Meet Britain’s best young chefs, the amazing Selby brothers

Meet Britain’s best young chefs, the amazing Selby brothers

Meet Britain’s best young chefs, the amazing Selby brothers

At noon on the first day of each month, a somewhat frenetic ritual takes place among some of London’s most well-heeled foodies. That’s when bookings open for the next four weeks at Evelyn’s Table. Gamblers schedule their midday visits with all the desperation of spectators trying to secure a ticket to Jerusalem, or hypochondriacs hoping to get a GP appointment. The restaurant only seats 12 people in two sessions, from Tuesday to Saturday night. All spots – eight couples, two groups of four per night – invariably end at 12:05 pm.

Experience rewards this quicker finger competitiveness. Evelyn’s Table is located in the former beer cellar of a famous Soho bar, Blue Posts, on a side street near Chinatown. At the appointed time – our session was at 6 pm – you pass through a velvet curtain at the back of the old comfy and down a steep staircase into a narrow room with a steel-topped bar. Sitting on high stools, you are within walking distance of a performance that feels like half theater, half magic show. Three intense young brothers, black-haired, bearded, all chefs, are already working deftly in a spotless, lit kitchen; the night we sat down, the trio were silently conjuring up a plate of freshly opened scallops, dipped by hand, pinching the garnish, pipetting drops of tomato essence. Watching them reminds you a little of those families of circus acrobats, each one beating the other in their tumbles. Here come the Selbys, Luke and Nathaniel and Theo! To roll! To roll! And be surprised!

Their tasting menu consists of five courses – with a few extra surprises. One seasonal act follows the next. The freshest Cornish mackerel comes with horseradish sherbet and a spicy gooseberry puree; a rack of lamb is roasted before your eyes on a mini-barbecue of fragrant hay. There are no waiters: dishes are passed on the counter and placed in front of you, accurately described by the brother in charge. A more expansive biodynamic narrative is offered by maître d’ Aidan Monk, who tells seductive fables about wine pairings extracted from obsessive small vineyards in Georgia, Mendocino and Stellenbosch. The two-hour meal is as expensive as the boxes at the National Theater or Wembley, but still, you won’t believe it’s worth it.

The day after seeing the Selbys in action, I meet them at three in the afternoon upstairs at the Blue Posts at the wine bar, the Mulwray (it is named, like the basement restaurant, after Evelyn Mulwray, Faye The Mysterious Dunaway socialite at Roman Polanski’s Chinatown, famous for finding secret corners of her town where she can be fully herself). Having finished the night before midnight, the brothers have already been getting ready for four hours, and while patient with my questions, they’re clearly a little anxious to get back to it (if they don’t, as Theo the youngest points out, no one else will).

They operate without juniors (one of the fascinations of the night before was watching their choreography scrubbing the stove’s steel and surfaces back to stainless steel between plates and at the end of the service). They talk, like all their close siblings, in a particular mixture of self-deprecation and banter, finishing each other’s sentences, quick to seize any affectation. Luke, 31, the star of last night’s show, is very much the leader (“I’m something of a Pied Piper,” he says, with a smile; Nat, 29, and Theo, 27, seem more than happy to follow their lead. songs).

We had seven apple trees in the garden and each apple was picked, peeled and squeezed. Nothing was ever wasted

Luke Selby

In many ways, it’s clear as they describe their respective journeys here to me that they were doomed to the quasi-monastic discipline and joyful creativity of Evelyn’s Table. All three boys were born in Saudi Arabia, where their parents met while working at a hospital in Jeddah. Their father, who worked in HR, was from the UK. Their mother, a biomedical scientist, was from the Philippines.

After a few years, the family moved to the UK and settled in a village near Brighton. The four boys – they also have a younger brother, Reuben, who is a stylist and photographer – were very tight-knit, always looking out for each other, a built-in gang. His first adventures were about foraging. “Our mother comes from a family of nine in the Philippines,” says Luke. “Her mother had a rice farm, she still has a rice farm – a few hectares – and a sugar plantation. So Mom always had green fingers. She has three different lots, lots of greenhouses. She is constantly sending us things to use at the restaurant, currants, whatever. She was always excited about what was in the season.”

This excitement had a big effect on them as children. They would go down to the beach in Shoreham or West Wittering and gather seaweed for cooking, or sacks full of mussels, or fish for crabs. They walked the streets on blackberry. “We had seven apple trees in the garden,” says Luke, “and each apple was picked, peeled and squeezed. Nothing was ever wasted. There was always a cave-in on the table.”

Theo laughs. “Mom was pretty strict with us. We became a kind of production line. We were never allowed to leave until everything was prepared, processed, frozen and stored.”

The boys rebelled all the time, of course, but they also learned a lot. “Respect for products, respect for nature,” says Nat. “We don’t go out to eat much, maybe the Harvester on a Sunday.”

Their mother has not lost her passion for discovery. “I came home during lockdown,” says Luke, “and showed her where she could pick capers. She just sent us about 10 kilos of them…”

The other formative ingredient of that childhood was the father’s love of meals. “He’s so happy with the food,” says Luke, “so when I started cooking for the family — as a kid I was always reading cookbooks, watching cooking shows, taking notes — it gave us this real connection.”

Luke was always the boosted one. If he hadn’t become a chef, he says, he could have made a career as a violinist. It was, ironically, his violin teacher Andrew Bernardi, a string tutor at the Trinity Laban Conservatoire in south London, who gave him his first big break in the kitchen. “We always talked about food in class,” he says, “and he suggested I enter a Rotary Young Chefs contest, which Raymond Blanc was judging.” Luke was 14 years old. He still remembers his menu for the end – open-smoked haddock ravioli, roast duck with blackberries and raspberry souffle. “I came in second,” he says. “But I wrote to Raymond afterwards and gained some experience working in his kitchen at Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons. They kept a job open until I finished my A levels.”

Luke worked at the Manoir for six years. First Theo and then Nat gravitated to him, sleeping on his floor. Nat took the most devious route. He studied illustration and only started cooking after graduating. Theo went to catering college and worked in restaurants in Sussex. Luke got both tests at the Manoir and, for the first time, everyone worked together in the kitchen there; Luke as Blanc’s sous chef, Nat and Theo as comis.

They went their separate ways for a while. While head chef at Ollie Dabbous’s eponymous restaurant in 2017, Luke won the title of Young National Chef of the Year and a Roux Scholarship that earned him time at the three Michelin-starred Nihonryori Ryugin in Tokyo, adding a mastery of Japanese. cook for your French training. The band of brothers then reunited at Dabbous’s new London project, Hide, the sprawling and trendy oligarch-chic restaurant opposite the Ritz, before settling here just over two years ago.

The contrast to Hide, with his limousine elevator, could hardly be greater. “I always loved working with Ollie,” says Luke, “but I got to the point where I wanted to do my own thing.” He drew up plans for the kind of intimate space he had in mind. Coincidentally, Zoë and Layo Paskin, owners of London restaurants Palomar and Barbary, got in touch about their ideas for Evelyn’s Table and Blue Posts. After a few meetings and a look at the space downstairs, he signed a partnership agreement with them. His brothers, of course, were a key part of the business. His restaurant was supposed to open in March 2020 but has been hampered by the lockdown. While it’s been frustratingly discontinued since then, there have been high moments: notably the awarding of a Michelin star earlier this year (and Michelin’s Young Chef of the Year for all three). The brothers gave each other a big day to celebrate: a six-hour lunch at Alain Roux’s Waterside Inn in Bray, followed by two bottles of champagne with Raymond Blanc, who became something of a second father to them.

This type of downtime is quite rare. They recently hired a sous chef to replace him so one of them can take the occasional break, but other than that, everyone is in. “I think we always knew we could work well together,” says Theo. “We can anticipate what’s going to happen, each other’s needs.” The rough demarcation, he says, is that “Luke makes the sauces and manipulates the protein. Nathaniel makes the dough and I do the trimming and fill in the gaps. But we are all capable of doing all sorts of kitchen parts, so if one of us has a night off, we can still stick to the standard.”

Not surprisingly, on their free days they try to escape each other and have their own circles of friends, although Luke and Theo spend a lot of time fishing together. “We’ve just started spearfishing and freediving,” says Theo. “We are often in Cornwall, recently in Anglesey.” They bring home crabs and lobsters and sea bass and pollacks – although, Luke admits, their spearfishing skills still leave something to be desired.

They are inevitably a little competitive about these off-duty challenges, but one thing they are adamant about is that the open kitchen arrangement leaves no room for sibling tension. They’ve worked in noisy restaurants, but are happy to have replaced that with a sort of silence and a funky background playlist (they all join in on favorite tracks). Otherwise, Luke insists, there is no room for latent rivalry. “If something was wrong, customers are so close they would feel it right away,” he says. “And anyway, we all enjoyed the process. We all know every element that is put on the plate.” And with that, two hours before the curtain closes, they’re back to it.

Evelyn’s Table, The Blue Posts Cellar, 28 Rupert St, London W1D 6DJ

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