"The nerves are still there": Bryn Williams on his new Somerset House restaurant

By Stefan Chomka contact

- Last updated on GMT

"The nerves are still there": Bryn Williams on his new Somerset House restaurant

Related tags: Somerset house, Fruit, Vegetable

The chef-patron of Odette’s in Primrose Hill and head chef at Bryn Williams at Porth Eiras in Wales is opening his second London venue mid next month - an 80-cover, veg-centric restaurant in Somerset House.

It’s been 10 years since you took over Odette’s. What’s taken so long to open a second London restaurant?
I’ve had offers before but this one just felt right. Opening Bryn Williams at Somerset House is similar to Bryn Williams at Porth Eiras (the seaside bistro he opened in Wales in 2005). It’s all day dining and nice and informal. Another Odette’s wouldn’t work and I wouldn’t want to do another one, I’d just become a businessman and the people at Somerset House didn’t want that.

Are you nervous about opening in somewhere like Somerset House?
With Porth Eiras I work within a building owned by the council. Once I got my head around that and saw what they brought to the building it became really enjoyable. It’s sort of the same working with Somerset House. There are lots of people working within it and so hopefully we’ll get some of them on board as regulars and also attract the tourists. I can see how it’s going to work but only because I’ve done Porth Eiras. But don’t get me wrong, I’m still shitting myself. When opening a business your balls are on the block, regardless of whether it’s here, a pub in the country or a restaurant in the middle of town, the nerves are still there.

The style of the food is veg centric, which is similar to Skye Gyngell’s Spring (also in Somerset House). How come you’re doing something similar next to her?
It’s purely coincidence. I’m lucky that my brother grows a lot of fruit and veg for me at Odette’s and when you start to speak to the customers about it they love it. A lot of people order the vegetable tasting menu at Odette’s even though they are not vegetarians. This is not a vegetarian restaurant but we are giving the same amount of attention to fruit and vegetables as we are the meat. We are starting with the fruit and veg and seeing what else goes with it. Five years ago people were knocking vegetarian restaurants but they have become a big part of our industry now.

Will your brother supply the new restaurant?
We won’t get that much from him. The story is not that he’s growing the fruit and veg for us because he can’t physically do it for three restaurants, but he may give us a bit.

What’s on the menu?
It’s going to be split into sections so there will be salads, such as salad nicoise; and charred chicory with sour onions, smoked ricotta, rapeseed oil dressing, and small and seasonal plates (Norfolk sand carrots, hand-dived scallop and sauterne; pickled mooli, black garlic, raw apple, sage and Cumbrian beef; compressed watermelon, avocado, Dorset crab and sea vegetables), but it won’t be separated into meat, fish and veg. I want people to have a nice piece of fish but it shouldn’t dominate the dish. There will be a grill section with the likes of grilled cauliflower with golden raisin, capers, soft polenta and a Cumbrian pork T-bone with burnt apple and olive mash and we’ll be pickling a lot of things. A lot of people these days want to eat lighter and healthier food, which is what we will be serving. There are a lot of younger creative people who work in the area and we will be catering for their market.

It’s all day, so you’ll be doing breakfast?
Yes, but it will be things like a croissant or muesli. It’s a light breakfast offer that’s good for morning meetings. There will be no fry up.

And have a craft beer bar...
We’ll have two really local beers on tap from barrels that will be on show and we’ll change them every couple of months. We’ll also have loads of gins in there as well.

How will you split your time?
My office is at Odette’s and I’ll spend 80% of my time there even though I’m head chef at the two places. I want somewhere I can consistently work. For the first couple of months I’ll be at Somerset House every day but after that I’ll be back at Odette’s. It’s about trusting the people you put in place [the day-to-day chef will be Richard Robinson, head chef at Levy Restaurants at Somerset House].

You’ve been at Odette’s 10 years. Has much changed in this time?
We still have a lunch menu two courses for £18 but the restaurant has changed. It has become a more relaxed and informal environment; we got rid of the tablecloths.

Has it become tougher to run a neighbourhood restaurant than when you opened?
It has got easier in a sense because you know what you customers want because you listen to them, but you’ve still got to work really hard at it. I’m not putting my feet up in the office every day, I’m still at the stove grafting and sweating away first thing in the morning.

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