Much has been made of the young chef Luke Thomas, ever since that programme on BBC Three, you know the one, “Britains youngest head chef“. Everywhere I go, I chat to seasoned chefs and the name of Luke Thomas always crops up; I would say the overwhelming opinion is that he needs to serve his time & that he lacks the life experience to deal with chefs below him etc. Very few, if any, have ever tasted his food, and yet there is such loathing for Mr Thomas, primarily because he’s had the opportunities that others feel that they deserve, and that at times it’s quite staggering.
As many of you who know me, or read any of the social media I’m involved with will grasp, I can be quite opinionated. But it is always based on a train of thought and experience, rather than a knee jerk reaction, so as Mr Thomas has opened an eatery up not far from where my current client is based, I thought I’d go & sample his wares.
Broadway is in the heart of the Cotswolds, with the iconic Lygon Arms taking center stage on the chocolate box high street. It’s a sunny day, and every man & their dog seems to be out in the village; parking is a problem with every nook & cranny taken; and so I’m expecting it hard to get a table at such short notice.
I phone on the off chance, & go for a less desirable time (1:45 – 2pm), thus increasing my chances of success. Bingo, not a problem, in fact it was all too easy, they didn’t even ask for a card to secure the table or my telephone number either. It was to become apparent why when I arrived.
Luke’s Broadway, or Goblets as it was previously known (and probably still is by the locals), will seat about 30 people. It’s a nice cosy space, with lots of the period features remaining which reflect on the building’s heritage. On a Saturday lunch, there are only two other tables taken; and yet just about every restaurant & pub I passed after I parked my car was heaving. With the amount of PR afforded to the Luke Thomas media machine, it’s not like people don’t know about it, so why is it so empty?
After being invited to pick a table, I was presented with the menu & asked if I’d like some water. Now I know I’d dressed down somewhat for this meal, as it was meant to be a casual meal out, but how about asking if I’d like something from the bar?
The menu is a simple: 5 starters; 6 main courses & 6 desserts affair. The usual suspects are all there: Steak; Sea bass; Goats cheese for the vegetarians and the ubiquitous summer Panna cotta, so at the moment it’s looking very much like run of the mill stuff. Having said that, Mr Thomas, who is an avid Twitter user, regularly informs his 11,000+ followers of his food offerings. So you’d think it would be something to shout about.
As I relaxed into my surroundings, yes I decided to choose a table set for 4 over a pokey 2 cover table, some complimentary bread arrived. There was a wedge of white with a solitary black olive embedded in it, which desperately wanted to be a foccacia, but wasn’t for so many reasons, & a slice of wholemeal which literally had been hacked from the rest of the loaf with a knife which must have been so blunt as to semi tear the bread into some obscure shape. Unfortunately, it set the tone for the rest of the meal, from which it would never recover.
After what appeared to be a wait too long, my starter of Marinated beets, goats cheese mousse & caramelised walnuts arrived. Mr Thomas, it is beetroot not beet; you can leave the bastardisation of the English language to the Americans. There was a deep fried nugget of goats cheese, which had been quartered & scattered over the plate, and unfortunately that really was the sum total of the good parts. The salad consisted of frissée leaves, of which you’re only really supposed to use the tender yellow leaves on the inside. But no, Mr Thomas likes to buck the trend, his kitchen uses some of the outer leaves – even the discoloured ones. The goats cheese mousse was a touch grainy in the mouthfeel department & was even treated to the now passé smear. But yet more disappointment was to be heaped on to me. The caramelised walnuts were a chew sticky texture, like a caramel toffee from Quality street at Christmas, & equally troubling in terms of getting stuck to your teeth.
From what was a safe combination of flavours, tragedy has been snatched from the jaws of accomplishment. It was poor, but worse was to come.
The main course of Sea bass duly arrived, 3 lovely large pieces of fish with a nice colour. And again this is where the good news ends. The fish was moist, if a tad over cooked for me & clearly the chef could do with a better non stick fish pan. The accompanying garnish of fricassee of peas, lettuce & wild mushrooms was actually missing the lettuce and comprised of sour and discoloured peas & broad beans in a heavily reduced cream base; along with singed shiitake & oyster mushrooms (both of which are generally cultivated, not wild).
After the waitress had cleared my main course plate, she came with a tray & a cloth. What happened next just defied belief. Instead of crumbing down in the traditional sense, she gather the breadcrumbs together in a nice neat pile, then brushed them onto the floor.
Poor, very poor; but normal dessert can go to some lengths and almost save a meal.
For all the comments made about Luke Thomas after his BBC Three programme the thing that stuck out was his apparent desire to win a Michelin star. When you are cooking this style of simple food the key is to source great produce & do very little with it. That means buying seasonally; it’s been at the forefront of modern kitchens now, more than it ever has.
So a dessert; I went for the panna cotta, with blood oranges & rhubarb. Normally this would have been a good flavour combination & seasonal – IN FEBRUARY, not early August! The rhubarb at best, had been given a mild introduction to some heat, to cook it, but clearly not enough & was far too hard. The oranges, well they were just oranges, not a hint of the distinctive aroma or underlying raspberry tickle you get from blood oranges. All this coupled with a panna cotta which had too much gelatine & not enough love and care when it was being made, the vanilla was either on the top or the bottom.
I genuinely am struggling for words, I left Luke’s Broadway feeling ill & slightly robbed of the £34 this meal had cost me.
I go back to near the start of this review and answer the question I asked:
With the amount of PR afforded to the Luke Thomas media machine, it’s not like people don’t know about it, so why is it so empty?
The answer is easy: It is overpriced; over hyped & forgettably average at best. And in this part of the world you can’t afford to be like that. There are decent eateries left, right and center in the Cotswolds, ranging from the two Michelin starred, through to food led pubs.
Oh, but I hear you say, doesn’t Mr Thomas also have two other restaurants down south? Yes, he does, and thus is the reason he is only contracted for 40 hours a month to the Lygon Arms project. According to the front of house staff, Thursday is the best day to catch him in Broadway, even then I’d probably give it a wide berth. I’d like to think that there could be some underlying reason for the car crash lunch I had: Mr Thomas is spread to thin; Poorly trained staff to his apparent standards and so the list could go on. Nobody forced Mr Thomas to put his name to this project, in the same way nobody forced me to have lunch there. My reason is because I wanted to see what the fuss is about, & have some first hand experience of a Luke Thomas restaurant.
In a way I feel sorry for the three chefs in the kitchen, who are probably going to read this & feel bad about it, possibly even be ridiculed. The bottom line is this, if you put your name to restaurant, it rises & falls on the standards you set. You need to train your new staff, write the SOP manuals & set the bar at the level you require. By all means take the money, but there is so much more to running a business than instagram, PR & Twitter.