The 13 most important UK chefs for 2016

From hot newcomers to reborn stars, olive profiles the lucky 13 chefs who’ll define the food zeitgeist in 2016

Mikael Jonsson – Hedone, London


Mikael’s dedication to sourcing exceptional, rare ingredients and his creative treatment of them, has already earned his restaurant a Michelin star, but his recent decision to cut Hedone’s opening hours and halve the number of diners to 18 will, he hopes, allow him to ‘take the food to the next level, to be more creative and spontaneous with produce which can vary daily’. This is not about chasing accolades, he insists, but many are tipping Mikael’s dishes – a new version of his black truffle omelette or his woodcock cooked in duck fat – to win Hedone a second star. Menus from £85; hedonerestaurant.com

Gary Usher – Sticky Walnut, Chester

When Gary launched Sticky Walnut in 2011 it was dead at weekday lunchtimes. His response was characteristic: ‘People were expecting freebies and giveaways, so I put a six-foot blackboard outside saying “No offers! No deals!”, which I tweeted. I think people found the honesty refreshing.’ That openness about the trials of the restaurant biz (don’t mention TripAdvisor!) has turned Gary into a Twitter star @stickywalnut. But that blackboard legend, in its refusal to compromise, was indicative of why this small, informal bistro is so loved now. Put simply, Gary’s team do things properly – from the awesome rosemary focaccia that opens a meal here to the glossy jus on the restaurant’s signature Jacob’s ladder with truffled parmesan chips and onion purée – everything is cooked from scratch. The kitchen is a hive of baking and stock-skimming industry. Sticky has already spawned a sister Wirral restaurant, Burnt Truffle (burnttruffle.net), and Gary is looking at sites in Manchester. ‘My plans for 2016?’ he says, ‘not to end up in a straitjacket and, hopefully, to have another little bistro serving no one at lunch.’ Starters from £4.50, mains from £14; stickywalnut.net

Leigh Evans – Combe Grove, Bath

Leigh’s modern take on classic flavours (venison haunch with juniper sauce, smoked garlic dauphinoise, braised onion and crispy kale), has won him a loyal following in Bath. His arrival at the country house hotel Combe Grove, which is soon to undergo a major refurb, could turn this local hero into a national name. Three courses, £37.50; combegrove.com

Stuart Russell – The Kitchen, Wales

From Halen Môn sea salt to Menai Straits lobster, North Wales is blessed with the finest ingredients but, historically, it has lacked sufficiently innovative chefs to make that produce sparkle. Stuart Russell’s rolling pop-up, The Kitchen, has filled the gap.Quirky venues such as Great Orme Brewery have proven an apt setting for Stuart’s playful dishes, such as Yorkshire pudding filled with stout-braised beef rib and a cider onion jam. ‘It eats like roast dinner but remains refined,’ he says. £30pp; thekitchenpopup.com

Kevin Tickle – Forest Side, Grasmere, Cumbria

Kevin came through the ranks at Simon Rogan’s restaurants and was once L’Enclume’s forager. Naturally, his first head chef role, at the Forest Side Hotel, will foreground seasonal, hand-picked ingredients. Produce from a walled garden and foraged items such as girolle mushrooms and coastal scurvy grass will all go into Kevin’s ‘clean, precise, natural’ cooking; he’s one-to-watch. À la carte menu, £55; theforestside.com

Ryan Blackburn – Old Stamp House, Ambleside, Cumbria

The cooking at Ryan’s basement restaurant – once a post office run by William Wordsworth – is technically elegant, and rooted in produce from his native Cumbria. ‘Some of the farmers I deal with I’ve known since school,’ Ryan says. It puts him at an advantage you can taste in dishes such as Herdwick hogget with gnocchi, pumpkin purée and winter chanterelles or his Ravenglass crab with avocado ice cream and candied grapefruit peel. Like James Cross at Lake Road Kitchen or Kevin Tickle (see above), Ryan is part of a new generation of chefs bringing a sharp, modern edge to Lake District dining. Starters from £8.50, mains from £19; oldstamphouse.com

Tom Harris and Jon Rotheram – Marksman, London

That Tom (formerly of St. John Hotel and Michelin-star winner) and Jon (ex-Fifteen executive chef) can cook was never in doubt. Their achievement at Hackney’s Marksman, however, in launching a food-led pub that, certainly downstairs, still feels like a proper boozer, is quite something. ‘A good atmosphere is made by pub regulars, and we worked hard to keep them,’ says Tom, while enthusing about the Marksman’s vinyl jukebox, craft beers from Redchurch Brewery and hustle and bustle. The Marksman’s food is rugged, gutsy pub grub rendered with unusual skill and superior ingredients (beef from Welsh farmer Tom Jones, for instance). Don’t miss the kid curry or the braised beef buns, which will soon be available to takeaway on Sundays. Starters from £5, mains from £16; marksmanpublichouse.com

Chris McGowan – Wine & Brine, Moira, Northern Ireland

Previously Richard Corrigan’s right-hand man, Chris returned home recently to open this hip, casual venue that spotlights stellar Northern Irish ingredients (Cleggan Estate game, Comber potatoes, Leggygowan cheese), and uses various pickling and curing techniques to bring zip and complex depth to its food. Expect to be wowed by the whey and grass-brined short rib with smoked bone marrow and beer onions. Starters from £4.50, mains from £11; wineandbrine.co.uk

Michael Caines – various venues

He’s one of Britain’s best known chefs, but on 3 January, after 21 years at Gidleigh Park, Michael will work his last service there and a new era will begin for him. He’ll be spending 2016 opening a restaurant at Palé Hall Hotel in Wales (summer 2016; palehall.co.uk), and transforming his new flagship property, Courtlands, a Georgian manor house on Devon’s Exe estuary (due to open in the spring of 2017). ‘Courtlands will allow me to express my vision of country house hospitality at the highest level,’ says Michael. michaelcaines.com

Simon Shaw – El Gato Negro, Manchester

This Spanish-food obsessive used to cook in a remote Pennine village, where his impeccable sourcing and modish tapas dishes, such as duck egg yolk with artisan Alejandro chorizo and migas breadcrumbs, won him a devoted following. In February, Simon opens El Gato Negro in Manchester. His reputation will soar. Dishes from £5; elgatonegrotapas.com

Elizabeth Allen – Pidgin, London

Elizabeth’s cooking encapsulates everything that’s exciting about the London scene: global outlook; creative energy; experimental edge; respect for traditional skills (such as BBQ). Singapore-born and UK-raised, Elizabeth loves to travel and has worked at restaurants as diverse in style as L’Enclume and Neil Rankin’s Smokehouse. She puts all of that experience into her dishes; guests at the intimate Pidgin might enjoy, for instance, sliced raw mullet with seaweed cracker, apple and burnt fennel mayo, or whole duck (served every-which-way, from smoked to cassoulet) with pickled elderberries, koji-fermented rice paste, parsnips and red wine gravy. ‘I’m not trying to teach or preach about global cuisines. I’m no expert, but I love creating exciting new flavours. For instance, I love drying ingredients people wouldn’t think to use that way,’ she says. That creative vigour has made Elizabeth a fast-rising star and Pidgin one of London’s hottest destinations. Set menu, four courses, £35; pidginlondon.com

Andy Oliver – Som Saa, London

Many who ate at Som Saa’s Climpson’s Arch pop-up last year found its Thai food revelatory. Andy was tutored by Thai expert David Thompson, has cooked in Thailand, and his determination to get every detail right (for instance, he makes his own coconut cream), makes his dishes sing. After getting a whopping £700K of crowdfunding in just four days, Som Saa will soon open permanently in Spitalfields, where fans will be able to gorge on fried fish and Isaan (a spicy Northeastern Thai salad), or salted palm sugar ice cream. ‘We’re excited about showcasing stir-fried dishes, and we’ll have a really fun weekend brunch,’ says Andy. Small plates from £5, large from £12; @somsaa_london

Lee Tiernan – Black Axe Mangal, London

‘It was a bit of a joke,’ says Lee of Black Axe’s genesis. ‘I just wanted to play really loud metal and make kebabs.’ Nevertheless, his tiny Islington diner is a smash hit (read the review at Omagazine.com). Using a huge, black pizza oven, a Turkish charcoal mangal grill and his secret-recipe sourdough flatbread, Lee – a former head chef at St. John Bread & Wine – is producing incredible doner and adana kebabs, falafel and offal lamahcun. Meal from £10; blackaxemangal.com

By Tony Naylor

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