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Triple threat: Mark Jarvis on Anglo, Neo Bistro and Stem

Triple threat: Mark Jarvis on Anglo, Neo Bistro and Stem

by Tom Shingler 22 May 2018

Opening three restaurants in as many years would make many chefs run for the hills, but Mark Jarvis has been on a winning streak ever since he set out on his own. Tom Shingler finds out what drives him and how each of his restaurants develop their own personality.

When Mark Jarvis first opened Anglo in London’s Farringdon at the beginning of 2016, he was a bit of an unknown and was simply looking to cook the food he liked in a relaxed atmosphere, hopefully having a bit of fun along the way. Two weeks after the doors opened, it was descended upon by London’s top critics, heaped with praise and booked up months in advance. It must have been a nice shock – albeit a shock nonetheless.

Clearly undeterred, Mark has just opened his third restaurant – Stem – in the West End, and is already thinking about the idea of adding a pub to his repertoire of lauded restaurants. Despite all this, he comes across as a very relaxed character, who has simply taken opportunities as they’ve come along rather than setting out to create a mini restaurant empire from the get-go. However, a peek at where Mark trained and worked before Anglo proves he’s a seriously hardworking, talented chef that spent time mastering the basics before setting out on his own.

Instilled with a love for cooking thanks to his mother’s job at a local hotel, Mark’s first experience of fine dining came when he joined Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in 2005. Over the next three years he spent time manning every section, at the same time other celebrated chefs such as Agnar Sverrisson, Robin Gill and Ollie Dabbous were learning the ropes. He then moved to Agnar’s own restaurant Texture, in London, before taking the head chef job at The Blueprint Café following Jeremy Lee’s departure. After a two-year stint as executive chef at The Bingham Hotel, he was finally ready to open his own place – Anglo, a small, forty-cover restaurant on a little road off Leather Lane in Farringdon.

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Anglo

‘I was working at The Bingham in Richmond when my now business partner came in, saw what I was doing and asked if I wanted to set out on my own,’ explains Mark. ‘We looked at a few sites in Marylebone and it was all a bit predictable, but then I got a text about an old Italian restaurant in Farringdon. When I went to take a look I knew it didn’t need much work and it could be a fun place to run – there weren’t the pressures of huge rents or massive refurbs that would cost hundreds of thousands of pounds.’

Thrown in at the deep end, Mark and his very small team spent two weeks painting the walls, bringing in furniture and getting the place ready to open. The kitchen itself at Anglo is tiny – barely enough room for three people – so the larger prep kitchen downstairs is vital for a smooth service. ‘At the start there were just three of us having fun – I remember the first person who came to eat here asked to pay, and we realised none of us knew how to use the card machine. We had to hand it over to her so she could put the payment through!’

Things rapidly changed, however, when London’s top food critics started walking through the door, just days after Mark’s first service. ‘Having the critics come in made me so nervous of who was going to walk through the door every service,’ he says. ‘The power someone like Grace Dent has is huge – when her review came out our website and phone lines went down because they were absolutely jammed with people trying to book a table. People still come in and tell us they booked because of her review, asking for specific dishes she mentioned. Then when we won awards from the likes of The Observer, GQ and The Caterer, we went from this little restaurant on a backstreet in Farringdon to something much more. It shows that if you get it right, people will come and check you out no matter where you are.’

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But what is it that makes Anglo such a critical success? The food is modern British – a term that can be hard to define at the best of times – and there’s hardly a shortage of restaurants in London and the rest of the UK putting their own spin on the same concept. Mark thinks it has more to do with the service, which is very relaxed and welcoming to all, and the fact that he can quickly change things and keep the menus affordable because he’s in such a small restaurant. But it’s the food that makes people come back again and again; Mark’s dishes often pair unusual ingredients together, or turn preconceptions on their head.

‘I really like playing with people’s perceptions,’ he explains. ‘For instance, we have an artichoke ice cream on at the moment with maple syrup and coffee – most people think of artichokes as something you chargrill with olive oil on top, so to have it as an ice cream is a new experience. One of the other dishes that really showcases what we do here is our rump of beef. We age it ourselves until it’s got a really deep, savoury flavour, then serve it with a bone marrow custard, a molasses glaze and an acidic bonito jelly. It’s got both familiar elements and then something different and quite modern.’

Neo Bistro

A year later came Neo Bistro in Mayfair – a much more ‘traditional’ area of London to open a restaurant with high footfall and plenty of choice. The hubbub around Anglo might still have been in full swing when Mark opened his second restaurant in July 2017, but that didn’t stop him from making his next venture – which he opened with chef Alex Harper – just as popular.

‘I’d always had the place in my mind and was always working on the concept, but it was when the site was offered to us at a very good price that we went for it,’ he says. ‘Originally we were just going to do a pop-up, but again it was so well received that it became a permanent fixture. The food is more substantial there and we’ve recently made the dishes a little bit homelier to entice the large amount of passing trade, but it’s still the same really cool cooking you get at Anglo. There’s an à la carte and bar snacks menu at Neo, too, which I suppose makes it more accessible to people just looking for a place to eat without doing too much research beforehand.’

More top reviews soon followed, and the quirky combination of old school pub surroundings with innovative, contemporary dishes that nodded to familiar classics gave fans of Anglo enough to enjoy but kept the feeling distinctly separate. ‘I think at the beginning Neo Bistro was more similar to Anglo, but today it’s definitely its own thing,’ says Mark. ‘By adding that homely feel to our dishes it seems to fit in with the pub vibe a bit more, and there’s more scope for people to just pop in for a few bites instead of a full-blown multi-course dinner.’

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Stem

On to the latest opening, then, which is the newest (but probably not the final) restaurant Mark has opened. Stem might have roughly the same number of covers as Anglo, but the room is bigger, meaning people have a bit more space around them. It’s also in Mayfair, so everything’s perhaps a little more polished when compared with the trendier, minimalist décor of his first restaurant.

‘After we opened Neo, we got a few different people coming in and asking if we wanted to open another restaurant,’ says Mark. ‘I really wasn’t taking it seriously at all in the beginning, but then I went to eat at Restaurant Story where Sam Ashton-Booth was head chef. I got talking to him and he said he was looking to open a restaurant, so when we found the right site and everyone was on board we went for it.’

Sam is what makes Stem particularly exciting, as his cooking style heralds a subtle change to the food (although it will still be in Mark’s distinct, Anglo-esque style). ‘Sam’s been head chef at Anglo for a while now so he knows how I like to work, and our approach is quite similar when it comes to clean flavours and a classically trained background. He likes to be quite modern in his approach, which I think really shines through in the menu, but it has that classical backing that every chef needs as a foundation.’

The one thing Mark’s three restaurants all prove is that a good chef, interesting food and a relaxed atmosphere can make all the difference, whether you’re in Farringdon or Leather Lane. Mark will always be in the kitchen at Anglo, but he has built a solid team around him in the past few years which has helped Neo Bistro (and no doubt Stem in the future) become just as successful as his flagship. With real foodies experiencing the tasting menu at Anglo, passing trade drawn in to the pub-fronted Neo Bistro and Stem offering up something similar yet different to Mark’s cooking to date, it seems this driven chef has got everything covered.

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