Francis Woolf, sort of worked as an actor, flipped burgers, created art through food and eats offal listening to death metal, what the F_ _k!? Firmly stepping off the boards in favour of the kitchen, Francis now has his own place, it’s crisp and most importantly to Francis, priced right.
An air of ease fills the room as Francis shares his journey to the kitchen, whether that be a result of his theatrical guile or a sense of belonging, it’s easy to see him as an actor but more importantly exciting to witness him as a chef. Francis sits proud in his restaurant, the ‘Woolf & Social’, an establishment set up with his friend and business partner Felix Rehberg. The restaurant speaks of his varied culinary experience, it feels like you are fine dining from a page of Creative Review with a whiff of street food floating by, so hats off to Tooting Bec. Tooting Bec is where Francis first ran a kitchen, albeit to supplement his acting career. Guaranteed, it wasn’t the ideal establishment as Francis openly admits, ‘It was basically a coke den and I was flipping burgers for the few people who could keep something down’, but it figured. Perhaps a little more influential to the face and service of the ‘Woolf & Social’ was his time spent at ‘Blanch & Shock’ where Francis worked alongside artists and designers exploring a less conventional approach to food. ‘They weren’t governed by the same rules as a French kitchen… we were creating art through food’. Relishing the liberal approach of ‘Blanch & Shock’, the breaking of hierarchy, the sharing of ideas and muddling of visual flare with flavour combinations Francis was now fully armed. Propped up by the previous year’s experience as a Sous Chef under James Knox Boothman and various dalliances with street food, Francis had a clear direction and a determined idea on what the dining experience should be.
‘Citizen Smith’ hat firmly on Francis opened the ‘Woolf & Social’ late 2015 and priced his menu for the people, ‘the social element is what we are really interested in … fine dining-esque food at an affordable price’. Francis’ theory on food is one of sharing, a scrum down with a plethora of dishes, and like in his kitchen, all formalities set aside. Finding ourselves stood up, saluting ‘Power to the Food’ we crumbled when Francis spoke of his own eating habits. ‘My normal meals are midnight… packet noodles, Chinese dumplings all boiled up together, then I crack an egg into the middle and that that poaches then I put processed cheese over the top and it melts’. A gasp leaked into the room as he went on to explain this feast would be enjoyed in front of the television filling out the next day’s orders. A guilty Francis reasoned, ‘My only saving grace is that David Chang does the same thing’. Understanding we are talking to a busy man, and shy off the question being reversed, we were pleased to hear on his days off a much more rounded story, six friends sharing a Salmon Frittata followed by an Easter Egg hunt. Now somewhat re-wooed we probed Francis’ favourite eating experiences and unprepared found our ears pined back as he walked us through the eating of Offal to the ambience of Death Metal. ‘I must try and remember some of the dishes… a lot of the dishes were done on flat breads because it’s done on this big mangal… so they are all charred, just cooked offaly dishes and they are absolutely brilliant.’ Francis talked of ‘Black Axe Mangal’ a Death Metal Offal bar in Islington, a million miles from the sharp ‘Woolf & Social’ but one to explore.
A little scared and wanting to stay on point we entertained Francis with the question of his ideal picnic, fortunately, calm was resumed, ‘Keith Floyd, he would be cooking fresh fish, there would be loads of people sat around, a few nice glasses of plonk and British Sunshine’. Increasingly we are understanding that the social aspect, the setting has to run in harmony or equally disharmony with the food, Francis is about the whole experience and we once again get to our feet and salute him.