Tom Cenci, chef at Loyal Tavern on Bermondsey Street, London
Bermondsey Street is a charming place not far from London Bridge, perfectly positioned between the two famous food markets of Borough and Maltby Street: not very long, it has a high concentration of excellent restaurants and bistros (Jose Pissarro among others), independent boutiques and delis.
Right here, a couple of months ago established gastro pub Village East was relaunched under a new name and with a new chef at the helm. We liked it before, but we like it even more now. That is because the kitchen is entrusted to a talented guy who made a name for himself when he was executive chef at Duck & Waffle, the city's famous restaurant which opens 24h.
Tom Cenci left Duck & Waffle well over a year ago and after a few months of quality time with his family (he has a young child), he re-emerged with great acclaim at Loyal Tavern which is a modern bistro with a pseudo vintage look, owned by the House Café Company group.
We've already been to dinner and for their Sunday brunch; if the influences of the Duck & Waffle make an appearance in the creativity of some dishes, the imprint is original and personal.
Chicken skin crackling, hot sauce, blue cheese dressing
Bruschetta with pancetta and a jam of caramelised onions
The dishes demonstrate the chef's ability to use ingredients available in the English countryside, carefully sourced and of excellent quality, all clearly indicated on the menu. The specials always include a plate of cured meats by Cannon & Cannon, one of the first British independent companies to produce Italian style salami. We met Tom a few days after the opening: happy and exhausted, he probably didn't expect the Tavern's rather overwhelming success. We see him again for a chat a few weeks later, and ask him how he feels about it now that's been about two months since the first day.
“That time has gone so quickly – he muses - I suppose working so hard you don't notice how long has passed.” He is honest about it all and remains humble, despite the very positive press reviews and media talk: “There have been so many challenges that we didn't expect, but we try to improve and move forward every day. We are happy with what we have achieved so far but know there is still a long way to go.”
Tom has and exceptional curriculum and has worked in many different establishments, achieving a variety of experiences. The food he cooks at Loyal Tavern include solid, heart-warming options such as pigs’ cheeks stew, baked celeriac in a mushroom broth and beer can roast chicken; some more quirky items on the menu offer ground for introducing spices and exotic flavours such as the already legendary chicken skin crackling, hot sauce, blue cheese dressing and blackened cauliflower, sesame yoghurt, chilli, green sauce. Great choices on the desserts and the brunch menu too (from waffles to full English).
“London has so many good places to eat now it's hard to keep track, I currently have over one hundred on my list of places I would still like to visit, do you go to the same restaurant again or do you try a new one? Sometimes it's just nice to get away from all the rich food and have a simple burger.” We couldn’t agree with him more. Working long hours, many days in a row and having a young family is not an easy task, we imagine and surely can bring stress and anxiety to many. Tom has been very vocal about mental health in the industry and the stigma of it. Does he feel things are overall moving in the right direction and support for chefs and industry workers is available?
“You can see a change; yes, employers are starting to listen more and understand the needs of their employees. There's still a lot of work to be done, but the days of discrimination are slowly disappearing.” - he confirms – “It's important that employees can be comfortable in asking for help or reaching out if they need too.”
To this extent, he’s started a very interesting initiative using one of his passions – golf – to send a helping hand to those in need, through sport and socialising. He set up an association called Hospitalitee: anyone can join in for a game of golf, let their hair down, meet peers and – if needed – ask for extra support during times of stress. We ask the chef how such an important initiative has been received and if he thinks in the future it being replicated in other sports or activities at all?
“I've had a great response so far, and it's been amazing to see so many different people attend a meetup. Hospitali-Tee is about bringing like-minded people together that can find a release for their stress. Mine happens to be golf but it would be great to see people in the industry find it through other activities”.
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A British citizen from Naples, obsessive scuba diver, digital marketing manager Monday to Friday, foodie at any given time