Steve Wilmot is an award-winning mixologist turned chef. Together with his wife Sital, they own Korova, a ‘quirky, family-run restaurant’ in the heart of Tufnell Park, London, that gives European classics a modern twist.
Tell us about Korova Restaurant…
The property was an old dairy from the 1920s. It had many of its original features – perfect for what we wanted, as our vision was to find a place that wasn’t like anything already on the high street. Our informal atmosphere leads some customers to comment that it’s like going to a friend’s house to eat – something we take as a huge compliment. We source as many local products as possible and keep the menu very seasonal and short – five starters, mains and desserts – to be able to produce a mixture of modern and classic dishes. I think everything is important from the sip of your first drink to the last spoonful of dessert, from how you are greeted to how you’re given the bill.
Do you have a signature cocktail at Korova?
Our cocktail list is very classic with many of our drinks coming from 1930s ‘The Savoy Cocktail Book’. We also have two signature cocktails: Korova Martini, made with Citadelle gin, Kamm & Sons aperitif and quince bitters, and Korova Negroni. This is very popular; it’s made with Picon Amer and Antica Formula instead of regular red vermouth because it adds some extra dryness and citrus notes.
What is your career history?
I started off working in bars and clubs from an early age as a singer and then a DJ. My first taste of the industry was becoming bar manager at Stringfellows in Leicester Square, London – interesting to say the least! After a couple of years I moved to Camden as operations manager for a group of bars and restaurants and then took on Zensai – one of the coolest cocktail bars in Camden – for five years. Slowly the whole scene in Camden changed and the small operators were edged out. I saw it as my opportunity to open Korova because we wanted to get back into a more food led operation and away from the late night bar scene. When we opened in July 2015 our chef didn’t work out, so I took on the cooking.
Which do you prefer – cooking or making drinks?
I used to cook at home as a way to relax. It was a great way to take my mind off work and try stuff out. I loved making cocktails for many years, but now feel I can express myself more through cooking. My wife makes all the cocktails at Korova so if I’m lucky (and not busy) she sometimes lets me loose behind the bar!
What awards have you won?
For the past two years running we have won the Time Out best local restaurant award. That is incredibly special for us as it is voted for by the local public and we are described as a “quirky, family-run restaurant” with a 4-star rating. I also won mixologist of the year for two years running at the London Food and Drink Awards in 2011 and 2012, and in 2012, my wife and I won the Bombay Sapphire’s Inspiring Creations award.
Does your menu at Korovo differ from daytime to evening?
Daytimes are a lot more family orientated. Our two children Reya and Kane are always there and customers tend to come in to eat with their children. Our breakfast and brunch items are very popular. They tend to be a bit simpler with less ingredients, but contain strong flavour combinations. Daytime dishes need to be on the table quickly but that doesn’t mean you can sacrifice look and taste. When I make our popular French omelette, it’s with the same high standards and effort that I put into my evening dishes.
What chefs have inspired you and why?
I admire chefs who have an obvious passion – the Roux family especially. I don’t like the chefs who spread themselves too thin and just put their name to anything.
What ingredients are you looking forward to using in January/February?
I’ve got a really nice mallard with baked beetroot and blood orange recipe, lots of brassicas, rhubarb and clams. Then oysters and some nice sharing dishes for Valentine’s Day, such as a trio of ceviche and drunken sea trout with yuzu, chilli and dill.
What drinks will you be creating for January/February?
Something to take the chill off; a spiced rum toddy or a boulevardier (similar to a negroni, but with rye whiskey instead of gin) always go down well at this time of year.
What makes the perfect cocktail?
For me, it must be simple with good products, such as a vesper martini, with No.3 gin and Potocki vodka, both straight from the freezer. You need a good unwaxed lemon for those all important oils. Or a daiquiri with one of Plantation’s great range of rums, fresh lime and Martinique sugar cane syrup.
What advice would you give a chef who wants to own a restaurant?
Never cut corners, buy good products and see everything as if you are the customer.
Is serving healthy dishes at Korova important to you?
Yes – healthy eating is something we always promote at Korova. I try to incorporate some superfoods into our menu; my favourite is purple sweet potato because they taste amazing and as a purée they bring wonderful colour to the plate. We have vegetarian and vegan options that are as well planned as the rest of our menu. My parents are vegan and have had some baffling experiences in restaurants in the past, so it’s crucial to me that vegetarians and vegans are catered for in the same way as meat-eating customers. We also get people and families with many different dietary requirements dining with us, so for me it’s very important to let the customer know that the food they are ordering is being prepared for them personally. It takes longer, but I think it’s worth it.