"I’m not the first restaurant in this situation and I won’t be the last": Damien Wawrzyniak on moving on from his London site

By Georgia Bronte contact

- Last updated on GMT

"I’m not the first restaurant in this situation and I won’t be the last": Damien Wawrzyniak on closing his debut London site
Chef Damien Wawrzyniak recently closed Jan, his first London-based restaurant, after less than a month of trade following a rent hike.

BigHospitality spoke to the Polish chef about why he had to close after such a short time, what his plans are for the future, and how he is introducing the UK to Polish cuisine.

What happened at your London restaurant, Jan?
When I opened Jan in Clapham it wasn’t my first restaurant, but it was my first in London. We were absolutely choc-a-block full with reservations until the end of September, but then the lease review came up and the landlord almost doubled the rent. We couldn’t keep up with that. I’m not the first restaurant in this situation and I won’t be the last.

Would you think about opening in London again?
When I opened Jan, I think I did it too fast. I was always looking to expand, however because of the disputes with the landlord and my managing partner, I wouldn’t do that kind of partnership again. If I did go back to London I'd really have to review the way I do it. Working with landlords at the moment can be very complicated so I’d prefer probably to go into a deal with a hotel.

What’s the concept of your other restaurant, House Of Feasts?
I bought the site last May, and opened it in June, although I was looking after the place since February. It’s a great site, just outside of Peterborough in a small village called Eye Green. It has a big garden, and since I refurbished it it feels like an Eastern European village.

What’s the food like?
House of Feasts champions Polish cuisine whilst also incorporating things I have learned on my travels across Scandinavia, France, the UK and Ireland. The menu displays lots of curing, ageing, and brining- in fact, every single meat in the menu is brined. I don’t really believe in fresh fruit, and so I harvest fruits to preserve them to keep for the next season or even the next year. For example, last year’s elderberries have been dried, and we're just using them now in sauces for the meat and the game we got in November.

Why are you so passionate about Polish food?
I’m trying to bring Polish cuisine to the forefront in a stylish way in the UK, because although there are nearly two million Poles in the UK, there must only be about five restaurants and it’s missing a lot. Our food isn’t 100% authentic Polish, it has influences from other countries, so Polish guests might come and find dishes served in a completely different way to what they would expect.

Would you think about expanding?
If I do expand, it will be my House of Feasts brand I do it with, not Jan. House of Feasts is singularly owned by me, with no partners. I really want to focus on that now, because there are whispers about Michelin inspectors coming to the place. – I don’t know if it’s true or not, but people are talking and I want to focus on that for now. 

What’s been the lowest point of your career?
Jan has been the biggest low point of my career, and the biggest disappointment. That project could have been a huge success. Within the year we would have been booked for another 6 six months, the interest in it was insane. So that was disappointing to have to close it.

What’s been the high point?
House of Feasts is my biggest success, to be able to promote Polish cuisine in a different way. People have travelled 160 miles to us for dinner, to this village where there is absolutely nothing. We don’t even have a shop here, and there are only 12 houses.

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