The National Theatre's head chef Simon Flint on organising chaos

Simon Flint
Executive head chef Simon Flint

There are two main challenges to running the restaurants at the National Theatre: people have very high expectations because the theatre is so good, and they’re often in a hurry, so we need to serve great food quickly.

Our restaurants are open at other times, but pre-theatre – which is 5–7.30pm – is very much about getting things out in 15 minutes. Other restaurants tend to do pre-theatre fixed price menus that are easy to get out and very low cost, but we like to offer a wide range of choices and be more ambitious. We try not to worry about those constraints and focus on the menu being interesting and good quality. We’ve got a very well-equipped kitchen, a strong team that have been here a long time and a lot of staff, which helps.
Repeat custom is a big thing for us. We get regular members who come in to see every show and eat in the house restaurants before they go in, so we have to keep things interesting for them. The theatre has undergone a big transformation and they’ve spent a huge amount of money improving the auditorium and facilities. Where most places can close for two years, the theatre had to keep shows running so it’s been quite difficult for the people who have worked here, but we’ve just about finished.
House is in the National Theatre and was formerly known as the Mezzanine. We opened a restaurant called The Green Room across the road and we opened a cafe called Kitchen on the riverfront. House is about classic dishes with a twist, so we’re talking steaks, sole meuniere – the sort of food you’d find in a top end brasserie. The Green Room is sort of an English diner. We’ve got a hot dog on the menu which is made with our own sausages, a burger with our special recipe, and it’s also about the local community and sustainability. The produce is responsibly-sourced and the restaurant itself is made out of recycled materials. Kitchen has to appeal to lots of different people, from office workers to people who come to the theatre with a smaller budget. It’s all about hot food that we can serve quickly like shepherd’s pies, fish pies, confit duck, cod in parsley sauce as well as cakes, sandwiches and drinks.
The beef bourguignon is on House’s menu because I love it, and it’s got a lot to it: beef, bacon, creamed mashed potatoes, mushrooms. We used different cuts of beef, like ox cheek and a short rib called Jacob’s Ladder because it’s on the bone, cooked on a low temperature for five or six hours so it’s nice and tender but still pink.


House at the National Theatre’s Beef bourguignon

The beef bourguignon served in House

  • 300ml red wine
  • 800g trimmed ox cheek cut into 100g large chunks
  • 4 pieces, approx 220g each, of Jacobs Ladder on the bone
  • 500g good quality mushrooms (either portobello or swiss browns)
  • 250g peeled shallots diced
  • 200g good quality steak bacon (would recommend Alsace or pancetta)
  • Marinade both cuts of meat in red wine overnight (make sure the meat is just covered) with some chopped carrot, shallot, and a bay leaf and thyme.
  • The next day remove the meat from the marinade and fry the cheek and short rib in a frying pan until golden and remove from heat.
  • Pass the wine marinade through a fine strainer to remove the vegetables. Put in a pan and bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer for approximately half an hour until the wine has reduced by half. At this point, add either a fresh stock or use water and a couple of good quality stock cubes until you’ve covered the meat.
  • Add the short rib to the liquor and cook for two hours on 140 degrees in the oven in a casserole dish. Cut the bacon into cubes and the mushrooms into big chunks and fry in a pan. Add to the beef and liquor along with the ox cheek and cook for a further 3 hours. Once the meat is tender, remove form the liquor and put to one side.
  • Thicken the sauce by using a traditional roux, which is flour and butter, or by using a convenience thickener such as Bisto.
  • To make the roux, melt the butter in a pan and stir in an equal amount of flour and leave on a low heat to cook for approximately 5-10 minutes or until you get the right consistency. Put the meat back in and simmer for approx 20 minutes and serve.

Related articles