Henry Freestone

Henry Freestone

Luckily for him, it wasn’t a long wait before something even better came along — the opportunity to be the head chef at stylish new Spitalfields joint Crispin when it first opened in 2018. It was here that Henry really began to earn recognition for his cooking, and also continued to develop his style. ‘The two owners at Crispin had a big part to play in my understanding of designing dishes,’ he says. ‘I’d write a menu and then they’d just change it. At the time it really annoyed me but in the long run it developed my approach in how I put a dish together. After all, the only thing that really matters about food is that it’s absolutely delicious.’

Henry eventually left Crispin after eight months in charge of the kitchen, continuing to move from job to job while the coronavirus pandemic hit (‘I think I was the only chef in London who was furloughed by two different restaurants!’ he laughs). In August 2020, however, he took over the reins as head chef of Peckham Cellars. Within four months of leading the kitchen, the restaurant was awarded a Michelin Bib Gourmand thanks to his accessible and crowd-pleasing menu. ‘My food is all about simple, ingredient-led dishes with no frills,’ he says. ‘I want it to be interesting enough that a real foodie would come in and appreciate it, but equally accessible so that someone who wasn’t really interested in food would still find it delicious.’

The ambience of the restaurant is clearly just as important for Henry, who wants to avoid the ‘stuffy’ cliché: ‘I want to be able to chat to customers, crack jokes with them and help them try new things in an accessible way.’ This friendly ethos carries through to the way the kitchen is run too. Henry is determined to help improve mental health awareness in kitchens and break down existing standards within the industry. ‘I’m more than happy to put myself on consecutive doubles but I won’t let anyone else on the team do that because they have lives too,’ he explains. ‘We need to get the hospitality industry as turned on to mental health as every other industry is, and that starts by making people realise that doing an eighty-hour week doesn’t make you big or is something to be proud of.’

Given his age, Henry already has a heap of experience behind him and plenty of ambitions for the future. With a Michelin Bib Gourmand under his belt and fantastic reviews coming in left, right and centre, his food is only set to get better.

Three things you should know

Henry’s former reggae band Chainska Brassika were crowned world champions at the World Reggae Contest in 2015.

At Peckham Cellars Henry champions British produce, with the majority of his meat, fish and vegetables coming from ethical suppliers around the UK.

Henry’s ethos of never using ingredients for the sake of it means that he doesn’t use pepper as a standard seasoning in his cooking, treating it instead as a spice which he only uses when needed. Cooking at a wine bar also means wine is used in almost every dish.