A Friday Chat with Searcys’ Chef of The Year Philip Neal23 April 2021
The 2021 winner of Searcys’ annual ‘Best Chef of the Year’ award, Phil Neal joined Searcys as Head Chef at the Saatchi Gallery Restaurant just as the pandemic was taking hold. Despite arriving at such a difficult time, Phil has done an amazing job creating new menus: a beautiful Sunday Roast, a stunning Afternoon Tea and al-fresco dining have all had excellent feedback. Crucially, he continued to execute things as smoothly as possible even though there were only two other chefs to support him throughout a busy summer. Phil has also been instrumental in supporting the teams across the business.
Tell us a bit about yourself, Phil.
I’ve been a chef since I was 18 years old. I’ve worked in restaurants across the UK, Middle East and Asia, including hotel restaurants and private members clubs. I’ve worked for some big names like Jamie Oliver International, in both Hong Kong and Dubai, for Gaucho Group, and for smaller companies too. The thing I love about this job is the different cultures, the chance to meet people from various paths of life, some of whom are now friends for life. Aside from work, I love to travel, the Caribbean being my favourite place to visit. I’m a football fan, Arsenal for life. I enjoy exercise and family time. Coming out of the lockdown and coming back to work, I’m looking forward to new challenges and getting into the kitchen and developing new ideas.
Tell us what you do at Searcys. When did you join us?
I joined Searcy’s in early 2020 to head up a London restaurant as Head Chef. It was just at the start of the pandemic, and what a year! I joined to open a site in central London, which in the end started with reopening (and quickly closing) the kitchen and overseeing menu development. I love developing menus and have really passionate teams who I work with here at Searcys.
My hearty Sunday Lunch menu developed last year is something I’m really proud of. We’ve got crowd-pleasing starters including a leek and potato vichyssoise with herb crème fraiche, and Confit Chicken and pistachio terrine. The main event includes a choice of three great cuts of meat including slow roast Suffolk chicken and Herford sirloin steak, great vegan options and all the trimmings, roasted veggies and Yorkshire puddings. I love it.
What do you enjoy most in your line of work?
I enjoy the creativity, meeting and working with interesting people from suppliers to guests. I also like working with great seasonal products, developing talent within teams, and creating memorable dining experiences for guests. I would love to be more involved in developing relationships with suppliers and adapting menus for the locations we work in, playing around with ingredients to make them really connected to the restaurant venue.
What is your favourite meal and why?
I love BBQ season with friends and family, which we’re just approaching now! I like the fact it’s an informal affair while eating some great British produce and enjoying lots and lots of wine. My top tips are to use the best possible cuts of meat. Also, think about marinades – garlic, herbs, dry chillies, good olive oil, red wine – and try to marinate chicken or meat overnight. If you can, choose wood over charcoal, it helps accentuate the flavours.
What are you working on at the moment?
At the moment I’m working a lot on myself. 2020 has been a hard year for everyone in our industry. The importance of mental and physical health have really taken centre stage. I’m really looking forward to getting back in a kitchen and working on some new ideas.
What would you say to someone thinking about working in hospitality?
I most definitely would recommend having a job in hospitality. We are looking at apprentices coming into the industry. It has changed massively over the years – and it’s becoming a better environment. There’s an appreciation of nurturing young talent, encouraging mental and physical wellbeing, looking after your teams, finding that work-life balance. London is also a fantastic place to work, it’s very vibrant and diverse in terms of cuisine.
And finally, what food trends do you predict this summer?
It’s going to be such a hectic summer when people are out and about once more, it’ll be nice weather, so light food served al-fresco is an obvious one. Then Thai and Asian cuisines, and some amazing concepts being developed. Modern British for me is a twist on the classics – for example, Victoria Sponge or Sunday Roast.