Mark Jarvis, chef-patron of London restaurants Anglo and Neo Bistro, will launch his third restaurant – Stem – on Princes Street in Mayfair late next month. The Buckinghamshire-born chef began his career aged 16, learning his trade as a trainee chef at Chartridge Conference Company. He worked his way up the ranks in kitchens in Oxfordshire and worked with Raymond Blanc for two years at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons before opening Blanc’s pub The Thatch as development chef in 2007. He moved to London in 2008, working at Sauterelle and Texture before accepting his first head chef role at the Blueprint Café in 2013. He went on to work as executive head chef of The Bingham Hotel, Richmond, for two years before pursuing his own first venture – Anglo in Farringdon in 2016.
Tell us about what we can expect to see at Stem?
It’s quite similar to Anglo – it’s a similar style concept and will serve a similar style of food. We’ll have a private dining kitchen downstairs which Anglo doesn’t have. Upstairs will be more relaxed and where we’ll serve a tasting menu and a la carte. Looks-wise it will be a bit different to Anglo, more polished. There will be more greenery around and we’ll have a living wall. They will share a similar ethos though.
How do you plan to divide your time between the restaurants?
Sam Ashton-Booth, who’s been at Anglo for the last year, will be head chef at Stem. We planned to open this together this time last year so it’s great to have him heading this up. I’ll spend my time cooking at Anglo, but going to the other sites once or twice a week as they are all pretty close. I can go to Neo Bistro in the morning, then walk to Stem and go to Anglo after. I thought if they are too far apart it would be hard to divide my time, because I really like cooking as well. If I wanted to be a full-on restaurateur I’d probably do something outside the area, so it was a conscious decision to have them close. I’m not ready to give up the stove yet.
Your restaurants have very different names, is there a link or a story behind each name?
I gave them different names because I didn’t want a comparison, which I’d get if they were Anglo 1, 2 and 3. I’m not trying to build an empire to sell tomorrow, I’m just trying to have some fun with restaurants.
For Anglo, it was just me on my own. I thought about how it sounded and what it means and that was it. With Neo, I sat down with a couple of guys and discussed it. It opened as a relaxed, modern bistro, so the name is trying to reflect that. Because it’s in a pub we didn’t know if we could use that name at first, so we were prepared to call it Neo Bistro at the Woodstock as the worse case scenario.
With Stem we all sat around a table and discussed lots of ideas with a brand developer to design it and tie it together. The idea is it shows the growth of something, the beginning of something growing. We looked at it on paper and tested how it sounded and thought yes, it sounds cool and it sits well with the site.
We’ve already seen a number of restaurants closing this year, but you’re bucking the trend with a third, what’s the secret to your success?
Being hands-on, really. A lot of the restaurants closing have been chains, so if you go into one and have a bad experience it tarnishes the lot, whereas I hope that if you come into one of ours you’ll have a really good, unique experience. We can also react quicker to make changes. Because we’re not branded, we can be more flexible.
This country has been through so much, there has always been some crisis happening, so I try not to think too much about what’s going on and focus on delivering the best experience we can. In London, if you’re honest and humble, people believe in you. We’re not trying to rip people off, we’re just doing the best we can and trying to have fun. Also, with all of these restaurants closing there still needs to be some.
What inspired you to become a chef?
I started cooking with my Grandma when I was really young. She was from a big family and did a lot of the cooking. In her day they never bought in anything pre-prepared. We cooked a lot and had a lot of fun. My mum worked in a hotel and I’d go in to work with her if I was ill and couldn’t go to school. The staff room was right next to the kitchen so I’d sit and talk to the chefs and it sounded like a good job, then one day when I wasn’t ill I got invited into the kitchen to do a day with them. I got a real buzz for it. When I was 16 they offered me an apprenticeship and it went from there. I love that it’s a job that you can be creative in, there are no rules and it’s a lot of fun.
What has been the most challenging part of your career and how did you overcome it?
When you have children you’re trying to balance a career and looking after them and that’s hard. Before you have children, you see all your friends doing jobs where you earn money quickly and buying nice cars or whatever while you’re working 90 hour weeks on minimum wage, but as you grow in your career you sort of block all that out and think ‘no, there’s a reward at the end of it if you keep your head down’. When I had my children (two sons aged 10 and 3) I realised there was a world out there. Before you do you get so wrapped up in the kitchen you don’t think about anything else. Seeing them growing up when you’ve got to work, that’s challenging. That’s what inspired me to open my own restaurant, because I thought if it was mine I could control when it was open and when I would be working. Obviously it doesn’t happen like that at all, but it’s a little better.
Me being around a bit more makes little difference to them appreciating what I do, though. Their school chef is better than me, apparently. I’m told that my food isn’t as good as Kevin’s (the school chef.) I think I need to meet him and offer him a job.
Can you define your cooking style?
A lot of the food I do is fusion. I take classic products and might mix them with an Asian style – not ingredients, but their techniques. I might serve the beef raw, or the fish just cooked or sashimi style. It’s more an emphasis on the flavour, I think. With most of the restaurants, we sit down and come up with an idea for a dish all together, it’s a team process, so everyone takes ownership. At Anglo we’ve got a lamb dish on with carrots done many ways. The lamb stands proud and the carrots stand up next to it. The dish is such that you could probably take the lamb away and the dish would be just as good, or you could take the carrots away and the lamb would be fine on its own. It’s just trying to find the best way to get the best flavour out of something, that’s important.
Who has inspired you most in your career?
It would have to be Raymond Blanc and Gary Jones from my time at Le Manoir. You have Raymond, who is this majorly creative guy and then there’s Gary who oversees, what I can only describe as, a machine of chefs and it’s just inspiring to see them work. You don’t realise until you leave how really, really good it is and how good they are.
Who in the industry do you most admire?
Jason Atherton. He’s a bit of a legend. I did a dinner with him last year as part of his Social Sundays. He’s got his own stamp and whatever he touches is proper. I went to Pollen Street a few weeks after I did the dinner and it was just mind-blowing. It was so good. I really enjoyed the experience, but was also in awe of the operation. You see the covers they are doing and it’s just ‘wow’. It’s incredible.
What does the future hold for you and your restaurants?
I’ve got another restaurant in the pipeline after this and I think I could do a couple more after that. This business is not just me, I’ve got a good team of people here, so I include them in the process. Shorter-term I want to sit down and refine Anglo a bit more, but in the longer-term, there’s definitely scope for more.