Anna Tobias

Anna Tobias

Anna Tobias

Anna Tobias' ethos was moulded by the honest, simple cooking of chefs including Margot Henderson, Ruth Rogers and Jeremy Lee. Those lessons have crystallised into a style which celebrates produce, clean flavours and unfussy plating, which Anna showcases at her restaurant Café Deco in Bloomsbury.

When we think about what makes a great chef, we usually focus on the cooking, for obvious reasons. But there are countless other attributes which make the list: attention to detail, creativity, and being a good team player, to name a few. Teaching, too, should surely make the cut; the best chefs often go on to head up kitchens, inspire those working under them and pass on the valuable lessons they’ve learned, making a grasp of coaching and communicating crucial. As a child, chef Anna Tobias thought she’d become a teacher; and while her career hasn’t taken her to the classroom as she imagined, mentoring is still at the heart of what she does, and one of her favourite parts of being a chef.

Food was at the centre of many of Anna's formative memories, but she didn’t see its potential as a career until she was a teenager. She fondly remembers plucking fresh produce from her grandmothers' vegetable gardens, and beginning many of her family meals with soups and broths with dumplings, thanks to her mother’s Serbian heritage. She arrived in London at thirteen, via Hong Kong, America and Germany (where she remembers weekly trips to the market for sausage and chips), and moved to Oxford for university a few years later. It was while there, studying modern languages, that she began to nurture her love of food, spending her free time watching cooking shows on TV. She posted letters to chefs she was keen to work with and was given her start by Jeremy Lee, who she joined at Blueprint Café in the capital. He proved to be an influential first mentor, equipping Anna with foundations in uncomplicated, delicious food. ‘Jeremy gave me an incredible grounding in pastry, which I think chefs can lack,’ she says. ‘It’s amazing to work with someone who cares a lot about puddings and who has a real joy of pastry. I was very grateful for that. And, secondly, he gave me an education in who I should be reading, like Elizabeth David and Julia Childs.’

Anna left the restaurant after a year, nudged into a crossroads by a difficult personal time which left her unsure if cooking was the right path. She applied for a position at The River Café and decided that if she didn’t hear back, she’d seek a new direction. Thankfully, Anna landed a spot in the iconic kitchen, a renowned training ground which has legendary chefs like Theo Randall, Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall among its alumni. ‘It’s really amazing,’ Anna nods. ‘It’s a great place for young chefs; you get incredible training, particularly when it comes to the prep. Their vegetable cookery focus is also brilliant.’ Having learned all she could, after a few years she hit a glass ceiling and knew it was time for a new challenge, this time at Margot Henderson and Melanie Arnold's Rochelle Canteen, another bastion of simple, honest cooking, where she worked her way up to head chef.

‘Margot and I had a great relationship,’ she says. ‘She was very supportive of me. Of the restaurants I’ve been to, that’s the one that made me. Margot is incredibly generous with her head chefs; I was able to write menus and find my voice. It had to be within the bounds of what was respectful to her restaurant, but she gave me a lot of freedom in that way. That was incredible to me.’ There, Anna says, she learnt how to truly cater to and feed people, and it was a spell that set Anna up to go it alone in 2017. Along with a few weeks working and travelling around France and Italy, visiting farmers and wineries, then began a period of freelance work for Anna, including at The River Café and Jeremy's Quo Vadis. She also did a residency at wine bar P Franco and her own supper clubs, while in the background trying to make a dream of her own venture a reality. 

It was 2020 when it all started to come together, and Anna was forced to grapple with Covid as she opened Café Deco, her restaurant in Bloomsbury. It swung open its doors just before the second lockdown, initially operating as a deli to work around pandemic restrictions, before navigating a rocky 2021 as the industry reeled from the previous year. But it came out the other side, and today Café Deco – opened in partnership with the team behind 40 Maltby Street – is fully in its stride, both as a bar and restaurant and the manifestation of Anna’s purist, unpretentious mindset. ‘We are broadly European,’ she explains. ‘The menu really stretches from the UK to Poland. It’s all focused on the seasons and using incredible produce, not led by trends.’ Dishes are uncomplicated and rely on the freshest of ingredients, which are often sourced from suppliers who prioritise a regenerative approach to soil health and their environment, and accompanied by natural wines.

And although its first iteration was borne of necessity, a Café Deco deli comeback may be on the cards. 'We became quite proud of it,’ Anna says, 'and it was nice being a part of the community in that way. You’ve got more time, first of all, to have a chat as a deli, and it's more accessible.' Ultimately, though, the restaurant is thriving, and now rightly included in conversations alongside the restaurants that first inspired it. 'We are happy with where we are,' Anna nods. 'We are in a good place.'