Westbourne Grove locals rejoice – Tom Conran is back. Sudi Pigott heads to his re-opened deli to find out what’s new (whilst tucking into breakfast)
Tom Conran looks very much at home sat at a colbalt blue leather seat, sketching garden designs on a scrap of paper and familiarly greeting customers as they drop in. As well he might as it is 24 years – practically half his lifetime – since he first opened Tom’s Deli at 226 Westbourne Grove and it is very much home from home (he has lived in Notting Hill for 32 years, too).
His beloved site, with its original Victorian shopfront, has now risen again Lazarus-like after a brief and somewhat shocking closure (due to massive rent hikes), and it has been reborn as New Tom’s for an extra year, initially, before the lease runs out.
Its reincarnation as New Tom’s is deliberately different to the deli he opened aged 25 when it was almost impossible to find ingredients now taken for granted, like puy lentils and balsamic vinegar, without trekking into specialist shops in Soho and Charlotte Street. Tom had acquired a taste for such exotic foodstuffs not only through being brought up in possibly the most foodie household of the era – his parents are Terence and Caroline Conran – but also as he trained as a chef in the early 1980s, first at La Varenne in Paris, and then worked at some of the most fashionable and mould-breaking restaurants of the time (Alastair Little, Sally Clarke’s and 192).
‘I embrace change. It is inevitable,’ explains Tom with gusto. ‘That’s why I’ve always loved living in London. There’s always something new and exciting. Despite having The Cow, Crazy Homies and Lucky 7 also in the neighbourhood, I hadn’t appreciated how much Tom’s would genuinely be missed. I didn’t want to go out on a whimper, I wanted to give it my best shot. I realised the concept of deli + cafe (Tom, himself cooked when he originally added the cafe back in 1995) was maybe a bit outmoded for the area and needed to be refreshed.
Now, hot young talented chef Tom Straker – whose impressive CV includes The Dorchester, The Ledbury and Dinner at Heston Blumenthal – is devising more sophisticated recipes based on some of Tom’s original comfort food repertoire of soups, salads and hearty main dishes using highly contemporary techniques presented with exquisite accomplishment, yet still in an informal cafe setting. ‘I like that element of surprise and exceeding expectations,’ grins Tom.
Judging from my breakfast of ambrosial slow-cooked eggs – one hour five minutes at 62 degrees, precisely, Tom informs me seriously – with hot mayonnaise (no doubt, a culinary trick picked up in Heston’s kitchen), pancetta and (as I am greedy) a side of beautifully subtle, house-smoked salmon, customers are likely to be thrilled by the food. I couldn’t resist a helping of Tom’s current favourite dessert too: silver dollar sized, ethereally light doughnuts with salted caramel and rhubarb compote. It speaks volumes that I can’t wait to return to try lunch dishes such as Israeli cous cous, buratta, cumin roasted broccoli, trevisse, confit lemon & basil dressing, roast salmon, raw carrot, celery & fennel salad & lime dressing, not to mention chocolate mousse, lemon gel & honeycomb.
Currently, New Tom’s is only open Thursday – Sunday daytime, but the plan is to open several evenings expanding into the basement too. Tom has ambitious plans for the shop’s backyard and envisages it will be transformed into an uplifting, colourful, space, like the vivid colbalt blue banquettes, inspired by Marrakesh’s stunning Marjorelle Gardens by early May. What’s more, in between running his other three sites in the area and looking after 80 employees, Tom is relishing having a more hands-on role at New Tom’s working front-of-house. ‘It’s fantastic when I’ve worked the room, I leave on a cloud,’ he enthuses.
Time off is spent locally with his family Iris 12, Angelica 11 and Boadica 5. Tom waxes lyrical about old favourites including Galicia on Portobello Road, where he ‘loves the seafood and it feels almost as if I’m instantly escaping grey skies for the seaside. I’m even having my birthday party there this year’. The family frequent Lisboa too for their infamous pastei de nata (custard tarts) and The Tea and Coffee Plant ‘whose coffee roasts are fantastic and waft aromatically down the Portobello Road’. He’s especially partial to Greek food too and fond of Helepi besides dim sum at either New Fortune Cookie, Four Seasons or Royal China on Queensway. More of a hidden gem for superb dining is Iranian restaurant Hafez, confides Tom. ‘I especially like the starter of freshly baked Persian bread with masses of fresh housemade cheese and herbs, plus their lamb fillet with fantastic basmati rice and crisp tadig crust. Very different and delicious.’ Among newer places, both Pizza East and The Electric are firm favourites: ‘I can’t help admiring what Nick Jones and his team have done at Soho House, they just get it so right.’
Fundamentally, what really matters to Tom Conran is feeling totally settled in the area: ‘I’m always delighted when others invest in the neighbourhood too,’ he says. ‘It feels like a second family to me.’
226 Westbourne Grove W11 2RH; 020 7243 3341; newtomslondon.com