In honour of International Women’s Day (8 March) we would like to draw your attention to some of the best female chefs working in kitchens across the UK today. Some are household names already, others you may not have heard of yet, but all are formidable talents. Cheffing as a profession is still dominated by men, fewer than 25% of chefs working in the UK today are women. Perhaps some of these inspiring trailblazers will stoke an ambition for cooking at the highest levels in a new generation of women?
Chef/patronne of Marianne, a very special, petite restaurant (just 14 covers) in Bayswater which won Top Gastronomic Experience at Harden’s 2017 London Restaurant Awards. Marianne is not only a brilliant chef, but also a charming and welcoming host. The set menu is chosen with good taste rather than extravagance, and the cooking is peerless perfection (it is rare that a tasting menu is all hits but this place manages it).
The first British woman to hold three Michelin stars, and the reason why Gordon Ramsay’s Hospital Road HQ was a highlight on London’s foodie map. She left Ramsay’s operation in 2016 and launched her own venture, Core in Notting Hill last summer. Tasting menus are the central offering, showcasing Smyth’s attention to detail, which is also evident in the wine list and specially commissioned British-made furniture, cutlery and crockery. It opened too late for any survey feedback, but by the looks of recent Harden’s diner reviews it’s set to be a hit in our 2019 guide.
Lesser known than Le Gavroche’s patron for sure, but it is Rachel (the first female head chef in the restaurant’s 40-year history) who keeps standards so high in the kitchen day after day at Michel Roux Jr’s iconic Mayfair bastion of Gallic cuisine. It’s a well-oiled, old-school machine that still delivers! thanks to Rachel’s rich and sumptuous cooking, which, combined with the astonishing wine list and otherworldly service, makes Le Gavroche simply the best for its legions of fans.
Executive chef at the North West’s best-known country house hotel, Lisa joined Northcote at the tender age of 20 as a chef de party and worked her way up to running its famous kitchens. She took the reins from Nigel Haworth in October last year after Nigel decided to take a step back from the business. However (no offence Nigel!) it was Lisa’s sublime cooking and wonderful menus that always inspired the most effusive praise in our survey, even before her promotion.
For many years executive head chef at Barrafina – the Hart Bros’ kick-ass small group of Barcelona-inspired tapas haunts in Soho and Covent Garden – Nieves struck out on her own earlier this year with the launch of Sabor, a Spanish restaurant, seafood bar and asador in Mayfair. Her incredible food at Barrafina (some of the best tapas outside Barcelona) made the nightmare queues completely worthwhile according to our readers. We expect great things from her new venture.
Ramsay protge and former head chef at Angela Hartnett’s Murano, where she took the food quality to new heights (fantastically good, said our reporters). Pip Lacey will open her first restaurant, in central London, in spring 2018, with friend and business partner (who will be front-of-house) Gordy McIntyre. They have been talking about running a restaurant together for 17 years! The focus will be on traditional techniques like marinating, curing and pickling, and there will (of course) be an open wood fire for cooking.
Selin Kiazim (right)
Selin Kiazim showcases her superb, generous, tasty and thought-through Turkish food in her small but elegant, tile-and-brick venue, complete with open kitchen, in Shoreditch. Since opening Oklava in Luke Street in 2015 the restaurant has gone from strength to strength and a Fitzrovia spin-off is now planned for later this year. Expect more ambitious flavour combinations and innovative kebabs, flatbreads and mezze.
It is completely worth the fair-old schlep to Newton-in-Bowland’s Parkers Arms for Stosie Madi’s incredible food. She continues to provide some of the most heartfelt, most locally-centred, most seasonal food in Lancashire. Pies are a real highlight with unimprovable pastry and delicious fillings, but the real treat comes when she draws on her heritage to use the local produce in Middle Eastern inspired dishes. The vegetarian and vegan food here can be so attractive that its worth foregoing the meat (though maybe not in game season) – what she can do with a cauliflower, cabbage or wild garlic is remarkable!
Former head chef at Hackney’s cramped-but-magical Pidgin, Elizabeth Allen, is now behind a Japanese-influenced venture offering refined barbecue dishes with inventive flavour pairings. Allen put Pidgin firmly on the foodie map (as well as into the Michelin guide) with her truly innovative weekly set menu; where the absence of choice is abated by the spectacularly good cooking. Shibui is expected to open soon at an as yet undisclosed central London location. It is the first restaurant from Haigh’s company Kaizen House Ltd and started out as a pop-up at Marylebone’s Carousel.
Her family named their Southall Indian ‘Brilliant’, which under different circumstances might have backfired. But Brilliant is truly brilliant, and Dipna is a large part of the reason why, delivering finely spiced Punjabi cuisine to the Southall institution’s many fans. Just this week (20 February) Dipna launched her own fast casual version of the restaurant in Fulham. Dip in Brilliant has taken over the former site of Kishmish and will serve a range of thalis, sharing platters and tandoori chops, allowing diners to ‘dip in and out’ in 30 minutes. The concept is poised for further roll-out.
In March 2017, Marcus Wareing appointed husband and wife, Mark and Shauna Froydenlund, as joint chef-patrons of his Knightsbridge HQ Marcus at The Berkeley. Shauna has worked for Marcus for over a decade and has been instrumental in the growth and success of the chef’s London empire. Her incredible cooking with maximum flavours to the fore wins admiration for the restaurant’s Ã la carte, 5- or 8-course tasting options.
Asma launched Darjeeling Express in April 2012 with £50, working out of her home kitchen. From these humble beginnings a supper club star and pop-up favourite (at The Sun and 13 Cantons) was born. Then last year she launched her first permanent station atop Kingly Court in Soho, serving an array of north Indian dishes that are generous, interesting and so delicious.
This dynamic chef duo met working at Chelsea’s hidden gem Medlar and set up a catering collective together. Their first permanent restaurant venture, Lupins, which opened in mid 2017 in Flat Iron Square food hub, is a short walk from Borough Market, with a menu full of seasonal British produce with a splash of sunshine. Unfortunately it opened too late for last year’s Harden’s survey, but feedback we have received since its opening has been overwhelmingly positive.
When Margot and her business partner Melanie Arnold launched their quirky Shoreditch restaurant Rochelle Canteen in 2006 it was the epitome of Shoreditch cool with its hard-to-find location, daily changing menu and BYO policy. It’s become a bit more established since then (it now has a licence and a spin-off at the ICA) but Margot’s simple, well cooked food has never gone out of style.
The sheer genius and simplicity of the always-exciting Tuscan food prepared from ingredients of unparalleled quality have won global renown for Ruth Rogers and her unique, off-the-beaten-track Italian – The River Café – in the obscure backstreets of Hammersmith. The provenance care and integrity of the Ruth’s food cannot be faulted, and even 30 years down the line diners return time and again to enjoy The River Café – as one of our reporters puts it: “if I was a billionaire I’d go every week!”
As it enters its tenth year, Angela Hartnett’s “understatedly brilliant” Mayfair haven, Murano, is an unusual example of a swanky, celeb-backed restaurant just getting better and better as it approaches middle age. The chef-patron has since added two café versions in Covent Garden (with Pastificio deli next door) and St James’s serving “proper decent Italian food without needless bells and whistles – just as you’d expect from Angela Hartnett, plus some surprisingly good (and well-priced) wines”.
We know she doesn’t currently have a kitchen after the sale of the Yorke Arms in November last year, but really the list wouldn’t be complete without the first British female chef to hold a Michelin star. Frances’s inspirational cooking was a mainstay of Yorkshire fine dining for 20 years at the Yorke Arms (which reopens after an extensive refurb in late spring 2018 under new ownership) and is now planning her next venture.