Previously Chef Director at the Polpo restaurant group for five years, Tom Oldroyd is all set to open his first solo restaurant Oldroyd on Upper Street in Islington. We find out what to expect
You’ve been involved in the food & drink industry for 15 years Tom. How has it changed in that time?
It’s changed massively, but 15 years ago I was a breakfast waiter out of London, so the dining scene here wasn’t really on my radar. When I did move up to London I got properly stuck in. I positioned myself in the middle of Soho, as I thought that was where things were really happening. It has exploded – over the last six years in particular, especially the casual dining scene, which has become massive. People are eating out on a daily basis rather than weekly or monthly. With people eating out so frequently, competition has grown stronger, which in turn has created better restaurants. People wanting to eat out means better restaurants are opening, so it’s definitely going in a good direction. My big concern is people don’t see hospitality as a business career. There are lots of wonderful people opening restaurants, but not necessarily opening with the staff to offer the right service. That’s my concern.
How would you encourage people to work for you?
Structured training for them, not just coming to work and taking things on a day by day basis. We would look at where you’re going to be in a month’s time, or six months’ time. We all have that in most jobs and you need structured development. It’s all about coming to work and developing yourself. You get that satisfaction out of it.
What would you say the greatest thing you ever learnt was?
I always come back to the fact that no two minds think alike. I think about that and it’s very true. I have always thought slightly outside the box – although I hate that phrase! – as there’s no point if everyone is doing the same thing.
How exciting was it to be involved with the original Polpo?
It was hugely exciting. I don’t think any of us quite realised what was happening. We opened the week of the Lehman Brothers collapse, but the reaction was huge. A recession doesn’t stop people going out. People want to eat out and have a good time – but they were a lot more price conscious. Value for money was what everyone was after, so we opened at the right time in the right place.
Were you surprised at how successful it became?
I wasn’t surprised at all. It had a great following right from the off. People latched on to it and loved it, the service and food was just what people wanted at the time – and they still do.
Why was now the right time for you to open your first solo restaurant?
Financially I was in a good place to be self funded. I have been saving up since I was eight-years-old to open my own restaurant! This is all on my own, I wanted to do this without investment as I wanted to have full control over it. My fiancée is opening a shop on Hackney Road too, and we also have the wedding, so we decided to do it all at the same time. Just go for it as we will be stressed anyway!
And why Upper Street as the location?
I love the dining scene here. There are a lot of restaurants and that brings in a lot of people. It’s always busy here. There is a great neighbourhood feel to the area and I have just moved in myself up the road. There’s a great community vibe.
How would you describe what we can expect at Oldroyd?
It’s obviously named after my surname, but ‘royd’ is a clearing in woods, and my name means ‘old clearing in the woods’, so my philosophy is Oldroyd on Upper Street is a clearing in the woods of our lives. You can come in and erase all your worries and stresses, and hopefully it will be a bit of an oasis. It’s somewhere you can come in and relax and be looked after. Hopefully I will get that return custom, where people get to know you and you get to know them and what they like, and become a part of the scene. And, of course, great food and wine!
Why did you want two very different floors, one café style with no reservations, and the other more bistro-style dining where bookings will be taken?
It happened very naturally. I would like people to be able to book, as people do want that commitment and structure in their lives. I also want people who live in the neighbourhood who are just wandering past to simply pop in and grab a seat. I wanted to do both.
What do you want to offer with the menu?
I love Italian food, it’s how I have always cooked. I also love French and Spanish, food that reminds me of my holidays I suppose. I wanted to incorporate as much as that as possible, using British charcuterie and British cheeses, which are fantastic. I want to invoke some memories with food. But I also think it shouldn’t be too complicated either, I don’t want people thinking about their food too much.
Is there a dish you are particularly excited about?
I am excited about all of them! The menu will be changing daily, whatever the fishmonger tells me is good, or what the butcher tells me is good. There was one dish we tried out yesterday though that I am very excited about, a whole roast monkfish.
And why have you created a different menu for the weekend?
I love brunch. It’s quite possibly my favourite meal. I really wanted to do a brunch, I will have the normal menu at weekends, but open slightly earlier and also offer brunch dishes.
Words: Mark Kebble
Oldroyd at 344 Upper Street N1 0PD; oldroydlondon.com