A Day In The Life Of Clare Smyth

A Day In The Life Of Clare Smyth

Internationally renowned chef Clare Smyth remains the first and only woman to run a restaurant with three Michelin stars in the UK. Having grown up on a farm in Northern Ireland, she perfected her talent working for some of the world’s most celebrated names, including Alain Ducasse and Gordon Ramsay. Since opening Core in Notting Hill in 2017, the restaurant has earned a slew of awards, as well as the opportunity for Clare to cater Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s private wedding reception. Today, she lives in south west London with her husband Grant and their west highland terrier, Storm. Here she tells us what her normal working day looks like…

I wake up at 6:30am – usually because my dog wants to be let out. I let her run around the garden – and then probably spend about half an hour trying to get her back in – before getting back into bed for some morning cuddles. 

The first thing I do is have a cup of tea. I drink a copious amount throughout the day, but I like to start things off early. It’s not the best thing, I know, but next I start checking my phone and emails to see what’s happened overnight – not just at the restaurant but also around the world. Sales reports come in late, as do any updates on my new project in Australia. I’m always straddling multiple time zones.

I have the mornings to myself. Because of the way lunch and dinner service works at Core, I don’t have to be at the restaurant until midday. So I spend most of that time as a businesswoman before I turn back into chef. That means dealing with accounting issues, as well as any press or human resources appointments.

By midday we’re ready to start lunch service. I have about 18 chefs and a head chef whose job is to manage and prep the kitchen before I arrive. In total, including front of house and the rest of the team, we have about 50 members of staff for 54 seats. I also have a PA to help me manage things, but everyone has a role to play in getting things to the standard I like them to be. 

Looking back, our opening period was horrible. In fact, our opening day was probably the worst ever. The opening had been delayed anyway, but we were also overbooked and the team just wasn’t ready. Given the chance to do it again, I’d give myself more time. The way in which you open businesses like this means you have to just open the doors, sometimes, but I’d try and hold back a bit more if I had the opportunity again.

Lunch service lasts until about 3:30pm. During that time, I’m checking dishes, greeting guests and generally making sure I’m happy with everything we’re sending out of the kitchen. I wouldn’t call myself superstitious, but I am obsessive when it comes to my routine. For instance, I like to have three red pencils next to the note sheet to jot things down as service unfolds. The sheet always has to face up and I like gold clips to hold the bills. The team all know this, and they set it up for me so everything’s ready.

I wouldn’t call myself superstitious, but I am obsessive when it comes to my routine.

Once lunch service is over, I put my business hat back on. In the late afternoon is when I like to do interviews, reply to emails I might have missed or take meetings. I’ll meet with the development team to test new recipes they’ve come up with based on my direction, or liaise about improvements to Core or with interior designers for my new opening in Australia. 

I’m really excited about the new Australia project. We’ll have a new restaurant in Sydney open by this time next year. But Core is constantly evolving and changing, too. Whether it’s making improvements to the building or developing the menu, it never stays the same. But we want everything to be the right step, so sometimes the process is a long one. Regardless, we’re always pushing forward.

Around 6pm or 6:30pm dinner service begins. It’s the same routine – I like to start with a cup of tea which the team prepare for me. Between lunch and dinner, the head chef takes the whole team into a back room to discuss what did and didn’t work during the last shift so we can make it better for the next one. Feedback is constant here, and I like to think we make something better every single day. It’s just the way I am. It’s what makes me tick and allows to me to sleep easier at night – knowing we’re always the best we can be. 

Our best day as a team was when we won two Michelin stars last year, having already been the first restaurant to go straight into the Good Food Guide with a perfect score of ten out of ten. It’s times like these when you feel like the hard work and all the nagging really pays off. It puts such a spring in everyone’s step.

I leave the restaurant at midnight, once dinner service is over. I’m incredibly bad at switching off or winding down so, again, my routine isn’t to be recommended. When I get home, my husband wakes up (which is very sweet of him) and makes me a cup of tea. We talk about our days and then I watch TV in bed. I like to watch rolling BBC 24-hour news. Not only does it help me drift off, it allows me catch up on current affairs and what’s going on in the world. I don’t have an exact time I fall asleep, but I know it wouldn’t be possible without the television. I’ve done it that way forever. 

If I had one piece of advice, I’d say find the best people to work with.

I love going on a blow-out trip at least once a year. It’s the only thing I find that forces me to completely relax. Last year it was South America, Peru specifically, but I really like going on safari – usually in Africa. It’s a magical place and it doesn’t have any phone signal. Rwanda and Tanzania are on my bucket list this year. I just love being in nature and seeing the wildlife. 

We do have weekends, of a sort. We don’t open the restaurant on Sundays or Mondays, so there is the chance for everyone to have some down time. That said, on Mondays I’m usually doing something work-related, like charity events or speaking on panels. Last week, for instance, I was speaking at an event for International Women’s Day. I treat Sunday as my true day off. 

If I had one piece of advice, I’d say find the best people to work with. Learn what it is that makes them successful – you’re bound to find it’s hard work and graft most of the time and that nothing happens overnight. In my experience, achieving something in five minutes usually means it only lasts five minutes, too. Now I’m 41 and in a senior position, it’s my training and experience which I rely on. That’s what ultimately gives you confidence to make decisions and stick to them. Even if you never ‘make it’, if you’re always learning, you’ll be happy with yourself – which is the whole point. 

92 Kensington Park Road, Notting Hill, W11 2PN

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