Roux Scholar and former National Chef of the Year Luke Selby has set out on his own, supported by brothers Nat and Theo, combining Japanese techniques with British produce. James Stagg reports.
When you're a Roux Scholarship winner and former National Chef of the Year, there are likely to be no shortage of job offers. But when Luke Selby left Hide in London's Mayfair, where he had worked alongside Ollie Dabbous, to set out on his own path, his specific requirements made finding a site tricky.
"I had a business plan and was looking for investment," Luke explains. "The idea was to open a 10-cover site – and I pretty much got laughed at. It's not the kind of thing people want to put money into."
Fortunately for Luke and his brothers Nat and Theo, he met Layo Paskin, who, along with his sister Zoe, runs the Palomar and Barbary restaurants in London. They were looking for a change of operation for Evelyn's Table, the basement space below their lovingly refurbished pub and cocktail bar the Blue Posts in Soho, and the siblings' chef's counter concept was just the ticket.
"I met Layo and we hit it off straight away," Luke adds. "It was perfect timing – they had the space I was looking for and it's part of a multiuse site with a cocktail bar and a pub."
The menu the Selby brothers have created at the 12-cover counter is informed by Luke's interest in Japanese cuisine and his three-month stage at the three-Michelin-starred Restaurant Nihonryori Ryugin in Tokyo, but employing British ingredients.
"I'd always been fascinated with Japan," Luke says. "Even at Le Manoir I learned about Japanese influences – we used to do a beautiful turbot with a braisage sauce infused with wasabi and cucumber. Going [to Japan] meant I gained a real sense of Japanese culture and cuisine. I think it's important to live and breathe it to understand it."
I gained a real sense of Japanese culture and cuisine. I think it's important to live and breathe it to understand it
At Evelyn's Table that understanding translates into a balanced menu that flows from lighter – yet flavour-packed – dishes with minimal cooking, moving through techniques such as steaming and barbecue.
The five-course menu is priced to be accessible at £55, and with two surprise dishes factored in, it amounts to real value, given the expertise on show at the other side of the counter.
"We have to be clever with the menu and ingredients," Selby says. "We made 70% gross profit in December [the only month the restaurant has been open so far] and as it's such a streamlined kitchen, there's pretty much zero waste."
December's menu started with mackerel cured in rice wine vinegar, served as sashimi with chilled plum juice infused with mirin and red shiso. It's a refreshing and super-seasonal way to start the meal.
This is followed by Lindisfarne oysters that have been wrapped in a nori seaweed strip before being frozen. For service they are fried in tempura batter from frozen to ensure they don't overcook and are served with a miso and seaweed emulsion, yuzu and fresh wasabi, which Luke grates in front of the guest.
All dishes feature just a few ingredients, with the brothers working hard to bring the best out of the produce. This is particularly evident in the squid noodles, a dish which seems simple but with a process that draws out all the flavour. "It's our take on a ramen," Luke explains. "We layer squid, freeze it and shave it finely. It's cooked quickly in oil and served with a mushroom dashi stock, which we make with steamed mushrooms that are sous-vide overnight at 85ºC, before all the juice is pressed out."
The first three dishes are light and all gluten- and dairy-free, preparing the diner for the more serious, barbecued flavours to come.
First is the off-menu surprise: lamb bao made with Herdwick lamb short rib. Cooked overnight in miso, garlic and ginger, then finished on Japanese barbecue with a soy and mirin glaze, it's a sensational mouthful.
The brothers work in harmony while engaging with diners. Each dish brings a touch of theatre, but the real interaction is reserved for the venison, which is slow-cooked, then finished on the barbecue and smoked on the counter over hay and juniper. Luke carves the meat [in front of the guest and serves with a tart and sweet blackberry reduction, choucroute, bitter chocolate, venison sauce and Sansho pepper. "In Japan, Sansho pepper is typically paired with fatty foods like eel," Selby explains. "It brings a floral spice that works perfectly with venison."
The second surprise dish is a parsnip doughnut, bridging the gap between savoury and sweet, before the meal is completed by a tarte tatin, made in the traditional French style but with miso infused into the caramel, served with clotted cream ice-cream.
"We want that flow to the menu; it enables us to bring the French pastry at the end, with a little butter and cream – the guest can take it without being stuffed," Luke says.
"Obviously we're not open right now, but the dynamic is special and we can't wait to get going again. This is our baby and it feels important for us to be in this space and cook our own food after working for some amazing people."
28 Rupert Street, London W1D 6DJ
From the menu
- Mackerel, plum umeboshi, red shiso
- Tempura oyster, fresh wasabi
- Squid noodles, mushroom dashi
- Venison, blackberry, chestnut
- Tarte tatin, miso
£55 for five courses
Photography: Georgia Rudd
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