You won’t find white linen tablecloths in either Brad Carter, Tom Brown or Peter Sanchez-Iglesias’ dining rooms, despite all three running high-end restaurants that feature in the Estrella Damm National Restaurant Awards list of the UK’s top 100 restaurants.
Instead, the chef-patron of Carters of Moseley in Birmingham, chef-patron of Cornerstone in Hackney and chef-patron of Casamia and Paco Tapas in Bristol and executive chef of Decimo in London respectively have created restaurants where the focus is on informality rather than starched surroundings, and on fun rather than fine dining.
In their restaurants you’re more likely to hear hip hop or dance over the sound system than your standard dining room background music.
The three restaurateurs got together to discuss how they are helping fine dining shrug off its starchy ad formal image in the latest episode of in the Estrella Damm National Restaurant Awards' Sessions series.
“When I opened [Cornerstone] the first thing I thought about was what do I like about restaurants and what do I not like about restaurants,” says Brown.
“I didn’t want it to be stuffy, I didn’t want it to be formal or quiet, I wanted there to be good music I wanted the decor to be like something I want to look at.”
“The way we think about it is meant to be a fun experience, whether lunch or dinner. At the end of the day you’re parting with money to have a good time. At home you wouldn’t sit there and not talk with tinkling music on.”
“Some of the best spots I’ve eaten in I remember songs being on – being in Ikoyi and hearing Sicko Mode, being in Bibendum and hearing The Killer Moon by Echo & the Bunnymen – and I was thinking ‘yes - this is right!’
Sanchez-Iglesias says his experience of running the more informal restaurants in his group has helped inform his approach at his flagship destination dining restaurant Casamia.
“The thing I learnt from Paco Tapas and Pi Shop is what fun brings to a restaurant. Breaking down the formalities, being really open and creating an environment with people chatting. At Casamia we never really reflected that in the right way. As time went on, I thought ‘this is how everything should be in the restaurant’. You should be able to go out and let yourself go.”
At Carters of Moseley, Carter says the emphasis is on ensuring that his restaurant is both a fun place from him and his team to work and is also an inclusive and friendly environment for his guests.
“It’s really taken us to stick our necks out. This is such a cool creative job and it can be fun. I’ve always had that vision."