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Claire Rooney opens her Parlour

Kino-Teatr has hosted a changing cast of restaurant foods from Mediterranean to Japanese; its latest incarnation being Parlour Brasserie. St Leonards is now quite a food destination with Parlour slipping quietly into the multi-cuisine restaurant scene, joining Heist, Three Faces of Parc, Graze and Marina Fountain.  HOT’s Lauris Morgan-Griffiths went to meet Claire Rooney, Parlour’s Proprietor and chef. 

Rooney is not a DFL arriviste. She was brought up here when her parents moved the family down from London; parents were both artists, father Mick Rooney RA, were and are very much part of the community. Here for ten years, schooling was “rubbish” so she fled back to London. She has been around artists and food all her life. Home was a bit like The Good Life, chickens sitting in the fruit bowl.

Her food journey has been extraordinary.

Kedgeree, a popular dish

Kedgeree, a popular dish

Her parents were foodies and from an early age she was working in many of the local restaurants. One of the first things she remembers cooking was deep fried Guinness oyster at 15 years old. The cooking bug had bitten. Escaping back to London, one of her first jobs was at The Chelsea Arts Club. Then wanderlust took over and she travelled the world, learning  on the job, picking up her craft from various chefs and different cultures. She had her own restaurant outside Valencia in Spain for five years – 45 covers and live music.

Then for 15 years she was in catering.  I imagine after that she is used to demanding, difficult people. She catered for Roman Abramovich, Al Fayed on their yachts; private catering for Princess Denmark, the Chelsea Football Team.  The next phase was catering for films – Beauty and the Beast, Spector, The Great, Malificent, Mission. And for that she had to really be flexible “film people want change, they want something different every day.”

I am sure she has some stories to tell about those days but she is busy prepping food for the restaurant so they will have to wait for another day. Anyway she’s not going to spill any putrid beans. Inevitably, there were a few favourites. She tells me she loved Dame Judi Dench and Eddie Izzard who were filming together on Victoria & Abdul – Dame Judi loved her Sticky Ribs. Nick Holt and Elle Fanning (she always wanted Claire’s fillet steak) while filming The Great, would come into the already crowded catering van and chat about families. She laughs. “We couldn’t get rid of them”

This inevitably prompts happy memories. Her cooking partner in crime who worked with Claire on film sets, Niki Steggles is moving down to Hastings and will help Claire in the Parlour. They happily reminisce, thoughts of dishes pour out of them, I can feel the memory bubbles bursting over their heads with Ooohs and Aahs and “I must put that on the menu.”

Her intention is to create a community, family space where all are welcome – and she will include dishes that someone might suggest. She trials foods in the lunch menu – “the kedgeree has been really successful”.

vegan Beet and sweet potato burger

Vegan Beet and sweet potato burger

She has great plans of  guest chefs with their own stories and food journeys. The meals generally will change seasonally from lighter summer meals and sharp, lemony salads to stews and roasts appearing more as winter draws on. The food will reflect her love of world cuisine, her personal favourites being Japanese and Jamaican, but also family recipes and she reels off a whole load of meaty recipes including her mother’s rabbit pie.  What about vegetarians? And another load of meals came at me  – including vegan dauphinoise potatoes and beetroot burgers.

One man came in to see her, complaining. “My wife used to say I made the best bacon sandwich. And now you have beaten me.” The secret ingredient? 24 hour slow roasted tomatoes. Complaint? more of a compliment.

She would like Parlour to be a good community, family restaurant. Recently she had a table of 9, first time out together since the end of lockdown, small plates, caring and sharing. “They loved it.”

Claire Rooney with husband, Dom.

Claire Rooney with husband, Dom Gackstatter

It is shaping up to a family affair. Her artist husband, Dom Gackstatter, draws the daily menus and is front of house, although Claire herself wants to get out there too. And her daughter, Isabella, will join Claire in the kitchen.

She tells me “this is the best thing I’ve ever done. It’s really working. It’s certainly the thing I’m most proud of.”  The one downside to all this is the danger of it becoming so popular, locals might not be able to easily book a table.

Parlour Brasserie is open 10.30-22.30 Wednesday to Friday  Book online or call 07783 536347.

 

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Posted 20:09 Wednesday, Sep 1, 2021 In: Food & Drink

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