“Skills can be taught, but that attitude to succeed and better yourself comes from within” Tom Hanlon

The Staff Canteen

Creating and maximising value through quality, knowledge, finesse and, above all, authenticity is at the beating heart of exquisite hospitality, Tom Hanlon, Restaurant Manager at Northcote Hotel and Restaurant, shares.

Written by: 
Natasha Spencer-Jolliffe

 “Although it might sound cheesy, it’s my team and peers’ dedication and desire that inspires me every day,” Tom Hanlon, Restaurant Manager at Michelin-starred Northcote Hotel and Restaurant, told The Staff Canteen when we sat down for a chat about his culinary career to date.

Taking on the role of restaurant manager at Northcote is Tom’s proudest achievement. Working at the 3 Michelin Star restaurant L’Enclume and all that the team achieved there, and then being part of the opening team at 2 Michelin starred Moor Hall, are definitely up there regarding his accomplishments.

“But taking the reins of the restaurant at Northcote and seeing how we have evolved, grown and what the team produces on a daily basis still fills me with such pride every day, even after four years,” shares Tom.


Pursuing the 1%

The team constantly strives to be better than the day before and as good as they will be tomorrow. “As our hotel manager Jordan Hughes says, ‘it’s all about the one per cent’,” Tom enthuses.

The “amazing synergy” between the front-of-house (FOH) and kitchen teams at Northcote is something Tom’s grateful for. He feels fortunate to have “an incredible relationship” with Lisa Goodwin Allen and Matt Ramsdale, Northcote’s executive and head chef, constantly bouncing ideas around about new dishes and what’s in development. “You can’t help but get excited about the possibilities of what we can bring to our guests,” Tom adds.

Tom Hanlon Northcote

When it comes to positive influences, it’s also not forgetting those outside of the kitchen who support the passion and commitment to a career often spent away from loved ones. “My partner Laura, whom some would describe as a hospitality widow, is super supportive and a great inspiration,” Toms adds.

Like riding the most enjoyable rollercoaster

Smiles, laughter and capturing memories are what make a good service for Tom. And there is nothing more special than genuine hospitality. Tom likens top-quality service to the joy and excitement of a rollercoaster: “You sit down, the lap bar comes down, and from there on, there is nothing you can do but enjoy the ride as everything is taken care of for you, and you come off having had the best time and can’t wait to go again.”

Tom and his Northcote team want their guests to enjoy the culinary show, knowing everything will be cared for in the safe hands of a knowledgeable team that values flair, finesse and precision. And yet, it’s homely, genuine, and fun.

There’s no hesitation regarding what makes Northcote Hotel stand out from others. “Most definitely its culture,” Tom shares. “Again, it might be quite cheesy, but we are one big family.”

Northcote has an excellent staff retention rate, with people being there for as long as 40 years. Tom may have been there for a tenth of that, but it’s four years “and counting”. Why? The revered restaurant manager puts that down to Northcote’s commitment to honing in on education and investing in every team member.

Tom Hanlon Northcote

Team members can access courses like Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET), Court of Master Sommeliers, Academy of Cheese and SCA Coffee Skills Program. “The list goes on,” says Tom. Northcote also loves supporting its team through competitions, most recently with Mia Learoyd coming second in the Young Chef Young Waiter competition and Niamh Preedy winning the inaugural World Young Mixologist 2023 competition, going on to represent England in Monaco.

Affection and genuine love the Northcote team

Tom notes, “its genuine affection for all our guests and our staff who are the beating heart of everything we do”, Tom emphasises. Constant elevation and progression are Northcote’s core goals and true measures of success. Northcote’s 4 AA red stars are a huge accolade for the much-revered eatery. Maintaining these and achieving 5 is part of its ongoing efforts.

“Of course, we have a job to do, and in the world of ‘business’, make the business profitable and hit margins, but all those things come from the love that is given to everything we do,” says Tom. Northcote strives to continually grow and elevate its wine list and capture the industry’s recognition in these efforts. Through continuing to partner with leading quality to optimise its guests’ experience, Northcote hopes to achieve even higher results in its leading quality assurance (LQA) reports. “The ultimate goal would be to achieve the coveted second Michelin Star, which I would love to see,” Tom predicts.

The restaurant won a Michelin star in 1996 and has retained it ever since—almost 30 years later. Now, with 26 bedrooms and under the culinary guidance of Executive Chef Lisa Goodwin Allen, the fine dining restaurant brings its mission of being ‘an oasis of food and wine excellence with genuine and outstanding hospitality’.

Northcote is now in its 24th year of hosting its much-loved, fan-favourite Obsession festival, which has become one of Europe’s most recognised culinary food festivals

An oasis of food and wine excellence

Northcote, a luxury Stafford Collection hotel and restaurant, is open 7 days a week, 365 days a year, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. Guests can enjoy lunch between 12:00 and 2:00 pm, Monday to Saturday, and 12 pm and 2:30 pm on Sundays. Dinner is served from 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm, Sunday to Thursday and 6:30 pm to 9:00 pm on Friday to Saturday. “That’s 1,095 services a year, serving around 44,000 guests,” Tom highlights.

Tom Hanlon Northcote

Northcote currently has 28 chefs in the kitchen brigade. There are 25 full-time staff members in the restaurant FOH team, including the bar area, plus a great pool of casual team members. “I am supported by two amazing assistant managers, Mia Learoyd and Joy Perrins, along with Magdalena, our head sommelier,” Tom shares.

The restaurant can seat 52-plus covers. Northcote’s restaurant also has a Chefs’ Table, accommodating up to 16 guests and a private dining space that can accommodate up to 50 seated guests for any occasion.

Delicious dining and delectable drinks

Northcote’s food is described as modern British fine dining “with an emphasis on Lisa’s Lancastrian roots”. The restaurant focuses on sourcing the best local and national ingredients while keeping dishes simplistic and seasonal to emphasise the produce and focus on exceptional flavour.

“Our 5-course gourmet menu is our most popular menu to dine from, but the standout dish has got to be the hand-dived Orkney Scallop,” says Tom. The dish is served with a romesco-style sauce packed full of flavour with Iberico Bellota and an Almond foam, a great take on an Ajo Blanco.

The fish/shellfish dishes become instant hits and standouts. “It is made more impressive by the fact that Lisa herself has a shellfish allergy, which is a testament to her genius with the flavours and the skill of her team around her,” Tom adds.

Northcote’s award-winning wine list, curated by its managing director, Craig Bancroft and head sommelier, Magdalena Sleziak, showcases classical wines and regions of Europe and worldwide while also highlighting smaller producers and interesting wines from lesser-known areas and producers.

Tom Hanlon Northcote

Northcote’s ‘Candy Floss’ and ‘Banana Rum Old Fashioned’ are the most popular drinks on the menu. The Candy Floss cocktail won the first-ever Young Mixologist Competition by YCYW. “The recipe uses advanced techniques to create a unique flavour,” Tom shares.

Northcote uses Edwards Potato Vodka infused with vanilla pods as the base. The team combines cold-pressed pineapple juice, Fino sherry, sour mix, and raspberry syrup for the mixer. These ingredients are then clarified with milk to create a smooth, fruity mixer. The team then adds Timur Berry cordial for an exotic flavour that bursts with peppery, floral, and citrus notes. Finally, they finish it with light, spiced raspberry and ginger foam.

Northcote’s Banana Rum Old Fashioned cocktail’s recipe “is unique because it uses a split base of Banana Rum and blended rum from Jamaica and Barbados”, says Tom. The team also uses banana syrup instead of sugar syrup, which gives the cocktail a rich and sweet flavour. Orange bitters balance the flavours, and a Laphroaig Quarter Cask mist finishes the drink for a smoky and petted aroma. The cocktail is served with a small ball of banana chips on the side, making it ideal as an after-dinner digestive.

A valuable career

Unfortunately, the hospitality industry is seeing “far too many establishments closing, which is a real shame”, Tom shares. “Rising living costs, food costs, labour costs are all attributing factors, whereas once upon a time, it was the ability to attract people into the industry with the stigma it posed,” Tom details the challenges the sector is tackling today.

“The industry has changed so much, and I think gone are the days of gruelling shifts, poor work-life balance and the perception of inadequate wages,” says Tom. His experience is that it’s a much more attractive industry to be in now, and it is vital that the industry band together to remain that way. He relays that if you offer quality at a reasonable price, then people, both guests and staff, will come.

“We all have a role to play in addressing these issues,” Tom asserts. Sourcing the best quality ingredients at a good price to deliver great value to the guest is a hugely important need. Creating a great working culture to retain staff focuses on work-life balance, education, training, and comradery, maintaining high service standards and offering great value to the guests is vital. “That’s the keyword, value,” Tom says. “In every aspect, but if it is deemed great value for money, then the industry can flourish,” Tom adds.

“Love it and embrace it” is Tom’s advice for anyone seeking a life in hospitality. Consume knowledge. “Staging can be an amazing way to see lots of different operations and even acquire roles from them,” adds Tom.

“I’ve found having a great attitude will take you very far; all the skills can be taught, but that attitude to succeed and better yourself comes from within,” Tom details. And there’s nothing cheesy about that!

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Editor 14th February 2024

“Skills can be taught, but that attitude to succeed and better yourself comes from within” Tom Hanlon