Tommy Heaney opened his first solo venture Heaney’s in Cardiff in 2018, and quickly received praise from critics and guests. Having worked in restaurants across the globe and has trained under the biggest names in the culinary world including Great British Menu veteran Richard Corrigan, David Everitt-Matthias, Ollie Dabbous and Nacho Manzano at Casa Marcial in Spain. We chatted to Tommy about how Heaney’s has adapted during the pandemic, his favourite ingredients and what’s next:

Hey Tommy! How did it feel to reopen Heaney’s Cardiff following months of closure due to the UK-wide lockdown?

It was a mixture of nerves and excitement. We’ve always been known for our small plates concept, but when we re-opened, we introduced a short and long menu instead – it was a massive risk.

The Sunday Telegraph wrote a fantastic review – must be great to get such a glowing write up during a tough time?

Yes – especially with the new concept! We were busy during lockdown with takeaways, but Heaney’s was closed for around 4 months, so it felt like a new opening all over again. The review has been a massive boost for all the staff.

How has the restaurant dealt with the pandemic? How have the team been?

We were very fortunate that we could furlough all of the staff, my job was to make sure the business survived and was viable. We still had suppliers, rent and bills to pay. Takeaways kept us as a float and proved very popular, we were overwhelmed with the local support. Father’s Day was incredible, we provided 350 takeaway roast dinners! The team have been great throughout, we were in regular contact throughout via zoom and made sure everyone was up to date and informed, I wanted to make them feel as secure as possible.

For anyone unfamiliar with Heaney’s – what can guests expect from the menu?

Something different and unique, but still accessible. We have a short and long menu, the short gives guests an opportunity to come in and sample what we do, whereas the long tasting menu will give you the full experience. We also have Sunday roasts which are really popular.

Your first kitchen experience came at the age of just 14, working in his uncle’s restaurant in America – how was that for you?

It was a real game-changer. I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I was growing up, I was only ever good at sports and art, but I fell into cooking and loved everything about it. There’s lots of adrenalin and I like the pressure and competitiveness, it keeps me on my toes.

You’ve worked in restaurants all over the world – where has been your favourite place?

I think where I am now as it gives me the opportunity to express myself with food. I’m really enjoying what I’m doing at the moment despite the uncertain times, I get to make my own decisions and own mistakes. I did love Australia and the influence of Asian food; this is now reflected in our menu at Heaneys.

What ingredients do you like cooking with the most?

I love fish and shellfish. I try and keep it simple and let the product speak for itself – we work with some incredible suppliers. I find that minimal can be more and give you the best results. The options are endless – cooked, cured or raw, it’s all great.

When you’re at home – what do you like to rustle up? 

It tends to be a case of ready, steady, cook when I’m at home. My ingredients will be whatever we have in the fridge on cupboards, and the BBQ usually ends up being lit at some point (yes, I’ve been known to cook a Christmas turkey on the BBQ).

You’ve competed in the Great British Menu in 2018 – how was that experience for you?

As an experience I really enjoyed it, but it was nerve-wracking and very stressful. Once I got to the finals, I was able to relax a bit more and enjoy the moment. I met some amazing people and friends for life, it also put us on the map to open Heaneys.

What inspires your style of cooking?

Simplicity. It’s changed over the years and there was a point where I felt like I was trying too hard. I’m now a lot more confident in my style of cooking and paired back. I put a lot of trust in my suppliers.

Where do you like to eat if you’re dining out?

I love anywhere with small plates. I enjoy picking at multiple dishes and enjoying them with a pint (or two).  I’m not a big eater so I like to pick and share. My go-to is somewhere where I can chill out and enjoy myself. I think there’s a time and a place for ‘fussy’ restaurants where you have to whisper.

Looking back on your career would you do anything differently?

I would have changed my whole career path – maybe I would be a bricklayer! All jokes aside, I had an obsession with trying to be a boss at a young age and trying to get to the top too young. If I could go back, I would try and learn off as many people as possible and keep my head down.

What has 2021 got in store for Heaney’s?

Lots! And that includes being open (hopefully!). We’ve just introduced The Tent which is our heated outdoor seating area – I’d like to keep developing that. I have about 120 thoughts a day but I’m definitely thinking about a cocktail bar upstairs or some sort of accommodation. I just want to keep pushing and adapting. Anything is possible – even a kitchen refurb in the middle of a pandemic!

For more information on Heaney’s, click here.