Chef Q&A: Neil Bentinck, Skosh | Living North

Chef Q&A: Neil Bentinck, Skosh

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Neil Bentinck
Since opening last June, this chilled-out small plates place has become big news. Head Chef Neil talks learning from the Aussies, getting up the gumption to go solo, and snooping on London’s finest open kitchens

You’ve just come back from a bit of time off in London – did you eat anything that sparked some inspiration?
Oh yeah, there’s inspiration everywhere. I went to an Indian restaurant called Benares, a one- star in Mayfair, which was absolutely amazing, and I went to Barrafina, the one-star tapas restaurant. That was not as good as I’d hoped – tasty food, but it was borderline boring for me. We were queueing up outside for two hours. People were lapping it up. I wanted to go and have a look – it was an open kitchen, do some research, have a nosey – but Benares is a different class.

What does the small plates ethos give you?
As a chef, I got a bit bored of tasting menus, and I’ve always liked to eat in this way – it’s just how I’ve always done it at home and in different countries I’ve visited. For diners, I think it’s quite exciting that they get to try more things. 

There’s been a big move toward casual high-end dining in the last five years or so – Skosh is very laid-back.
Yeah, it certainly seems to be a trend. It’s a casual, personable kind of service and it’s in a relaxed environment, but the food is refined. It’s a nice balance. The fine dining tablecloths and all the service has its place and it’s amazing and I love to eat it – when I was at Benares that’s exactly what it was, the service was impeccable, it was absolutely amazing – but for me, from a business point of view, I’m wanting to offer something that’s going to get people back on a more regular basis.

It’s a bit more accessible too. You get some sense of the experience of having a tasting menu, but without the hoopla that goes with it. 
Exactly – you get to try more dishes, it’ll be a bit cheaper and it’s definitely a bit quicker here.

What makes good service for you?
The skill of the servers we have here is knowing that different tables need different things: some people may want more formal service, other people are regulars and you can approach them differently. It’s the skill of the server to judge that well.

The chefs opening up their own places seem to be younger and younger – is that something you’ve noticed?
Yeah. I’m 36 this year, so I’m not that young, I don’t think. It’s down to experience, and if you’re ready for it. If I’d have done this five years ago, I probably wouldn’t have been ready and it probably would have been a mistake. So if it’s right at the time, then fair enough, but you’ve just got to get the right experience.

Why was it the right time for Skosh?
I was Head Chef at Van Zeller four or five years ago, and towards the end of my time there I really wanted to do my own thing, but I hadn’t written the business plan yet. When I left there, I became self-employed, decided to work around and gave myself fewer hours. I did the hours I wanted to do so I could concentrate on everything else. It was two years in the making, really, for Skosh. At the start of 2014 I was really getting involved as well as working and having a baby, so it took a year just to get the ball rolling with the planning really. The rest of it snowballed into the opening.

What was your first kitchen like?
It was a golf club – I wasn’t trained at the time, I’d just left college. I was working front of house and then I went to back of house. I got into baking and the pastry side of things, and then that was it, really. It was a gap year – I was going to go to university, but then I got more of a taste for the industry and earning more money. I didn’t go to uni, I carried on working in the trade and then went abroad to Australia for a year. That opened my eyes up to lots of different flavours. Then I came back and worked at the Sun Inn at Colton, and I trained there.

Everyone bangs on about how good Australia’s food scene is – what did you pick up from there? 
They’ve kind of absorbed, over the years, from the surrounding Asian countries and with the climate they’ve got they can grow anything all the time. The food was so fresh and zingy, and probably normal to Thai people or Malaysians or the Japanese, but coming from limited experience in England 15 years ago, it was very interesting. And there are some amazing restaurants. It’s really exciting.

Skosh
98 Micklegate, York YO1 6JX 
01904 634849 
www.skoshyork.co.uk

Published in: May 2017

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