Nicholas Balfe is one of three founders that own the wonderful restaurants, Levan London, Larry's in Peckham and now, Holm in Somerset. The interiors are warm and welcoming, with a fire that draws you in as you come through the big heavy door that used to be that of the town's bank. The open kitchen has a wrap-around bar - I love this style of eating. The art selection is just up my street too, a real eclectic mix that is perfect for the contemporary style and food that is served.
I have tried a fair few of the dishes now but the stand out ones for me were the Westcombe cheddar fries, pickled walnut - melt in the mouth and unctious. And the mussels - the sauce was incredible! Oh and all of the puddings :-)
I catch up with Nicholas on the 1st year anniversary of opening Holm!
What does a typical day look like for you?
The idea of a typical day seems quite abstract for me at the moment. Aside from running the restaurant and looking after our three kids, we've also just bought a house which needs a complete renovation, so things are quite frenetic. Inevitably, the day begins with a wakeup call from one of our three daughters, followed by the usual morning madness of pre nursery/school drop off that I know will be familiar to many parents! Assuming I'm in the kitchen that day, my working day generally begins by checking in with the team over a coffee, prioritising tasks for the day and working out what other commitments I need to fit in around 'mise en place' and service. I'm generally on the pass during service at the restaurant, plating and expediting dishes to the tables, which is great as I have an overview of the kitchen and have some time to interact with guests, too. Generally we work quite long days - up to 15 hours - so more often than not I'll be at work until late into the evening. It sounds full on, but there's always so much going on that the time flies by and there's a great deal of satisfaction to be had from producing something new every day. When I do get an evening off, I'll usually race home in time for kids teatime and give my wife a well-earned break from parenting duties. If we're really lucky, we'll get all our life admin and housekeeping done and dusted in time to have a bit of quality time, too!
Where’s your dream escape destination?
The beach! We went on a mini break to Sicily recently, which was wonderful, but to be honest, we're just as happy taking a day trip to the Dorset coast. It feels incredibly indulgent to set aside a random weekday and head for Eype or Beer but it's so worth it. Switch off for a while, breath in the sea air and soak up some of that vast natural energy. Over the summer just gone, we quite regularly just packed the car up and headed straight to West Bay after school pick up, either bringing a car picnic for the girls on the way home, or stopping for fish and chips somewhere cheap and cheerful. It's a reminder that escapism doesn't need to be expensive or far-flung, it's more about making time for moments of joy in amongst the demands of a busy and hectic life.
What’s your vice?
Scotch eggs. I love artisanal ones that you get in good delis and gastropubs, but will just as happily grab one as a snack from the garage or convenience store if I've missed a meal. I get them from the butcher next door to Holm fairly regularly (I've just had one for lunch) and now they come and tell me when they're in the fryer so I can come and get one while they're still warm. I'm also a big fan of instant noodles - they're probably my guiltiest food pleasure. There's an Asian supermarket near Levan in Peckham that sells a brand called Samwa. I stock up on the spicy sesame flavour whenever I'm in London.
What are you listening to at the moment?
A friend of mine has a clothing label called Magic Castles. The clothes themselves are a bit loud for me, but they have a series of playlists on Spotify called Changing Constants which I've really enjoyed following. Each month, they invite underground artists such as Ivan Smagghe, Felix Dickenson and A Mountain of One to curate some of their favourite songs. I've been listening to the ones by husband and wife duo Renata and Andy Bainbridge, two other friends of mine, who've put together a selection of warm and fuzzy ambient sounds alongside some off-beat, laid back rhythms.
What's your favourite thing to eat?
Aside from scotch eggs and instant noodles? It has to be roast chicken, which is a staple meal in our house. So versatile, so delicious and excellent value even when you buy organic. The question is what to serve it with... Mash and gravy? Potato gratin, greens and anchovy dressing? Herby pilaf and salsa verde? Or chips and homemade mayo. Decisions, decisions! (I'll have them all on consecutive Sundays, please).
What are you most curious about?
I quite regularly find myself having philosophical conversations about the state of the world with various people in various parts of my life - friends, family, work colleagues, even Dave at the local barber shop! The last few years have felt like something of an awakening on a cultural level, yet in general we are still quite willing to roll over and just accept the inequalities that have made our society bend almost to breaking point. When I look at my kids, I'm curious to understand how their generation will react to some of the macro-societal issues that define the present day, from climate change, to institutional racism, to food poverty to immigration. I have far more faith in my young girls than I do in many of our current world leaders.
What’s the most memorable piece of advice you’ve received?
When I first moved to London in about 2004, I had a job in an advertising agency in Shoreditch, complete with beanbags, füßball and all the cliches! They had that iconic Anthony Burrill poster on the wall which stated 'work hard and be nice to people'. Fast forward ten years or so. I'd changed careers and was 'staging' at a restaurant in Copenhagen called Relae. They had a similar poster, this time by Erik Speakerman, which called 'move fast and get shit done'. Neither are really advice, per se, but I'm into both sentiments as a principle and would like to think my style as a business leader sits somewhere in the middle.
What are your top 3 items at Caro?
Firstly, I love the Kana x Caro ceramics. Kana, or Ana Kerin is a wonderful artist, not to mention a wonderful human being, based near where we used to live in East London. We have a few of her pieces at home.
Secondly, we received some of the Caro-branded chocolate as a gift not long ago. The earl grey & white chocolate bar was surprisingly delicious - it tasted like tea and biscuits.
Finally, my wife Natali's cookbook: A Simple Table, Recipes and Rituals For Life in Balance. It's enlightening, accessible, full of achievable recipes that are delicious and good for you, not to mention lots of pictures of Natali looking gorgeous!