhams Magazine

Issue 45, Winter 2015

Page 37

Star quality

Bonhams Magazine

Issue 45, Winter 2015

Page 37

The very talented Tom Kemble tells Bruce Palling how he won a Michelin star for Bonhams Restaurant in record time

It is the dream of most chefs to run their own restaurant by the time they reach their early thirties. But for that restaurant to win a Michelin star in its first year is more akin to fantasy. Remarkably, Tom Kemble, founding chef of Bonhams restaurant, has achieved both.

Kemble had no inkling of his award, which was the fastest star created in the Michelin firmament in 2015. "I was serving a guest their pudding when all of a sudden a text message was sent by my previous restaurant congratulating me. It was quite hard to get my head around it," he says. Hardly surprising, as the honor was bestowed just seven months after the restaurant opened in January this year.

What makes the success of the restaurant even more notable is that while Bonhams has vast experience as an international auction house, this is its first venture into the culinary world. And it has simultaneously gained another accolade – it is the first auction house anywhere on the planet to win a Michelin star.

Kemble's kitchen has now gained cult status, not just among diners but chefs, too. Rowley Leigh, the father of the Modern British food movement and founder of Kensington Place and Le Café Anglais, says there is nowhere in London he would rather eat at the moment. "Tom has learnt a lot from where he has worked," Leigh says. "He understands the minimalist approach but cooks with generosity and a keen intelligence about what goes with what. The food is genuinely creative and I have never had a bad dish there."

However, it is not just Kemble's consistently excellent, produce-driven cuisine that excites diners, but the possession of what some oenophiles consider the best value fine-wine list in London (see overleaf). Where else can you purchase voting-age wines for no more than wholesale prices? Soon after opening, restaurant reviewers began marveling at his cuisine ("serious cooking of the best sort... true brilliance").

Tucked away in Haunch of Venison Yard behind Bonhams' Mayfair headquarters, its sleek, pared-back design was created by architects Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands. "It's a seamless extension of the auction house," Alex Lifschutz explains. There are only 24 covers and for the first few months it was open only for breakfast and lunch. At the time of writing, there is only one evening service – a Thursday Supper Club, which is booked out for weeks.

Kemble could not be more pleased. He graduated from Nottingham University with a degree in History of Art before deciding that food was his primary interest. He was fortunate enough to be employed in 2011 as sous-chef at Hedone – the eclectic neo-nordic restaurant in Chiswick run by self-taught chef Mikael Jonsson, who gained his first Michelin star in 14 months. Jonsson is also very proud that Kemble has been able to establish himself so quickly: "Tom is enthusiastic and hard-working but he also has the drive to succeed, which is more important than anything else. He cooks the kind of food I like to eat, by serving good produce and keeping the flavors clear."

After this, Kemble worked at Faviken, a cult-like Scandinavian restaurant with only 16 covers, just below the Arctic Circle. Magnus Nilsson is Sweden's leading chef and is renowned for his passion for original produce of the highest order. Nilsson is particularly pleased that Tom is the first chef from his kitchen to win a Michelin star. "He is obviously a very skilled chef," he says, "but what I really like about Tom is that he has many interests beyond the kitchen, such as photography and art. It means he has stimulating ideas and brings more to the plate than simply the craft of cooking."

Kemble repays the compliment, saying that his experience at Faviken taught him a great deal about game and how to cook meat properly: "I learnt how to cook different game in a pan à la minute – it's really tough because if it is not perfect, there is nowhere to hide."

The first Michelin inspector turned up last April, only three months after they opened, which was quite a shot in the arm. However, a single visit is no guarantee of success – several more came anonymously in the following months before arriving at their decision. Kemble was still building up his team during this period, which was critical as there are only three people in the kitchen. The lunch service during weekdays is currently the main event, but Kemble is hoping that his success will enable him to open for more than the current one night a week. "Lunch is almost a testing ground for moving dishes into the Supper Club, which changes each month. Dishes have to be lighter and simpler for the lunch trade, but I am playing around with a hare loin pithivier with foie gras, mushrooms and poached quince."

All three of the restaurants that Kemble has worked in are renowned for their fresh produce, something he remains passionate about. Still, it is not just his turbot, scallop and game dishes that have won him praise. There is also a starter of gazpacho with mustard ice cream and smoked eel that has prompted ecstatic responses. Their creator is happy with how things have developed in the past year and puts his success so far down to two reasons – the same three people are in the kitchen day in and day out and at least three quarters of the produce arrives fresh for each service. Perhaps the talent and skill of the chef might be a factor too, but that is not something Tom Kemble talks about, though there are plenty of others are willing to broadcast the fact.

Bruce Palling writes about food and wine for publications such as Departures, Gourmet and Daily Telegraph.

Bonhams Restaurant is open for lunch Monday-Friday, 12.00 - 2.30pm, and holds a Supper Club on Thursday evenings, 7 - 9pm. Reservations: +44 (0) 20 7468 5868; reservations@bonhams.com

Game on

Roast venison loin with chestnut and juniper purée, cep, fig and cime di rapa, by Tom Kemble

This is a great earthy autumnal recipe, highlighting the bountiful produce currently in season.

1 aged saddle of venison: fallow deer/sika deer
beef dripping
2 tbsp salted butter
5 garlic cloves, crushed, skin on 1 sprig of thyme
1 large glass of red wine
2 tbsp sugar
1kg chestnuts
8 juniper berries, crushed
2 tbsp sherry vinegar
1kg cime di rapa (turnip tops) 12 ceps
8 soleil figs

At the restaurant, we use sika deer from an estate in Hampshire. Sika deer originated from Asia and were introduced to England as an ornamental species before establishing themselves in the wild. Ask your butcher for a dry aged saddle of venison. This will consist of two loins and you should get about eight portions off the venison (four per loin). Ask the butcher to take loins off the saddle and break down the bones and keep any meat trim, which you can use for the venison sauce.

Cooking the venison

We roast most red meat in beef dripping, which has a high flash point and a meaty flavor. Get your pan hot on the stove and add a tablespoon of beef dripping. Season the venison loin well with salt and pepper. Once the pan is smoking, add the venison and carefully color the loin all around, moving the meat regularly. Once evenly colored, add a tablespoon of butter, five crushed garlic cloves and thyme. Let the butter foam and baste the venison with this. Remove the meat from the pan and cook on a trivet in the oven at 140°C for around 12-15 mins (medium rare). Take out and leave to rest for 10 mins.

Preparing the sauce

In an oven, roast the venison bones until they are evenly caramelized at 160°C. Meanwhile, in a saucepan, color the venison trim in oil and finish with lots of foaming butter. Strain the butter off and deglaze the pan with some red wine and water. Add the bones and cover with water. Gently cook the stock for eight hours. Strain and refrigerate. Scrape off any set fat and reserve. Reduce the stock to sauce consistency and melt some venison fat into the sauce, which will add a wonderful depth of flavour.

Making the purée

You can use either cooked chestnuts or fresh chestnuts for the purée. We use fresh and score the chestnut, roasting it in the oven briefly, enabling us to remove the nut quickly and easily. In a wide-bottom saucepan, add two tablespoons of sugar and a tablespoon of water. Cook on a high heat and make a light caramel. Once you have the desired color, add the chestnuts and eight crushed juniper berries. Pour two tablespoons of sherry vinegar to the pan and keep cooking for a minute. This will deglaze and loosen the sugared chestnuts and burn off a little of the acidity from the vinegar. Cover with water and cook the chestnuts for about 30 minutes on a medium heat. Once they are soft, strain and reserve the liquid. Add the chestnuts to a blender, pouring back in some of the liquid and adding a tablespoon of butter. Check seasoning and pass the purée through a sieve or chinois to make it silky smooth.

And the accompaniments

Cime di rapa are the green tops of turnips, which are in peak season now. They bring a lovely mild bitterness to the dish. Simply pick the leaves down and remove any hard stalks. Wash them well and sauté quickly in butter at the last minute.

Ceps are one of my favorite mushrooms and this year has been a fantastic season for them. They have a delicious nutty flavor and rich meaty texture. When they are this good I like to serve them two ways, roasted in lots of salted butter and then thinly sliced raw, for a more delicate note. Be generous with them. Wash and cut the soleil figs into six pieces, serving three slices per portion. These provide a lovely sweetness and slight acidity to the dish.

Tom Kemble

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