Theo Clench, Cycene, London

Theo Clench, Cycene, London
Rory Van Millingen / photo provided

Interview: Theo Clench discusses the concept restaurant Cycene

Interviews London Restaurant News

The chef of the new venue in Shoreditch talks about special dining experiences and why guests are allowed to watch him in the kitchen.

In October, a new concept restaurant opened in Shoreditch, London: Cycene offers only 16 covers each night and aims to provide a relaxed atmosphere. It is part of Blue Mountain School, and provides a cultural space which includes, amongst other attractions, an art gallery and a fashion store, with diners allowed (and encouraged) to move around after starting the evening at the bar on the lower floor. As well as the dining experience, guests can enter the kitchen where their ten-course menu is being prepared.

Cycene chef Theo Clench, formerly executive chef at Akoko and head chef at Portland, spoke to Falstaff about his ideas.

Falstaff: What is the idea behind Cycene?

Theo Clench: We wanted to create something a little bit different, like dining in someone´s home. And we wanted to make it a bit more of an experience. So, we have a bar downstairs where the guests come and have their first course. Normally, when you go to a restaurant, you come in, you sit down, you get given a menu, and you start. Whereas here, we wanted to create something just to relax people, so they spend half an hour downstairs, they have a bread and a broth course, which is an unusual way to start the meal. It triggers lots of memories. Later, our guests get brought upstairs where we have a course in the kitchen with the chefs. It’s nice for guests to interact with the chefs and with each other.

Bar at Cycene, London
Rebecca Dickson / photo provided
Bar at Cycene, London

Usually, chefs are not keen on being watched.

Yes, usually, chefs are hidden. But actually the reason why we are chefs is because we like cooking for people. It takes the edge off, and makes it a bit more personal. I have no problems with being watched by guests.

How has the response been so far?

The feedback has been brilliant and we are busy. As far as openings go, it has been very smooth, probably because I have had my whole team with me from the beginning. My senior guys have been with me for four years, and they followed me from restaurant to restaurant. We all know how each other work.

Cycene means kitchen in Old English; how do you feel about cooking and kitchens in former times?

Back in the old times, before World War One, kitchens were just big rooms in the middle of the house, and you needed to eat there. Cycene also ties back into the feeling of being in someone’s house. Whenever you go to someone for a dinner party or something, everyone hangs out in the kitchen and has a little bite.

How much have you been influenced by your travels and work in other countries?

I have travelled East Asia and lived and worked in Australia. My mom is half French as well, so that has an influence. But I didn’t want to kind of pigeonhole the cuisine, saying we are modern British or classic French. I am taking bits from different parts of my life and experiences and collating them into something that I think is quite unique in being able to pick fantastic produce. The world is a small place now. You can walk down a street in Australia and bump into someone you know. So, it is about picking the best products and different techniques and just bringing them together in food that I like to eat. It gives me pleasure to eat.

Where do your ingredients come from?

The majority, I’d say 90 to 95 per cent, is from the UK. I am very particular about produce, so I will only buy fish from dayboat fishermen. I do get some produce from small farms in the southwest of France as well, like poultry, ducks, and pigeons. I do use some Japanese ingredients but it very much depends on where you can find the best within reason. We’re looking to work with small farms.

Dish at Cycene, London.
Rebecca Dickson / photo provided
Dish at Cycene, London.

Do you think that guests nowadays are more keen on knowing where the ingredients come from?

Yes, definitely. Guests like the traceability, especially with the fish. I know the name of the fisherman that caught it and I know the name of his boat. Smaller producers are the main source of our ingredients.

There are some new restaurants following zero-waste concepts. How do you deal with waste at your restaurant?

We try to minimise waste as much as possible. We do a lot of fermentation with waste products in the kitchen and we also turn some ingredients to kombuchas. If we use a lamb, we will use the whole animal, everything is useful. The same goes for fish. A good chef is reducing waste as much as they can because no one wants to see anything go into the bin.

What role does the wine list play for your restaurant?

James Brown, who is the founder of Blue Mountain School, is very passionate about his wine and low intervention, and finding very niche suppliers. Usually, restaurants in London use the same suppliers. We are trying to steer away from that and go direct or smaller, our wine list is a little bit different and unique. And we offer two different pairings: our house wine pairing, and then we offer a rarity pairing,

Speaking about Blue Mountain School: what role does it play in the restaurant?

The whole school is one team, we all work together. James and Christie Brown, who founded Blue Mountain School, obviously collaborated with me on opening Cycene; they are very much an integral part of the business, the design and aesthetics are very much done by them. They are extremely talented and very creative people. Some clients from the school will come to us, and some guests who come to the restaurant and don’t know what the school is about, will come back and visit. We are working hand-in-hand.

Christie and James Brown with Theo Clench.
Rory Van Millingen / photo provided
Christie and James Brown with Theo Clench.

At your restaurant, guests should feel like they’re eating at someone’s home; what can be done to create this atmosphere?

The comfort and feel of the room, like candles on the table; they are all part of this atmosphere. We have hip-hop on the playlist, like you’re in someone’s house. And then there is the personal level of service. It is very professional, but it’s not so uptight and not robotic but very natural. And because of the interaction with all of the staff, especially the chefs, people do say it’s nothing like they’ve ever experienced before. It’s a very unique restaurant.

There are discussions about the future of fine dining. Is Cycene fine dining, and what do you think about this concept today?

I would say we are fine dining. There’s lots of arguments about whether fine dining is dying or not. I think Cycene is a special occasion restaurant. Everyone will save up to come for a birthday or an anniversary. People go out for less meals, but when they do, they want to go somewhere where there’s more of an experience, and is very special.

What do you think about London’s dining scene?

There are a lot of big openings coming up. I think the thing about London is it never, ever stopped moving; it is constant. There are new openings, there are big chefs; it’s so fluid. There’s so much on your doorstep to go and eat.

Robert Prazak
Editor Falstaff International

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