Above: Chef Phil Thompson
After my first day as a restaurant owner I am sitting in the corner sucking my thumb, rocking and waiting for my mum to come and get me...
“Then about other 1,000 chefs re-tweeted it”
MICHELIN starred former executive head chef at L’Auberge du Lac, Phil Thompson, tells the story of how he achieved his dream by taking the plunge and buying his own restaurant - and what he hopes is next.
Catering has run in Phil Thompson’s family for many years. His grandmother, mother and one of his sisters were all chefs. His grandmother and in turn his mother were managers of the Ford’s canteen in his hometown of Dagenham and his father was a butcher.
At the age of 12 Phil, now 36, started helping his uncle Mick who ran a contract catering business.
“Basically every weekend I was in the kitchen washing pots while all my mates were out in the park playing football! said Phil.
When he left school he studied his NVQ level 1 & 2 in food and catering at Thurrock College, including front of house and waitering.
His first job was at The Lainsborough in Hyde Park where Paul Gayler, extremely well know in the industry, was Head Chef.
Phil explained how Paul said to him:
“Don’t waste your potential, come and see me when you have finished college.
“He was fellow Essex boy who really took me under his wing - a mentor figure who gave me the perfect start to my career.”
After a couple of years Phil moved on to the Orrery in Marylebone, the first of Conran’s fine dining restaurants, run by Chris Galvin. He started as a Demi Chef de Partie and a year later was promoted to Chef de Partie.
Within the first two years of opening, Chris Galvin was awarded a Michelin star.
Phil explained how he was very proud to have been part of that:
“For me, it was one of the best restaurants in London and always packed. There were eight chefs I worked with there, who now all have their own Michelin stars, all from the experience of working at the Orrery. It was the equivalent of the ‘Real Madrid’ of kitchens and all those great chefs influenced me.”
As London chefs move around a lot and generally want five or six of the city’s best restaurants on their CVs, Phil then set his sights on more Michelin starred establishments.
He took a job as Chef de Partie doing the ‘Sauce Section’ i.e. cooking the meat and preparing all the main courses at St Martin’s Lane Hotel.
Straight from the off it became a celebrity haunt, with people such as Madonna and Leonardo di Caprio staying there.
“I wanted a challenge and certainly got one. As part of the opening team it took four to five months before the kitchen, the team, staff and routines were in place and settled. I was given a room in the hotel to sleep in as it was nearly four months before I got a single day off,” said Phil.
Next stop was the famous L’Escargot, one of the oldest Michelin star restaurants in London, which always had great Head Chefs at the helm, such as Marco Pierre White.
Phil worked under Head Chef Jeff Galvin and enjoyed three years in the one Michelin starred and three AA Rosette Picasso room, as a Chef de Partie. He was promoted to Junior Sous Chef in his final year.
Then he got a phone call from a Head Chef with who he’d previously worked with at the Orrery, saying he was looking for a number two at an estate in Hertfordshire called Brocket Hall, to work in the restaurant, ‘L’Auberge du Lac’.
“When I saw the place I fell in love with it and also felt it was the right time to leave London,” said Phil.
In 2002, just two months after Phil started, Jean Christophe Novelli joined Brocket Hall as Executive Chef. Shortly after joined he promoted Phil to Head Chef at the age of just 24. In 2005 Jean-Christophe Novelli left Brocket Hall, handing the reins over to Phil.
In 2009 Phil achieved his first Michelin star and held it for four consecutive years.
“We achieved the star through a lot of blood, sweat and tears. None of the team there had ever worked in a Michelin starred restaurant before so I was very proud.” said Phil.
After 11 years as Executive Head Chef of Brocket Hall, Phil was keen to have his own place. So he and his fiancée Marianne went cap in had to close family and friends to find a deposit in order to secure a business loan.
The couple wanted to stay in Hertfordshire which had become their new home and having looked at a number of places, eventually found Darcy’s Restaurant in St Albans. They knew immediately it was the place for them.
The city’s centrally-based restaurant had been run by Kate d’Arcy and Ruth Hurren and was an established brand in the area. Sadly Kate d’Arcy had died of cancer and Ruth needed to sell.
“When we met Ruth said she knew we would look after the business and take it to the next level. Ruth was delighted that a Michelin star chef wanted to take on her legacy. We bought the restaurant on the first of November 2013 and opened on the same day, just four weeks before the Christmas period.
“I spent the first two months waking up every morning feeling sick, thinking have I done the right thing? I can honestly say it’s the scariest thing I’ve ever done,” Phil confessed.
He went on:
“We would not have got through this exceptionally challenging period without the commitment of the opening team. It was an emotionally roller coaster, to say the least. Everyone in the team went the extra mile to make THOMPSON@Darcy’s a success.
“We’re trying to bring something different to St Albans, by way of a fine dining restaurant, meaning our guests don’t have to go into London. We are very much focused on our guests enjoying good seasonal produce, offering a friendly and relaxed dining environment.
“At the start all my family told me not to be a chef but I genuinely wanted to be the best chef I could be. I want my restaurant to be one that everyone talks about and is excited about going to. When l go into the restaurant I want to see happy, smiling, satisfied faces. You make so many sacrifices in this job, I now want to show my family it was all worth it.”
And he concluded: “I see St Albans as a great opportunity - passionate about good food and seasonal produce. I hope many more in St Albans will come to THOMPSON@Darcys to experience what we have to offer. I genuinely want to see new people come in to the restaurant and return as regulars loving and embracing the food I cook.”
Set in the heart of St Albans, THOMPSON@Darcy’s is run by highly experienced and former Michelin starred chef, Phil Thompson.
The restaurant offers a relaxed, fun and affordable fine dining experience. It is modern, vibrant and busy, with each room offering a different feel and atmosphere without the pretence of formal fine dining. There is also a terrace for outdoor eating.
‘Fine dining’ usually brings dress code, etiquette and expense to mind. The focus for THOMPSON@Darcy’s is on the food and ingredients, creativity and the taste sensations unique to the restaurant. Mid week set lunch and dinner menus offer two to three courses in the region of £20.