Meet the chef: Sam Astley-Dean, Church Road

Drafted in from Phil Howard’s Elystan Street, Sam is making his mark in SW13 with modern British cooking including a Little Sprouts menu using produce that would traditionally have gone to waste

What inspired you to first become a chef?
If I say it was because I was 17 and wanted to earn some money, would that sound bad?!  Well, I did, but it was more than that… I really just wanted to eat really delicious food.  And then along came the TV chef heroes of my generation – Jamie and Gordon – and the deal was sealed for me.  Being a chef was what I was destined for and, luckily, I seem to have the knack!

Who and what has been your inspiration?
Aside from the TV chefs, I’ve always been a great reader of cookery books.  I have a vast collection (for someone so young!) and get inspiration every time I open them.  Then, of course, there are the people I’ve been lucky enough to work with along the way: Simon Radley and Ray Booker at The Chester Grosvenor; Matt Christmas at Chez Bruce; and, of course, Phil Howard and Rebecca Mascarenhas, first at Elystan Street and now at Church Road.

Opening Church Road must be very exciting, tell us more about the restaurant?
Church Road is really exciting for me, because this is my first Head Chef role and working closely with owners, Phil Howard and Rebecca Mascarenhas is teaching me so much.  We’re fixated on respecting the seasons and are working closely with ethically-clever groups like Waste Knot, Food Chain and Feast Fairly, which are determined to cut down on wastage and be kinder to our planet.  Hell, I’ve even found a company that sustainably produces prawns in Lincolnshire – Marine Conservation Society approved, no less, with no compromise on flavour.  All this is giving us a chance to actually make a difference, rather than just talk about it.  And the great thing about working with the seasons is that the produce tastes phenomenal, so it’s up to me to highlight that rather than smother or hide it.  A very pure way of cooking.  I love it. 

What’s on the menu?
Goodness… well, the crowd-pleasers are:

  • Tartare of aged Cumbrian beef with shaved mushrooms, Parmesan and grilled sourdough
  • Double baked cave aged Cheddar soufflé with crisp shallots, leeks and mushrooms
  • Hand cut strozzapreti with chanterelles, crispy chicken skin and Parmesan
  • Sauté of British prawns with chestnut gnocchi, butternut, trompettes and an emulsion of truffle

And who can resist roast partridge, bacon, Savoy cabbage and a gratin of celeriac and pear at this time of year?!  I can’t possibly choose a favourite, but I can tell you that I have a scarily sweet tooth, so the dessert menu is a secret retreat for me and I should not be left alone with the scorched bitter chocolate cake with mocha cream and crème Chantilly or indeed the tarte fine of Braeburn apples with bay leaf ice cream and spices!

Favourite ingredient?
Really, it has to be butter.  And salted butter at that.  In my world, there is very little that isn’t enhanced by a generous amount of butter.

Favourite kitchen gadget?
A whisk. People think I’m strange because I’ll use a whisk for everything except chopping.  It’s just so versatile and brings about brilliant results.

Kitchen soundtrack?
Parkway Drive, Wild Eyes.  If you don’t know it – you have to listen at full volume.  Well, you should do that anyway.  You’ve been warned!

Where do you like to eat when not working?
Well, the stuff that you shouldn’t talk about are burgers and cereal (Crunchy Nut Cornflakes are my guilty secret).  But, I do love eating the kind of food I cook too… and not just the desserts.

Words of wisdom to your younger self?
ENJOY THE RIDE.  When I was younger, I was always keen to find the next thing.  Now, life’s a little less intense and a little more chilled.

What would you be doing if not a chef?
Really, I think it’d have to be something “outdoors-y”.  Perhaps a landscaper or a tree surgeon… or maybe even a mountain climber.  But I’m not sure I’m cut out for those in the same way I am for the kitchen!

94 Church Road, Barnes, London, SW13 0DQ
020 8748 0393

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