The doors to his own restaurant opened a few months back and since then Tom Brown has been receiving critical acclaim. Savour editor Georga Spottiswood chats to the chef about his journey.
Tom Brown. A name that’s been plastered all over the national press. A name that every food critic’s been writing about in recent months. A name that every chef I’ve interviewed during the last few months has asked ‘have you eaten at Tom’s place yet?’
Now let’s take stock for a minute. Put yourself in his shoes. He’s 30 years old and has opened his own restaurant. No backers. No investors. Money borrowed from his dad – and his dad’s five brothers and sisters – after they inherited cash from the sale of Tom’s nan’s house when she sadly passed away.
You’ve worked your way up the ranks, you retained a Michelin star in your last role as head chef at Outlaw’s at The Capital – but now it’s your time to take centre stage. With the eyes of the chef world on you, the doors open to Cornerstone.
“It has been terrifying,” says the modest chef. “When we were setting up the restaurant, there were times when I would just stop and think ‘this is impossible. I can’t get it off the ground.’
“You pull your hair out. You look at the money going in and going out every day. It’s so scary,” says Tom, who’s created something spectacular in Hackney Wick, east London.
The Cornish lad, who worked his way up under Nathan Outlaw’s guidance and was a finalist on Great British Menu 2017, says “the time was right to go it alone”.
“It’s always a chef’s dream to have control over what you do. After Great British Menu, I felt it was time to spread my wings.
“The reactions have been amazing. Everybody has been enjoying what we are doing and the support from people has been phenomenal.
“Andrew Wong had his restaurant refurbished so offered me all of his chairs to save me buying some. I’ve had glasses from people, chefs offering to do shifts. You feel isolated and then wow, people just can’t do enough for you.”
His vision for his own restaurant was to create an open kitchen where guests can relax and enjoy his “honest” food.
“I love open kitchens and counter dining. It’s so rewarding as a chef. Usually, you’re underground in a corner somewhere. I can see what we’re doing and I wanted to create a buzz, somewhere fun to dine, somewhere that has soul.”
It’s the touches such as Tom’s late nan’s grandfather clock, desk and plants from her home that put a personal stamp on the place.
“When she died, she left a big townhouse and the money from the sale of the house went to my family. She had six children, including my dad, and it’s their inheritance that I’ve borrowed to set up Cornerstone,” says Tom, who named the restaurant after his favourite Arctic Monkeys song.
“It’s a nice thought to own a restaurant but you’re exposed. I’ve put everything out there and it’s very personal how people react. If people say it’s shit you take it to heart but when people get what you’re doing it’s a nice feeling.”
When it comes to his menu, Tom’s all about keeping it real. “It’s honest, simple and clean. It changes daily depending on what we can get from our suppliers. We keep it fluid. We’re constantly working on ideas.
“We get a nice bit of fish and do a nice piece of veg with it. We buy the best scallops we can and do a nice tomato dressing. They’re the only two things on the plate.“
“At the end of the night, when people come up and shake your hand and say it’s the best anniversary meal they’ve ever had, that’s what makes it all worthwhile.”
Would he change anything if he could? “I wouldn’t change anything. It’s gone how I wanted it to go. There have been some learning curves along the way, and we’ve had to settle in, but it’s got soul, it’s got legs.
“I’d like to open something else in the future, but right now I’m here every day making something special.”
To book online, check out Tom’s sample dishes, visit cornerstonehackney.com