JM Finn, Talking food with Head of Research John Royden

John Royden has ploughed a fairly unique furrow when you look at his professional career. Currently Head of Research at wealth management firm, JM Finn, he manages a team of analysts who are responsible for identifying investment opportunities for the firm’s 15,000 private clients, and builds risk models in the search for investment out-performance and wealth creation.

Aside from the intellectual niceties of the discounted cashflow model, a passion for fine food and adventure have taken him to some of world’s most inhospitable geographies, harshest commercial climates and indulged him with treats such as silk worm larvae stew and century eggs (eggs marinated in mare’s urine for 100 years).

Adventure has always been in his blood and not just in a foodie way. Prior to starting work at JM Finn, John was a merchant adventurer which took him around the world in search of opportunity. He specialised in shareholder activism for a number of years and at one stage owned a company that did specialist sound, flash and exhaust fume moderation for sniper rifles.

Not being shy of taking time out for academic swotting, he snatched a Distinction in his MBA from the London Business School and recently cracked the unforgiving CFA exams.

“ I love being on first- name terms with my food before I cook and eat it.

John is a keen sailor, and still stalks, shoots or fishes most weekends. He’s climbed extensively in the Alps and Himalayas and swam the channel in 1993. He now has Lake Geneva in his sights; length-wise. He lives in Earls Court with his two Patterdale terriers and girlfriend whose ability to conjure up cascades of culinary delicacies for their five daughters and their extended families and frien

. ..we stood up to leave only to be told that if we carried on drinking at the same rate they’d do a follow on dinner for free!

Out of the three ingredients for dining out –
food, service, and environment – which is the
most important for you?

Food.

Is there a chef you particularly admire, and if so why?

I find the draw of Nobu’s Yellowtail Sashimi with Jalapeno and Black Cod Miso hard to resist. Sadly the wallet insists that this is annual treat rather than anything more frequent.

I’m a member of a private club in St James’ and I’ve got to mention Chef Podmore, who presided over the club for many years. His food was relentlessly delicious, fresh and creative without being overly fussy but still finessing the presentation.

Is there any aspect of dining out that you find especially irritating?

Slow service; especially when I have a hunger about me. But I can tolerate slow service if I am told that things are running as such and given a bread or olives to chew on.

Describe your perfect dining companion.

Someone who laughs at my feeble jokes…! In all seriousness, it would be someone who is gastronomically adventurous. I love trying new food and new venues and particularly enjoy sampling the fruits of foraging in the countryside. I love being on first-name terms with my food before I cook and eat it. Thankfully, my girlfriend ticks all the boxes, including laughing at my jokes… sometimes!

How do you calculate value for money when
paying for a meal?

My key performance indicator is fun per £ spent. Measuring ‘fun’ is usually driven by who I am eating
with first and foremost, then the food and wine, then the environment and service. Compare (a) great food on your own with (b) laughing your way through moderate food with great friends, to see what I mean.

How do you find a good restaurant in an
unfamiliar location?

I usually start by telling people where I am going and getting tips in advance. Short-term queries get well answered by posing the question on Facebook. After that it is walking the streets to see what restaurant is full of people and going for the first opportunity with a menu that resembles a cascade of as yet untried gastronomic delights. Stay clear of menus with photos of the food.

Are there any food critics whose opinions
you respect?

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. We grew up in the same rural, Cotswold village.

Is there a single meal that stands out as the best you’ve ever enjoyed?

No is the short answer. There are lots of meals that stand out and I will walk you through some of them. In the ‘fun’ category must rank a lunch with some friends in Casamalevo, an Argentinian steak house which lasted for a good 12 hours. When we realised that the dinner guests were arriving we stood up to leave only to be told that if we carried on drinking at the same rate they’d do a follow on dinner for free! The lunch at the (no longer) Missouri Restaurant where I wooed my girlfriend brings a smile to my face. Other meals that I never stopped laughing at include a midnight feast in the remote Austrian village of Falkenstein after a great day’s wild boar shooting.

When I think of the best environment, my mind brings forth an outside lunch in Spain. On the top of a great escarpment and with views to die for we tucked into the finest Spanish hams, the now endangered angulas (baby eels) and other local fare; all washed down with the deepest of Riojas and topped out with my Spanish favourite, the 103 (Ciento Tres) brandy.

And then we turn to home cooking. My mother’s and girlfriend’s roast beef and Yorkshire pudding deserve a mention as do numerous weekends spent down in Wales with some old friends. 

My host once said that if I got lost in a forest, that I would emerge clinically obese. Together we are great hunter-gatherers and he is one of the world’s most knowledgeable oenophiles. Before tucking in to some home-reared beef and generously hung venison, we might throw in some oysters or lobsters to start, buckets of fine clarets to carry us through the meat and some large cigars to finish. That would just about sort us for the weekend.

What’s the best hotel you’ve ever stayed in?

In the UK the award has to go to the honey-hued Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in darkest Oxfordshire where Raymond Blanc’s great symphony of décor, pristine gardens and feasts for every one of your senses is hard to beat. If you take time to wander about the lush surrounds, you soon realise that most of the vegetables are home grown and the care and love that goes into them.

Abroad, I think I am going to say the Al Bustan in Oman. I have fond memories of bottomless beef fillet for lunch and hotel staff that surpassed any imaginable level of service. If I was reading my book on a sun-lounger in the vast gardens and were to pause, lower my book and contemplate a cup of tea, a watchful butler would leap out from behind a palm tree, come trotting up and ask me what I wanted. You also get to swim with turtles in the sea.

And the most disappointing?

Defining “disappointing” is probably where to start. I think I will plump for saying the greatest mismatch between expectation and reality. Two nights spring to mind. One was a hotel in Puerto Vallata in Mexico where the blocked drains that ran through the small courtyard in the middle of the hotel were being excavated by amateur plumbers. The other night from hell was the Dover hotel where I stayed before my 1993 Channel swim. The roadworks adjacent to my room were illuminated by a loud chugging diesel generator that kept me awake for just about all the night.

Describe your perfect Last Supper (with wines).

My family and loved ones beside me at the table. And my Patterdale terriers.

Canapes of smoked eel drizzled with lemon juice and sprinkled with Cayenne pepper together with Dom Perignon 2006 would help get things off to a good start.

Cold salad of mixed crab meat and a dozen fresh rock oysters with lemon and Tabasco washed down with a cheeky Chardonnay. Probably Vieilles Vignes Maison Auvigue.

Seared foie gras with a kumquat sauce and chilled Chateau d’Yquem. I have fond memories of 1996 as a year but could easily be persuaded to slide down the years and up the prices.

BBQed medium rare rib-eye from one of my Welsh friend’s well hung bullocks. A bucket of béarnaise, small carrots tossed in butter, sugar, garlic and caraway seeds, creamed spinach and dauphinoise potatoes. Magnums of Chateau Pichon-Longueville, ’96 should do the trick as far as the claret goes.

Before heading off to wander through at least a brace of Montecristo No 2’s and a bottle of my old friend, the 103 brandy, I think I would try and squeeze in some truffled brie and a glass or two of Fonseca 63.