Steve Groves

Steve Groves

Rooted in classical technique, Steve Groves' impeccable dishes remind us all why French cooking has been the envy of the world for centuries.

Until its sad closure during the coronavirus lockdown of 2020, Roux at Parliament Square had been quietly serving some of the finest classically rooted food in London for years now. With the Roux family at the helm, the restaurant was known for its beautiful, faultless plates of food, all eaten in plush surroundings in the shadow of Big Ben. The man responsible for keeping it consistently excellent was Steve Groves, who had been head chef there since 2013.

‘I grew up in Brightlingsea, a small town near Colchester in Essex,’ he says. ‘I initially wanted to be a fireman, but because you couldn’t apply until you were eighteen I decided to go to catering college for a few years, mostly because my friends were going. I was never into food as a child but college was completely different to school – I really loved working as part of a team towards a common goal, whereas school was academic and I was never very good at it. I think the love of food came even later – at first, I just enjoyed the buzz of the kitchen.’

Steve completed the three-year course, gaining all the fundamental skills required to become a classically trained chef. After six months working in Maryland in the US, his father became ill so he returned home. The next seven years saw him working in various restaurants in Poole and Bournemouth (‘nothing too exciting, but it was good quality food’), until he achieved his first head chef position at twenty-four. ‘At that point I’d hit a bit of a glass ceiling,’ he explains. ‘There was nowhere for me to progress, so I made the decision to move to London and start working at a higher level, but in a lower position.’

It was tough for Steve to go from being head chef of a restaurant to a chef de partie in the middle of London, but he knew it was the right thing to do. ‘In Bournemouth I had quite a comfortable life, so to go from that to working ninety-hour weeks on half the salary in a city that was far more expensive to live was a bit of a shock. But I knew it was what I had to do, so I just kept my head down, worked hard and learnt as much as I could. After two years at Launceston Place, I was senior sous chef.’

It was in 2009, during his time at Launceston Place, that Steve applied for the second series of MasterChef: The Professionals – a move that arguably made his career. But rather than chasing fame or attracting investors for his own restaurant, he went on the programme with one goal in his mind: to make contact (and impress) judge Michel Roux Jr.

‘There are so many amazing chefs these days, but back then it was the Roux family that I really admired. We studied their books at college and they have this incredible legacy, so I was set on working with them somehow. There were times when I wondered why the hell I’d chosen to spend my one day off doing the show when I was working ninety-hour weeks, but it ultimately worked out.’

It certainly did – Steve won the competition outright and certainly achieved his aim of impressing Michel Roux Jr. Rather than jumping ship straight away, he stayed at Launceston Place for another year as they’d supported him during his time on MasterChef. But in 2010, he went to work for Michel Roux Jr as a sous chef at his second restaurant, Roux at Parliament Square. By 2013, he was made head chef, and continued to push the restaurant forward for the next seven years.

‘I really enjoy working here,' said Steve, when we interviewed him before Roux at Parliament Square's closure. 'I’ve always felt there’s room for growth and we’re always improving, and I get to see lots of young chefs come through the kitchen and then go on to do their own thing, which is great. I’m in a fortunate position, as I have the support and guidance from the Roux family, but I also have freedom in terms of how we operate and the style of food we serve. It makes a big difference.’

One thing that set Roux at Parliament Square – and Steve’s cooking – apart from the majority of new restaurants was its dedication to classical technique. In a world of fermenting, preserving, Nordic-style cookery and clean, almost Spartan flavours, Steve’s food is still rooted in the butters, creams and old-school sauces that make French cuisine one of the best in the world. That’s not to say they’re rich, heavy and claggy, however – Steve ensures there’s a lightness to his food which is better suited to modern palates, and it’s what made Roux at Parliament Square such a deliciously tempting place to have a meal.

‘My style is definitely underpinned by classical French cooking as that was what was taught at college,’ he explains. ‘You can build on it so easily – if you know how to make all the different sauces and their variants, then you can adapt or change them. It’s what forms the cooking here at the restaurant and in the past few years I think we’ve moved even closer to the classical dishes. We use more modern techniques and ingredients of course, but everything can be traced back to classical French cookery.’

Roux at Parliament Square might not have enjoyed the same media attention as the trendy new restaurants that open their doors every month (although it did reach number forty-five in the National Restaurant Awards 2019), but Steve and his team were never chasing accolades and write-ups. They had a dedicated following of diners who knew it was the place to go for food that simply tastes good. ‘We’ve been here for quite a long time now, just doing our thing,’ says Steve. ‘There haven’t been huge changes but we’re always doing the best we can and giving our guests the best experience possible. That’s the only way we can look at things.’

After Roux at Parliament Square's closure, we're excited to see what Steve gets up to next.