You won’t find fillets or ribs at Beef & Brew. Instead you can expect onglets, flat irons and rumps from Jessica Simmons and Daniel Nathan’s new Kentish Town restaurant.
After operating Featherblade - a successful pop-up in The Star of Bethnal Green - the pair decided it was time to stake a permanent claim on the London restaurant scene.
CODE’s Daniel Reynolds met up with head chef Jessica Simmons at Caravan King’s Cross ahead of their opening to find out more.
Daniel Reynolds: It seems like just the other day when we met at The Star as Featherblade was coming to an end. How has it been in the intervening months. Are you all set for the opening?
Jessica Simmons: It feels like we’re finally ready, all positions have been filled and there are a final few tweaks to be made before we open.
DR: What attracted you to the industry?
JS: I suppose I was fortunate from a young age that I often found myself surrounded by good food, whether it be holidays in France or baking with my Nan. I enjoyed watching Keith Floyd and Rick Stein on TV and they were important figures to look up to. I was also incredibly lucky to meet Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray at a book signing. It incidentally led to a five-day stagé at The River Café and from then on I knew I wanted to be a chef.
DR: What was your first job in the industry?
JS: As well as the stagé at The River Café, I competed in a few Junior MasterChef competitions and as a result won a stagé at The Dorchester. To be given the opportunity to cook in such renowned institutions at the age of 15 was incredibly inspiring.
I chose A-levels over catering college and then a hospitality management degree but it wasn’t long before I found myself back in the kitchen. After a successful trial at Claridge’s, I worked at Murano under Angela Hartnett and then York & Albany.
DR: How did Beef & Brew come about?
JS: I’ve always had a huge passion for beer and found myself at London Fields Brewery where I set up the kitchen. I had the opportunity to experiment with over-carbonated beer unsuitable for sale, trying to incorporate it into recipes.
At this time I also met Dan and we had similar ideas for a restaurant. I’ve always wanted to work for myself and although Michelin training was good grounding, I wanted my own place to be relaxed with good, gutsy food.
DR: With brew in the restaurant’s name, does beer feature heavily?
JS: Exactly. Both Dan and I have a huge passion for beer We’re not trying to follow the trend, we just think there are great things going on in the UK industry right now that we want to promote. All of our beers are UK brewed, Fourpure will be on draft and the rest will rotate to keep the offering fresh.
I’ve also managed to incorporate it into a couple of dishes – there’s a beer cheese, the short rib is cooked in porter and the salted caramel of the Brewer’s Mess is mixed with wheat beer.
DR: Do you think there are obstacles to entering the industry nowadays?
JS: I can only talk from personal experience - I was incredibly lucky to meet my idols at a young age who gave me the opportunity to work in the kitchen. Being exposed to kitchens of that quality was incredibly inspirational and invaluable first hand experience.
I think there’s been a lot of positive change in the industry to remove the bullying aspect – open kitchens have greatly contributed to this but obviously there is still some way to go in improving overall working conditions.
DR: Much is being said of the industry’s current recruitment woes, especially where chefs are concerned. What’s your take on the situation?
JS: I wish I had the solution! I spent a year in Melbourne at two different restaurants and when the year was up they tried their best to make me stay. Flights home to visit my family, sponsorship and also a vintage Vespa thrown in!
I think salary is obviously an issue preventing people entering the industry or even leaving it. I have a few friends who have moved to contract catering, reasons being better pay and more sociable hours.
Although it’s tough as a new restaurant we acknowledge we have to offer competitive wages and be considerate with hours and days off. If you’re going to be successful, you need a happy workforce.
DR: On the odd chance you’re not in the kitchen, where do you eat?
JS: Normally I stay north so Caravan is a big favourite, or Sodo Pizza and The Plough in Clapton. If it’s an occasion and someone else is paying then The River Café or Dinner by Heston.
DR: What’s the future for Beef & Brew?
JS: Although we would like to open a second restaurant down the line, our main focus is perfecting what we have in Kentish Town and we would never be a high street chain.
Beef & Brew will open on 24 September.
Beef & Brew
323 Kentish Town Road