Mike, as he likes to be called, is the type of chef whose passion for food exudes every discussion. A conversation with him is a learning curve and his cheery energy for his work is remarkable. With an appearance on The Great British Menu and the opening of M Bar and Grill in September, the latest to the M Restaurant family along with Threadneedle St, Victoria St and the M Wine Store, 2017 has been a busy year for him.
“I’ve been with Martin [Williams] in M Restaurants since the beginning,” Mike explained. “Our first restaurant was on Threadneedle Street in November 2014, we opened Victoria exactly a year later in 2015 and we’ve now just opened Twickenham in September 2017, so we’ve averaged a restaurant almost every year with three now open since we started.”
“The new restaurant in Twickenham is a bar and grill, which is a slightly new concept to the two others in the West End. It’s a lot smaller and more informal and casual. It’s a lot easier for us to open this type of restaurant; the cost of opening a site in or around the 10,000-12,500 square feet, like the Threadneedle and Victoria locations, is really large. The rental costs of this location compared to in the city is also miles apart, so it is a far more affordable concept for us to roll out. Also, it is more affordable for our guests and diners. What we wanted to do with the Twickenham restaurant was bring a taste of the other two locations, and the city, to the suburbs. It means people who eat in our city locations during the week can go home and enjoy our food in the evenings and weekends,” he commented.
Each restaurant in the M Restaurant portfolio certainly has its own style and a different menu to boot, yet there is a consistency that is unmistakable. Mike explained, “It is all about the demographic of where each restaurant is based, but they all carry the same ethos and my philosophy on food. That is very much about cooking seasonally and using the best produce around, but Threadneedle and Victoria are also international restaurants.”
“When we first opened M Restaurants, the concept was to showcase the best beef and wine in the world, so Martin and I choose countries that we felt had that – South Africa, France, America, Australia and Japan. The whole menu reflects that, it includes food from these countries, which makes it quite an eclectic menu, but all of it tells the same story. It is about showcasing the best ingredients and produce from all over the world in different ways. For example, one of my signature dishes is carrots. There are seven types of carrots on a plate all done differently; rosti, fermented, raw, in a natural fermentation, pickled, cooked, roasted, so you have a real taste explosion in your mouth of just carrots.”
“That is something that runs through the whole menu on both sites (Threadneedle & Victoria). Whereas with Twickenham, Martin and I really wanted to do something British and that was, to be honest, a reaction to Brexit. We wanted to be able to cut the cost because obviously buying in beef from all over the world is expensive and is now only going to get more expensive as we leave the European Union,” Mike explained.
“We wanted to be able to do a restaurant where we showcased the best of British food. I’ve spent the last two years working with British farmers on Wagyu Beef, trying to get it to the same standard as Australia and Japan. It coincided with the fact that Highland Wagyu is now the champion in our British restaurant in Twickenham and it is phenomenal. It is derived from Blackmore Wagyu, which is the Australian Wagyu that we have exclusivity for in this country. They, for me, are the best British Wagyu and some of the best in Europe,” he stated.
“The one dish we probably champion the most in our other two restaurants is the Smoked Wagyu Tartare. It uses a Blackmore Wagyu knuckle, with apples – pickled, fresh, apple gel, pressed apples and blossoms to finish, and we also smoke it in applewood so it arrives to the table under a cloche filled with smoke. It is quite a theatrical dish and it is one that really sums up how I like to cook and how I like to showcase my food.”
Mike’s style of cooking and food is synonymous with M Restaurants, but his own heritage and love of spices has clearly made a mark on his inspiration. “I could never live without a spice cupboard. I am very much a chef who loves spice in his food – not hot, but I love the aromas of spices and that is something that comes from my Caribbean heritage. I love to cook with lots of flavour,” he explained.
“There are so many ingredients I couldn’t live without… I could never live without chilli, onions, cheese and pork – it’s one of my favourite meats and we actually make our own charcuterie – I love to use the whole animal and pork is one of those meats I absolutely adore.”
“Seasonality also really does matter. If you look at asparagus, which is grown in this country and when in season, if you compare it to asparagus that is grown in Kenya – the taste is a million miles away – one tastes like asparagus and one doesn’t. It’s so disappointing to see produce available all year round and just because it is shouldn’t mean we should buy or eat it. That is a real focal point of my cooking and our menus, we change them four times a year to reflect the seasons. Having that relationship with our suppliers to find out what’s coming out, what’s good, and even if something is only good for one month to six weeks. One of my favourite ingredients is wild garlic and I absolutely adore it. Only available for six weeks, we create dishes with it, put it on the menu and then cry when it comes off! But it is so good and so worth having for those six weeks.”
“I really like Opso at the moment. It’s a greek restaurant in Marylebone and is a really nice place. A very different style of cuisine than I cook, which is why I like it. It’s relaxed and chilled and really amazing quality. They’ve got a couple of very talented chefs there. Also Gunpowder in Spitalfields is very cool, they are getting a lot of praise at the moment.”
“Internationally, San Sebastian is my favourite foodie destination, not just because it has some of the best restaurants in the world, but also because it is very hard to get a bad meal there. From a local tapas bar to Mugaritz, the quality is unbelievable. Mugaritz is probably my favourite restaurant in the world though. I’ve been lucky enough to have gone four times now and Andoni is just an unbelievable chef and his style of cuisine and cooking, I absolutely adore.”