We love good food and drinks, we only use quality ingredients, from our coffee to our vegetables. We then use refined skills to turn them in to something great!
At Kumquat, we have the perfect mix of experience in order to bring the flavours of South East Asia and combine them in to quality modern dishes. This combination takes known and loved dishes and raises them to another level with the exciting flavours that come from South East Asian ingredients.
This is Our Story...
An only child Virginia was born in Hong Kong, from a family who used to run several bars and restaurants there and a 100 bedroom hotel in China.
As well as working with her family, she was with Dun & Bradstreet in business solutions and in management. “I think I’m quite good at management, fixing things, fixing problems and fixing matters. People come to me and say, Virginia how do I solve this problem? I like guiding”. Virginia also studied in the UK and has been coming here since she was 16. She loves singing, dancing and talking to people.
Alex and Virginia met whilst he was working in Hong Kong, through a mutual friend. His first question was, “How are you” and the second was, “Will you be my girlfriend”? Safe to say it was love at first sight, but Virginia already had been going through a tough time with her partner and was not ready for another relationship. They became friends for the next 3 years and one day met up when she was single. She had heard he was going back to the UK soon. Over the next month they fell in love. She quit her job, moved back to the UK, they married and soon after Virginia was pregnant. Little did they know the trauma that lay ahead of them. Their beautiful baby girl Gabriella was born with gastroschisis. Their lives were put on hold and for the coming years they spent much of their time in hospital, whilst Alex tried to provide for his family. Their tenacity, family support and Gabriella’s determination for survival, got them through this worrying period. Now Gabriella and her brother Severo have a bright future ahead of them, which is to be truly applauded.
Alex was 26 when he found his soulmate but now needed to go home, his father was dying of Polio which he had suffered from since he was 6 months old. Alex had cared for him from a young age until he remarried, but had to return to him. His parents had divorced when he was 5. Originally Alex lived with his mother but while still young he decided he wanted to live with his father, who was originally a photographer, however as Post-Polio Syndrome slowly took hold, he lost his physical abilities and Alex became his carer from the age of 10 until he was 18.
His father always enjoyed experimenting with food. From a young age, Alex would cook with him and loved creating recipes. One day he asked him, “Does a chef make a lot of money”? His father said, “They can do if they are very good”. From that day on Alex knew what he wanted to be. One day he would be a successful chef and open his own place.
From the age of 15 Alex worked. He was extremely determined and had to grow up very quickly. He got his GCSE in Catering, then attended Westminster College for a Professional Chef’s Diploma. Keen to gain experience but wanting to continue his studies, he did work experience at The Lanesborough, was sent to Scott’s of Mayfair, where after 2 months he was offered a place in the kitchen and in his third year worked part-time at Le Meridien in Piccadilly. Citing Pierre Koffmann as his biggest influence to this day, Alex left college to work for him at La Tante Claire for a year.
He jokingly says, “Chef taught me how to cook pig trotters properly”! Valuable lessons were learnt here and have stayed with him throughout his career. After Pierre, Alex went to The Montcalm Hotel as Chef de partie. During his probation he was offered Junior Sous Chef and eventually achieved Senior Sous Chef before leaving to become Head Chef at Spearmint Rhino at the age of 21, during its hay day when mega celebrities would visit.
Originally, Alex had made a plan to travel the world as a chef and so he went to France to work for Alain Ducasse, but was told he would struggle not speaking any French. A friend suggested he go to Hong Kong and so at 23 he jumped on a plane and ended up launching V Restaurant and Bar as Head chef, becoming General Manager within 1.5 years. Hong Kong is where he met the love of his life, Virginia. Returning to the UK to care for his dying father, Alex went on to work for L’Atelier De Joel Robuchon, before becoming Head of Catering at the Lawn Tennis Association, where he stayed for 7 years before taking redundancy and moving to The Mansion House, official residence of The Lord Mayor of London, as Executive Chef, cooking for many members of The Royal Family and other distinguished dignitaries from all over the world, such as The King of Spain, The Chairman of China, an Ex American President and other international royalty. 2 years later Alex was appointed Executive Head Chef at St Ermin’s Hotel with 6 outlets, 35 chefs and 10 porters pre-Covid. It was here that he was finally able to achieve some recognition for all of his years of hard work, winning 2 AA rosettes and close to earning 3 before the pandemic stopped the standard he was building.
A new chapter begins…
Always the ultimate ambition to open their own restaurant and using funds from Alex’s LTA redundancy, Alex and Virginia considered opening a deli come brasserie in Bromley, but having visited Tunbridge Wells and liking the atmosphere, energy and character of this vibrant town so much, they have found an ideal space along The Pantiles. It will be a restaurant offering European food with an Asian flavour. “I wanted to make Alex’s dream come true”. Virginia fondly calls herself his porter. “We don’t need to speak we just do”.
After 16 years of tough chef’s schedules and overcoming adversity, the family have finally taken the plunge. Virginia says, “After so much of my time in the hospital, I’d lost my confidence, my smile and ability to communicate with people. I hadn’t focused on my career for many years, instead helping my children to set themselves on a path to success. But there is truly no reason why I can’t start again, as long as I believe in myself”. They very much wish to include Gabriella and Severo in the business, (Gabriella designed their appealing logo that stands proud in the window).
Our philosophy, “Do everything with passion. When you do things from love, success will come. No matter how many days of life you have, always do your best and you will have no regrets”. Since Kumquat Café started, Virginia feels rejuvenated. Passion, patience, and care are her mantra. A vibrant personality she adores being front of house, listening to customers share their life stories with her. “I hardly had any friends because a lot of the time we were in the hospital. Now I have so many in Tunbridge Wells”. Alex is free to create dishes that represent his repertoire of talent and creativity, whilst gaining valuable time with his beloved family.
Alex you deserve the dream you have wished for and Virginia, you lost your voice but now you can be yourself again. Welcome to the world, Kumquat Fusion Café and Kitchen.
Written by Bibi Roy