Interview: James Knappett
UPDATE: James Knappett’s Kitchen Table was awarded two Michelin stars in the 2019 Michelin Guide.
For a chef to open a restaurant out the back of an upscale hotdog joint run by his wife seems, on paper, to be a labour of love. But that’s exactly what it was for James Knappett, but with a Michelin star, Kitchen Table is as brilliantly intimate as they come.
James has had the Michelin star for just over a year. The original idea behind Kitchen Table was to create a dining experience that mixed both diner and chef. The restaurant has two seatings for dinner a night, each seating just 19, with five chefs operating in the kitchen. The 14-course tasting menu changes almost every day giving the chefs new material in which to engage diners with.
A perfect example of chefs operating out in the open; James wants every night to be a celebration of great cooking and great ingredients.
The Bubbledogs bar fronts the operation and is run by James’ wife Sandia. Here they serve gourmet hotdogs and champagne, and is a trendy hotspot for city workers across London. Kitchen Table is found at the very back through a heavy curtain. Once inside, a huge semicircle of a table surrounds the kitchen area, with chefs as much on display as their food.
James was busy with prep when I arrived for a chat, under the watchful eye of his dog Noodle who was perched on the furthest-most seat as James and one of his commis chefs chopped vegetables.
“I’d grown tired of being locked away in hot, windowless kitchens under dining rooms,” James told me. “Chefs work so hard every single day, and the majority of the time only the dish sees any praise.
“I wanted diners to know how hard we’ve worked to source ingredients our days off, how long we’d slaved over the garnish. I wanted to share in my passion with those tasting it, making a dinner service that is fun and engaging for everyone involved, every night.
“It should be a celebration, both of the food and the chef who’s poured his heart into the dish. This type of kitchen provides us with that every night.”
The menu for the evening is written up on a blackboard on the left hand side. But only the ingredients. So today, it had the likes of Shrimp, Duck, Pear, Quince, Parsnip, Mackerel, Scallop and Caramel. Not together mind you, but each making up part of the carefully planned 14-course tasting menu.
“We come together every night after service to see what ingredients we have to play with the next day. Our suppliers won’t send us anything that isn’t perfect and I love them for that. I trust them. We really can have fun with it when we know we’ll have excellent ingredients to work with.”
With truffles coming into play in winter, James has added two optional courses to the tasting menu to include them.
“We do this so as not to disturb the £88 per head price tag. That, if you ask me, is one of the best you’ll find in London. And this type of restaurant wouldn’t work with empty chairs. So we have to keep things affordable, consistently different and consistently excellent.”