Ruth Hansom is part of the next generation of female chefs making her mark in the industry. She was the first female winner of the Young National Chef of the Year in 2017 and has also appeared on BBC’s My Million Pound Menu, where she caught the eye of chef Atul Kochhar, and secured the prospect of a £1m investment to launch a restaurant concept called Epoch.
Unfortunately, plans for Epoch have not come to fruition, but she recently landed the head chef position at Pomona’s. The Notting Hill restaurant debuted in 2016 with a Californian-inspired focus, but Hansom has transformed its offering into relaxed fine dining with an emphasis on sharing.
Brunch is a big deal at Pomona’s, but in what might be a controversial move, Hansom has her sights set on scrapping it during the week and making lunch and dinner the big hitters.
Here, she chats about wanting to bring the food sharing culture of Spain and Italy further into the UK restaurant scene, why seaweed is going to be huge and the importance of respecting ingredients.
When I arrived at Pomona’s it was still very British, which is obviously something I have continued, but it was very brunchy, very big portions, very hearty and rustic food. It was really tasty, but I wanted to change it so it was more of a sharing vibe and the plates were smaller – a bit more of a social thing… Before it was split into brunch, then a light section and then a bit of a more filling, substantial section, whereas now it’s more the land, the sea and the earth.
The dishes are all designed to share but can easily be eaten alone too. They focus on the best of British and are super seasonal. Its great produce delicately worked with to highlight that fact.
We have a tasting menu we offer in the evening but it’s still sharing, so there are four courses and every course you get three little dishes in the middle of the table to share.
I don’t think there are many people now that go out and have a three-course meal, or if they do I think they often say, ‘Oh, can I have a bit off your plate.’
I love the food culture in Spain and Italy of sitting around a table and sharing dishes and the food being a big topic of discussion. I want to bring that to the UK but with British produce and traditions.
The most popular dishes include the pan-roasted halibut, confit artichoke, almond, pickled grape and fennel broth. Also the curried cauliflower, toasted yeast, date and tarragon. It’s a vegan dish and a lot of people are surprised by that. People who even aren’t vegan are going for it and really enjoying it as well.
In Notting Hill there are a lot of solely vegan restaurants around – Farmacy is just around the corner – so there is a lot of demand for it around there.
Notting Hill currently has two defined categories, Michelin and high street – and not much in between. We want to create great food at an affordable price and in a relaxed environment so that people can come time and again.
The goal for me is to get rid of brunch and just offer lunch and dinner. Obviously at weekends you’d still have to offer brunch, but if the demand is there for lunch and dinner and you are making enough money, then definitely we can get rid of brunch during the week.
The brunch menu has been completely changed. We offer a summer squash that we bake and then scoop out the seed centre and fill that with a chorizo and tomato stew, then crack an egg in it and bake it and put kale chips on top.
We work with lots of great suppliers – it’s their produce that inspires the menus here. We have a Best of British specials board too – if we find something amazing, it goes on here.
Foodchain is an app you get on your phone and it links you directly to the farms. They can message you on there and say, I’ve got this amazing (whatever it will be). For example, this guy had these amazing Sicilian crabs, and you can buy it and it comes the next day. They are able to give you what is available right now; it might not always be available, but it’s super fresh and in the right condition. I like to use that as the star ingredient of a dish and then build around that.
They put their prices down as well as they are not going through a middleman – they are selling directly to you. For example, asparagus I got, apparently it was B classified, but it was really lovely and it was only £4.50 a kilo, which is insane, as from your normal supplier you are paying about £15 or £16 a kilo.
I think these types of apps with be used more in the future. As chefs, we love to have the story and love to build relationships with the people who are growing the produce or rearing the cattle. It’s nice to have that understanding of what’s been done to the product.
My idea eventually is to get a map on the back of the menu. If it’s like Swaledale lamb, for example, you’ll have the arrow coming off Swaledale and have a little blurb around the lamb and the farm. That’s next steps. Also going to visit farms. I went to Uldale a farm up North and they salt cure their duck with Himalayan salt, it’s so good and I’m using that.
With the rise of veganism, lots of alternative proteins are coming to light. I think kelp and other seaweeds are going to be huge this year. Kelp, with the health benefits, is really coming in right now.
I love kombu as a form of seasoning. It’s a type of seaweed but it’s a got a savoury, umami flavor. You wouldn’t eat it but use it as a flavour and in oils; it’s slightly like Marmite but not so intense.
The biggest mistakes people make when creating new dishes is putting too much on the plate. We need to respect the great produce we use and not bombard it with too many different flavours.
One day I’d love to have a Michelin star – I think that’s every chef’s dream.