We've been hearing whispers about this project for a while. How long has Skof been in the works?
About three years. Simon (Rogan, Barnes former boss) and I started talking about the possibility of me doing my own thing just after I finished filming Great British Menu (Barnes reached the final of the competitive cooking show in 2020). Simon and I have always had a very honest relationship with each other. I have been open about the fact that I wanted to have my own place.
Did you consider locations other than Manchester?
No. I've wanted to be in Manchester for a long time. It’s a city I’ve always loved and there is obviously a big buzz about the place. Simon and Sam (Ward, Umbel Restaurant Group’s managing director) were also keen to do something in the city. We looked at quite a few different locations but when we found the site we knew it was the one. It’s an old drapery warehouse that was built by the Co-Operative Wholesale Society in 1904. It’s a beautiful terracotta building in a central bit of the city (the NOMA district) that is a little off the beaten track. If everything goes according to plan we will launch next Spring.
How big is the site?
It's 2,700 sq ft but we will only have 36-covers. They'll be an open kitchen. In fact, the first thing you will see when you come into the restaurant will be all the chefs working away at the pass. The vibe will be light and fun. Manchester is a buzzy city. We want to offer amazing food but we also want people to be able to relax and have a laugh and not feel intimidated. Skof will be slick and professional but in a totally unpretentious way.
Will it be tasting menu only?
In the evenings, yes. We will offer two different lengths of tasting menu to keep things as accessible as possible. At lunchtime, we will offer a quicker more affordable menu alongside the two tasting menus. We haven’t finalised the pricing yet.
What will the food at Skof be like?
I will be creating a completely original menu. I won't be doing any dishes that have been served at L'Enclume or any of Simon's other restaurants. However, there are going to be similarities. I have worked with Simon for a long time, and we have very similar ideas about food. I will be using some of the same suppliers and Simon has kindly given me access to Our Farm (the Lake District-based farm that suppliers the UK-based restaurants within the Umbel Restaurant Group). My dishes will be deceptively simple. I like it when people look at a dish and think ‘I could do that’ but then when they taste it realise that they probably couldn’t. We put a lot of effort in behind the scenes.
Tell us about your background
I’m originally from Barrow-in-Furness (in the Lake District). I started my cooking apprenticeship at 15 locally. I didn’t know how to fry an egg when I first stepped into the kitchen but I ended up working for a great chef called Duncan Collinge (who had worked with the Roux brothers at Le Gavroche). From there, I headed to London to work at The Square under Phil Howard and then for John Campbell at The Vineyard at Stockcross (both two-star kitchens at the time). I started with Simon in 2011. In 2014, I won the Roux Scholarship. I worked with Simon for about 12 years in total, latterly overseeing his Lake District kitchens as executive chef (Barnes was in this role when Rogan’s flagship L’Enclume achieved its third Michelin star).
Skof sounds a bit Northern. What’s the thinking behind the name?
Yep it does, I like that about it. It sounds fun too. The name was inspired by something my dad used to say to me when I was a kid. When my tea would come, he would say 'get it scoffed'. It’s also a nod to the fact that flavour is always the main thing for me with every dish I cook.
And what about the team?
All the key roles at Skof will be held by people I have previously worked with at Umbel Restaurant Group. Conor Dalton (current L’Enclume sous chef) will be my head chef and his partner Megan Montibert (current L’Enclume CDP) will be the sous chef. I also have two great front of house people from the group so a very solid core team. Their appointment won’t cause any issues at L’Enclume. This project has been carefully planned for. It's actually good for Simon because it allows for natural progression within his kitchens. There are plenty of other talented people within the group that are ready to take their next step.
What is the exact nature of the deal with Simon?
Skof will be owned and operated by me. Simon and Sam will support me but not oversee what I’m doing. Simon is adamant that it should be my place. I also have access to Umbel Restaurant Group’s head office team including HR, accounts and reservations. In setting up Skof I have encountered a lot of things that have been completely new to me, so it’s been great to have Simon and Sam’s support.
Is Skof part of Umbel Restaurant Group then?
It will be another branch of Umbel Restaurant Group. Simon eventually wants to support other current team members to do similar projects. I’m massively excited. I absolutely love Manchester and want to create something that is world class that the people in the city will really get behind. I've worked in two and three Michelin-starred kitchens since I was 18 (Barnes is now 35). I’ve put in all those hours for a reason.