Former Polpo chef Tom Oldroyd shows Neil Gerrard how much flavour can be packed into a succinct menu
Tom Oldroyd is nursing a bandaged arm when The Caterer turns up to interview him about his new London restaurant, Oldroyd, on Islington's Upper Street.
It's tennis elbow brought about by painting the interior of the restaurant himself and it serves as proof of the lengths the former chef-director of Russell Norman and Richard Beatty's Polpo has gone to ensure that the dream of owning his own place has become a reality.
There are few aspects of the new restaurant that Oldroyd - who also enlisted the help of his fiancée, father and other friends and family - hasn't been closely involved in. He even designed the kitchen himself, drawing on years of experience opening venues for Polpo. It's no mean feat, considering the size of it.
"You can touch both walls of the kitchen at the same time - it is that small," he says. "But I managed to create something very compact. I bought everything off the shelf and measured it, measured it again, and then measured it for the 20th time. I sawed off a few legs here and there, but it all fitted in."
The menu too is compact, fitting easily onto one side of A5. It's not just a consequence of the size of the kitchen, but also because Oldroyd doesn't believe in wasting words. "There is no 'with' or 'on'," he says. "I think it makes it easier to read and it is not intimidating at all. I like to use alliteration too. It's playful. I am interested in menu design. It is really important, I think."
By way of example, 'Zucchini fries' (£3.50) could easily have been described as 'courgette fries' or 'courgette chips', he explains, but it was the former that sounded right, even if the word 'courgette' might make an appearance elsewhere on the same menu in a different context.
It hardly comes as a surprise that there is also a whiff of Polpo about Oldroyd's first solo venture, although he has tried not to limit himself to one particular style. "I love Italian food and that has always been my thing," he says. "But I also love French and Spanish food. I love holiday food, I suppose. I am not restricting myself but southern-European would be the best way to describe it. This is supposed to be like an oasis; somewhere where you can come and relax and eat food that reminds you of your holiday."
Summer radishes, smoked cod's roe and celery salt
Every dish on the menu is packed with flavour and, at the time The Caterer visits, there is still plenty of summer produce on display, including one dish with four different varieties of beans (coco, runner, yellow wax and bobby). "I love beans," says Oldroyd. "It reminds me of my nan, who used to grow so many of them. My grandad would sit in the greenhouse. I remember the smell of his pipe and the smell of the tomatoes."
"Writing a small, seasonal menu is a lesson in getting as many flavour combinations as possible," Oldroyd says. "You have to get as much of summer into each dish as you can. It should be a celebration of summer."
He also admits to having a thing for mayonnaise - something you are likely to find throughout the menu, either in the smoked pork belly and pea croquettas, truffle mayonnaise (£4), or the crab tagliarini ProvenÁ§al, brown crab rouille (£9). "Rouille is basically mayonnaise, and I love mayonnaise. So I wanted it with pasta and it really worked. The crab tagliarini is probably the dish that everyone has raved about since we opened. It is a really thin pasta, somewhere between angel hair and linguine, and it soaks up the crabbiness."
Getting the word out has been aided by the fact that many notable reviewers have already passed through Oldroyd's doors - no mean feat when they have so many London openings to choose from. And glowing reviews from the likes of Giles Coren of The Times and Fay Maschler of the London Evening Standard may help to explain why the restaurant is doing around 100-120 covers every day.
All that effort - and the odd bandaged elbow - is paying off.
Peach and cow curd panzanella
From the menu
- Mazzancolle prawn alla griglia, gremolata £3.50
- Summer radishes, smoked cod's roe and celery salt £4
- Smoked pork belly and pea croquettas, truffle mayonnaise £4
- Lamb and almond meatballs, salsa romesco and pickled garlic £7.50
- Peach and cow curd panzanella, broad beans and mint £8
- Heritage tomato and green bean salad, bearnaise reduction £4.50
- Zucchini fries £3.50
- Chocolate mousse, salted pistachio praline and raspberries £6
- Stone fruit and brioche pain perdu, vanilla ice-cream £6
344 Upper Street, London N1 0PD