We sat down with the Executive Chef of OXO Tower Restaurant, Bar & Brasserie, Jeremy Bloor, and the new Head Chef of the Fifth Floor Café in Knightsbridge, Justin Low, to discuss their cooking inspirations, the new direction of the Fifth Floor Café, and much more…
Can you introduce yourself; what’s your background, speciality and favourite cuisine?
Justin: I was born and raised as a first-generation Australian in Sydney with Chinese parents. My mum’s Chinese but born in India, I still haven’t figured out how or where they met. My dad’s a cook so I sort fell into cooking and then left Australia to explore the world of food. There’s so many unique experiences and you can pick up new styles, inspirations and techniques everywhere. When I arrived in London, I went from working in a café to fine dining to Michelin; I aspired to be multi-skilled and get my hands in all different areas. My favourite experience is always exploring the new people and personalities as each place adds something new.
Jeremy: Well I started working for Harvey Nichols in 1997, at Knightsbridge. Then I left to work at five-star hotels, Michelin-starred restaurants, then moved to OXO… then I left there, I worked around London and by chance came back to OXO and I’m still here after 18 years. So I’ve been going around in circles! I’d say my style has changed over the years – when you start off, you want to try all different types of cuisines and styles but now my palate has softened and I just love simple styles, I love eating simply. My favourite cuisine is Portuguese; my wife is from Portugal and our household is very influenced by this. Their food is very simple and hearty with big uncomplicated flavours. Not such an emphasis on presentation just – bang. Similar to Yorkshire, where I’m from.
What’s the inspiration behind the new menu and what can we expect to see on there in the future?
Justin: We’re keeping it true to British flavours and really in tune with the seasons, but we’re mixing it up with some classic techniques and French conceptions of the dishes. But always with British ingredients.
Jeremy: We’re just getting started and we really want to build up the menu with different and new elements.
Justin: The overarching concept is modern British, so we source the majority of ingredients from the UK and based on what’s in season. Sourcing locally is key for us. Our delicious crab meat comes from down in Dorset, and we have different local products everywhere across the menu – our cheese comes from all over the UK.
Jeremy: We’ve taken inspiration from OXO, where we have a zero-waste dessert with a reused water bottle that’s heated up and flattened to present the plate. We designed the Fifth Floor menu with this in mind – all parts of the ingredients are used. For example, broccoli will have its stems used either in the same dish as the florets or will be whizzed up or chopped up for part of another plate.
Do you have a favourite dish on the menu? A favourite dessert?
Jeremy: As autumn sets in, I’m really liking the vegan grain bowl at OXO, and our warm almond pudding for dessert. Honestly, it’s just beautiful. It’s so rewarding – fresh out of the oven at the perfect temperature so when you bite into it, you just don’t want it to end. I could easily eat my body weight of it.
Justin: The sea bass is amazing in the Fifth Floor Café; it has a crayfish dressing, pumpkin purée and gnocchi. It’s the perfect hearty food for winter, and we’re making more dishes like this now that it’s getting colder. For dessert, my favourite right now is probably the plum crumble. It’s a classic. Simple but delicious, plums are in season – and we make the crème anglaise here. When you’re coming in from the cold, a spoonful of the crumble immediately warms you up. It just lets the flavours do the talking.
Who are your cooking heroes?
Justin: For me, it’s probably American Michelin-starred chef Thomas Keller (chef and proprietor of The French Laundry). His style is very simple but technical, and his cookbooks are really well-written. He makes beautiful dishes, you can see it’s hearty cooking but it’s very technical and precise. I’ve got all his books – I’m a big fan of book collecting. Every time I go to Australia, I have to bring a whole suitcase back with me. Apart from that, I take ideas from creative people or just going shopping and seeing what’s available and thinking up nice ideas and dishes from it.
Jeremy: I find that when you’re working in a kitchen all day and you’re surrounded by food, the last thing you want to do is watch food… besides The Great British Bake Off because I love Noel Fielding and Sandi Toksvig.
What do you like cooking when you are at home?
Jeremy: I like to keep it simple. Classic dishes like spaghetti Bolognese or lasagne. When you eat them it’s so satisfying, and a bit of fuel. It’s not nice to create restaurant-style dishes at home. Never tell anyone at a barbecue you’re a chef.
Justin: I don’t really eat at work because you’ve got to focus on the task at hand, and by the time you finish work, you’re almost sick of food.
Jeremy: Everything’s so highly seasoned at work that when you get home you just want a simple cheese sandwich. It’s the opposite of working at a desk where you just want to eat all day.