Sally Abé

Sally Abé

When Sally saw that Phil Howard was selling his two-starred restaurant The Square to open Elystan Street, she knew she wanted to work for him. ‘Phil is the nicest man and his ethos on food is just so wonderful. He loves big, gutsy flavours and he’s not really bothered about meticulous recipes; he just wants to make things taste great. I got to be involved with opening the restaurant and we would make all these old-school things like tureens or apple jellies. It was really fun and the food was so good – the only reason I left was because the opportunity at The Harwood Arms came up.’

The Harwood Arms – London’s only Michelin-starred gastropub – is co-owned by Brett Graham, so Sally was already familiar with it. ‘Me and my husband Matt used to eat there all the time as we lived very close by, and I’d always loved the ethos of the place,’ she explains. ‘I’ve never wanted to run a fine dining restaurant with tablecloths and waiters wearing gloves – that’s not who I am at all. At the same time, however, I don’t want to cook really casual food. I think The Harwood hit the sweet spot in the middle, which suited me completely.’

Because The Harwood is co-owned by Brett Graham and the previous head chefs before Sally had also worked at The Ledbury, Sally says the kitchen was run in a familiar way. ‘It was easy in that sense, but when you join somewhere at a senior level you always have to gain the trust of the team, which can be the tricky bit. I just laid my cards on the table, was very open about what I wanted us to do and we pushed forward.’

It took about eighteen months for Sally to really develop The Harwood Arms into something she could call her own. ‘You never really get to put dishes on the menu until you’re head chef,’ she says. ‘It’s weird because you’re never trained for it; you just go from doing someone else’s food all the time and then suddenly it’s all your own. As a chef you always have lots of ideas, but it takes time to get used to being actually able to serve them.’

Sally spent several years pushing the team at The Harwood Arms ever-forward, building upon the pub's already lauded reputation. In 2021, she moved on from the restaurant to lead an exciting project at The Conrad London St James hotel, which puts her at the helm of four different establishments. The flagship is called The Pem, named after the suffragette Emily Wilding Davison, with a female-led team keen to create a working culture that's far removed from the shouty, intense kitchens of old. Alongside that, Sally is also overseeing The Blue Boar Pub, as well as an afternoon tea lounge and a cocktail bar.

Three things you should know

Sally was named Chef to Watch at the 2019 National Restaurant Awards.

Sally has a particular passion for cooking with British game birds and venison.

Sally's flagship restaurant The Pem is centred around a menu of dishes she loves to eat above all else.