Robert Thompson

Robert Thompson

Robert Thompson

Robert Thompson shot to fame as the youngest British chef ever to receive a Michelin star and he has cooked at the top of his profession for the rest of his youthful career. His light, fresh, classically inflected food showcases the Isle of Wight's remarkable produce through intense, pure flavours that continue to surprise and delight.

Born in Bedfordshire, Robert Thompson was inspired to cook by his brother Patrick, himself a successful chef and the winner of the 1998 Roux Scholarship. By the age of ten he was set on becoming a cook and by the age of thirteen he was washing up in his brother’s restaurant. Starting catering college on the new three-year NVQ course, he quickly realised it was not of the same ilk as the City & Guilds route his brother followed, and after failing to negotiate a fast-tracked course, he left at the beginning of his second year.

Robert began as an apprentice at L’Ortolan in Reading, working under head chef John Burton Race, but found the confrontational atmosphere too much and left, now reconsidering his chosen career path. He eventually decided to return to cooking, working under his brother at The Falcon in Bedfordshire, then following him to Chimney’s Restaurant near Doncaster, South Yorkshire, where his sibling worked as head chef.

The turning point for him came in 2001, when he landed a job as commis chef at two-Michelin-starred Winteringham Fields in Lincolnshire, working under the fatherly instruction of chef-patron Germain Schwab. He remembers fondly the way Germain would take him into the dining room to receive praise from satisfied customers.

Robert was made head chef only two years later, when Germain retired from the kitchen, going on to maintain the restaurant’s two Michelin stars. When Germain finally sold up, Michelin re-evaluated their award, but the next year bestowed Robert with his own star, making him the youngest British chef to receive such an accolade, at the age of twenty-three. In 2007, the Good Food Guide named Winteringham Fields the fourth best restaurant in the country, ahead of legendary establishments like Michel Roux’s Le Gavroche and Gordon Ramsay’s Pétrus, saying: 'Thompson soars, sending out extraordinary dishes that are deeply complex.'

Robert featured local produce heavily in these menus – game shot nearby, fish from Grimsby and vegetables and herbs grown in the restaurant’s garden. Producing plates such as Hare royale with rosti, hare sauce and foie gras, Roast chicken with confit egg and wild garlic, and seafood dishes such as Seared langoustine with quail eggs, marinated wild mushrooms and fois gras hollandaise, Tatler described his food at Winteringham Fields as 'once bitten, forever smitten'.

Robert's next move took him to the Isle of Wight, where he led the kitchen at The Hambrough. Only four months after taking over as head chef he had won the second Michelin star of his career, making his the only such restaurant on the island. The Hambrough was also named twenty-sixth best restaurant in Britain in the Good Food Guide. In addition, he ran the hotel’s two AA rosette sister restaurant, The Pond Café.

His menus at The Hambrough were rich with local fish and seafood. Such dishes included delicate canapés like Citrus-cured sea bass on blinis with ossetra caviar and crème fraiche, accomplished signature dishes of Pressed smoked eel with foie gras, roast pork belly and caramelised Granny Smith apple and delicately flavoured mains like Pan-roasted turbot cooked on the bone with fennel croquettes and Pernod velouté. Meat and game were also featured, as with his Roasted loin of New Forest venison with snails, roasted chervil root and field mushroom purée, and Slow-cooked island pork belly with local lobster and cep cannelloni. And to finish, his Banana and caramel parfait with peanut ice cream and kalamansi citrus purée, and his Baked pineapple and ginger cake with muscovado sugar and mascarpone sorbet was said to be particularly mouth-watering.

In 2014 he took another hotel position at The George, also on the island, keen to gain further experience and explore other parts of the industry. Not quite ready to open his own restaurant, a long-standing ambition, he continued to produce the seasonal delights that made him famous.

It was in August 2015 that Thompson's, his first solo restaurant, became ready for business in Newport. Still on the island he has made his home, he says that his forty-eight-seat enterprise 'bridges the gap between bistro and overly exclusive restaurants. As a chef who just loves to cook and be creative it has always been my dream to have my own place and now it’s here and happening. I am absolutely buzzing!'

His individual cooking style now firmly developed – reflecting both his training in classical kitchens and the lightness and freshness of modern dining – Robert’s inventive dishes and intense flavours are now a favourite on the Isle of Wight. 'I love the island and love cooking for my customers and friends.'