Chefs don’t come much more in-demand than Luke Selby. His CV is a bucket list of cheffy achievements: Young National Chef of the Year in 2014; National Chef of the Year in 2018; winner of the hugely respected Roux Scholarship in 2017 (the only chef ever to win all three, by the way), and a list of prestigious former employers as long as your arm, including Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, Dabbous, Nihonryori RyuGin in Tokyo, HIDE and now Evelyn’s Table - number three in our Top 100 London restaurants list for 2022.
Evelyn’s Table isn’t just Luke’s restaurant though, it’s more of a family affair. Luke is joined by brothers Theo and Nathaniel (Nat) in the kitchen, and between them they’ve been making waves with their precise, unique, Franco-Japanese counter dining experience. We weren’t the only ones to pick it out for special attention - the restaurant snagged a Michelin star this year, and the brothers picked up Michelin’s Young Chef award in the process, cementing their place as the capital’s hottest properties.
West Sussex to the West End
Luke, Theo and Nat Selby grew up in leafy West Sussex, nestled right in the shadow of the beautiful South Downs. Their paths into cooking differed, but they all developed a love of food that was underpinned by their parents. Their mother was a keen forager and would often send the brothers hunting for food on the South Downs; when they returned, Luke would fulfill his older brother responsibilities by taking over most of the family cooking duties. ‘Dad really loves his food too,’ says Theo. ‘I think we all got a lot of pleasure from seeing him happy and enjoying what we cooked.’
All three brothers worked in kitchens from an early age but their paths would soon diverge - Luke left home and headed straight to Le Manoir, Theo went to catering college, and Nat studied illustration at university. A couple of years later though, seduced by stories of Luke’s experience at Le Manoir, the brothers would reunite: Theo messaged his older brother asking about a job, then Nat came for a stage too, eventually taking a commis chef position and completing the trio for the first time. ‘I graduated, but then I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do in terms of a career,’ says Nat. ‘I did a bit of work experience at local restaurants, then I came to do a stage at Le Manoir and I just thought it was really nice.
‘It was inspiring seeing these guys,’ he says, nodding towards his brothers. ‘I had to put my name down on a waiting list to be a commis chef at Le Manoir back in the day!’
Made in Japan
After a few years together under the watchful tutelage of Raymond Blanc and Gary Jones at Le Manoir, the brothers would continue their oscillations, dispersing on their own paths once again: Luke moved to London to link up with Clare Smyth at Royal Hospital Road; Theo moved to Necker Island to cook for Richard Branson; and Nat headed for iconic East Midlands institution Simpsons in Birmingham.
By the time Luke reunited the trio at HIDE some years later, they were battle-hardened kitchen veterans. Ollie Dabbous brought in Luke to head up the kitchen at HIDE’s upstairs fine dining restaurant, and Luke turned to his trusted brothers to help run the kitchen team. HIDE was arguably the highest profile restaurant opening of 2018 - Luke, Nat, Theo and team won a Michelin star just five months after opening - but it was an enormous operation - three busy floors, and hundreds upon hundreds of covers every day. When Luke left, he had an idea for something altogether different - an intimate, counter-style restaurant that would finally showcase his own food.
‘I’d always been hugely inspired by my time in Japan and the counter restaurant concept,’ says Luke. ‘The plan I had for the restaurant is almost exactly what Evelyn’s has ended up being, but it was always going to be for the three of us, not just me on my own. It had to be a good opportunity for all of us.’
The narrative since has been one of three brothers, cooking, plating and weaving around each other in a tiny basement kitchen in Chinatown. Luke is still the older brother and the de facto leader of the group, but he is keen to rebuff the idea that the trio are only there because they are brothers. ‘These guys are strong enough to hold their own in any kitchen,’ he says. ‘When people ask me what it’s like working with your brothers, honestly, the brothers thing doesn’t really matter. When we work, we don’t treat each other like brothers, there’s no special treatment - you just have this tight knit relationship when you’ve worked together for so long.’
‘When people ask me what it’s like working with your brothers, honestly, the brothers thing doesn’t really matter.’
‘We are brothers, of course! But our success is built on the fact that we’ve worked with each other for so long, and we really understand and communicate well with each other. Not just because we’re brothers.’
Response to Evelyn’s Table has been phenomenal, but the trio freely admit that it’s taken some serious readjustment. Instead of being behind the scenes the brothers are now front and centre, cooking and serving dishes and chatting with guests during service. ‘We’re so used to being behind closed doors - it has taken some getting used to,’ says Theo.
‘It’s completely different,’ Luke adds. ‘It’s like you’re hosting, you know? The kitchen is our prep space as well, so it’s a very tight. The hard part is getting everything done - once we hit 6pm we have to drop everything and create a welcoming atmosphere and energy for service. It’s almost like a theatre performance, but we’re cooking as well. I think we’ve been able to do it because of the relationship the three of us have in the kitchen.’
As for the future, the space is somewhat limiting, but the brothers have finally recruited a fourth team member to help with prep. ‘It was just the three of us for so long,’ says Luke, ‘so if one of us gets sick, there’s no backup plan.’ Apart from that, Luke insists that it’s just a case of building on a great foundation, and enjoying the opportunity to give back to some of the people that helped them along the way. ‘We’ve got Raymond booked for the end of the month,’ he grins. ‘Gary Jones came recently. Ollie (Dabbous) has been in too. It’s great to be able to cook our own food for the people that trained us and inspired us on our journey.’
Who or what have been your biggest influences?
Nat: I think these guys will say the same but Raymond Blanc was inspirational for me, just in terms of his whole ethos and respect for produce. It’s all about the ingredients for him, and that’s been huge for me too.
Theo: I would say Luke first and foremost, but then Gary Jones and Raymond Blanc. Also my first head chef, Carl Illes - he took me on at a little restaurant in West Sussex called The Chardonnay. He used to work at The Savoy in the 80s. He knew how to run a business and I learned a lot from him - where we lived in the country there weren’t many great restaurants, so it was rare to find someone with that skill set and knowledge who was willing to pass it on.
Luke: I guess everyone I’ve worked for really, in different ways! Gary (Jones) and Raymond Blanc, obviously. Clare Smyth and Matt Abe. Ollie Dabbous. Even for a brief time Seiji Yamamoto in Japan. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some amazing people, not just the big names but even sous chefs and all the people in the brigades that you work with. Even the Roux family, they’ve been a massive influence in forming me as a chef and inspiring our path and our journey.
What was the last great meal you had?
Nat: The Waterside Inn, for sure, that was amazing. Luke took us when we got the star here.
Luke: We had a little family meal together, us and the partners. It was really really special, a meal I’ll always remember. The hospitality was amazing and we were so well looked after. We went to see Alain Roux, and then we went to Le Manoir afterwards. Just paying homage to all the great places we’re fortunate to have a relationship with.
What are your favourite restaurants in the UK?
Nat: I went to The Coach in Marlow, and had a really nice meal. Oh and Humble Chicken! He (Angelo Sato) is a good friend of Luke’s, he comes to eat here a lot.
Luke: Yeah, Angelo has been here five times or something like that! I went to Ikoyi recently. The ingredient quality is very high, and the chef has a really distinct style with flavour profiles, and the level of spicing. It’s very different and unique, and it’s hard to be truly original.
Theo: I love Perilla, I always mention those guys. I’m based around there so I’m often at Perilla or Mangal 2. I had a great lunch at The French House too, proper classic French, great value, tasty food. It’s really humble but delicious, I think it’s a real chef haunt.
Discover more of the UK's best chefs and exciting new talents, including the likes of Chet Sharma, Merlin Labron-Johnson and Chantelle Nicholson.