When Clare Smyth first opened her restaurant Core in the heart of Notting Hill in 2017, it became the first to be awarded with a perfect 10 score by the Good Food Guide. Three years later, it bagged three Michelin stars, making Smyth only the fourth British chef — and the first and only (so far) British female chef — in history to achieve the honour.
At the heart of Smyth’s fine dining restaurant is local produce, sustainably sourced from some of the United Kingdom’s most dedicated farmers and purveyors. Having been taken under the wing by names like Gordan Ramsay and Alain Ducasse, her formative years in high-pressure kitchens have fortified and sharpened her skills, culminating into an inimitable prowess for transforming even the humblest produce into globally acclaimed dishes. Smyth’s boldness and meticulous expertise in the kitchen makes her a fine ambassador for Hublot, who also relates to the same ethos and spirit.
As of late, Smyth has been occupied at her second restaurant, Oncore, which opened in Sydney late last year. Overlooking one of the most incredible views of the Sydney Harbour, the restaurant echoes its London forerunner with a continued emphasis on sustainable food, but harnesses the extraordinary local produce from the Land Down Under. We speak to the British chef about her recent undertakings, her relationship with the Swiss watchmaker and the release of a new cookbook that records all the dishes served at her first award-winning restaurant.
How did Oncore in Sydney come about?
I have been to Crown and Melbourne several times and actually know some of the guys in Crown that work in hospitality. They came to London and dined at Core and that’s really where the conversation started about the potential of opening this restaurant. It was such an incredible opportunity I couldn’t say no.
To be honest, I’m pretty pleased with it as you might notice. It’s really beautiful. It’s one of the most beautiful restaurants, I think, in the world. Everywhere you look in the restaurant, the view is the Sydney harbour. It really makes it something quite special and unique. And opportunities like that didn’t come very often, so I jumped at the chance.
How is Core and Oncore different and similar?
They’re actually very similar. So I would say they’re yin and yang. They’re sister restaurants, but on the other sides of the world with opposite seasons. We’re in the middle of summer in the UK and now I’m here using truffles, which is just really fantastic. We can roll from one season into the next.
What has impressed you about Australian ingredients?
There are amazing producers here. We have some phenomenal people who are really dedicated to their craft. It’s a unique country and it has so much diversity, from wine growth and truffles to potatoes and saffron farms. We use incredible wild honey from the Blue Mountains. I think there are more species of plant and wildlife just in the Blue Forest than the whole of the UK, which is pretty impressive. It’s a vast area. Australia’s got a tremendous amount of good quality produce and great producers that we work with. It’s fun discovering new ones.
How important is sustainability to you when sourcing ingredients?
Very important. That’s why I like to be close to the suppliers and producers to understand how they produce their food and also the respect for produce and waste. It’s something we all need to be more conscious of and I saw firsthand growing up the amount of effort it takes to produce food. I’ve always had great respect for food produce and to use it in the best way.
Can you share a little bit about your culinary journey and your work with chefs like Gordon Ramsay and Alain Ducasse?
I set out to work with the best in the world because I wanted to learn from the best and give myself the best opportunity to be successful. I started out working with Gordon when I was 22 years old and spent three and a half years there. I became senior sous chef by the age of 25 and then I left to work with Ducasse. I was in the South of France for a couple of years when Gordon called and asked me to return as head chef, which was a great opportunity. I came back to London to the only three Michelin-starred restaurant in the UK [Core] then and I was the first woman to do that in the country. It was quite a high-pressure job. I was still very young. I was only 28 years old when I took that position.
How different is running your own restaurant compared with someone else’s?
I’ve run someone else’s restaurant for the majority of my career. I used to oversee two in London and two five-star hotels in France. So, it was something I was used to. Owning my own restaurant now is very different, with different pressures, but there’s also a lot of enjoyment in it as well. It’s great when it works. The ability to be mobile and move very quickly adds up.
Timing is of the essence when you’re running a kitchen like this, especially across two time zones.
When you’re working in fine dining, it’s all about precision and timing is really everything. We always think it’s like a Formula 1 pit lane. Everything has to be so precise and it comes down to seconds before something’s overcooked or undercooked. Or the fact that service is running so quickly that we all must pull together in the kitchen to stay on time. It’s incredibly important.
How did your relationship with Hublot start?
It really started in London. They contacted me to see if it was possible to work together so I jumped at it because it was a brand I really admire. I love Hublot’s creativity, audacity and boldness. And I think there are a lot of similarities between my style of cooking and approach to fine dining and Hublot’s approach to fine watchmaking, where it’s really quite bold and creative and innovative, pushing new ideas, pushing the envelope and not being scared of trying new things. And I think that’s something I’ve tried to do with fine dining.
You have also launched a cookbook. How did it come about?
I wanted to document all of the dishes we created at Core. In my career previously, I forgot so many things I created and I never documented them. I thought I should stop and write everything down. We put all the first three years worth of dishes or most of the dishes into Core but now, I’ve probably got about half of a book ready to go again. I just want to make sure I’m noting all those dishes down and sharing them so we don’t forget them.
Which of your dishes, would you say, is a secret recipe and will never make it into the book?
I honestly have no secret recipes. They’re all there. They’re all the actual recipes from the restaurant. Some of them are obviously, quite a bit of a challenge, but if anyone was going to buy it, I would say take bits from them. Take a sauce, a dressing, a puree. And there are lots of different things you can prepare using those recipes. There are 200 basic recipes in the book.
We heard you’re a runner. Any favourite running routes in Sydney?
I think this is just my favourite run. It's from here [Barangaroo], under the Harbour Bridge and around the Opera House and through the botanical gardens and back. It's stunning.
Purchase Clare Smyth’s cookbook ‘Core’ at Kinokuniya for RM263.25 here.