In collaboration with the Michelin-starred chef Theo Clench, Blue Mountain School in Shoreditch is opening Cycene, a new concept restaurant with only 16 covers each night. Taking over two floors of the restored East London townhouse that was first opened by Christie and James Brown in 2018, the extensive renovation includes a new ground-floor wine and cocktail bar that is open to diners only. Likewise, each evening will be based around a single menu (10 courses adapted throughout the seasons), the preparations for which is aided by the vast state-of-the-art kitchen, including specialist aging chambers and fermentation lockers. Drawing on time Clench spent in both eastern Asia and Australasia, small bites include the likes of oysters with cucumber and oscietra; and scallops with brown butter and schrenkii. And expect mains like fallow deer served with damson and celeriac.
“Cycene will emulate the feeling of dinner in a private home”—tell me about developing this concept and what in your mind makes a great dinner in someone’s home? We are always looking to challenge and push people’s perception of what is expected or what people are used—this is key to the experience of Blue Mountain School. The formulaic nature of restaurants hasn’t really shifted over the decades. Cycene is chef-focused and ingredient-led at its core, but also uses music, architecture, atmosphere and art to create a sensory experience where each guest feels completely immersed in the environment.
Cycene—meaning kitchen in Old English—how did you come up with this as the name for the restaurant? Cycene is Olde English for kitchen, and it’s a nod to our open kitchen, where we showcase every step from food preparation to fermentation, and of course the cooking. We believe in the idea of no-back-of-house—guests are free to see and explore every inch of our restaurant. The name also came through research into how kitchens historically operated—as one giant room where everything happened, without the isolation surrounding domesticity, which came very much after WW1.
How did you find the location and why was it the right space? Cycene sits within the Blue Mountain School umbrella, so it was an obvious choice for it to be housed within Blue Mountain School on Redchurch Street in Shoreditch. Already, it’s a cultural space where we exhibit one-of-a-kind ceramics, furniture and clothes. And the restaurant spans the ground and first floor.
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It sounds like there is a sense of theatre to the evening—starting on the ground floor with the cocktail bar and then upstairs to the main restaurant—why is this flow important? Our aim with the addition of the bar is to create a moment for each guest to pause and relax before sitting down at the table. This for us is really essential. At times walking straight into a tasting menu experience can be overwhelming. The bar is also the setting for the first course—a healing broth—and a kind of ritual that will change with the seasons.
You are influenced by your travels—what are some of the most memorable places and dishes you’ve experienced recently? We travel a lot, which is a constant source of inspiration to us. We spend a lot of time in Scotland, especially the highlands and the North. We were there a few months ago and had an exceptional meal at a restaurant called Inver, housed in a former crofter’s cottage overlooking Loch Fyne. Almost everything on the menu comes from within a few miles of the restaurant, and the cooking was wonderfully elegant.
The space is only 16 covers—why was that intimacy important to you? Very simple, it allows us to do things that would not be possible for many other restaurants. We have a team of six chefs and four front of house, and we only have one dinner service per day. As a result, from a cooking and experience point of view we can really give guests something extremely special: escapism.
What excites you about food and opening a restaurant in London right now?Restaurants are magical places where you can lose yourself for the evening, especially in a city like London. We want our guests to leave whirling with joy and fulfillment. If we achieve that, it makes it all worthwhile.