Ones to watch: Daniel Fletcher

Ones to watch: Daniel Fletcher

by Pete Dreyer 1 August 2018

Having worked with the likes of Tom Kitchin, Tommy Banks and Phil Howard, Daniel Fletcher is carving out his own path at Fenchurch Sky Garden and putting the high-rise restaurant on the map.

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Pete worked as a food writer at Great British Chefs.

Pete worked as a food writer at Great British Chefs and trained at Leiths School of Food and Wine in London. Although there’s very little he won’t eat, his real passion is health and nutrition, and showing people that healthy food can be delicious too. When he’s not writing or cooking, you’ll probably find him engrossed in a bowl of pho.

As head chef at Fenchurch Sky Garden on the thirty-seventh floor of London’s famous ‘Walkie-Talkie’ building, Daniel Fletcher arguably commands one of the capital’s most beautiful restaurants, with views stretching over the London skyline in all directions. It’s an impressive space – a long way from the local restaurant where Daniel first embarked on his kitchen career. ‘I started just washing up dishes when I was about fourteen,’ he says. ‘I got talking to all the chefs and started being more interested in the kitchen, and one day the chefs turned around and said, ‘You know what, Dan? You might as well just help us prep this,’ and that's how it all started.’

Daniel grew up in Northallerton, surrounded by the sweeping moors and dales of North Yorkshire. Beautiful though it may be, opportunities for ambitious young chefs are rather limited, so Daniel looked further afield to progress his career and wrote to Tom Kitchin in Edinburgh, asking for a trial. ‘I just kept sending him my CV until he said yes!’ he laughs. ‘I love his whole ethos on food, and the style of cooking. Having that influence so early in my career really set the ball rolling on what I like cooking, putting on the plate and eating. He really shaped the way I look at food.’

Visitors to the restaurant at Fenchurch Sky Garden get to dine on the thirty-seventh floor of the famous building, surrounded by an urban oasis and some of the best views in London
Daniel grew up in North Yorkshire but has worked in kitchens all over the world, as well as with top chefs like Tom Kitchin, Tommy Banks and Phil Howard

Armed with a foundation of technical French cooking, Daniel packed his bags for Australia and absorbed a host of Asian influences for a year, before returning to his native Yorkshire and diving into the kitchen at The Black Swan at Oldstead with Tommy Banks. ‘Tommy’s great,’ he says. ‘We worked together on a lot of different things, a lot of experimenting and development of dishes, which was something I hadn’t done before.’ Trips to South Africa and New Zealand soon followed, before Daniel returned to The Black Swan whilst he planned his next big move. ‘I worked with a couple of chefs in New Zealand who had both worked at The Square and The Ledbury in London, and I ended up going to The Square when I came back.’

Daniel would spend the next five years at the Mayfair institution, working alongside the likes of Gary Foulkes, Ben Marks and of course, Phil Howard. ‘I think the ethos of The Square is amazing,’ he remarks. ‘It was about finding the absolute quality in every ingredient. I’ve carried that with me ever since – just trying to make the best of every ingredient.’ Like everyone who works under the legendary chef, Daniel also learnt a huge amount from Phil Howard, who became a mentor for the young chef. ‘You don’t appreciate the management side of running a kitchen, and the amount of work that goes into that,’ he explains. ‘I got that from working closely with Phil and Gary – they were amazing mentors in that respect.’

When The Square swapped ownership, Daniel briefly took up the head chef position, but his mind was firmly set on making a new start in a new restaurant. ‘I was never going to be permanent, it was just temporary whilst I was looking for a head chef position somewhere else,’ he says. After a short break he took the reins at Fenchurch Sky Garden, where he has been quietly building the high-rise restaurant into a foodie destination. ‘Anywhere you take over as a new head chef, it’s quite difficult. You have to build your team up, teach them the ethos and your way of cooking, change the menu, but they have really embraced the methods and changes I wanted to make. Everyday I feel like we’re getting better, which is great.’

Lessons learned from Tom Kitchin, Tommy Banks and Phil Howard are plain to see in Daniel’s cooking – provenance and respect for ingredients is a cornerstone of what he does at Fenchurch Sky Garden. ‘For me, it’s always been about just cooking really great food,’ says Daniel, ‘but I want to showcase great British produce at the same time.’ As soon as ingredients come into season, Daniel will bring them onto the menu at Fenchurch Sky Garden, pairing seasonal ingredients together to create new dishes. ‘That’s how a lot of our dishes start off,’ he says. ‘We get this lovely line-caught mackerel from Newlyn in Cornwall, and we serve it with roasted beetroots, dressed in a horseradish and turnip dressing, and some little pink radicchio leaves. We make these little agar vinegar jellies and place them across the back of the fish, along wish some beetroot leaves. The beetroots and turnips come into season together along with the winter radicchio, so it makes sense to pair them together, and then you just have some lovely mackerel to go with them.’

Maple, sesame and balsamic-glazed duck
Roast Orkney scallops with slow-cooked pumpkin, hazelnuts, citrus dressing and red chicory salad

When it comes to that mantra of ‘making the best of every ingredient,’ Daniel isn’t fussy about how he goes about that, and he uses a range of techniques to create his dishes. ‘I’ll use whatever technique I feel is the best way of cooking that ingredient,’ he explains. ‘That could be something classical or something modern – I’m not afraid to use either method, as long as I feel like I’m achieving the best product I can.’

Judging by the first eighteen months, Fenchurch Sky Garden is well on its way to becoming a true destination restaurant in London – a big fish in a big pond, if you like. ‘It’s been a huge learning and growing process,’ says Daniel, but he admits that there’s plenty of work still to be done. ‘I like to see things improve all the time – I’m not someone who likes to wait until something is broken to fix it. I know how much we achieved last year, and that just spurs me on to see how much we can achieve this year, and how much further we can push ourselves.’