Carol Emmas meets the Liverpool chef climbing new heights
With the cost of living on everyone’s minds right now, it seems like a parallel universe when you take the heady rise up to Liverpool’s Panoramic 34 restaurant. It’s Friday, it’s 4pm and I’m meeting Nathan Booth with the expectation of finding a quiet corner for an after-service chat about his first major head chef role. Instead, I’m greeted by a wave of noise akin to a busy bar on a Saturday night.
When people ask where the produce is from, even down to the butter, I can point out the window.
“It’s the back end of service, and afternoon tea is always busy. We can get 80 covers a day,” says Nathan over significant decibels of laughter and chatter.
I ask Nathan about the differences between working in a ground-level restaurant compared to being 300ft up in the sky.
“The views are definitely its USP,” he says. “It is a restaurant for birthdays and anniversaries and so we’re always fully booked for afternoon tea - but we rarely get walk-ins at other times when it’s quieter.
“It’s not like you pass and know we’re here. We’re not allowed signage outside so people can easily forget about us. But we’re trying to put that right by employing a social media company to raise our profile.”
Nathan was previously head chef at Kelp, moving to Panoramic when Elliot Hill left to fill Simon Radley’s boots at The Chester Grosvenor. Nathan says the initial response to his new role at has been very positive.
"Everyone’s happy with how I’ve been doing for my first major head chef job. It’s been a great progression for me and to be honest, the feedback has been unbelievable," Nathan says.
Twelve years ago, Nathan was scouted by Paul Askew who offered him a job at The London Carriage Works and later The Art School. His career has been on a thoughtful and steady upward trajectory since (which also includes Six by Nico, Thornton Hall, Roski, Wreckfish and Mr Cooper’s House and Garden).
He’s also been back-and-forth between the two chefs he describes as having the biggest impact on his life, Paul Askew and Richard Collingwood. With Richard, he worked on the small team of three at The Dining Room at Hillbark, Wirral and later at Thornton Hall. Richard was awarded 3 AA Rosettes at both restaurants.
I ask what he’s gained from each. “I’ve had the best of both worlds really," says Nathan. "With Paul, I’d probably say the classical side of food and more understanding of local producers and local suppliers.
"With Rich, understanding modern techniques and refinement. For Rich to win three AA Rosettes twice is a big achievement in Merseyside alone. So it’s always the drive for me now to get those accolades here and in my own way and to put Panoramic 34 on the map so that people want to come here for the food as well as the destination.
"The same with Paul, I want to try and be like him. I’ve been working with him for so many years. Watching his ambition makes me want to do what he’s done."
Outside of Liverpool, the chef Nathan admires most is Gareth Ward, who has just been awarded Two Michelin Stars at Ynyshir, making it the most highly-awarded restaurant in Wales.
Nathan says, “I did two weeks with him before the pandemic. You’re out at 5am picking your sea herbs, then you’re foraging all morning for the likes of wild garlic. I love foraging and do it a lot around Speke and Garston around the estuary for bog samphire and sticky fingers.
“Going forward here - it’s stride by stride. I don’t want to go all gun’s blazing but I’ve got millions of ideas and it’s just thinking of the right time to implement them.
"For instance, I’ve just brought oysters on to the bar menu and I love doing our one-off nights. Last week we had Gusbourne English Wine for English Wine Week.
"I love changing the menus - it gives you that fire."
“In terms of changing the menus when I started - it took a lot of planning even though I had a three-month window. I’ve only tweaked the afternoon tea menu as the way Elliot and Jordan left it, it was quite high up. So for me, it’s a good opportunity to concentrate on changing the other menus.
"We have the bar menu and lunchtime menu for business clients for one or two courses, and the evenings for fine dining. Rather than diners being distracted away from the food to the views, I’ve deliberately chosen food that mirrors the view. I love to work with fish from Wards, meat from Edge’s and use other local producers.
"When people ask where the produce is from, even down to the butter, I can point out the window."
Nathan comes across as super-chilled and you get the distinct impression he’s in no hurry to try and rush things. He says this isn't a trait he is currently witnessing at Liverpool City College, where he graduated from 12 years ago.
“I like to go to the college and see the young chefs coming through and the talent that's there. But it’s quite slow at the moment. There are a lot of chefs who are choosing the occupation because they’ve left school and need something to do. As soon as they’ve finished the course they want to be head chefs straight away.”
Nathan adds, “They need to know they have to work their way up first. Like the old story of the tortoise and the hare. The hare’s not going to win. In this industry, it’s about being a sponge and absorbing; each chef you work for you learn from them and take bits away with you. Which is what I’ve done through my career - and it’s the best way to be.”
Alongside other high-profile chefs who studied at Liverpool College, Nathan recently took part in The Collective Dinner, working alongside current students to cook a tasting menu for the college’s Academy Restaurant.
The idea hails from chef Eddie Kilty of Kilty & Co, with proceeds going to So Let’s Talk, a platform which serves to support hospitality workers with all aspects of mental, physical and financial health.
“Liverpool - it’s such a close-knit city,” says Nathan. “All the chefs are in support of one another. You’ve got to be. We’re a massive community family and there’s very little competition between us. We’re all for one."
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