The challenging task of retaining that hard-earned Michelin star with Chef Tony Fleming

Chef Tony Fleming

Chef Tony Fleming

We’re proud as punch of Chef Tony Fleming and his Angler team, following the news that we’ve retained our Michelin star for a third consecutive year. Some champagne quaffing later, we managed to get a few moments with Chef Tony for his thoughts on the challenging task of retaining that hard-earned Michelin star…

  1. What are the main challenges you face to retain a Michelin star, as the years go on?

A mix of staying true to your original vision for the restaurant, balanced with maintaining those strengths that you were originally awarded the star for. You absolutely can’t rest on your laurels – the restaurant world is fast-paced, and keeping your offer fresh, up-to-date and progressive is key.

In the first six months of opening we didn’t fully know our place in the market – we were carefully feeling our way. During the latter part of our first year we established where we were, what we were capable of, and what we wanted to grow into. The last two years we’ve built on those foundations, and grown into that success we scoped out in the early days.

  1. How do you ensure your team doesn’t become complacent, when things are going well?

I’m a grounded and fairly humble person, and I hope that transfers over to the staff. Ultimately, we’re not brain surgeons – we’re just cooking people’s lunch and dinner. If you get carried away, thinking you’re making history, then you’ll fall flat. Saying that, I do take what I do very seriously, but always know when to step back and take perspective. I think this rubs off on my team, makes them enjoy their work and be passionate about what they deliver. This extends beyond the kitchen, to the service team – everyone works towards the same goal.

We celebrated of course, we popped the champagne when we received the news, but we were back to work in the kitchen as usual this morning!

  1. To what extent is Michelin star ‘box ticking’? What is the difference between cooking for stars, and customers?

The list of chefs who didn’t receive a star makes me realise the magnitude of it – we are privileged and honoured to have it. My peers, chefs who trained me, some very talented contenders didn’t receive one – that makes me stop and go ‘wow’.

We didn’t go for the star initially, it really wasn’t in our sights. We worked on an honest product and focused on creating a very good restaurant. I don’t flick through magazines and try to emulate people, I don’t follow trends – the food we serve is often traditional, food that I just like to cook, with flavours that people enjoy. I think that’s cooking for the customer.

I was very pleased to see that nearby East End restaurant Lyle’s has been awarded a star this year. They are a small and elegant outlet, serving simple, rustic British food. What I think this demonstrates is that Michelin rewards remarkable food, wherever it is found, it’s as simple as that.

  1. Is there anything that makes Angler unique, when compared to the other London restaurants in the guide?

I think it’s refreshingly grounded and honest, and people like that. I am a very strict and disciplined person, but light hearted – like I said before, we’re just cooking. Everything that is put on the plate is there for a reason, not just for style, it’s all about the taste and the experience. I try to go out and meet our diners, welcome them into the kitchen. The team on the ground are approachable, knowledgeable and welcoming – we’re not stuffy or pretentious.

  1. What is your top career highlight since receiving the Michelin star?

One hugely proud moment for me was when my former Head Chef Richard Neat (the youngest chef to gain 2 Michelin stars at the time) visited Angler. Working alongside him was a turning point in my career, I learnt so much from him, and consider him to be one of the most talented chefs I have ever encountered. I was so nervous to cook for him, but he spoke to me after his meal, and subsequently with a letter, to say the food we served was some of the best he’d ever eaten – I was completely blown away by his feedback.

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