Dining out at CIBO with Antony Worrall Thompson

Jay and Antony sample the menu at CIBO.

We met the utterly charming couple who were kind enough to spend several hours tasting the food and sharing their stories with us. They were quite fascinating with few ‘airs and graces’.
Jay (short for Jacinta) and Antony have been married for 21 years and have two children, Toby who is studying at Durham University, and Billie, who has just started Art College. They don’t see either of the children joining them in their restaurant business, at least not at this stage.
Antony, who started work in Essex after college, laughingly refers to the fact that his elderly and rather aristocratic grandmother refused to write to him because she could not bring herself to write the word ‘Essex’ on the envelope.
He soon progressed through the kitchens and became Head Chef at a London restaurant before spending some time working – and eating – his way around France.
When he returned to the UK, he worked in another prestigious restaurant before opening the ground-breaking Ménage à Trois, which was at the forefront of the wave of Nouvelle Cuisine  restaurants, serving only starters and desserts.
As Britain emerged from the land of Berni, Steak Houses and Wimpy, his name became very well-known through TV appearances both in Ready Steady Cook and his own programmes, and he can be considered as one of the first ‘celebrity chefs’.
Over the years, he admits he lost sight of his true vocation, which is being a hands-on chef, preparing dishes for people who enjoy quality food and writing books about healthy living. Now his realm consists of two restaurants, which he can devote most of his time to.
There is the Kew Grill, a stone’s throw from Kew Gardens, which is managed for the couple, but each of them is there at least one day a week. His other restaurant is technically a pub, the Greyhound in Henley-on- Thames, which is where he and Jay spend most of their time, with Antony cooking most nights.
Having covered his restaurant history, we concentrated more on the personal side of the couple’s lives.
They love the Spanish lifestyle and about 14 years ago decided to purchase a property near Mijas Pueblo but the owner of the first one they were due to buy found out who they were and put the price up by €50,000, so they pulled out.
The house they did buy has 300 avocado trees plus other fruits and vegetables for their own use. The avocadoes are sold through a local co-operative which helps to pay for the hard-working staff who look after the property and grounds whilst they are away.
This fits in well with their previous home in the UK, which was almost a farm and at one time they had more than 300 rare breed Middle White pigs. Something that the family insisted on was that if a pig was named then it was not to be killed.
Whenever possible they like to come to Spain – about six times a year – but they also enjoy other parts of Europe, especially France where they always try to find a decent chateau in a well-known wine-growing area where they can discover new wines or revisit some old favourites.
As we had by then moved on to the matter of food and drink and were tasting some of the fine Italian dishes on the CIBO menu, the discussion turned to who did the cooking at home and what sort of food they enjoyed.
According to Antony, as he is so fond of cooking, he undertakes the lion’s share, ably assisted by Jay, who was prepared to accept the post of sous- chef, although Antony insisted that she is a fine cook in her own right.
They enjoy cooking market-bought produce and anything that is genuine as opposed to being very ‘cheffy’ although he admits to loving gadgets and has just obtained a Big Green Egg grill (inspired by NASA technology) which amongst other things allows him to smoke his own meat.
Wine is a favourite with the absolute top red being Vega Sicilia L’Unico from Ribera del Duero, which they only drink sparingly when they are feeling extravagant. They also like Italian wines, especially those from Antinori, whilst we drank a very simple but enjoyable Pinot Grigio blush at CIBO.
We asked Antony about his favourite and least favourite chef. He had no hesitation in saying that he was great friends with and an admirer of Rick Stein and he also mentioned Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall  who ‘cooked from the heart’.
Without being malicious, he admitted that he wasn’t Gordon Ramsay’s greatest fan but then added that they had recently enjoyed a first-class meal at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in Chelsea, and was very complimentary about Clare Smyth, the Head Chef.
As far as restaurants on the Costa del Sol are concerned, the couple had visited CIBO for the new Sunday lunch and found the beef to be top quality. They also liked Giral in Los Boliches and Mirlo Blanca in Mijas near the bullring.
There seemed to be a slight delay when asked if they would open a restaurant in Spain. They admitted that they had considered it but had decided against it for two reasons: one because they didn’t really understand the Spanish way of business and suspected that the bureaucracy would be too much for them.
Secondly, they had learnt from experience that unless you devote the bulk of your time to the restaurant, then it has every chance of failing.
It was fascinating to hear that in their view the most important thing that a customer was looking for in a restaurant was consistency. They close both of their restaurants after Sunday lunch and don’t open again until Wednesday so that their staff are rested and the same people are available to cook the same food.
They are in business to make money but aren’t looking for huge returns, which means that although Antony serves Wagyu beef, he prices his steak at far less than many other restaurants do, because he wants a certain cash return per cover rather than a percentage of cost which other restaurants work to.
Nowadays, Antony wants to help people to cope with years of unhealthy eating. Generations have been taught to eat badly and you can’t change things overnight. He speaks highly of what Jamie Oliver is trying to achieve but feels he wants to see things happen overnight, which is unrealistic.
Author of 32 books, most recently dealing with health and diabetes, he wants to educate rather than preach and hopefully explain how to produce food that not only tastes good but is good for you as well.
During the evening we tasted a range of the food served at CIBO and asked Antony and Jay for their uncensored opinion. The result was very positive and they found it a pleasant experience overall.
The Meat Plate and Steak Tartare were absolutely delicious although the melon served with it should have been riper.  The bruschetta was good but too large a portion and the combined prawn/calamari version should have been served hot.
Scallops with pancetta were perfect and considered the best dish, and the fish pasta caused some difference of opinion with Jay thinking it a bit confused and salty whilst Antony said he enjoyed it.
There was a very good, crisp pizza which whilst not perhaps the best they had ever tasted was still more than acceptable and they had adapted it to suit Jay’s taste. There was lobster ravioli which had a very strong flavour but the wrapping was a bit thick in their      opinion.
The only real criticism was that there wasn’t a wide enough range of Italian desserts or cheeses but overall the restaurant made a very good impression, which coming from a man who had 36 restaurants under his apron strings at one time, is praise indeed.


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