Chef Bryn Williams is gearing up to open his first new London restaurant in nearly a decade at Somerset House this spring. Bryn Williams at Somerset House will be a new modern British offering from the celebrated Welsh chef, with a mission to champion the role of vegetables in cuisine. It will replace Tom’s Kitchen, the casual restaurant brand by Tom Aikens and Levy Leisure UK, which has closed after seven years.
Williams, whose pedigree includes stints under Marco Pierre-White and Michel Roux Jr, adds this latest opening to a portfolio that includes Odette’s in Primrose Hill — where he has been chef patron since 2008 — and his other eponymous restaurant, Bryn Williams at Port Eirias, on the northern Welsh coast.
Though Williams’ latest is not to be a vegetarian restaurant per se, the emphasis is placed firmly on the sustainability, seasonality, and provenance of fresh produce: menu items read back-to-front by conventional wisdom, with the addition of proteins at times apparently almost an afterthought. Roast young broccoli with olive tapenade, sage beignet, and scorched Cornish mackerel is joined by char-grilled leeks, Burke Brown egg and morel mushroom and a selection of dishes “from the grill,” including grilled cauliflower, golden raisin, capers and soft polenta. Desserts, like poached rhubarb and blood orange trifle, are focussed on seasonal fruits.
The restaurant, which will draw on the chef’s Welsh roots and the naval history of the building as interior design cues, will also be home to Somerset House’s only draught beer bar, which Williams hopes will help to entice diners into the restaurant from The Strand and — presumably — away from Skye Gyngell’s neighbouring Spring.
Eater London spoke to Williams ahead of his new opening.
A number of restaurant businesses have closed in recent months, with many citing rising costs and increased competition. For what reasons are you confident that you can succeed in spite of this?
One of the main challenges the industry’s facing at the moment is a shortage of chefs and a shortage of skill. I’m a firm believer however, that once you find the right people — and that comes down to their attitude and work ethic — then they stay. It’s all about investing in these people — training them well, treating them well. If your staff are satisfied, then your customers will be satisfied. The success of the business will follow.
Do you have investors?
I have partnered with Levy UK, a leading sports and hospitality catering company to work on a number of really exciting projects. This new venture at Somerset House is part of this partnership.
What do you expect the challenges to be with a central London restaurant compared to a neighbourhood site?
The main difference between a central London restaurant compared to a neighbourhood site is the footfall. At Somerset House we’ll have a lot of customers passing by and coming in spontaneously — we’re going to have to work to entice these people and draw them in, especially with so much competition nearby. On the flipside, Somerset House has a huge resident community that we’re hoping in many ways will give the restaurant and bar its own neighbourhood feel. It will be just as important to keep these neighbours coming back as it will be getting the passing crowd to come in. The good news is that we’ll have a dedicated draught beer bar which will be the only one on the Somerset House premises, that coupled with our fantastic food offer puts us in a great position.
How will you split your time across the portfolio? And are you appointing a head chef for this site?
I have head chefs across all my restaurants, but it’s always been important to me to remain involved in the whole process. At Somerset House I’ve appointed Richard Robinson, who’s brilliant and very capable. I’ll be working closely with him on a daily basis. In terms of my time, I’ve always split it where needed — obviously the launch at Somerset House will be priority over the coming months.
It has become increasingly acceptable to hero vegetables on menus, but is this chosen course also because prices of meat are increasing? And is it also because that area of the market has grown so exponentially?
This focus on fruit and veg and my desire to put these ingredients at the heart of my menu, is because we’re seeing a real demand for it.
People are not only more aware of their health and carbon footprint, but also aware that fresh, locally sourced vegetables, cooked well, can truly be the stars of the show. This is the ethos of my menu at Somerset House.