We turned the Spotlight on Tony Sarton, Executive Chef at Twenty Princes Street. We delved into his past experience at Buckingham Palace and The Ritz and asked how he’s putting the award-winning Twenty Princes Street firmly on the Edinburgh food map.
How long have you been at Twenty Princes Street and what experience did you bring to the table?
I joined Twenty Princes Street before it opened in August 2013 so as you can imagine, creating a menu for a restaurant that didn’t yet exist was quite a challenge. There was no kitchen, I didn’t know the capabilities of the team, nor what business the restaurant might attract, but in the end I feel that I’ve managed to create an extensive and exciting seasonal menu for Twenty, as well as an imaginative street food menu for Twenty’s sister bar, Juniper.
As well as summer stints in London working at Buckingham Palace and The Ritz, I spent several years in Manchester, where I was Head Chef at the Individual Restaurants Company, managing brands including Piccolino and The Restaurant Bar and Grill, overseeing operations in both Manchester and London; and had a stint in Glasgow when I was involved in the opening of the group’s ‘Restaurant, Bar & Grill’ in the West End. I also spent two years as Head Chef at The Old Bailey in London, where I cooked for the Mayor of London, High Court Judges and Sheriffs.
My enthusiasm for locally sourced, fresh produce (and a love of golf and fishing!) made a move to Scotland almost inevitable. With a desire to make my mark in Edinburgh’s burgeoning food scene, I joined Tigerlily in 2010 and the rest, as they say, is history.
Have you always had an interest in cooking?
I’ve always been interested in food, fresh ingredients and how flavours can be combined. Being brought up on the South Coast there was always an abundance of fresh seafood and one of my earliest memories is going out fishing with friends and then selling my catch to local hotels.
I went on to study at the Exeter School for Catering, where some of the UK’s finest chefs have trained, and to further widen my experience. This fuelled my fascination with food and after qualifying, I travelled round the UK, working my way up through the ranks.
What do you love most about being a chef?
Every day is different. Although I’ve devised an extensive menu of dishes, I’m always refining and tinkering with the dishes to improve them, and experimenting with possible new creations and flavour combinations. I’m really fortunate have Ian Henderson as my Sous Chef at Twenty. We work really closely together to develop the offering at Twenty and come up with exciting new dishes; and it’s great to work with someone who is on the same wavelength as me.
How would you describe the menu at Twenty Princes Street?
I would like to say I’ve created a ‘whole day’ menu which ticks the boxes for everyone. There’s a focus on fresh Scottish fish and meat,and I’ve loved being able to introduce some unusual flavour combinations. Our selection of steaks are a signature of the restaurant. We use the best quality, locally sourced produce and keep it at an affordable price. We use the finest quality Mey Selections beef and, coupled with the flavour produced by our Josper Grill, it gives it a real wow factor.
What’s your favourite dish on the menu and why?
My favourites vary as the menu changes, but at the moment I’d say it’s the cured wild Scottish pigeon with pumpkin seeds, pistachio granola and lightly picked pear. I get genuinely excited each and every time I plate this one up – every ingredient is there for a specific reason and the flavour combinations work so well – it’s really satisfying when I see the customer understand and appreciate the complexity of this dish.
Twenty Princes Street has scooped up a string of awards. Which one are you most proud of and why?
Twenty scooped the top award as Best New Restaurant in Scotland at the Scottish Variety Awards which was great as we had only been open for nine months and this was voted for by the public, so it was fantastic to get that recognition. We were also Specially Commended for Food & Drink at the Scottish Hotel Awards and, of course, I was very proud to be recognised with a prestigious Chef Medaille D’Or.
How important is it to source local, fresh produce?
It’s always been paramount. You lose a day or two transporting the produce which diminishes the quality and increases the carbon footprint of the dish. By using locally sourced produce we ensure every ingredient is at its optimum.
I update the menu at Twenty every few months to reflect the seasonal produce that’s available and I make a point of visiting farms and suppliers to ensure we have only the best quality produce.
As a grill and smokehouse, you’re known for your outstanding steaks and burgers. What’s the secret behind these great tasting dishes?
I love having the in-house smoker and Josper Grill at Twenty – steaks, fish and vegetables take on an intense, smoky flavour, but I can also flavour ingredients exactly how I like them. The Josper Grill uses hardwood charcoal, cooking at 500°C and it makes all the difference, giving the dish a distinctive, chargrill flavour. Of course, as well as this, we only use the very best quality beef.
Would you say the food industry is quite a trend-led industry? If so, what food trends should we be looking out for this year?
We look at food trends every time we change our menus as the industry is very trend led, especially in London because of the vast amount of restaurants competing there. We like to think we’re setting the trends in Edinburgh. Our flavour combinations are always quirky – look at our new Afternoon Tea for example, where nothing is quite as it seems!
There’s a definite change in expectations these days – our customers are not just coming to us for a meal – they come to Twenty Princes Street for a unique dining experience. That’s why we go the extra mile. We don’t reveal too much on the menu, adding an element of surprise when the dish arrives. We also put a real emphasis on the theatre of presentation, using smoked cloches for example to create drama.