Matt Larcombe, Head Chef, The Crown at Bray

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 19th April 2017

Matt Larcombe is head chef at Heston Blumenthal's The Crown at Bray which was awarded two Rosettes in the AA Restaurant Guide. 

The Crown is a country pub in Bray, serving up pub favourites in Heston's quirky food style. The Staff Canteen spoke to Matt about working in the Navy, serving The Crown favourites like the famous beer battered fish and chips and his biggest inspirations in the industry.

Heston Blumenthal's The Crown at Bray
The Crown at Bray

Why did you want to be a chef? Where did your interest in food start? 

I’ve been interested in cooking and food for as long as I can remember, but it wasn’t until I was at secondary school that I knew for sure that being a chef was the route I wanted to go down. The first job I ever had was when I was about 15 or 16 – I started working as a kitchen porter in a big hotel in the town where my parents lived, and it all went from there really.

You joined the Royal Navy for two years as a training chef, what was that experience like?

Working and training as a chef in the Royal Navy was totally different to the kind of work I do now at The Crown in Bray. We were cooking for huge numbers of people, and it was all about mass catering rather than creating individual dishes to be enjoyed by our guests. It was an interesting experience, but it feels like a long time ago now and I’m far better suited to a kitchen environment like the one at The Crown. I feel like I learnt a lot of the basic skills - how to live by myself, from washing my clothes by hand to polishing boots. It’s a great way to learn how to respect different people.

What are your responsibilities as head chef at The Crown?

The list is endless! As head chef at The Crown, I oversee everything from setting the menu to organising staff rotas, keeping on track with food safety, modern trends, costing and so on. I’m always watching what everyone is doing, working out how we can make the dining experience better, how we can improve the booking experience, and constantly trying to tweak and redesign existing dishes on the menu and create new ones. We’ve just finished a huge project renovating the garden at The Crown in time for summer; there’s lots more seating, an outdoor restaurant and bar, and it looks fantastic.

 Info bar

Dream restaurant 

I don’t want to give away too many concept ideas! I got married in San Sebastian though and love it over there, it’s such an amazing food destination as well as a fantastic place to visit in general, and I would love to be part of that at some point in the future. San Sebastian is actually very similar to Bray, in that it’s got a lot of Michelin star restaurants in a very small capital. It’s not just the fine dining that I love though, and the little local restaurants that aren’t internationally famous are just as amazing as the big Michelin star ones. People are so accepting, and I’d definitely like to be involved in that incredible food scene one day. Perhaps even having my own farm with a restaurant that caters using all the ingredients from the farm.

Dream brigade 

Pass – Jonny Lake, Ashley Palmer-Watts and Matt Larcombe

Development Chefs – Heston Blumenthal, Thomas Keller, Ferran Adrià

Veg sectionMauro Colagreco from Mirazur, Harriss Burrell from The Crown

Grill - Victor Arguinzoniz from Asador Etxebarri

Larder – Chelsia Sousa from The Crown

Pastry – Dan Hardman from The Crown

K.P. – Piotr Karpinski from The Crown

With the driving force of all these superstar chefs, working alongside my current team, we would be on fire!

What is it like to work as part of Heston’s The Fat Duck Group? What have you learnt from your time there?

Working for The Fat Duck Group, and getting to work alongside the likes of Jonny Lake and Ashley Palmer-Watts on a daily basis is something a lot of chefs dream of doing, so I feel very lucky. The team here in Bray is fantastic, It’s a great location to work because you’re in the heart of everything with The Fat Duck, The Hind’s Head and our experimental kitchen just meters away. It’s an amazing family experience, and we’re a really strong team.

Matt Larcombe, head chef, The Crown at Bray, The Crown Irish Hereford beef burger, Photography by David Griffen

Irish Hereford beef burger

Photography by David Griffen

Being part of Heston’s team means that everything you do, from working on designing a new dish to changing the layout of the menu has to be done in keeping with Heston’s ethos and vision. Having this sense of direction is a positive challenge rather than a limitation though, and pushes you to try using different ingredients, cuts of meat or styles of cooking. We try to always keep The Crown in line with the style of The Fat Duck Group, but at the same time to make sure it stays a traditional pub that locals will want to come back to again and again because ultimately that’s what we are here for.

>>> Related: Jonny Lake, Head Chef, The Fat Duck

Though The Crown is one of Heston’s traditional pubs, do you still have to be as experimental with your dishes as, say, The Fat Duck is? If so, how?

Yes, certainly. We go through a very similar development process when we create a new dish to what they do at The Fat Duck or Dinner. Our menu at The Crown is a lot more traditional and down to earth, but we are equally rigorous with testing and tweaking our recipes, and spend many months refining all the fine details.

We also have access to Heston’s hugely coveted database of recipes, which has been gradually compiled throughout his career. We pull different parts of certain recipes from here and make them our own, building on the research that trickles down from the experimental kitchen and making it suitable for The Crown. Some things though, like the mashed potato recipe developed for Dinner by Heston, can’t be improved and are simply the best recipe we can possibly make, so now all the restaurants follow the same method.

 >>> Related: 10 Mins with: Heston Blumenthal

Matt Larcombe, head chef, Heston Blumenthal's The Crown at Bray, The Crown beer battered fish and chips, Photography by David Griffen

Beer Battered Fish and Chips

Photography by David Griffen 

What is your favourite item on the menu at The Crown and why?

That’s a real tough one, and there are some amazing dishes that come on to the menu seasonally. But for me, the two stand-out dishes – and the ones our regulars come back for time after time – have to be the beer battered fish and chips and The Crown Irish Hereford beef burger. Both are pub menu staples, but of course with all the refinement and development that all of our dishes go through to make them the best possible versions. The batter for the fish, for example, is the seventh recipe now that we have done. It’s applied through a canister, so it adds more air to the batter, making the batter extremely crispy, and making sure it stays that way the whole time you eat it.

Where do you see yourself in the future?

I’m happy where I am at the minute, enjoying every moment at The Crown and learning so much from the other chefs I work alongside. There are always new projects and changes happening – like the garden rejuvenation that’s going on at the moment, so there is always a new challenge for me here at The Crown.

Where do you get your recipe inspiration from?

Mainly I take inspiration from the senior chefs that work within this group, Jonny Lake, Ashley-Palmer Watts, Janos Veres, and of course Heston Blumenthal himself. I also learn a huge amount from our own chefs that work at The Crown – they are one of the best sources of inspiration, and are amazing at giving advice and direction. In terms of ingredients, I love autumnal roots, mushrooms and meats. The atmosphere is great when the weather gets colder - the log fire is burning and people can enjoy hearty, traditional food.

>>> Read more in the Heroes of the Hotplate series here

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 19th April 2017

Matt Larcombe, Head Chef, The Crown at Bray