Did you know that we have a Michelin-star chef cooking in St Albans? Phil Thompson, formerly Executive Head Chef at L’Auberge du Lac bought Darcy’s when Ruth Hurren returned to Australia. I caught up with Phil and partner Marianne to find out how their first year in St Albans had gone.
Phil has an incredible background in food. He has been working since age 12, a career that has taken him from washing pots for his uncle, to working with some of the best chefs in the world at The Lanesborough, Hyde Park, the Orrery in Marylebone, and St Martin’s Lane Hotel, whose guests included Madonna and Leonardo DiCaprio.
Next stop was the famous L’Escargot, one of the oldest Michelin-star restaurants in London, working for Marco Pierre White and Jeff Galvin. He was invited to work at L’Auberge du Lac, Brocket Hall; “When I saw the place I fell in love with it and also felt it was the right time to leave London,” explains Phil. When Jean Christophe Novelli left in 2005, Phil took over and in 2009 he achieved his first Michelin star and held it for four consecutive years.
“We achieved the star through a lot of blood, sweat and tears. None of the team there had ever worked in a Michelin-starred restaurant before so I was very proud,” explained Phil.
After 11 years, Phil was keen to have his own place, and he and fiancée Marianne pulled together the funding to buy Darcy’s, with the help of family and friends. “I spent the first two months waking up every morning feeling sick, thinking have I done the right thing? I can honestly say it’s the scariest thing I’ve ever done,” Phil told me.
Phil’s name is above the door, and unlike some chefs, he is there every day. Chefs from L’Auberge du Lac followed him, so whether you pop in for mid-week lunch or are celebrating a very special occasion, you get exceptional chefs cooking for you. Phil’s passion shines through; he wants every guest to have a fantastic time. “I want my restaurant to be one that everyone talks about and is excited about going to. When l go into the restaurant I want to see happy, smiling, satisfied faces. You make so many sacrifices in this job, I want to show my family it was all worth it.”
Phil changes the menu on a daily basis, depending on what is in season; Yorkshire grouse, venison and pheasant were on the menu when I popped in. I was also pleased to see a vegetarian tasting menu which showed real creativity, and plenty of local suppliers, including The 3 Brewers. Everything I chose was delicious and beautifully presented and the waiting team were the right mix of professional and calm. I went before the interview, so there was no special treatment, I promise!
At the recent Food and Drink Street Food Festival the crayfish and lobster brioche rolls and Yorkshire Puds with Beef Bourgignon were hugely popular. I like that Phil’s set menus are good value (2 courses £16.50 and £18.50) as he wants everyone in St Albans to be able to try his food. At the other end of the scale is the Kitchen Experience (£185) where you can join Phil and team for a morning in the kitchen, followed by lunch with your guest. They are celebrating their 1st year with a Champagne tasting dinner on 12th November.
I remember when Ruth decided to return to Australia, many people wondered who could replace such a talented and popular chef. I think we are extremely lucky that Phil decided to open his restaurant in St Albans.