The restaurant world, like so many other industries, has notoriously been a man’s one for a long time. And while the majority of head chefs in the world’s top restaurants are still male, some of London’s kitchens boast female bosses that are killing it on the food scene. From multiple Michelin-awarded women to young entrepreneurs and street food stars that have made it to bricks and mortar sites, here we celebrate the biggest female names in London restaurants.
Hélène Darroze at The Connaught
In 2015, Hélène Darroze was awarded the accolade of The World’s Best Female Chef proving London is lucky to have her. Her French gastronomy, showcased at Hélène Darroze at the Connaught, earned her two Michelin stars in 2010, just two years after opening, which she puts down to her roots in South West France, learning firsthand from three generations of chefs. An early role with Alain Ducasse was her big break but now she’s proving an inspiration to young female chefs across the capital.
First inspired by the flavours, spices and comfort of her mother’s cooking, Ravinder Bhogal went on to be called the ‘modern day Fanny Cradock’ by Gordon Ramsay. We think she is much cooler with career highlights including a modern vegan menu at W London and, perhaps her biggest achievement, the opening of her own restaurant, Jikoni – a cosy kitchen-style diner serving Asian comfort food with British, African and Middle Eastern twists.
Once a student studying Fashion PR and Marketing with a bit of waitressing on the side, Sabrina Gidda never expected to go on to become one of London’s top chefs. But it was her waitressing gigs that got her into the kitchens of The Dorchester and The Draft House, followed by a respected Roux Scholarship. The only female in the competition in 2015, Sabrina got the job as Head Chef of Bernadi’s when it opened in 2015 after a chance meeting with Cafe Murano’s old manager. That led to an introduction with the Bernadi brothers and the rest, they say, is history. Swing by for seasonal, authentic Italian cooking in elegant surroundings.
Selina Kiazim has turned Turkish cooking on its head, opening her first restaurant Oklava in 2015 with a modern take on Turkish-Cypriot cuisine. Selina as also put on a multitude of pop-ups and residencies and was a finalist on the 2017 Great British Menu.
The River Cafe
The River Cafe is one of London’s most iconic Michelin-starred restaurants and Ruth Rogers, aka Lady Rogers MBE, is the much-loved woman behind it. After spending time in Paris and northern Italy, Ruth decided on Italy as the focus for The River Cafe when it opened in Hammersmith in 1987. It earned a Michelin star in 1998 and has retained it ever since, during which time chefs like Jamie Oliver, Theo Randall and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall have passed through its doors.
Nieves launched her first solo venture, Sabor after nine years of being the executive chef at Barrafina, one of London’s best-loved tapas restaurants. Here she held a Michelin star which was the first star to be awarded to a tapas restaurant in London, changing the way the foodie scene saw Spanish food. Sabor means ‘flavour’ in Spanish and we can guarantee plenty of that in Nieves’ cooking.
Rosa’s Thai Cafe
Any lover of Asian food will know about Rosa’s Thai Café – they’ve either eaten in one of the eight around the capital or nursed a hangover with it via Deliveroo. Co-Founder and Head Chef Saiphin Moore never expected such big things for the humble Thai eatery that began life as a market stall in Brick Lane. It’s now a go-to local for so many Londoners.
Rochelle Canteen is London’s worst but also best-kept secret. Hidden away in a converted bike shed, behind a big green door in Shoreditch it’s a favourite of those in the know. Margot Henderson is the magic behind it – her colourful CV features some of the top London restaurants of the 90s, as well as her catering business, Arnold & Henderson that she runs with partner Melanie Arnold.
The Nordic chef taking London by storm, Helena Puolakka merges her Finnish roots with her French culinary training. Helena celebrates uncomplicated food with a seafood-heavy menu at Aster and Royal Festival Hall’s Skylon. She was also Head Chef at Pierre Koffmann’s three-Michelin starred restaurant, La Tante Claire and worked in Paris at the three-Michelin starred Hotel Balzac. Pretty impressive.
Hotel Café Royal
You may be surprised to hear that Sarah Barber was the first female executive pastry chef ever to work at Hotel Café Royal – even more shocking when you realise the hotel has been around 150 years. Thankfully things have changed for the better and Sarah launched London’s first dessert restaurant at the hotel, showcasing the most decadent cakes, handcrafted chocolates and prettiest patisseries. Her CV reads like a who’s who of the London food scene, from the Corinthia to Yautcha, The Ritz to The Connaught and her most recent role at The Dorchester, where she heads up the team of the five-red-AA-star hotel.
The Modern Pantry
Anna Hansen started off her kitchen career in London back in 1992 dishwashing at the French House Dining Room. Moving up the ranks she progressed to chef and later worked with Peter Gordon at Green Street and The Sugar Club. Having opened The Providores & Tapa Room with Peter in 2001, she went on to open her own restaurant, The Modern Pantry in 2008. She serves up dishes that fuse together unusual ingredients with classic cooking. Expect to find the likes of roast haunch of venison, beetroot and horseradish soft polenta, sautéed wild leeks, sour cherry, liquorice and moromi miso relish, as well as white chocolate panna cotta with black sesame ice cream, lemon curd and sesame tuile.
Skye Gyngell may hail from Australia but she’s a bona fide darling of London’s food scene. Skye cut her teeth in Sydney and Paris before getting the highly-acclaimed Head Chef role at London’s Petersham Nurseries where she developed the seasonal, elegant cooking that she is now known for. These days you’ll find her at Spring, her restaurant at Somerset House, where she cooks up the likes of guinea fowl with carrots, farro and parsley sauce and halibut with spinach, chilli and preserved lemon dressing. The interiors are just as Instagrammable as the food, thanks to the bright light design peppered with powder pink.
Anne-Sophie Pic picks up Michelin stars like they’re going out of fashion and it’s no surprise given her roots. Hailing from a seriously successful cooking family (both her grandfather and father had three Michelin stars), Anne-Sophie Pic is the only woman in France in the last 50 years to hold three Michelin stars, which she does for her restaurant, Anne-Sophie Pic. She holds two further stars for her restaurant at Beau-Rivage Palace Hotel in Lausanne; is a chevalier de l’ordre des Art et des Lettres (it recognises those who have made significant contributions to the arts, literature and fields such as cooking) and opened her first UK restaurant La Dame de Pic at Four Seasons Hotel London at Ten Trinity Square, which was awarded a Michelin Star in the 2018 guide. All of this for a chef with no formal training…
Arguably the most recognisable female chef, due to her judging on MasterChef: The Professionals, Monica Galetti started off her London cooking career at Michel Roux Jr’s Le Gavroche – she only ever planned to stay a year, but ended up staying 15, working her way up to senior sous chef. She now has her own restaurant, Mere, on London’s popular Charlotte Street and is a regular on TV screens.
The day after Clare Smyth finished school she moved from County Antrim to Portsmouth to go to catering college. In 2002 she joined Restaurant Gordon Ramsay becoming Head Chef in 2007, following time in Monaco and California. She’s the first British woman to hold three Michelin stars and last year she opened Core in Notting Hill, a restaurant dedicated to natural, sustainable food.
Murano & Cafe Murano
Angela Hartnett has an MBE, a Michelin-starred restaurant and has worked closely with Gordon Ramsay and Marcus Wareing to secure their Michelin-stars at Aubergine and Petrus respectively. In 2001 she launched Amaryllis in Scotland as well as opening Gordon Ramsay’s Verre in Dubai and MENU and The Grill at The Connaught. In 2004 she appeared with Gordon Ramsay in Hell’s Kitchen and won her first Michelin star, before opening Murano in 2008 and then Café Murano in 2013… and that’s just a brief description of her career.
Aurelie’s globetrotting career began in her home city of Paris where she worked in the family restaurant. She started work at her first Michelin star established in 2000 at the Sofitel Arc De Triumph. From France she moved to USA and worked in both Georgia and LA where she continued to climb the ranks. It was in 2007 that Aurelie brought her talent to our British shores. Her journey continued at the one-Michelin Star L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon where she stayed for nearly a decade, and was promoted to Head Chef. Aurelie is now the Head Chef of Bōkan, the high-rise restaurant overlooking Canary wharf and oversees a team of 32.
Martha Ortiz made her name in Mexico City with her award-winning restaurant, Dulce Patria. But while Dulce Patria may mean ‘sweet homeland’, it was her arrival in the UK that launched her onto our radars. And in just a few months Ortiz has made a roaring success of Ella Canta, the fine-dining Mexican restaurant at Park Lane’s Intercontinental Hotel. Despite opening the hotel’s newest restaurant, Ella Canta already competes with (and many say outdoes) Theo Randall’s eponymous and legendary restaurant in the same hotel. Ortiz is also a huge TV star in Mexico, some saying she’s the country’s answer to Nigella.
Stoney Street by 26 Grains
With a career trajectory that took her from porridge pop-ups to a bricks and mortar restaurant, Alex Hely-Hutchinson is one of London’s brightest young food stars. Starting out with breakfast pop-ups that pimped porridge into the 21st century, Alex went on to secure a book deal with a stunning tome of recipes inspired by her time living in Scandinavia. From there she opened a permanent venue, 26 Grains, in Covent Garden and queues around the block every weekend ensued for her perfectly balanced, simple but seriously ”grammable brunches. Alex has recently opened Stoney Street, a restaurant serving “simple, seasonal, everyday food.” She may be one of the youngest of the bunch but we expect seriously big things.
Ex-Polpetto and new restaurant to be announced
After finishing her Diploma at Leith’s School of Food and Wine, Florence worked as an assistant baker at The Bertinet Kitchen, pastry chef under Robin Gill at Raymond Blanc’s The Diamond Club and head canapé chef at Rhubarb Food Design. After a head chef post at St Clement’s, a private restaurant in London’s Middle Temple, Florence opened Polpetto in Soho and London foodies fell in love with her fuss-free, stripped back cooking. She went on to write a book, is a regular food writer and was named the Sunday Times cook. Florence sadly left Polpetto but has plans to open a new restaurant soon and we cannot wait.
100 Wardour Street
As the first female Head Chef to ever take the helm of the Savoy Grill in its 126 year history, Kim has landed herself in amongst the culinary elite. Since joining 100 Wardour St as Executive Head Chef in the Summer of 2018, Kim successfully integrated London’s demand for vegan-friendly cuisine and continues to challenge the expectations of sustainable and conscious food. You might recognise her from TV too, thanks to appearances on MasterChef: The Professionals, BBC’s Great British Menu, Saturday Kitchen and ITV’s Yes Chef.
Despite her success which includes a popular Soho restaurant under her belt, Asma Khan’s food philosophy very much still lies in home cooking and traditional techniques. At Kingly Court’s Darjeeling Express restaurant she employs a female-only team (girl power), taking on staff who aren’t necessarily trained chefs but learn to cook from skills passed down through their families. The result? Delicious food made with love. The Indian restaurant also gives profits to Second Daughters, a charity that helps births of second girls in India which are often mourned. Netflix fans might also recognise her from food show, Chef’s Table – she was the first British chef to appear on the show.
Bao, Bao Fitzrovia & Xu
Some of London’s best-loved restaurants came out of pop-ups. Bao was one of them and it’s all thanks to young Taiwanese chef, Erchen Chang who first sold the squidgy buns London has gone wild for out of a shack in a Hackney carpark. Bao now boasts two outposts, one in Soho and one in Fitzrovia, as well as sister restaurant, Xu. It’s become as renowned for its menu as it has its queues that snake around the corner on a nightly basis – worth it though because Chang’s food is seriously good.
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