With copper coloured hair and fox like features, Lee Westcott is the mirror image of his mentor, Tom Aikens. Under his wing for four years, Hertfordshire-born Westcott worked his way up to become head chef for the final two at Aikens’ eponymous Chelsea flagship, where he helped the restaurant regain its Michelin star.
Lee Westcott’s Typing Room opens this week
“Tom is an intense chef to work for and it was tough at first – you really have to earn your stripes with him,” Westcott reveals. The energetic 27-year-old has just been given his big break, having been made executive chef of the restaurant replacing Viajante at the Town Hall Hotel in Bethnal Green.
In February, Portuguese-born chef Nuno Mendes upped sticks from his Michelin-starred mothership to join hip hotelier André Balazs at his white hot new opening Chiltern Firehouse in Marylebone. Opening in April 2010, Viajante, meaning traveller in Portuguese, brought a much-needed dose of glamour to East London, with softly spoken, raven haired El Bulli alumnus Mendes taking diners down the rabbit hole with his playful and intricate dishes that make much of colour, texture and temperature interplay. His sudden departure has left Westcott with big shoes to fill and hungry mouths to feed.
Having completed stints at Per Se in New York and Noma in Copenhagen, and learnt all he could at Tom Aikens, last year, a restless Westcott set off for South East Asia on a voyage of discovery, eating his way around the region and sucking up the experience. Back in London, he received a phone call out of the blue from Jason Atherton asking if he’d like to work at his Hong Kong tapas bar, 22 Ships. Jobless and yearning for new horizons, Westcott accepted and made Hong Kong his home.
Mackerel, passion fruit, burnt cucumber and dill
Serving envelope pushing dishes like crispy fish skin with smoked cod and his signature Spanish Breakfast that pairs a slow cooked hen egg with chorizo and potatoes, while out in Hong Kong, Westcott was tasked with opening a second tapas bar, Ham & Sherry, on the same street in the city’s gritty Wan Chai district.
Having just adjusted to the frenetic pace of life in the city’s beating heart, Atherton phoned again, only this time asking him back to the Big Smoke.
Having snapped up the former Viajante site at the Town Hall Hotel owned by Singaporean hotelier Loh Lik Peng, Atherton had been suitably impressed by Westcott’s work in Hong Kong to entrust him with a dining room of his own, appointing him executive chef of the Typing Room, which opens at the hotel this month. “We got a Bib Gourmand during my time at 22 Ships, so it was great to leave on a high. I found the culture shock quite dramatic, so am happy to be back in London,” Westcott admits.
But while he may be on more familiar ground, the pressure of filling Nuno Mendes’ shoes must be immense? “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous, but you have to push yourself and you never know until you try. Yes, I’m young, but I’m confident that I’m going to do a good job. This is my baby and Jason has given control – it’s a platform for me to show what I’m capable of, which is incredibly exciting,” he enthuses. The Typing Room name was chosen to reflect the history of the building, which once hummed with the hammering of keys.