iain smith no fifty cheyne

Meet the chef: Iain Smith of No. Fifty Cheyne

05 Apr 2024 | |By Annie Lewis

Serving some of the most reasonably-priced food in Chelsea, Iain Smith has made quite the name for himself in London’s most expensive district. Here’s how he keeps things exciting after five years at the helm

It’s only appropriate to start this interview by stating Iain Smith’s roast potatoes, served at Chelsea’s No. Fifty Cheyne, are the best I’ve ever had – incredibly crispy but fluffy inside, almost as if they’ve taken a dip in the deep fat fryer (I’m assured that’s not the case). I’m also told that complimenting Smith on his roasties is one surefire way to make him happy – job done. 

I’m not the first and definitely won’t be the last to celebrate his work. Having started at The Goring at the tender age of 16, Smith moved on to the now-closed Mayfair restaurant The Square before landing a post at Galvin la Chappelle by the time he was 23. His first head chef role came courtesy of Jason Atherton’s Social Eating House, where Smith honed his culinary philosophy of creating bold flavours using fresh produce. 

In 2019 he took the helm at No. Fifty Cheyne, formerly known as Cheyne Walk Brasserie, after it emerged from renovation. If you’ve walked down the embankment fringing Chelsea, you’ve likely spotted the bright, whimsical property with its year-round floral wall displays. Five years on and Smith has carved out an up-market, white-tablecloth dining setting famous for its reasonable prices – his two-course Tastes of Fifty set menu starts at just £25 and gives diners the option to feast on Isle of Wight asparagus and red flesh plum, and Landes French chicken breast and chicken skin crumb – an impressive feat in an area famous for its extortionate, sometimes absurd, prices. 

Elsewhere on the menu, highlights include Dorset crab mayonnaise with pea and mint purée, 40-day aged Dexter beef Wellington, and poached fillet of Cornish cod with langoustine risotto, alongside specials from the grill such as Argentinian red prawns and chateaubriand of 45-day aged blue-grey. 

So how does Smith make his restaurant stand out from the Chelsea competition? We find out… 

Tell me about your childhood. Did you always want to be a chef?

At just 15 years old, I sat in my parents’ bedroom, thumbed through the Yellow Pages and called a variety of five-star hotels such as The Ritz, The Dorchester and Claridge’s. The latter two replied that unfortunately I was too young, but The Ritz’s senior sous chef at the time said we do take people on but through a specialised chef scholarship at Bournemouth and Poole college. So he sent me, in a Ritz stamped envelope, the application form three days later, much to my mother’s surprise. We submitted the application and travelled down for the interview in Bournemouth and succeeded. I was sent to The Goring hotel and the rest is history!

What’s your earliest food memory?

Christmas at home with the family. It was always the most exciting time as the big fridge at home was stuffed to the brim with Christmas food and goodies. I always have a spot of nostalgia when remembering my favourite thing was the half-dressed lobster from Marks and Spencer.

You’ve worked in London, Sydney and New York. What would you say are the main differences in the food industries in these cities?

As a chef back then, it was the available ingredients that proved to be the main difference between cities. In Sydney, the fish and shellfish scene was something I had never seen before – truly amazing. New York also had a dining scene that was so edgy but so refined all at once.

London was special then, but it is quite something else today. It’s particularly amazing to see so many fantastic restaurants in one city.

You attribute your experience at two Michelin star The Square as ‘the greatest facilitator for the progression of his career’. What’s the biggest lesson you learnt?

The key thing I took from my time there was the level of professionalism and discipline it takes to consistently deliver fantastic food day after day, week after week. Importantly, I also learnt how to extract and create layers of delicious flavour in dishes – both vital skills I use every single day.

What drew you to No. Fifty Cheyne?

From the moment I met the owner, I could see the passion. When we discovered how aligned we were in making a great London restaurant, it all fell – and keeps falling – into place.

How do you keep menus fresh and exciting?

When crafting the menus, I put the guests first by simply cooking fresh tasty food that they enjoy eating. I also let the ingredients lead me – whatever beautiful produce I’ve got dictate the plates I put out. I do focus on hearty comfort food but just take it to the next level.

no fifty cheyne
The Tastes of Fifty menus are famous for being great value. Why did you want to offer this price point when so many restaurants in Chelsea charge more?

Our pricing is really important to us – we didn’t want to be like many other restaurants and keep increasing our prices. When creating the Tastes of Fifty, we wanted to build trust with our guests and give something unique with a price point that would surprise all those who visit.

We have also done this with Iain’s List, a list of my favourite wines which is priced at exceptional value, and then offering Ruinart Champagne at the best value in London. There is so much competition in this industry and we have to keep on giving our guests reasons to come to our lovely corner of old Chelsea every day of the week!

Do you think some restaurants overcharge for the food they serve?

Good restaurants have higher prices as they are delivering a very high-quality experience, service and food offering which in turn costs the restaurant more money. It’s the average restaurants not delivering the same experience that will struggle to stand the test of time.

What is your one other favourite London restaurant and why?

The best experience I’ve had is The Ledbury. The entire evening was truly magical – from inspiring flavours, to impeccable service, and truly amazing food.

Are there any other London chefs you're impressed with at the moment?

Ben Marks, for sure. He’s taking classic cooking flavours and delivering it in such a progressive way, that is modern, fresh and clean. He’s also now opening his second restaurant – wow!

What's your favourite dish on the No. Fifty Cheyne menu?

For me, it has to be the Landes chicken breast and chicken skin crumb. It’s just wonderful, harmonious flavours on a plate.

Visit fiftycheyne.com

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