10 minutes with: Sam Bryant, Coal Rooms at Peckham Rye

The  Staff Canteen

Sam Bryant is head chef at Coal Rooms at Peckham Rye. Set inside a Grade-II listed former train station ticket office, the restaurant opened in August 2017 as a collaboration with the company behind the Old Spike Roastery.

Sam, who previously worked at Smokehouse Islington and Princess of Shoreditch, is cooking on coals and reducing food waste with his creative menu.

The Staff Canteen spoke to Sam to find out who his biggest chef inspirations are and how the new restaurant has been received by locals and critics.

Coal Rooms at Peckham Rye
Coal Rooms

Cooking background

Growing up in Norfolk, with parents in the food industry, Sam was pot washing when he was just fourteen years old. Developing a strong work ethic, he began to help out in the kitchen and a career cooking was always on the cards.

In 2010, Sam started his first head chef role at Strattons, a hotel in Norfolk. He was working with Harry Corder, who went on to work at two Michelin starred Restaurant Sat Bains with Rooms at just seventeen. After three years in the role, Sam took on another head chef role at The Dabbling Duck, a pub in Massingham. His close friend George Wood then got him a job at Neil Rankin’s Smokehouse in Islington.

Convincing him to move to London, it was here with George that Sam learnt about cooking with wood and charcoal. George is now head chef at Neil Rankin’s City restaurant, Temper. The two are now living together as flatmates and Sam said: “Working with all that coal and meat it’s a pretty potent combination in our house!”

Smokehouse and Neil Rankin

Neil Rankin’s technique of using charcoal and fire and developing them into restaurant dishes hugely inspired Sam’s own food style.

“He was the first person that I saw that was using wood fire and smoke like that. A few years ago you think of smokehouses and you think of pulled pork or ribs or things like that. He was the first guy I really noticed that was doing real proper dishes with it.”

He added: “That was quite a big thing when I joined Smokehouse, and I was able to learn how to use these ‘cave man’ sources of cooking and how to develop those into my own style of food.”

'Nose to tail' cookery

Coal Rooms at Peckham Rye
Cooking cods head at Coal Rooms

Sam’s other influences for his natural style of cooking include Fergus Henderson, the Michelin-starred chef patron of St Johns. Fergus’ ‘nose to tail’ ethos of cooking encouraged Sam to reduce waste with the food at Coal Rooms, particularly with cuts of meat. Sam wants the menu to showcase the best of British produce, but in a way that people may not be expecting.

He told us about their Smalec dish, served with Peckham rye sourdough bread:

“We mince down all the excess trimmings of the animals and we use all the fat and render that down and then we make crackling out of the skin. So we mix all together, so it’s basically lard, really crispy pork mince and then crackling, all together with some seasoning. That’s how we’re approaching the nose to tail thing… how important is to respect the whole animal.”

Reducing food waste

Sam also tries to reduce waste in other dishes, including ice-cream made from the left-over barista milk from the coffee shop. His current favourite dish on the menu is their take on a classic Croque Monsieur, made with Berdmonsey Frier cheese. When melted, the cheese caramelises and acts somewhat like mozzarella. This is served between thinly sliced sourdough, with coppa ham cured on-site, and a coffee and bacon extract mayonnaise.

“We want the food to be fun and not challenging for the customers. We have the theatre of the open kitchen and cooking on the coals and in turn I want the chefs to have fun and enjoy cooking.”

Coal Rooms at Peckham Rye

The two main features of the kitchen at Coal Rooms are a large robata grill and a clay oven smoker. Guests who sit at the counter can see into the kitchen, so these have become main features of the restaurant.

Setting up in a former ticket office and waiting rooms, which is also a Grade-II listed building, has not posed any particular challenges for the team. Sam explained that a lot of the décor dates back to the Second World War, and that they have made efforts to keep its original charm where possible.

Coal Rooms at Peckham Rye, Bacon Sandwich
Coal Rooms' Bacon Sandwich 

Coal Rooms has had a lot of interest from its Bacon Sandwich, which uses bacon cured in Old Spike coffee and treacle, then served either Back, Fat (Streaky) or Back and Fat, in a custard powder and butter bun with a choice of homemade beef tomato ketchup or plum brown sauce.

Currently wading their way through reviewers, Sam explains that their ingredient-led menu has also had an excellent reception with the South East London locals and establishing itself as a neighbourhood restaurant.

As they head into the new year, Sam talks about evolving the restaurant and training the young team of chefs about smoking and butchery, he explains how he feels that it is important to also teach them about reducing waste and ‘nose to tail’ cooking:

“We want the chefs to have fun and keep them interested. We’ve got really good ingredients so it’s about developing them and teaching them how we can utilise the whole animal, for every animal we have ‘A Plan’ of what we are going to use each cut, this is developed into recipes for the menu.”

By Jenna Lloyd





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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 22nd December 2017

10 minutes with: Sam Bryant, Coal Rooms at Peckham Rye