Berners Tavern, under the direction of much-celebrated chef Jason Atherton, is the most glamorous (and hard-to-get) reservation in London these days. Atherton is known for his fresh approach to traditional British cuisine, while steadfastly using only the very best ingredients. Now he’s showing the world just how fantastic British food can be, opening nothing less than a mini-restaurant empire that extends from London to Dubai to Shanghai to Singapore to Hong Kong.
Celebrity sightings abound at this, Atherton’s latest London opening. Housed in the Edition Hoteljust North of Oxford Street, it is jaw-droppingly beautiful, the walls crammed with artwork, framed by ornate plasterwork that seems to ooze off the walls. It’s a bit like sitting inside a Faberge egg.
Food in the bustling dining room brings to mind the delights of eating in the best brasseries in Paris: steak and chips, British Fruit of the Sea platter, oysters. Dishes are packed with flavors that are conventional but which are used in a way that makes them taste new. A nifty trick, no?
Travel + Leisure recently sat down with the very busy chef to discuss his success, life on the road, and the London food scene.
Q: How did the idea for Berners Tavern come about?
JA: I was greatly inspired by the great dining rooms in London—like The Wolseley and The Delaunay, where serious restaurateurs get breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner really correct—and also by hotels like The Ritz. Not many fine-dining chefs can pull that off, and so I wanted to be one of the first to get it right. The idea was coming up with a really great English breakfast concept which then carried on to brunch dishes, which then went on to being an amazing lunch service, afternoon tea, then dinner, and then a late night menu. Most fine-dining chefs would turn their nose up at the concept, but I looked at it as a challenge. When you walk into Berners Tavern dining room, it screams that it needs to be an all-day dining concept.
Q: What do you see happening in London's food culture at the moment?
JA: There are a lot of young chefs appearing who are starting up small restaurants with tasty food menu-only concepts and a lot of “dude food,” which is exciting. I really think London’s food scene is going from strength to strength and I really believe that London is one of the food capitals of the world.
Q: Is there a dish at any of your restaurants you most enjoy cooking?
JA: Probably the venison dish at Pollen Street Social with the various beetroots, red cabbages and red lettuce, just purely because it’s so wintery, warm-looking, and inviting.
Q. As you're on the road a lot, with restaurants in Dubai and Hong Kong opening this year, what kitchen tools do you take with you?
JA: The only kitchen tool I take with me is my laptop, my list of twenty-odd-thousand recipes on it, my brain, and my pair of hands—that’s all I take and the rest of it is already in every restaurant I have.
Q: Is the success daunting? With one critic recently calling Berners Tavern London's restaurant of the decade, how does this impact your work?
JA: For me, journalists have a different view on things compared to chefs. I never think for one second that any of our restaurants are the “restaurant of the decade.” I am flattered by the review and I’m very grateful for sure, but for me it’s always about making sure that when the guests come back they have a good time, the service is correct, and our restaurants are at the top of their game. And yes, I’m always trying to look for new ways to make the place better.
Sally Hurst is a chef and food writer based in London. You can follow her on Twitter at @chefsallyjane.