James Cochran


James Cochran

After spending nine years with the likes of Brett Graham at The Ledbury and The Harwood Arms, James Cochran has become one of the UK's most exciting chefs, wowing the capital with his imaginative cooking at 1251.

There aren’t many chefs in London that encapsulate the capital’s incredible diversity quite like James Cochran. The Whitstable-born chef celebrates his joint Vincentian and Scottish heritage from his Islington restaurant 1251 with bold, brash dishes that explode with flavour and colour.

‘I knew from the age of about nine I wanted to be a chef,’ he explains. ‘My dad was all about education – I went to a nunnery which I still wake up in cold sweats about – but instead of becoming a lawyer or a banker or something I was always going to cook.’ He started his career as a fresh-faced fourteen-year-old at Wheeler’s Oyster Bar – a Whitstable favourite when it comes to local seafood. James got his break at the venerable seafront institution and was quickly promoted from the sink to the stoves, where he first realised he had a knack for rattling the pans. After moving to nearby Read’s restaurant in Faversham (a Michelin-starred restaurant at the time), he realised that London was the next logical step for him to advance his career.

James visited the elite of London’s restaurant scene at the time in the hopes of a job and eventually landed a trial at The Ledbury, where Brett Graham led one of the most inventive and exciting restaurants in the country. ‘It was a hard, intense kitchen,’ says James. ‘Sometimes you were doing eighteen-hour days twelve days in a row, but it was the best place I’ve ever worked because of Brett Graham and his attitude. A lot of the top restaurants will have you working like a robot, but Brett would push you, give you more responsibilities and make you think for yourself.’

James spent the next nine years under the mentorship of Brett Graham – five years at The Ledbury, then four years at The Harwood Arms. Though both owned by Brett, the two are very different propositions; the former is haute cuisine at its finest, whilst the latter is the only Michelin-starred pub in London (now run by head chef Sally Abé). Both influences are clearly reflected in James’ own style today – there’s a comforting, homely factor to his cooking today, but it still oozes creativity and style.

When James finally left The Harwood Arms in 2013, he did so in the hopes of being able to express his creativity and personality more fully. He joined forces with friends to take on London’s booming pop-up scene and found some success at the Ten Bells pub in Spitalfields, before going all-in on a permanent site – Restaurant FIX in Hackney. Though it built a very loyal local following, FIX was a little off the beaten track and suffered from lack of publicity. By April 2016 the restaurant was closed, but the industry had already had a taste of James’ talent and he found his feet again at B.Y.O.C. – another pop-up operation, this time in Soho – and then at James Cochran EC3, the restaurant where he first hit the national limelight.

James Cochran EC3 received stellar reviews – notably from Marina O’Loughlin at The Guardian, who, though a little deterred by ramshackle service on the night, was completely blown away by James’ cooking. ‘James Cochran is a great chef,’ she said in her 2017 review. ‘Really: quite, quite remarkable. I’m experiencing actual joy at his hands, at the ministrations of his pork shoulder.’ An appearance on Great British Menu in 2018 – where he was named champion of champions for his outstanding cep dish – confirmed James was a rising star in the culinary world. Just as he starting gaining exposure, however, he became embroiled in a legal feud with the owners of his restaurant, who claimed ownership over his name and his brand. James Cochran EC3 kept his name and his recipes, but fortunately not his talent – James left for a new opportunity in Islington, a restaurant called 1251 that he could truly call his own, even if it didn’t have his name over the door.

With James now at the helm of his own restaurant, 1251 has become one of London’s real hidden gems. James’ effervescent personality and relaxed vibe comes through in the service and on the plate, where he manages to deliver some really technical cooking and clever flavour combinations with effortless precision. ‘We’ve really grown things organically,’ he explains, ‘so I think my personality comes across in a way that it hasn’t done before.’ Running his own kitchen means James is also free from the rigours of sixteen-hour shifts and sleepless nights, and his food is better than ever as a result – no mean feat for a chef who won Great British Menu on his first and only appearance. ‘It feels amazing,’ he grins. ‘Those long hours are so ingrained in you that it’s hard to get out of that haze. It’s not until you’re responsible for yourself and your own business that you realise it.’

With 1251 going from strength to strength and more time than he's ever had before, James' creative mind is pushing the brand to interesting new places. He briefly expanded into Boxpark in Croydon, where his 'Goat' food stall sold incredible goat flatbreads to lines of salivating punters until the beginning of 2020. James insists that he's only just getting started – we'll be seeing plenty more of him in the years to come.