It was only a matter of time before Clare Smyth, Chef Patron at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, and the first female British chef to hold and retain three Michelin stars, put her name about the door at her own restaurant.
Exceptional and relaxed, Core, a buzzing Notting Hill eatery founded by Clare is worth a visit. If anything to try an exquisite reformation of the humble potato from an incredibly talented Chef.
Three Michelin stars at 28, that’s an incredible achievement! Where is up from here? Another three stars perhaps?
At the moment all my focus is just about making Core the greatest success, if we can get it up to the level I’m happy with that’ll be a great achievement. We’ve only just started and have a long way to go, but things are looking good so far.
What is important about the restaurant dining experience for you? And what did you want to bring to your own restaurant?
The most important thing is for our guests to have an enjoyable time. We want to prepare incredible food, an incredible wine offering and bar and so on, but the enjoyability factor has to be there.
How do you think the dining culture has changed? With the influx of burger joints, casual fast-food dining, how do you keep fine dining at the forefront?
I think the cycle of dining culture ebbs and flows… Casual dining has grown, but I think it has almost imploded in the last few months. As far as I’m concerned with Core, it’s all about keeping the quality at the forefront. We have to keep evolving it like everything else in life. By the nature of fine dining it’s pushing boundaries, setting trends in industry, training staff in all sectors to reach their full potential. Every single day we do small bursts of training at Core, teaching our staff and encouraging their knowledge and skill to grow, and that’s crucial to stay at the forefront.
Who are the particular role models for female chefs at the moment? And who are your role models?
To me it’s anyone at the top of their game, regardless of gender. And as a chef, my greatest role models probably has to be Alain Ducasse.
From working in London to Napa to New York, how did you find your different experiences, and what were the biggest things you learnt from them?
I try to never stop learning, never rest on what I know, and to constantly look around me and take inspiration from whatever new surrounding I’m in. Whether it’s a new ingredient I’ve not used before or a way of presenting a dish or cooking a piece of fish or looking at a problem, the learning curve is endless.
What is the biggest challenge you have had to overcome in your career and how did you manage?
That’s a difficult one, I don’t really see things as big challenges, I just look at what I’ve got to do and take it one step at a time. Opening a restaurant is a big challenge to overcome. Taking over Restaurant Gordon Ramsay at 28 years old and being short staffed and having to retain 3 Michelin stars, that was a big challenge. But you’re usually so absorbed in the day to day that you don’t have time to step back and panic.
Why Notting Hill for your first solo venture?
Because it’s a cool neighbourhood and it feels right. I fell in love with building, it’s history from Victorian times to now and all the stories it has to tell, and it just happened to be in a great location.
Core is fine dining, but you describe it as ‘informal dining’. What can guests expect?
Yeah, it’s informal fine dining in terms of it being a relaxed environment where people feel comfortable and don’t have to worry about what they’re wearing. There’s music playing and we don’t have white tablecloths, and we want people to feel very comfortable.
Tell us about a signature dish on the menu.
One of our most popular dishes has to be the Charlotte Potato, served with lashings of dulse beurre blanc and topped with herring & trout roe. The dish is deceptively simple, but I love it because potatoes are a taste of home to me, and this dish elevates the potato and celebrates its greatness. The Charlotte potato is hand picked from a small farm in Sussex run by a producer called Chris Hayselden, who I work with very closely to get the perfect potatoes for the dish. It’s garnished with sorrel flower and rocket flower, and is also finished off with miniature handmade salt and vinegar crisps, a guilty pleasure of mine!
I read that you eat a plain cooked potato with salt and pepper before service. Is this true?
Haha erm yes I do, because I just really like potatoes. I grew up eating them in Northern Ireland, and I just love a freshly boiled potato.
Your favourite place to eat and drink in London?
To drink, I love the Connaught bar. To eat… that’s difficult, I eat everywhere and there are too many great places to choose from to have a favourite.
Where in the world would you travel to eat?
Japan. I’m dying to go to Japan.
Is there somewhere you have longed to visit but haven’t had the chance?
The same. Or South America.
What is your guilty pleasure?
Salt and vinegar crisps.
This industry is constant high-stress, how do you ‘cool off’?
Long walks with Storm, my westie.
Finally: Which 3 inspirational people, living or not, would you invite to dine with you, and why?
I’d go for Edith Kent, the first woman in Britain to be given equal pay; early French chef Marie-Antoine Carême; and Yeonmi Park, a human rights activist from North Korea. All incredible people.