Meet the chef: Theo Clench of Cycene


It often takes chefs, even those who have enjoyed a career under the tutelage of famous culinary experts at award-winning restaurants, years to achieve a Michelin star. A rigorous examination that scrutinises presentation, flavours and even restaurant ambience, the annual test is one that is in equal parts celebrated and feared. Theo Clench, executive chef at the Blue Mountain School’s Cycene restaurant in Shoreditch, however, made earning the accolade almost look easy, having been awarded with one just six months after opening. 

Brighton native Clench had his first taste of the culinary world in a quaint seaside tearoom (via Wagamama) and went on to work in five-star establishments such as The Stafford and Bonhams, the now-closed Michelin star auction house outpost on Bond Street. No stranger to the capital, Clench returned from a jaunt in Australia with an ambition to bring something new to London’s food scene. Enter Blue Mountain School, where he has collaborated with co-founders James and Christie Brown to offer Shoreditch a new cultural space boasting a library, shop, gallery, listening space and, of course, a new restaurant. 

Cycene, which means kitchen in Old English, opened in October 2022 and aims to emulate the atmosphere of a dinner at a private home. Decked out with white table cloths, candles and unique art, the dimly-lit 15-cover dining room only serves a 10-course menu inspired by Clench’s travels in East Asia and Australasia, while also drawing on his passion for seafood and game. In equal parts meal and journey, guests are served a bread course and a range of kombuchas, low-intervention wines and aperitifs in the ground-floor bar, before heading upstairs for dishes such as chicken liver and red pepper comte, oyster with cucumber and caviar, and scallops in brown butter and schrenkii. 

So, how does one achieve a Michelin star so quickly? Clench lets us in on his secret…


Theo Clench (right) with James and Christie Brown, founders of Blue Mountain School. Image: Rory Van Millingen

Tell me about your childhood.

I grew up in Brighton with my parents, brother and sister. As a household, food was always a very important part of every day. We didn’t go out and eat a lot but it was important that everyone was home for dinner and we’d sit and have a family meal. I didn’t know what I wanted to do as a job when I was young, I always liked cooking at home and eating, and a job as a kitchen porter at the age of 14 was my first foray into the world of hospitality. I became a waiter and then I got a job at Wagamama making juice. 18 months later, I was running the kitchen. I worked at various gastropubs and rose through the ranks, before moving to pursue a career as a chef in London.

What’s your earliest food memory?

My first real food memory was with my dad, he used to take me to the fishmongers every weekend. We’d often buy a crab, take it home and cook it and then he’d teach me how to dress it and pick it. I also have fond memories of our family meals and I think it’s so important that we made that time [for each other].


Image: Rebecca Dickson

When did you move to London?

I moved to London when I was 22 and took a position at The Stafford Hotel. I quickly realised the hotel environment wasn’t for me so I badgered Adam Byatt for a job at Trinity [Byatt’s restaurant in Clapham Old Town], where I spent nearly two years. That was the kitchen that really made me — it was proper cooking, everything was cooked in a pan. It was old school.

I then moved to Bonhams and we got a [Michelin] star in seven months. After taking some time out in Australia, I returned to take over the head chef position before a stint at the Clove Club. My next position was head chef of Portland, just before the pandemic, and then I went to Akoko [serving Michelin-starred West African cuisine in Fitzrovia].

Tell me about your time at Akoko.

I was offered the opportunity during Covid. It was a risk going to work at a restaurant serving a cuisine that I didn’t know, to start from scratch and learn again, as it was completely new ingredients that I hadn’t seen before and new ways of thinking. A lot of people said don’t do it but I am always happy that I did. I spent all of lockdown learning about West African food, brought in a new team and helped to develop the menu. I would like to think I helped to put the restaurant on the map.

What drew you to Cycene? What influences your menus?

I developed the idea for Cycene with James and Christie Brown, the owners of Blue Mountain School, where the restaurant is located. We were very lucky to meet when we did because the type of restaurant we both wanted to create aligned. The menu is influenced by food I like to eat and my travels around the world, sourcing the best ingredients and letting them shine on the plate in an elegant and precise way.

How does it feel to be awarded a Michelin star less than six months after opening?

It feels unbelievable — it’s [an] ambition I’ve worked towards since I was 19 years old and a standard to hold myself to. I’ve retained stars at different restaurants in the past with the team that I’m currently working with, so you could say we’ve always been operating at that level, but to receive recognition within such a short period of time, and for a restaurant that I can call my own, is really special.

What’s your favourite dish on the menu?

It’s difficult to pick because I like them all in different ways; they’re all a reflection of me and my style of cooking. Dishes that are becoming, what you could call, our ‘signatures’ are the turbot and oyster but every dish is unique in its own right. I’m really proud of the chocolate sabayon tart with roasted sweet potato ice cream because I spent several years developing and perfecting the recipe.


Image: Rebecca Dickson

What is your favourite London restaurant?

Kurisu Omakase in Brixton. It’s incredible quality sushi but in a very unique environment. Chris [Restrepo] is a raw talent and doing something really special in the heart of Brixton.

Are there any other London chefs you’re impressed with?

Rafael Cagali at Da Terra, which has two Michelin stars, is doing something really special. I’m yet to go but I’ve been watching the evolution of the restaurant for a while and as soon as I have the time, I’m planning to visit.

How do you spend your free time away from the restaurant?

You’re never truly away from the restaurant. There is always work to be done, whether that’s sourcing new ingredients or perfecting recipes. In the limited free time I do get, I spend time with my girlfriend and head to the gym whenever I can, which clears my mind.


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