Ones to watch: Nick Grieves

by Pete Dreyer1 January 2019

Nick Grieves quit a career in construction to teach himself how to cook. After time at Fera and The River Café, he returned to his home city of Newcastle and opened The Patricia – a restaurant that is leading the evolution of the food scene on Tyneside. Photos: James Byrne.

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.

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.

There was once an assumption, I think, that to be a great chef you had to have grown up in the kitchen. Most of the luminaries we admire – those who blazed the trail that many chefs now follow – started in the kitchen in their teenage years, whether that be up to their elbows in washing up, or tea towel in hand at the stove. The story is somewhat different these days – lots of great chefs come to the industry from other backgrounds, bringing a fresh, unique approach to what they do. Chantelle Nicholson gave up a career in law to enter the kitchen – today she’s cooking some of the most inventive, plant-based, sustainable food in the country. Jeremy Chan did the same, albeit in finance, and is pushing new boundaries with his incredible umami-driven menus at Ikoyi. Graham Garrett famously swapped his drum sticks for a set of chef’s knives, then won a Michelin star for his bold, no-nonsense cooking at The West House.

Nick Grieves was twenty-seven years old when he realised that he wanted to be in the kitchen. He grew up in Newcastle and studied construction at university, then left the North East for Qatar, where he worked as a construction manager. ‘I used to cook at home and throughout university for the lads because they were terrible,’ he says. ‘I never thought it would turn into a profession.’ Indeed, if not for the recession in the late 2000s, Nick may never have found his way over to the stove. The global economic downturn sent the construction industry into a tailspin – Nick’s company went bust and he moved home, eventually taking over a pub called The Garden House in Durham.

‘We knew the pub from back in the day – it used to be really great – and we thought we could take it on and make a bit of money,’ says Nick. ‘I was a bit naive to be honest. We didn’t have any staff in the kitchen for the first month, so I went in to help with all the food, and I just really loved it.’ Before long, Nick was in the kitchen seven days a week. He taught himself new techniques by reading books and watching YouTube videos (mostly those belonging to Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray). Slowly but surely, Nick and team pushed the kitchen at The Garden House to new heights. ‘It wasn’t crazy food,’ he says. ‘We just pushed to do things that were a bit out of the ordinary for a normal pub.’

Nick started cooking seriously at twenty-seven years old, when he took over The Garden House in Durham
After time spent at Fera and The River Café, Nick returned to Newcastle and opened The Patricia – named after his grandmother who lent him the money for the restaurant

But whilst the kitchen at The Garden House was thriving, the business underneath was going sour. Sharing ownership with friends and family was putting a huge strain on his relationships, and after a few years, Nick sold his share of the pub. ‘It was such a high-pressure situation, it just didn’t work out,’ he says. ‘I wanted to keep cooking and learning in a more formal setting – there’s only so much you can teach yourself really – so I headed to London and took a job at Fera.’

Simon Rogan’s Fera, in the historic Claridge’s Hotel, was effectively the legendary chef's London outpost – delivering his famous farm-to-fork ethos to punters in the capital. There was a huge brigade working there; disciplined, slick and a world away from the kitchen Nick was used to. ‘There’s about fifty chefs on the rota at Fera,’ says Nick. ‘I was used to working in a team of five, assuming everyone was in! I loved my time there – I loved Simon’s food long before that, and I learnt so much about food and produce and about how proper kitchens work.’

Nick spent the next four months at Fera, but for a self-taught chef who had learnt his trade watching videos of Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray on YouTube, a job at The River Café was always the dream. ‘I just went there on my own and asked if they had any jobs going,’ he laughs. Nick came back to do a trial the following week, and a couple of weeks later he was a chef at the illustrious Thames-side restaurant. ‘It was amazing. You always see chefs talking about the importance of good produce, but at The River Café you get to know every single product – not just the protein and the vegetables, but every little thing, right down to the onions that go into the stock. You can really taste the difference in all the food.’

Produce is at the heart of what Nick does at The Patricia – a lesson he learnt from his time at The River Café
Nick did most of the refurbishment and decoration himself on a shoestring budget

The camaraderie and emphasis on à la minute cooking and fresh produce turned out to be a huge influence on Nick, but it wasn’t long before he felt the call to be his own boss again. ‘I wish I could have stayed for longer, but I was so used to working for myself – I was a little too old to be told what to do,’ he says. He had a solid plan to return to the North East and open his own restaurant, but absolutely no funds to carry it out. ‘I felt really stuck. I was sitting in a pub around the corner from the café, chatting to my gran on the phone. I explained that I was trying to leave London and open a restaurant back home, and she was just like, ‘well, I’ll help you with it if you want.’ I was blown away. I had no idea she would be able to help.’ Turns out, Nick’s gran was dead serious – a month later, she had lent Nick the money, and he moved back up to Newcastle to find a site. He found one, but another buyer swooped and took it from under his nose at the last minute. ‘It was the best thing that could have happened,’ he grins. 'A couple of weeks later, I found something better. That would become his restaurant – The Patricia – named after the woman that made it all happen.

Still, Nick’s budgets were tight – Granny Patricia wasn’t made of money. ‘Most places probably spend more money on their chairs than I spent on the entire restaurant!’ Nick laughs. ‘Being from a construction background ended up being pretty handy – I did most of the work myself.’ Nick admits the restaurant was still ‘a bit rickety’ when it first opened, but six months later Marina O’Loughlin appeared in the dining room and published a stellar review in The Guardian shortly after. Nick was trying to keep the name a secret from his gran to surprise her, but Marina’s review let the cat out of the bag a bit early. ‘She was still over the moon,’ he grins. ‘She came up and spent the evening walking around the restaurant, visiting all the tables! Everyone loved it.’ Patricia’s health means that she probably won’t have the chance to visit the restaurant again, but The Patricia will stand as a testament to her generosity. 'I’m glad she got to see it,’ says Nick with a smile. ‘I built this for her.’

Cured tuna, Roscoff onion, blackberries and 'nduja
Tortellini stuffed with Crown Prince squash and honey, Tunworth fonduta and truffle

Nick’s food at The Patricia is honest and simple. He doesn’t shun technical methods of cooking, but the dishes and flavours themselves are very focused – every dish on the à la carte menu features just three or four elements at a time. ‘I don’t like to have anything on the plate that shouldn’t be there,’ he explains. ‘I think too many elements confuses things – our food here is super clean.’ The Brussels sprout dish – an early favourite at the restaurant – is a perfect encapsulation of this. It arrives with no sprouts to be seen, merely a blanquette of aged Parmesan sauce that reveals seared sprouts and a beautiful sweet onion jam when you disturb it with a fork. It’s utter simplicity on the surface, but there’s huge complexity underneath – the Brussels are cooked in cultured butter made by Grant Harrington at Ampersand, whilst the onion jam cuts through with a unique acidity, thanks to an ice wine vinegar from Canada called Minus8.

Tamworth pork jowl, Castellucio lentils and pickled carrots
Aged beef carpaccio with Albacore tuna, beetroot and horseradish

Every dish is a blend of simplicity and incredible attention to detail; as a result, so is the restaurant. ‘We haven’t spent a lot of money on furnishings and fancy stuff, so it’s really all to do with the food,’ says Nick. ‘I spend all the money in the kitchen.’ He admits that was a big risk in Newcastle – although the city isn’t quite the culinary wasteland it once was, it still lags behind other food-forward cities like London, Bristol and Liverpool. Whilst the dining scene on Tyneside remains a little on the plush and stuffy side, The Patricia feels far more like something taken out of East London – a bit rough around the edges, sure, but undoubtedly delicious and fun. ‘There’s a couple of other people trying to do something similar up here,’ he says. ‘If we had opened this restaurant five years ago, there’s no way anybody would have come, so the scene is changing and that’s really exciting to see.’

On a nationwide level, this is the way food is going – you only have to look at this year’s Michelin awards to see that. The Patricia went straight into the Michelin Guide and the Good Food Guide a year after it opened, but Nick hopes that as the food scene in Newcastle grows and evolves, Michelin inspectors will start to pay more attention. ‘Opinions on what star-worthy food is are changing,’ he says. ‘Leroy won their star this year – and that’s a very similar style to what we do. I think any chef that says they don’t want to win those awards is lying! It’s always good to be recognised – I think if we keep making really great, tasty food, people will notice what we’re doing.’

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