9th December 2011

Interview with Robert Thompson

Robert Thompson Robert Thompson at the Hambrough, Isle of Wight

Robert Thompson is head chef at Robert Thompson at the Hambrough, in the seaside resort of Ventnor on the Isle of Wight. The restaurant ranks 20th in The Good Food Guide's Top 50 this year, with Thompson's food proclaimed as 'astonishing food by a true artist.' And to think he's happiest doing the washing up...


With the 2012 Olympics on the hozizon, what would you cook Great Britain’s Olympic team?
Fruits de Mer celebrating all that’s great about our fantastic produce from the sea.

Next up would be Roast Beef with all the trimmings – nothing for me is more comforting than cooking a Sunday roast or eating one for that matter. The beef would have to be seriously well aged with an amazing sauce and the only reaction I would want would be complete silence because everyone would be too busy eating! 

Dessert would be my favourite: lemon tart.

Who are your ideal dinner party guests and why?
Michael McIntyre – not sure that all my guests would get on, so a little comedy would surely smooth things over!

Anthony Bourdain – to share his experiences of food across the world.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge – it would be an honour.

Thomas Keller, Alain Ducasse, Carmen Ruscalleda and Guy Savoy – four amazing dining experiences which I can remember as if they were yesterday! If I was lucky I might also be able to get them helping with the cooking – that would be a meal to remember!

Cheryl Cole – For everyone else’s benefit of course!

Simon Cowell – Might create a few fireworks!

And of course my wife Diana, she would keep all of them in order!

What do you eat for breakfast?
Nothing I’m afraid, apart from when I’m on holiday when I go crazy – at present I value the half hour extra in bed more than a full stomach!

Robert Thompson's pan-roasted fillet of turbot with gratin of razor clam, from The Good Food Guide:

Do you have a favourite local recipe or ingredient?
Rock Samphire Grass – Amazing stuff! Grows down on the cliffs, amazing citrus taste, it's free and most importantly it allows me to get away by myself for a short while – there’s something mesmerising about the waves crashing on the rocks, especially when you’ve just escaped from the hot kitchen!

What is your favourite tipple?
Extremely difficult! After a busy service – Corona with lime. For celebrating – Cuvée Nicolas Francois Billecart 1998, Billecart-Salmon or if it’s just a normal day and my mate's cider which he’s just started producing near Milton Keynes – the flavour is really something.

What is your favourite food combination?
Smoked eel, pork belly, apple and foie gras. Ok, I know it’s my eel terrine but I really do love the flavours together and the fact that it’s made up of cheaper and more expensive ingredients.

What’s your foodie guilty pleasure?
The McDonalds Big Tasty Burger. Culinary genius as long as it looks like it does in the picture!

What’s been the best culinary trend of recent years?
The 'keep it simple' trend. There seems to be so much more time put into sourcing and the quality of ingredients now, this can only be good.

And the worst?
The trend of using cheaper ingredients in menus and making a big thing about it – nothing wrong with this but the problem is that now all of those ingredients have become so much more expensive!

The Hambrough, Isle of WightWhat’s your favourite job in the kitchen?
The washing up! No idea why, it’s always good to remind yourself of where you started!

What most excites you about the restaurant industry today?
For me I just love the fact that you can now experience so many different food styles at very high standards all across the country. Whether it’s a pub you want to go to, a good Indian restaurant, tapas, classic French or even just some great fish and chips.

What advice would you give to someone starting out in the industry?
Make sure that you are stretching yourself constantly but bottom line you enjoy what you do. Sure there are bad days, weeks and months but you have to be able to bounce back.

What kitchen gadget could you not live without?
My Vita Prep, having spent so much time in the past with a trusty drum sieve.

What would your last supper be?
Choucroute à l'alsacienne cooked by Germain Schwab.

What are your five store cupboard essentials?
Baked beans, truffle oil, maldon salt, Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco sauce.

If you weren’t a chef what would be your alternative career of choice?
Something outdoors, maybe a landscape gardener. I like designing things and building stuff – when I was about 8 I asked for bricks and mortar for a Christmas present and I got them! I think that was the cheapest present ever for my Mum and Dad although I insisted on building a wall straight away!

Can you sum up your culinary style in three words?
Simple, flavoursome and exciting. 


Robert Thompson's dazzling recipe for pan-roasted fillet of turbot with gratin of razor clam and tomato and watercress (pictured above, middle), is featured in The Good Food Guide: Recipes, which is on offer now.

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