Foodie Features

Phil Thompson – Going His Own Way

By Rosie Birkett

Rosie Birkett talks to the former long time Auberge du Lac chef Phil Thompson, about making the leap and opening his own place in St Albans.

Essex-born chef Phil Thompson comes from a family of cooks – his mother, sister and uncle all being in the trade. “My uncle was a caterer and I used to do weekends with him and wash his pots. Slowly but surely, he got me picking lettuce and showed me how to make Marie Rose sauce and Yorkshire puddings. I got more and more involved and caught the bug for it. I went to college and trained as a chef – they all told me not to, but I did it. I wish I’d listened to them now,” he chuckles.

He kicked off his professional career in London at The Lanesborough Hotel, where work experience turned into a paid job under executive chef Paul Gayler. “Paul has had a real impact on my career,” says Phil. “It was like a family at the Lanesborough – which really helped me as a sixteen year old rookie. I don’t think I would have survived in a harder kitchen initially, but by the time I was done there, I felt ready to face a tougher one.”

His next role took him to Orrery in Marylebone High Street, where a certain young Chris Galvin was building a name for himself. “It was exciting, there was a big buzz and all the chefs were really good. Many who left that kitchen have gone on to achieve Michelin stars in their own right.”And Thompson is one such chef, earning a star in 2010 at Auberge du Lac, where he cooked his way up to executive chef before opening his first solo venture, Thompson’s at Darcy’s in St Albans in November 2013.

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“After eleven years I wanted to be my own boss. I put the feelers out and my fiancé, Marianne, wrote the business plans, went to the banks, got a loan; we put in our life savings and bought a restaurant.” Darcy’s was an existing establishment in St Albans with a strong reputation, so Thompson decided not to change the name in honour of one of the previous owners, Kate D’arcy, who had died.

“Five months later we’re still here and still standing. It’s been a roller-coaster though,” he says, of adjusting to the role of chef-restaurateur. “The first month was the hardest of my cooking career. You’re trying to be a chef and run a kitchen, but you’re a restaurateur, so you’ve got all these other problems like the taps aren’t working or the toilets are over-flowing.”

While the name is still the same, Thompson has totally changed the food offering, drawing on his fine dining background and classical training to create a refined but hearty French/English menu, with dishes like beef rump with Madeira braised snails and roasted wings and confit chicken oysters. “I like to cook food which I like to eat and I’m classically trained, so I don’t mess around with flavour combinations too much. I put my own spin on it – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I try to include as much British produce as I can. I’m not saying I use Hertfordshire reared carrots, but everything is seasonal and as locally sourced as possible. You won’t find a strawberry here in the winter.”

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