We asked Tom Aikens what went into building a restaurant from scratch, and what challenges are thrown up by managing sites across Europe and Asia. He says: ‘I study the local trends and tastes, as well as looking all over the internet – on local websites and sites like Trip Advisor – to see who’s going well and who isn’t. I think about what I can bring to the city in question. The concept has to echo my own principles in terms of eating, while also adapting to local traditions; the targeted clientele also determines the concept I create. The quality of produce available is an essential part of building a new menu. I lead a thorough study of the produce available in the country, by going to local markets, trying restaurants in the area and asking chefs who have been working there for a while which suppliers they use and what they recommend in terms of ingredients. I always try to source the majority of my ingredients locally, no matter what country I am in, and I adapt the restaurant’s menu accordingly to flavours, tastes and even cooking techniques of the region.’
He continues: ‘Planning way ahead and keeping in constant contact with the team onsite are both key to the success of launching a new restaurant abroad. I am very much hands on with the whole recruitment process and for each restaurant I open, I make sure to place an executive chef who has worked with me in the past. This is crucial for building trust and good communication with the team. I am in contact with the executive chefs of all my restaurants every week – they send me the daily sales and update me on how things are going. I generally go to my restaurants abroad about four or five times a year, for a week or so, and I redo the menus four times a year.’
‘Maintaining consistency and top quality throughout all my restaurants is a major challenge – getting key staff is very important and why I spend a lot of time on training. At the beginning it can be very tough, you’re not only dealing with a team that doesn’t know you, your food or how you work, but of course there are language barriers as well. You can never be completely prepared for all the challenges of starting to work in a new country as you will get different issues in every single venue, from the design to kitchen to staffing.’
Although he has no new openings confirmed for the UK, he told us we might see another Restaurant Tom Aikens in the future, as he was looking into re-opening a fine dining venue in London, in 2016. But for now his hands are full with his numerous British brasseries in London and Istanbul, working as a culinary consultant for the Soho Farmhouse in Oxfordshire, and with his three concept restaurants in Asia and Dubai, as they go from strength, to strength, to strength.