Tom Anglesea, head chef, The Laughing Heart

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor

Tom Anglesea runs the kitchen at Charlie Mellor's Hackney wine bar, The Laughing Heart. 

Originally from Durham, the chef has travelled far and wide, working in high-end kitchens in London, the USA, Australia and in the middle of the Wiltshire countryside. 

His talent hasn't gone unnoticed: together with Brittany and Guy Manning, the chef earned a Michelin star for his work at The Red Lion in Pewsey, and this year, Tom was cast to appear on the BBC2's televised chef competition, Great British Menu. 

Each of his experiences has been a lesson, which he hopes to convey through the food he serves at The Laughing Heart. 

Rising stars: Name other chefs or restaurants you think are set for stardom  

Patrick Powell, Head Chef at Allegra

Edoardo Pellicano, Head Chef at Maos

Chase Lovecky, Head Chef at Two Lights

Guilty pleasures : What food that isn’t considered ‘cheffy’ do you love to eat?

McDonald's cheeseburger 

Favourite cookbooks

The French Laundry Cookbook by Thomas Keller

Made in Sicily by Giorgio Locatelli

Roast Chicken and Other Stories by Simon Hopkinson 

Why did you decide to become a chef?

It’s that story typical of most chefs: I’m from Durham and I was looking for some extra pocket money when I was a teenager.

It was at that point where all of my friends had started to get into pubs and and I couldn’t get in because I looked so young, so I started washing up at a little bistro in Durham. 

In the summer holidays one of the chefs went away and so I was left to fill in in the kitchen to do desserts and I went from there; I was trying to do my A-Levels at the same time.

I was working, doing a lesson in the morning and then at eleven going to do the lunch service, then coming back down and doing a lesson in the afternoon then going to do the evening service.

Something had to give; I dropped out of my A-Levels, I told my parents: “I’m going to be a chef” and they were like, “eeer, really?”

So I made a point to myself that I’d go and do it properly. I was interested in going to travel the world so the two things went hand in hand. Souls in a Fish Bowl2.jpeg

I was offered a stage at Gordon Ramsay’s Boxwood and then I got offered a job, so spent a couple of years there. Then I got the opportunity to go and work at Per Se in New York which was just an amazing experience.

It was really hard, working in a Michelin star environment, but then again I was 21 so it was worth it, it was overwhelming and a great experience.

I did my visa there and then came home and so I was like “okay, where am I going next.” I took my last pay check from the hotel I worked at when I got back and I booked a one way ticket to Australia.

I wanted to take a little bit of time out and travel, my little brother came out and we travelled together up the East Coast, through the Outback, and landed in Sydney. My brother went home and I stayed there for about a year and a half.

Image: 'Lost souls in a Fish bowl', Tom's fish course on Great British Menu: Pan-fried scallops, mousse and ravioli, dashi broth, kombu. Find the recipe here.

I worked at Rockpool, which started my passion for and my understanding of cooking with Asian ingredients. My visa was about to expire and I was about to come home, I had a month left and it was at the same time that Neil Perry was opening his Chinese restaurant called The Spice Temple and so I was asked if I wanted to help open it for the last month before I went home. of Gold.jpegI didn’t really want to work there at all, I didn’t have a passion for Chinese food but I was just blown away. I ended up staying as a sous chef for a year and a half after that.

And then I came back, I did a little tour around Europe – because when you’re in Australia you realise how small Europe is – eating, spending shitloads of money. And then I was broke again.

At that time the guys from The Red Lion – Brittany was about to have a baby so they said: “why don’t you come and help us out for a few weeks” so I went.

I was used to living in the North – this was literally in the arse end of nowhere – I thought I was going to get bored, but I ended up staying for nearly three years.

We won the star there. It was great, it was a massive achievement because there were only three of us. We all lived above the pub – Victor cared for the front of house, me and Guy did the kitchen.

We would break down whole animals, make terrines, we’d bake bread, it was just real cooking – it took me until that point to get my hands on stuff like that. I found it amazing; we had nothing to do down there but cook. It was a really important time in my career.

Image: 'Fields of Gold', Tom's main course on Great British Menu 2019: Guinea fowl, pâté reduction, chicken mousse, corn broth, mushroom caramel, black garlic purée. Find the recipe here.

After that I got offered a job back in London, at Soho house, going round their sites, working with their head chef, implementing menus. It wasn’t a great job; I’m a cook at the end of the day, it wasn’t really what I aspire to do or have any love in that kind of corporation cooking. I realised that and left.

I tried to open my own place back in Newcastle; we had investors, we were trying to look at sites but the investment got pulled at the last minute – which at the time was heart-wrenching but looking back it was probably a blessing in disguise.

We were stranded up there for a little while so we just decided to do pop-ups and street food but we weren’t really taking any money out of it, so I just decided to come back to London.

I didn’t really have any contacts at that point except for Nuno, so I called him up and asked if he had anything for me. He said to Master Plan2.jpegjust come and hang out at Chiltern Firehouse until I found my feet.

It’s a monster of a restaurant, it has such a high standard and I met a lot of my good London friends through that.

The head chef put me in touch with Charlie – who told me they were opening this place; they already had a chef lined up but he pulled out with a month to go so Charlie was in the shit.

We met up and we had a similar philosophy on food so we just opened on a shoestring and started from there.

Are you solely responsible for creating the menus?

Yeah, I was given free reign in that respect.

It’s great for any chef; I work on a day-to-day basis. It’s product-driven in the sense that we just source very nice stuff and as we get very small amounts,I might put out a dish just for one service. We have a daily changing, evolving way of working.

Image: 'My Master Plan,'  Tom's starter on Great British Menu 2019: Crispy pigeon, prawn toast, leeks, gai lan, langoustine oil topped with crispy shallots. Find the recipe here.

We’ve managed to get amazing cooks through the door as well which has been great for me, to work with so many amazing chefs. It’s been really interesting, developing what we’ve got here.

Is The Laughing Heart where you see yourself staying for the foreseeable future?

Yeah. I want to see it actually do well off the back of this and we’ve got to a place where I want to be so certainly I’m not going anywhere in the near future. Rags to Riches.jpeg

How would you like to see the restaurant develop?

I want a full restaurant every night, I want it to be full-on busy.

Eventually I’d like to have a Chinese restaurant as part of the company. But for now it’s just trying to get people through the door on a weekday.

Weekends are always good – trying to get the private dining room downstairs booked and just trying to build a bigger, better, busier company.

What is the biggest lesson you’ve learnt as a chef and what would you say to budding cooks coming in to the industry?

Travel as much as possible, try and get out, go and see the world. Seize any opportunities, don’t limit yourself to one style of cooking. Read a lot of cookbooks; there’s so much inspiration out there. Eat out as much as possible, spend all your money on food and don’t be in a rush to be a head chef, bide your time and learn the trade, there’s so much to learn out there.

Don’t put pressure on yourself to be in that role after one or two years of cooking. Just enjoy yourself and explore the world, grab as much inspiration and experience as possible. 

Image: 'From Rags to Riches," Tom's starter on Great British Menu 2019: Charcoal macaron, yeast parfait, apple caramel, shiso and marigold. Find the recipe here

2016 11 19 THE LAUGHING HEART 44053 (1)

The Laughing Heart, Hoxton 

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Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 2nd May 2019

Tom Anglesea, head chef, The Laughing Heart