2 August 2014

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Interview with Rotunda’s Nicky Foley


Nicky Foley 2013 - IMG_0708.jpgNicky Foley, the new head chef at Rotunda in King’s Cross, talks to Square Meal about his Irish upbringing, why a footballing career was a no-go, and running out of turkey on Christmas Day.

How have you changed the menu at Rotunda since you took over – have you added many Irish dishes?

I’ve added my devilled Irish fry to the menu, but in general I don’t think there’s much difference between British and Irish cuisine. At the restaurant, all our produce comes from England, but I’ve given some of the dishes a few Irish tweaks. Even the Cambridge burnt cream we serve could have Irish roots – I was looking through a food-history book the other day, and found an Irish recipe from the 1500s called Ballyduff Pudding, which is the same thing.

What’s your earliest food memory?

The smell of fresh peas in early summer – we used to go out foraging for them. I come from a large family – I’ve got six brothers and three sisters – and my mum would always be baking bread, or cooking boiled bacon and cabbage for us – you can’t beat it.

If you hadn’t have become a chef, what would you have done?

I would say I’d have been a footballer, but I haven’t got the knees! My brother Mark is involved with a restaurant group in Ireland, so I would definitely still be working in the food or restaurant business even if I hadn’t become a chef.

Which restaurant has influenced you the most?

Bentley’s, just for the quality of everything. The head chef when I worked there was Brendan Fyldes, who’s from Lancashire – he gave me a good solid background in English dishes. We now get our fish from the same suppliers.

What are your golden rules in the kitchen?

I tell my chefs to have fun, learn, and follow the right procedures.

What is your food heaven and hell?

I love dim sum, as long as it’s steamed. I take my daughter to a great place in Soho called Super Star – the dim sum there is the best around. Something I hate on principle is microwaveable meals – I’ve actually never bought one.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

The motto at Bentley’s was that fresh is best, and I still adhere to that. My other motto is: a clean chef is a happy chef, a happy chef cooks happy food, and happy food equals happy customers.

What’s been your biggest kitchen disaster?

One Christmas Day when I was working at Butler’s Wharf Chop House, we almost ran out of turkeys! I had to ring round a few mates and rush across London, but I got hold of some in the end.

What do you think of the London dining scene at the moment?

I started cooking in London eight years ago and in that time the quality and choice of restaurants has increased dramatically. There’s a lot happening in King’s Cross at the moment – Google is moving in and The Guardian is next door to Rotunda.

What are your favourite restaurants in London?

Hawksmoor, The Gilbert Scott, and Bread Street Kitchen – I eat at them whenever I can.

This interview was published in March 2013.

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