Alexander Larman meets with chef Aidan McGee in his first month in the kitchen at The Trustcott Arms. With his past employers including chefs Heston Blumenthal and Tim Allen, we suspect the menu at the Truscott is about to get a whole lot more interesting…
Successful chefs tend to fall into two categories. The first are those who, to be charitable, probably never got enough attention when they were young and have tried to make up for it ever since with attention-seeking gimmicks. Sometimes they’re great fun to interview and to visit their restaurants, but often they’re rather a trial. Then the second category includes those who would almost prefer that the food does the talking, rather than them. They are often some of the best chefs in the country, but when it comes to an interview, things start to get a little tricky.
If the new head chef of The Truscott Arms, Aidan McGee, falls into either category it’s the second, but this shouldn’t be taken as an indication that he’s diffident or shy. Instead, this polite young Donegal native is both impeccably courteous and committed to his new role as the man behind the stoves at this upmarket pub-restaurant.
When I meet him, he’s only been in situ for a couple of weeks, but is excited about launching his autumn/winter menu, which he sees as his opportunity to put his own stamp on the place. As he says, ‘I’ve been really keen to have a chance to do my own thing for a while, and when I was offered the role here, I responded to something in the place and in the atmosphere, as well as the passion of the owners, and so was happy to accept.’ Part of the attraction was the stunning setting – the roof of the dining room is a spectacular piece of ornate cornicing – but also McGee, after stints at both the Mandarin Oriental and Launceston Place, was eager to set his own stamp on what he and the owners hope is going to turn into a major local destination.
The Truscott Arms has numerous fun and innovative ideas that mark it out from the competition, ranging from film nights (‘you can just have a burger or fish and chips and settle in with a movie, it’s really laid-back) to the more intricate, such as the ‘Eating Sound’ evenings, which combine a tasting menu and matching wine with a live musical accompaniment. It might sound slightly out-there, but the one I went to before was enormous fun, and Aidan sounds excited at the prospect of stretching his fine-dining muscles, especially at a wallet-friendly price.
‘My time at Launceston Place was really important for me, because (head chef) Tim Allen there was utterly inspirational, and it was great fun. He won a Michelin star, and it was fascinating to watch how it changed from when I started until a couple of weeks ago, and I hope it goes from strength to strength. He was passionate and really cared about all the food, and I learnt a lot from him. But then I also learnt a lot from my time at the Mandarin, both at Dinner and at the hotel as a whole – I worked on every section there, including a wok, which was a bit of a shock for an Irish guy. The thing I learnt there was how to deal with the sheer volume of covers, including afternoon tea and the banqueting aspects.’
He’s got his new menu to organise, and then before we know it, it’ll be Christmas, which he’s looking forward to – ‘we’ll do a four or five course menu, but they’ll be proper-sized courses, not tasting menu size, so everyone will be satisfied, hopefully.’ The future looks very good for the talented Mr Aidan McGee. But, finally, would he call the Truscott Arms a gastropub? He smiles and looks slightly askance.
‘It’s a bit last decade, isn’t it? These days, I think people just want to find a pub that serves both really good food and really good wine and beer, and if we’re doing both of those, then I’ll be happy.’ As will, I suspect, a lot of very contented local (and not so local) residents.
55 Shirland Road W9 2JD; thetruscottarms.com
All images by Peter Bartlett