Robert Chambers

Robert Chambers

Robert Chambers

Robert Chambers was brought up by his Italian grandparents, meaning he fell in love with the food of Italy at a young age. He has since gone on to develop his own refined take on the cuisine at Luca in Farringdon, where he won a Michelin star in 2023.

It may only be one element of Italian cuisine, but making exceptional pasta is a craft in itself and can take years to master. For this reason, many chefs cooking Italian food choose to focus their menus entirely around pasta, allowing them to fully showcase their skill with the dough. Although Robert Chambers learnt to make top-quality pasta early on in his career, he’s never wanted it to be the sole focus of his cookery. That's why pasta only forms part of Robert’s menu at London’s Luca, where he champions seasonal British produce through an Italian lens.

Robert lost his parents at a young age, and was brought up in Luton by his Italian grandparents, where he enjoyed traditional pasta dishes cooked by his nonna almost every evening. Finding comfort in food as a child, he would travel to Italy every summer with his aunt and uncle, where he was first exposed to the authentic cuisine of the country. ‘I remember the first time I had pizza in Italy and it blew me away,’ he smiles. ‘I was used to Pizza Hut! My uncle got this massive square of pizza, stuffed it into my mouth and my eyes hit the back of my head.’ By the time he was a teenager, Robert had already decided he wanted to become a chef, and entering a local cookery competition and winning it, he was offered a place at catering college.

He went on to spend two years at Barnfield College, and soon realised he needed to move to London to kick-start his career; eventually, he got a job cooking at the Royal Automobile Club, where his lecturer had been sous chef. Even at this early stage in his career, he had a clear idea of the style of restaurant he ultimately wanted to run. ‘When I left college, my uncle said ‘right, you need to open a pizza and pasta restaurant’,’ explains Robert, ‘but that wasn’t what I wanted to do. Pasta is one of my favourite things in the world and I could never get bored of it but I didn’t want to only do pasta. I still had a lot to learn but I knew that ultimately, I wanted to have a restaurant that served seasonal dishes with an Italian twist, as well as fresh pasta.’

With his mind set on running a restaurant of his own one day, Robert was determined to start honing his cookery skills. His first move was to leave the Royal Automobile Club and start working at Locanda Locatelli to master the arts of pasta-making. ‘I was the black sheep of the brigade at Locanda because I was only half-Italian,’ he laughs, ‘I obviously learnt how to make great pasta but working there also taught me to really respect ingredients because Giorgio’s food is all about the quality of produce.’ A stint working under Brett Graham at The Ledbury soon followed (‘that was the hardest kitchen I ever worked in but probably my favourite’), where Robert got a taste of just how hard you need to push yourself when working at top restaurants. He then returned to Luton, to work at a friend’s restaurant.

Very quickly however, Robert realised that he still had plenty to learn, particularly in terms of managing a team, and he decided to continue gaining relevant experience in London. This led him to apply for a chef de partie position at The Square, where he worked under Phil Howard for over a year. ‘Working with Phil Howard made me realise how important seasoning is,’ says Robert ‘he’s got one of the best palettes I’ve ever experienced and he instilled in me the idea that sometimes even just a tiny bit extra can make a massive difference. I’d now go as far to say that seasoning is one of my favourite parts of cooking.’ Following his time at The Square, Robert briefly worked in banqueting, which he didn’t particularly enjoy, before returning to the Royal Automobile Club. Within a couple of years he had moved up to the position of head chef of the club’s fine dining restaurant.

‘When I was made head chef they basically said "this is yours, do exactly what you want"’ he says. ‘That was big for me. When I first came to London as a seventeen-year-old, I remember looking up at that dining room and thinking ‘wow’, and ten years later it was mine and that meant so much to me. It was also finally my chance to put my own stamp on things, to use everything I’d learnt over years and cook my own food.’ Even as head chef though, Robert was still determined to continue learning, taking time out to do stages at the likes of L’Enclume and The Clove Club. And it was during his few weeks at The Clove Club that he first caught the attention of its founders Johnny Smith and Daniel Willis.

Having made a real impression at The Clove Club, Robert stayed in touch with the team (including head chef Isaac McHale, who he’d worked alongside at The Ledbury) and within a few months he was discussing upcoming projects with them, one of which would become Luca. ‘They initially had me lined up for another project, which I was less keen on,’ he explains. ‘Luca really appealed to me as an idea because of the whole Britalian concept - after all I am half British and half Italian - but they already had a chef sorted. Then, one day, I was on holiday and they called me to say that things hadn’t worked out with the chef and asked whether I’d like to take on the project.’ Robert accepted the offer immediately and began developing ideas for the restaurant’s menu. ‘I think I almost overthought it initially,’ he says. ‘I didn’t know how Italian or how British to go, but eventually I realised I should just cook the food I knew and loved, respecting the classics while putting my own spin on them.’

Luca opened its doors in 2016 with Robert at the helm, and his produce-led Italian menu has been going down a storm ever since. So much of that is due to the love and care that goes into all of Robert’s food. ‘Luca is like my baby,’ he laughs. ‘I just love Italian food so much, so I’m obsessed with making everything the best it can possibly be.’ And Robert shows no sign of slowing down when it comes to ensuring that the restaurant continues to progress, ‘I don’t think this restaurant will necessarily be my final chapter’, he muses, ‘but there’s still a hell of a lot I want to do here.’

Robert may have had a very early vision for the sort of restaurant he wanted to run, but it takes an incredibly driven chef to make sure that idea becomes reality. By constantly learning and absorbing knowledge at every kitchen he's passed through, Robert Chambers gave himself the best chance possible, and is now in charge of one of London’s most reliable and renowned Italian restaurants.