BLUE MOUNTAIN SCHOOL: THE VIEW FROM THE SUMMIT
Posted on December 06 2023
The Blue Mountain School on London’s Chance Street is a place like no other. Spanning six floors (each more beautifully designed than the last), it’s part art gallery, part shop and part event space. It’s also home to Cycene - a wonderfully intimate, recently Michellin starred restaurant from chef Theo Clench formerly of Akoko and Portland.
We sat down with Theo - as well as Blue Mountain School founders Christie Fels and James Brown - to discuss this ambitious project.
Katto: Theo, what inspired you to want to cook?
Theo Clench: It was during my time traveling that I became fascinated by flavour and food culture around the world. I’m very ingredient-driven. It’s always been my ambition to extract as much flavour from each component on the plate as possible. The menu at Cycene is the culmination of classical techniques and subtle influences from my travels, namely Eastern Asia and Australasia.
How important is the use of local ingredients in your kitchen?
Roughly 95% of the ingredients at Cycene come from the UK. I am very discerning when it comes to produce. For example, I will only buy fish from dayboat fishermen.
That being said, I do source some produce from the southwest of France as well as some poultry like duck and pigeon. I also use a few Japanese ingredients but it’s dependent on where you can find the absolute best. We only work with small farms and I have a close relationship with all of my suppliers. I want to find the optimum variety of each ingredient where possible.
Do you think that local ingredients are more flavourful?
When sourcing ingredients, I look for quality and freshness which naturally transforms the flavour of a dish. Cycene is a small restaurant with only 16-covers and we run a tasting menu format meaning that we can anticipate exactly how many covers we’ll have each evening. This process means that we can keep waste to an absolute minimum, so we are sourcing very high-quality ingredients and using up all that we have.
What experience are you looking for Cycene diners to leave with?
Every guest begins their evening at Cycene within the ground floor bar. It’s open to diners-only and offers a succinct list of cocktails, minimal intervention wines and kombuchas.
The first course is served downstairs - a Cycene ritual served in Steve Harrison’s artisanal clay beakers before guests are led upstairs.
Within the main restaurant space, a selection of delicate snacks are served using ingredients from the pantry - such as chicken liver dusted in red pepper, Devon crab, genmaicha and kombu tartlet. As a nod to the restaurant’s namesake, an oyster course, with cucumber and Oscietra caviar is served to diners from the pass.
Katto: That sounds fantastic. Christie, what’s the philosophy behind Blue Mountain School?
Christie Fels: Blue Mountain School is a platform for collaboration across various disciplines. We work with individuals who create with authenticity and meaning with an ethos that we believe in. We hope to create an enduring future for those creating exceptional work through our ongoing collaboration.
Katto: Are you trying to tell a story with the different elements of Blue Mountain School?
James Brown: No, not really. The story if any is an honest reflection at any moment in time, of the creative work that is happening beneath the surface. This process isn't confined to what's in the building either, there are projects underway outside of our walls that span different continents, that's the incredible thing about our working model, it's not prescriptive. We don't subscribe to any one genre of output, that's true, but how limiting would that be!
Katto: Why did you choose to offer a private dining experience?
James Brown: We are an intimate restaurant, only offering 16 seats with the largest table accommodating 4 guests. The private dining room is a wonderful environment to spend an evening with friends, colleagues or family, where the group can be up to six without compromising the experience of other guests in the dining room. Private dining is offered in our Hearth Room which sits adjacent to the Cycene kitchen, it’s a more chef-led experience. We have many returning guests who choose the Hearth Room just to try out the different environment, sometimes they can't choose between the two.