Fans of ‘in this day in history’ are entitled to feel a little spoilt with June 25th. there’s plenty for everyone: whether it’s the start of the Korean War (bad), Ricky Gervais’ and George Michael’s birthdays (good) or Custer’s Last Stand (make your own mind up on that one), the date has more than its fair share of significance stamped on it. Fans of top, top analysis of top, top players have Jamie Redknapp’s birthday, which he is no doubt proud to share with ‘Instagram Star’ (whatever the holy arse that is) Colleenthegirlio. In 1967, The Beatles recorded ‘All You Need Is Love’ in front of a global TV audience.
Which provides a neat(ish) segue into today’s subject. In a local but rather significant way, this year’s iteration will be significant, too; because that’s the date work starts in earnest on Tommy Heaney’s new restaurant.
I am a huge fan and some of my best food memories since I started this blog have involved his cooking: from dish after dish showcasing ibérico pork to his headline slot at The Great House, which enabled him to widen his horizons, paint from a wider palette and me to mix my metaphors.
He was already very much ‘one to watch’ in Wales. Then Great British Menu brought him to national attention as he won through to Finals week against the stiffest of competition. His April 10 announcement that he was opening in Cardiff sent local food-lovers into a tailspin of heated speculation.
This is, by some distance, 2018’s most eagerly-awaited opening in South Wales; so when he got in touch from Lanzarote to say he wanted to break the news through this blog, I was all ears.
J: So Cardiff it is, then. Why? Was this always part of some master plan?
Tommy Heaney: I don’t think we really ‘chose’ Cardiff- we were looking at Bristol and Swansea! I posted a tweet saying that we were looking at a locations for a restaurant; the current owners replied to my tweet saying they were considering moving on. I had never considered this site as I had never expected such a great location to come on the market. I spoke to Nikki my partner and she was quite hesitant due to the size, but we arranged to meet and view the premises and that’s all she wrote! We fell in love with what they were doing but also saw how we could make it our own. Plus, living in Wales, I think we really needed to hit the capital. The power of Twitter it seems!
J: That sounds special. Which brings us to the big question…. can you reveal the location?
TH: Well, yes- we are still really nervous to make it public as we are always waiting for something to make dream to fall apart but I suppose we have to bite the bullet sometime.
We are delighted to announce we will be taking over a very successful restaurant in the beautiful area of Pontcanna. I’m sure you’ve guessed- yes, Arbennig! Ceri and John Cook have done amazing things there- they have really made their restaurant one of the very best in the city. It’s a challenge to follow them but I can’t wait to get stuck in. Without them deciding to sell up, this wouldn’t be happening right now. And just like before, this will be a family-run business, with my partner running front of house.
We are so happy that the team which made Arbennig such a success are staying on too. It couldn’t have worked out much better for anyone involved.
We will get the keys on the 25th June and close for a month or so for a refurb. We will also be taking on the amazing Arbennig Emporium which we are considering opening up in the evenings while the refurb is going on. We will serve small samples of what’s to come.
J: The news of Arbennig was a big hit to absorb: it had a stellar reputation and acclaim from The Good Food Guide. If it had to change hands, though, I can’t think of many more exciting new owners. A major project, this, at an uncertain time in the restaurant business. Big investors are the name of the game for many- are you going down that route?
TH: I’d love to say we have backers but the truth of the matter is we are doing this alone: no investors, everything on the line! But there will be major work done. As money is limited, we are calling upon friends and family to help where possible- the team at Restaurant Tommy Heaney have volunteered to paint etc which is amazing!
But also to really bring the community together we are asking for help from the public. Around the 12th June we will be launching a Kickstarter campaign which we are really excited about.
J: Go on- what do you have in mind?
TH: We have been truly overwhelmed by the support offered by some of the best chefs in the UK; A few things will be up for grabs, including ‘Guest Chef nights’. Dates are to be confirmed and all at the new restaurant, but expect to see Peter Sanchez-Iglesias, Tom Brown, Richard Bainbridge, Ellis Barrie, Lee Westcott, Matt Worswick, Michael Bremner, Adam Reid and Chris Harrod, with more to be confirmed.
J: That’s a remarkable line up! What should we expect from the new place, then? Is this another ‘relaxed fine dining’ project, like Laleston? Or another approach entirely?
TH: The idea is to create a lively bar/restaurant with a fun and enjoyable atmosphere. There won’t be any unnecessary fuss when it come to service but the food will be all about simple flavours- simple but exciting.
We aren’t targeting any particular customer base, really: we just want to make the restaurant accessible to everyone. It was always a dream to open up my own restaurant but I think I need to be totally honest here: without the help the exposure Great British Menu has given me I do not think any of this would be possible! It is definitely something I would advise any ambitious chef to do given the opportunity.
J: So less ‘fine dining’, more ‘good night out’?
TH: Exactly, we won’t have a menu as such, the menu will change daily where possible.
Customers will be able to order snacks, starters, mains and desserts in an à la carte format, but we will also offer an informal tasting menu should they prefer.
J: Any particular dishes customers should watch out for?
TH: No doubt a couple of the GBM dishes may pop up once in a while! We also have big plans for expansion in the first 6 months to a year, when we will turning the Emporium into a separate stand-alone restaurant with roughly 20 covers- where customers will have the option of ordering (excuse the cliché) smaller plates at a lower price point.
J: Where will this slot in to the current Cardiff dining scene, then?
TH: If I am totally honest, we don’t really get the chance to get to Cardiff much any more- which is probably a good thing as sometimes decisions can be influenced by trends. It is important to us that we stamp our own personalities onto the restaurant.
We have also been very fortunate- I’ve got a few close friends coming in to help with the launch.
Lee Hyde (former bar manager at Pollen Street Social and Dabbous) has offered to help with the cocktail list, and will also be manning the bar with the help of my good friend Jamie McGowan on the opening night. So expect to see a exciting selection on offer!
J: What next for the original Restaurant Tommy Heaney Laleston then?
TH: Restaurant Tommy Heaney keeps getting stronger and stronger and that’s a credit to the team we have in place. I will promote Garth Denyer to Head Chef, who will be taking over the day-to-day running of the kitchen in my absence. It was really important that we found a restaurant within driving distance of each other so I’m accessible to both when needed!
J: This promises to be an eventful few months. There’s so much here to get excited about. You’d better get back to your poolside: you’re going to need every bit of rest you can get!
That line-up is trouser-tentingly good and shows the respect Tommy’s peers have for his talent.
We come full circle, musically speaking.
This innovative approach to raising funds could just as well be called ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’. If that’s too pat a conclusion for you, then what is clear is that Tommy Heaney is bringing some of the most exciting talents in British cooking to Cardiff; and that from the ashes of the highly-regarded Arbennig, we should have something exciting to welcome this summer.
Follow Tommy at @heaney16 for more updates.
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This blog is a very simple thing.
I won’t try to sell you any hand lotion, exercise programmes, coffee syrups or Patagonian nose flutes. You won’t find tips on dating, ‘wellness’ or yoga mats.
I write because I love it (and food, as indicated by my increasing girth). Greed happens to be my Deadly Sin of choice, but at least it is never shy of providing me with subject matter.
A simple thing, then: all you get is me wittering on semi-coherently about places I’ve eaten at; hence a ‘restaurant blog’ rather than a ‘food blog’, although there are a few recipes scattered throughout.
From mezze to Michelin ‘fine dining’ and all points in between.