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- Wednesday, 22 February 2017 13:27 | Written by Matthias Tesi Baur
Tesi: Dear Robert, you are the patron chef of the restaurant thompson’s on the Isle of Wight. Can you please tell us a little about you and your restaurant?
Robert: I have loved cooking since I was 10 years old. Cooking and preparing food was always a hugely important element in my family. My older brother Patrick inspired and encouraged me to become a chef. He even won the Roux Scholarship, which impressed me immensely. I remember how my thoughts on the design of my restaurant started to develop very early in my life. To open my own restaurant and make it uniquely ‘my’ place was my life’s dream.
I started to work in the hotel industry when I was 13 years old. For the first six month I washed dishes, only then I was allowed to work in the desert section (Robert smiles). I also did my work experience in the same hotel where I worked with the front of house team.
When I was 15 or 16 my brother took me to visit a selection of fine dining restaurants for the first time. I remember visiting both Guy Savoy and the Arpege around 20 years ago. It must have been at that time my dream to open a restaurant developed further; it became clear to me that my restaurant had to be a fine dining venue. The plates, the ingredients, and the cooking skills I observed during those exploratory dining experiences fascinated me.
I have been fortunate to work at various wonderful restaurants during my career. I started as apprentice at the two Michelin Starred Winteringham Fields working for Germain and Annie Schwab. At the age of 23, I was awarded my very own first Michelin Star. Following this experience I made my way south and after a short stint at Cliveden I headed to the Isle of Wight where I started to cook at The Hambrough. I was lucky as I had the freedom to manage and build the restaurant according to my wishes and requirements. Four months later we won a Michelin Star, 3 AA Rosettes and 7/10 in The good Food Guide. I truly enjoyed elevating The Hambrough but it was, nevertheless not my very own restaurant. To fulfill my childhood dream I finally opened thompson’s in Newport.
The chosen venue was in a really bad condition and with only 6 months to complete a substantial renovation, my strong family bonds kicked in. As an example, all tables were handmade by my father. My team and I worked day and night to renovate the venue. I am extremely proud my restaurant is a family business in the best and complete sense of the word. I love to be on the Isle of Wight and I am very thankful my career developed to allow me to run my own restaurant on this amazing Island.
Tesi: Your strong bond to the Isle of Wight is magnificent. What is special about this island?
Robert: I indeed love the island; I like the fact I am surrounded by water. The island offers great produce for my menu, such as lobster, sea bass, asparagus, tomatoes, and much more. The island enjoys the greatest percentage of sunshine in the UK; this is wonderful when you need to grow good vegetables. The climate is mild resulting in an island perfect for a short holiday, or as a location for a second home. It is so easy to jump on a train at Waterloo and come down for just a day. We also have a range of exciting festivals and events here on the island, overall adding to an amazing life style. I always have the feeling that I start relaxing once I board the ferry to the island.
We attract a large spectrum of guests to the restaurant and much of this comes from the island which is absolutely great.. We do not have the pressure to turn a table around in 2 hours and can dedicate much more time to get to know our guests. Shopping and gastronomic landscapes are rapidly changing on the island. We now have a selection of great bakeries as well as other inviting shops. The Island has changed incredibly and in a positive way, in the last 10 years; it will no doubt develop further in the next 10 years. I expect the Isle of Wight to develop like Cornwall, but with the benefit that it is much easier to reach for guests from London and Brighton.
Tesi: What is your vision for the future and where would you like to be in 5 years?
Robert: As I feel I have fulfilled my life-long dream by opening thompson’s here in Newport; what you are asking is not an easy question to answer. I do not feel I want to replicate thompson’s by opening a second branch. The new restaurant should be unique; I also do not think there is enough room for a second similar restaurant on the island.
I am very enthusiastic about street food and the concept is something I want to explore further in the next few years. You may call it a vision; it would be wonderful to create something together with my team, which involves the element of street food merged with our gastronomic concept. I am currently unclear how to best explore this path but I am very confident my future will in some way, be associated with street food.
Tesi: What is your favourite dish and why?
Hare Royal - taught to me by Germain Schwab of Winteringham Fields
Hare Royal - Serves 4
- 1 Hare – oven ready
- 2 Eggs
- 1tsp Dijon mustard
- 10 Green peppercorns
- 1tsp Thyme – chopped
- 150ml Double cream
- 100g Thinly sliced proscuitto
Remove the fillets from the hare and carefully remove the sinew. Remove the legs before trimming the meat off of each. Transfer the leg meat to a blender and add the eggs, mustard, peppercorns, thyme and a little Maldon salt. Blend until very smooth.
Set the blended leg meat over ice in a bowl and then gently stir in the cream.
Spoon the mix into a piping bag and rest in the fridge.
Lay the proscuitto out on silicone paper overlapping each slice. Top with another piece of paper and using a rolling pin, roll to make the proscuitto even thinner as well as even. You are aiming for a proscuitto board the same length as the fillet of hare.
Spread the mousse over two thirds of the proscuitto and then place the fillets head to tail along in the centre the board. Roll up completely enclosing in the mousse.
Tightly roll the hare in three layers of cling film and tie each end. Cook at 58 degrees for 45 minutes and then remove plunging the royal into iced water.
Heat a non-stick pan and add a little vegetable oil, colour the hare evenly all over before transferring to the oven. Roast for a further 3 minutes on each side turning ¼ each time totalling 12 minutes at 190˚c. Allow to rest before carving.
To serve, slice the ends off carefully and then into 3-4 even slices. Serve with potato rosti, seared duck liver and its own sauce finished with green peppercorn, red currant jelly and a touch of cream.
Tesi: What does good food mean to you?
Robert: (takes a moment to think about the question) Good food is when you share a great culinary moment with friends and family. Good food results from the combination of the right ingredients, a perfect moment in time, and the company of those who are important in your life. A dish does not need to be expensive, but everything should be in harmony. For me good food is when I enjoy a moment full of harmony and laughter with friends.
Matthias Tesi Baur