A winning combination


Alex and Virginia Boyd opened Kumquat on The Pantiles exactly a year ago. Since then they have seen their establishment – which specialises in Asian fusion food – thrive.
Last week the pair’s hard work paid off when they won Start-Up Business of the Year at the Times Business Awards. Alex reveals the recipe of their success to Eileen Leahy


It’s not every day you get to meet a talented local chef whose culinary CV boasts the names of some of London’s top restaurants, including L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon and Scott’s of Mayfair. Or who has cooked for members of the Royal Family and numerous A-list celebrities. But over the past 28 years of his career, that’s exactly what Alex Boyd of Kumquat on The Pantiles has done – and quite rightly he’s very proud of it.

“I’ve had a privileged career,” he smiles as we sit down to chat over a coffee in the restaurant he and his wife, Virginia, who hails from Hong Kong, opened last April.

Kumquat has certainly started to make a name for itself in that short time, thanks to building up a loyal clientele and launching a series of sell-out special dining events. And being named Start Up Business of the Year at last week’s Times Business Awards has been the icing on the cake.

“We didn’t expect to win at all but wow – we were so pleased,” said Virginia on the night of the gala dinner at Salomons Estate on Thursday, March 30.

Alex goes on to tell me all about how his dedication to cooking has always been a constant in his life.

“I knew from a very young age I wanted to be a chef. That passion led to me training at the prestigious Westminster Catering College, whose alumni includes Jamie Oliver, Ainsley Harriott and Antony Worrall Thompson.

“I had a classic French training there, which was further enhanced with placements such as at Scott’s of Mayfair. The hours were long but it was an amazing experience.”

This was in the mid-1990s, when chefs such as Marco Pierre White, Gordon Ramsay and the late Gary Rhodes were becoming superstars in their own right thanks to their revolutionary cooking and new-found celebrity status.

Another top chef of the time was Pierre Koffmann of La Tante Claire, a multi Michelin-starred restaurant in Chelsea, where Alex started working after he graduated from Westminster.

Alex bolstered his chef’s CV by working in other prestigious kitchens in the capital, including The Montcalm Hotel, where he was sous chef under the late Steve Whitney. Steve was known in the restaurant world as the right-hand man for Anton Mosimann at The Dorchester.

Fast forward a few years later though and Alex found himself wanting a change, so he took up the offer of going to work in Hong Kong, which is where he met his wife, Virginia.

“I went out on a whim in 2003 and absolutely loved it. They love food in Hong Kong and it’s not just Chinese cooking. There’s all sorts of Asian cuisine – Thai, Korean and Vietnamese – to enjoy, too.”

On returning to London in 2006 with Virginia, Alex got a job at the two Michelin-starred L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon in the West End. There, he was still able to indulge in his passion for Asian cuisine, thanks to Robuchon’s style of cooking.

“He had a lot of Japanese influence in his cooking so there was a teppanyaki grill to work on and no pans, or butter! As a classically trained chef, I managed to acquire lots of new skills and knowledge thanks to him.”

Alex admits the hours were long and so he started looking for a more 9 to 5 role as he and Virginia had just had their first child.

He eventually secured the role of running the catering arm of the National Tennis Centre for the Lawn Tennis Association in Roehampton and did lots more events.

“That’s where I met The Queen,” Alex confides before saying that he’s been “fortunate enough to cook for most members of the Royal Family”.

“I even did Prince William’s 18th birthday party in Chelsea,” he says. “I’ve been lucky to work for some really big names and been in the right place at the right time. When I was at Mansion House in 2014 I was doing purely banqueting which was a fabulous experience. I cooked for the likes of Bill Clinton, the King of Spain, the Premier of China. I’ve also cooked for lots of celebrities over the years too, like Sir Richard Branson and Robbie Williams.”

After then being appointed Executive Chef at St Ermin’s Hotel in St James’s, where he gained two AA rosettes, things all changed again when Covid hit. But Alex saw it as a chance for change.

“Virginia and I had always toyed with the idea of opening something ourselves over the years but nothing was ever quite right. But this time it was like Covid forced our hand. We always thought Tunbridge Wells would be the perfect place to open a restaurant as people would appreciate what we wanted to do.”

Alex explains that was to fuse Virginia’s Hong Kong foodie heritage with his classic training in order to develop a really exciting menu.

They got the keys to their Pantiles establishment in January 2022, and opened the following April as an all-day dining destination serving breakfast, brunch and lunch.

“The plan wasn’t for me to be here full-time, but as we couldn’t find any chefs we realised I would have to be! And that’s when we decided to make Kumquat more of a restaurant. We’re now open from Tuesday to Saturday evening and we’re working on making the menu more ‘Modern Asian’.

“This means that there will be influences from Japan, Vietnam, Thailand, Korea and China. I want to take traditional Asian dishes people already know and give them a modern twist. We did this with our recent Chinese New Year and Blind Tasting menus and we hope to do more of these events.

“We want to offer something different to everywhere else, and our goal for 2023 is to become a destination restaurant. And after our Times Business Awards win, hopefully things are going in the right direction already!”

More details, including menus and bookings at: kumquat.fusion and @kumquatrestaurant

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