Tony Tobin: Calling The Shots
After closing the doors of his Reigate restaurant back in 2017, chef Tony Tobin is back, and raring to go with his new venture. He chats to Ting Dalton about his exciting plans.
After spending some time admiring the spectacular views across Leith Hill and Box Hill at Reigate Heath Golf Club, I make my way inside the clubhouse and upstairs to meet Tony Tobin – the celebrity chef who made his name on the BBC’s popular cooking show Ready Steady Cook. He’s exactly where I expect to find him, in the kitchen preparing food.
Warm and friendly, Tony is just how I remembered him when he was a prominent TV personality on shows such as Saturday Kitchen. After leading me into his new restaurant Ranmore, which is now open to the public, I can see why this was the perfect spot to launch himself back into the fine dining world. “You can see the most amazing sunsets from up here,” Tony enthuses.
Ranmore, named after the common it faces and flanked by a grade II listed windmill, is a light and elegant room, which modestly seats 42 – a world away from the 120 covers he used to serve at his previous restaurant.
Tony’s pride and joy was The Dining Room in Reigate. But back in 2017 he had to make the heartbreaking decision to close its doors after being in business for 25 years.
“I started at The Dining Room as a head chef over 28 years ago, and all my three children grew up and worked there. But it just became so tough. Business is tough,” he says. “For four years we really struggled, I just couldn’t compete with the chains and their set menus. We tried everything to survive – I was even working the floor on my own.”
In its place now stands a famous chicken chain, but does Tony have any ill feeling towards The Dining Room’s current occupiers?
“I was actually invited to the opening night!” he smiles. “It doesn’t upset me, because it’s an entirely different set-up and I like I bit of spicy chicken! After The Dining Room closed, I hid away for three months and then decided to pick myself back up and go again. After all, cooking is all I know.”
Tony decided that the best way to throw himself back into the food world was to work as a temp, at large catering events. He admits it wasn’t for the pay, or the lack of it, but to learn about working in a different environment. He laughs as he tells me so many people were flabbergasted to find him at their social gatherings. After setting up his own events company, To To, he then began to launch a series of pop-up restaurants and work on various collaborations with local companies and pubs, as well as being a private chef for those wanting a unique at-home dining experience. But something was lacking, he still missed the thrill of running a restaurant.
“It’s one of those things. Reigate Heath approached me and we just had a chat. So while I agreed to look after all the club’s catering needs, I saw this beautiful room and thought why not?,” he says. “But they didn’t even have a grain of salt in the kitchen, so I had to set everything up from scratch, even buying all the furniture.
“It’s taken a few months, but now we have a full license to serve alcohol. I am tired, though, I haven’t had a day off in the last four months.”
Ranmore’s al a carte menu comprises of modern French and British classics of which Tony is so well known for, dishes such as beef fillet carpaccio with a truffle yolk and roasted turbot with boulangere potato. With a small team behind him, and Ranmore now fully booked for the next few months, Tony still isn’t resting on his laurels. In fact, due to his popularity, the chef has other projects in the pipeline – not least having just filmed an adventure with EastEnders’ star and fellow Reigate chum, Shane Richie in his new Channel 5 travel show.
“I have been approached by a few other golf clubs, so it’s something that I think could work elsewhere,” he muses. “Meanwhile, I love chatting to the diners, that’s my favourite part, no one loves an audience more than me! So I am resurrecting my cooking demonstrations where I cook with guests and then we all sit down to eat together. They’re so much fun.”
Talking to Tony, it’s obvious that he’s moved on from the trauma of losing The Dining Room and is determined to keep going. But even he admits, at 54 he would like to slow down soon, but not too soon…
“No one works harder than me,” he says. “But people’s eating habits have changed. Look at Jamie’s Italian going under for instance. So while it’s lovely to be offered exciting TV work, I can’t keep my eye off the ball for one second, and my responsibility is to look after my team. But maybe eventually I can be more of a consultant, and take my foot off the pedal a bit… Although I’ll never give up saying hello to the customers, I love all that!
Ranmore at Reigate Heath is open Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings and also Sunday lunchtimes. The Club House, Flanchford Road Reigate Heath, Surrey, RH2 8QR www.reigateheathgc.com/ranmore