CHEF FOCUS

Harder cuts: high quality British cooking in Brighton

By Daniel Woolfson

- Last updated on GMT

Tom Griffiths: "You've got to believe in what this country has to offer"
Tom Griffiths: "You've got to believe in what this country has to offer"

Related tags: Cooking

It would be lazy to compare Tom Griffiths, the 28-year-old chef responsible for new pub kitchen Flank, with St John chef Fergus Henderson more than once in the same article.

Yet Griffiths, the heavily tattooed Brighton-based cook, and Henderson, the godfather of nose-to-tail eating, do have a few things in common. They both possess a meticulous understanding of how to cook meat well and a serious distaste for wasting any part of an animal that can be eaten. But that’s where the comparisons end.

Griffiths launched Flank, a new food concept promising high-quality, meat-led British cookery at the Royal Sovereign, on Preston Street, Brighton, just over a month ago.

Although it retains the traditional pop-up format, it is a wholly different proposition to the majority of pub kitchen takeovers. You would expect to find sensitive, polished dishes - the likes of Griffiths’ Kentucky-fried oxtail and partridge with grapefruit & celeriac - on the menu of an up-and-coming, high-end restaurant, rather than a cosy, seaside boozer.

“For some reason we’ve got this ideology in this country where we’ll walk into a supermarket and happily buy something in a packet - a breast that’s been skinned, breaded or marinated for us - that looks like it’s already been cooked,” says Griffiths.

“I don’t know why we’ve gone down that route. It’s appalling that we’re educating our children to believe that that’s how meat comes. I’m certainly thinking we need to change the game.”

Uncompromising

Griffiths believes in taking an uncompromisingly inquisitive approach to cooking, but maintains that his style isn’t difficult or boundary-breaking.

“I’m thinking ‘why don’t we eat that?’ about everything,” he says. “In Japan, they eat the spleen of an animal, the snout, the stomach, nothing goes to waste.

“Admittedly with some harder cuts there has to be a lot more thought and care involved in the cooking, but you can battle that. Anyone can do this sort of cooking.”

Griffiths’ short rib, which he sources from rare short-season Dexter cattle and serves with home-made “Flank ketchup” after cooking it sous vide for three days, is a perfect example.

FLANK KENTUCKY FRIED OXTAIL WITH PARTRIDGE AND CELERIAC
Kentucky fried oxtail with partridge and celeriac

There are no foams, presentational twists or unnecessary additions - the chef lets the meat do the talking. And Griffiths is unashamedly enthusiastic about the quality of the meat available to him, the majority coming from a small farm.

“You’ve got to believe in what this country has to offer,” he says. “We’ve come up with some amazing things.”

Crimes

While waste is one of his biggest peeves, what does Griffiths think are the biggest crimes against pub food?

“Overuse of the water bath,” he says with a frown. “Before it came along, chefs had pans and roasting ovens. You don’t read about water baths in (classic culinary encyclopaedia) Larousse Gastronomique​.”

Griffiths does own one himself but claims it is used sparingly — only for dishes such as the short rib, where a specific flavour or texture can be attained no other way.

But Griffiths doesn’t want to be seen as just a ‘meat chef’. “I’m actually crazy about vegetables,” he says and laments that choosing the right vegetables to accompany his dishes is an equally painstaking task.

“We think about every layer - what was the best time to pick the veg? Was it at its later date when it dropped off or would it taste better when it was a baby?”

Expansion

In fact, Griffiths’ plans go beyond the four walls of the Royal Sovereign’s kitchen. In a perfect world, he says, he’d be operating three pubs: Flank at the Royal Sovereign, one pub focusing on vegetables and a third on seafood, all within five years.

But if that’s slightly overzealous, he adds, he’d be happy running Flank from the pub and taking on a single site with a more traditional restaurant-style format in the future.

Griffiths’ primary inspirations - chefs the calibre of Henderson, Magnus Nilsson and Pierre Koffmann — come from the restaurant world. He admits that he couldn’t name any pubs that inspired him with their food, because he’s still new to the pub world.

FLANK HOMEMADE SAUSAGE WITH FENNEL
Griffiths' homemade sausage

“I never grew up in pubs,” he says, “but now I’m here I love the atmosphere, the cosiness and the romance of it.”

And as a trained restaurant chef - Griffiths left popular Brighton ‘dude food’ joint the New Club to set up Flank — he has had to adjust to different customer perceptions of what food in a pub should be like.

“Portioning is massive in pubs,” he says. “People seem to go to a pub and expect a mountain of food. The ‘carb thing’ I’m trying to eradicate - people expect to have a huge portion of carbs on a plate.”

Griffiths has got round the problem by offering a free side dish, including triple-fried beef dripping chips, with every main at the customer’s discretion.

“But I don’t think it’s necessary,” he says. “I don’t like building up a plate with loads of different things.”

Labour of love

One thing that becomes clear upon speaking to Griffiths is that Flank is a labour of love more than anything else.

“GP is out of the window as far as I’m concerned,” he laughs. “And I think I can speak for any chef starting out on their own. Obviously GP is important, but I make money in different areas. I’m not looking at 70% or 80%, but I’m living, I’m not tearing my hair out.”

Besides, he adds: “I think obsessing over GP is old hat - it’s your prime end profit you should be looking at.

“The biggest thing for me is the cuts of meat I’m using. I don’t have rib-eye steak or lamb cutlets or caviar on the menu. I have cheaper cuts cooked to the absolute best of my ability - and that’s a good product sold at a good price.”

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