The award-winning chef set up his first restaurant – the acclaimed Brunswick House – at the tender age of 24. Now, posing within the storied walls of this Grade-listed eatery, Boxer talks style and comfort food as Thomas Pink’s latest Profiles in Pink star
It is telling that chef Jackson Boxer’s style icon is misanthropic Irish writer Samuel Beckett. Part beatnik – favouring black turtlenecks, wireframed glasses and the occasional slinky scarf mixed with chunky Aran sweaters and skinny suits under raincoats – Beckett’s style was offbeat yet recognisable. And Boxer, with his Alex Turner-esque swept-back hair and chunky silver jewellery, is apparently following suit.
The award-winning chef is, however, all smiles for the Thomas Pink team at Brunswick House, the restaurant he founded aged 24. The Georgian mansion and former antiques shop (happily, much of its curious mix of salvage and antique furnishings is still available to purchase) is an architectural gem that stands incongruously against Vauxhall’s towering modern skyscrapers. Boxer is part of a British food dynasty: his grandmother, Arabella, is a renowned food writer, while his father, Charlie, runs Italian delicatessen Italo in Bonnington Square. Then there’s his younger brother, Frank, who is the brains behind hipster hotspot Frank’s Cafe in Peckham. So it’s little surprise that Jackson Boxer’s life and career has revolved around food.
As a teenager, he worked under St John’s co-founder Margot Henderson, washing pots and learning the ropes before launching himself into Brunswick House – self-described as ‘sharp modern cooking in a magnificent antique residence’ – in his early 20s. He also runs successful seafood spot Orasay in Notting Hill. The father of four’s most recent endeavour is Below Stone Nest, a bar on Shaftesbury Avenue, and he has curated the menu at newly relaunched country hotel Cowley Manor.
Brunswick House is also now part of The Art of Dining: Celebrate London Restaurants, a new initiative from food anthropologist and academic Christina Makris. The enterprise aims to celebrate the art of dining that has shaped London’s restaurant culture for half a century, while telling the stories behind a selection of independent chefs and restaurateurs. Thomas Pink is a partner of the Celebrate London Restaurants campaign, and it was a natural choice to bring Boxer on board as our latest Profiles in Pink interviewee. Not least because the animated and articulate chef really looks model-ready in a series of Thomas Pink suits, striped shirts and cosy outerwear. Beckett would approve.
JB: It’s very telling that almost all my early memories are associated with food. Food has such a deep and intrinsic connection to memory, especially for me. I suppose the firmest memory I have is being taught by my granny – who lived in the country and was an amazing gardener – how to plant and cultivate some seeds my aunt had given me for my fifth birthday. I remember the first thing that I picked was a radish, and I’d never eaten one before. When you’re five you have a very delicate palate. And this was, without doubt, the most pungent, eye-watering unpleasant, aggressive, explosive thing I’d ever tasted. I cried, but they were also kind of tears of pride because I’d grown this thing. And it also felt like an incredibly adult thing to have grown this horrible-tasting thing, which I was then forced to eat, through sheer force of will. It made a very deep and lasting impression on me.
Dinner at home. I spend a completely unreasonable amount of time in restaurants. One of the strange ironies of working around food all the time is that you’re never hungry. I never want to eat in my own restaurants, especially. The restorative joys of a home-cooked meal are completely incomparable.
There are lots and lots of unusual things that I would like to eat and there are lots of unusual things that I have yet to eat. Possibly the oddest thing that I’ve eaten was jellified monkfish bone marrow, which is like a little sack of jelly that you pop out of the vertebrae of a large fish. It doesn’t really have much flavour, but it’s a textural delight.
In all honesty, I don’t yet think that the London restaurant scene has recovered the creativity or vitality or confidence that it had before Brexit or the pandemic.
Hot toast with far too much butter.
On the one hand, every time someone comes to the restaurant, eats the food, gets looked after and leaves happy, that’s a moment of huge pride for me. And I’m very lucky because that happens a lot. So I’m constantly feeling very proud of both myself and my team. On the other hand, I still feel like I’m only just getting started with this. I still feel hugely aware of all my failings and my inadequacies, and I’m constantly striving to improve and get better at what I do. I haven’t ever really felt a huge amount of pride, if I’m honest, professionally speaking. I hope one day to be good. And I hope one day to build things that I’m truly and unreservedly proud of, but I am still working towards that.
Sipping an incredibly pure and concentrated cup of warm chicken consommé in the company of my children watching the sunset.