When asked to define the food at his Michelin-starred restaurant Trinity, chef-owner Adam Byatt says it’s impossible – the eating out scene is just evolving too fast.
“I think it’s very difficult to pigeonhole restaurants nowadays in London and I tend to steer away from it because London has become this melting pot of some of the best global cuisines in the world,” he says.
“I think it’s because we don’t really have a food culture, so it’s allowed all these amazing people to come and penetrate the food scene in London with the best Japanese, Indian, Thai, Korean. If you tried to do that in a really well-established place like Paris or Barcelona it kinda wouldn’t wash as they already have so much structure to their food scene.”
But Byatt does foresee restaurants like Trinity – with white tablecloths and high hospitality levels – becoming a rare breed in the coming year, not that he is worried. The chef not only captures the fine dining market, but his other venture Upstairs, aptly named as it sits above Trinity, is a more casual affair, while his third restaurant, Bistro Union, is targeted at everyone from families to couples. He’s also a chef consultant for caterer Bartlett Mitchell, where he hosts client master-classes, advises on sustainable sourcing and creates signature dishes for client restaurants.
Away from his kitchens, Byatt is also dipping into mentoring young chefs as part of the San Pellegrino Young Chef Competition, where he will be one of the judges at the local final held in November.
He sat down with Sarah Sharples to discuss how he wants to make vegetarian food edgier, what it’s like to introduce at least 50 new dishes to a menu a year and why cooking will become more ingredient led.
At Upstairs, 50% of the menu is vegetable based. It’s not strictly vegetarian, although about 25% is strictly vegetarian. Then another 25% is vegetable focused – vegetable hero dishes that are seasoned with meat or have protein accompanying them to give them that lift and that energy and make them much more interesting, different and delicious.
I definitely see a trend towards that flexitarian diet and movement and I think it’s brilliant. I’m all about it. My family eat like that – probably three or four days a week they eat completely vegetarian. All of my teams across the three restaurants eat vegetarian four days a week, real nice quality meat twice a week and then fish once a week.
I’m classically French trained so everything is deeply rooted in classical French gastronomy, but the ingredients we use are a lot from the UK – 85% from the UK. But I don’t shy away from making ravioli, or using Greek olive oil, or buying the best pigeons from France, or using foie gras, or using truffles from Perigord, so it’s a real melting pot.
There are a few dishes on the menu at Trinity that can’t come off anymore as they are so popular. There’s a pig trotter dish that I did eight or nine years ago now. It’s actually quite simple: we braise the pig trotter with smoked ham hock, take all the meat off, dice it very finely, mix it with the braising liquid, set it the fridge and then breadcrumb it and deep-fry it. It’s like a croquette type of thing and we serve it with a sauce gribiche, which is a classical French dressing with capers, shallots, sieved eggs and sieved white vinaigrette, then add a little fried quail egg and some crackling. Actually, the dish is very old school now, a bit old hack, I’m sort of sick of it, but it’s probably put my children through school, so I can’t knock it too much and I can’t really take it off the menu, as every time I do people come here for it.
I think the most modern interesting dish that we serve is the steak tartare with the Oscietra caviar and the pickled mushrooms.
We change the menu around a dish a week, so around 50 to 60 dishes a year, at Trinity. Upstairs we change the menu daily, but at Trinity it’s a much longer process, more drawn out, there is much more work that goes into it.
We have a 60 to 70% success rate and a 30% drop off rate [with new dishes]. Those dishes, either they cost too much so they push the menu price way too far, the supplier can’t get me that product on a consistent enough basis that I can consistently run it, the team cannot deliver the dishd uring busy times in the restaurant… or actually I eat it and just think that it doesn’t fit the flavour profile that we want.
We don’t go out to explore and change the wheel or try to come up with a new, most innovative way of cooking. We have no interest in that. We would much rather cook things classically and solidly and work out how we can make that even better by purifying the flavour or by buying the very best.
I have been cooking for 28 years professionally and I think that gives you a back catalogue and a repertoire that is far reaching and in-depth. That is super helpful, and the team are young and they give great inspiration. But actually it’s the seasons that dictate.
I left school, I went to work and I worked for 12 years and had very few holidays. Out of all those sacrifices I have ended up with a career that is pretty nice, but now I travel a lot. I went to 14 countries last year – last week I went to Beirut, the week before I went to Berlin – and that I find super interesting.
I went to Beirut and I was very interested in the style of cuisine, because I want us to cook vegetarian food better and be sharper and more interesting... I found it absolutely fascinating and came out with five or six ideas that I know will sit inside our repertoire.
The food of Lebanon has a real place here as it really sits in that vegetable-based diet. It’s super flavourful, lots of nuts, seeds, peas, beans and pulses. I think there is a real movement to that right now, most people in this country – certainly in London – are eating all those kind of things all day long at the moment and I think that has got a real future.
I still think the Japanese influence has got a long way to run.
I’m very glad that the Scandi stuff is not really sitting comfortably anymore as it’s a bit wrong for this country.
The industry has moved incredibly fast over the last 10 years… I look at the young guys coming through and what they are doing, how they are getting recognised much faster. The way they cook and dine is much more up to date.
It’s less about the surroundings, less about the service, less about the bits and pieces that go with hospitality and the frills, and more about what’s on the plate, because there is a cost implication on the furniture and tablecloths and parquet flooring – it costs a bloody fortune. I expect the next genre of young chefs will cook sympathetically to the ingredients, so they will become ingredient-led chefs as opposed to process led.
I can see meal replacement drinks catching on with people being so busy. Well, they think they are so busy, looking at their phones, and have no time to eat properly anymore. So they will start downing things that will sustain them for the whole day. It’s quite sad because for me I love a three- or four-hour lunch or a ‘linner’ – I go for lunch and then end up having dinner. That’s a favourite pastime.
The ingredient that is going to become much more popularised and used much more and you’re going to see a huge growth is seaweed. Because it sits very comfortably in the vegetarian world, has an amazing amount of other properties – like thickening properties – has a depth of flavour, that umami flavour. We make loads of stuff with seaweed and 95% of seaweed you can eat. With sustainability it’s a massive tick; you don’t have to farm it and destroy countrysides as there’s tonnes of it. Let’s open a seaweed factory, we’ll be winning.
I reckon everyone is going to eat seaweed next year, the whole country, some way or the other.
In five to 10 years I think there will be fewer restaurants like Trinity where you can get that utterlyi ndulged, super looked after, cared for hospitality experience, where everything is absolutely tip top. But I’m fine with that, because actually it’s better that there are only a few that can do really well, as it’s not easy to do well, but it’s easy to replicate and pretend you do it well. So that end of the market is going to shrink for sure.
That middle section of fast casual now, that is the one up from street food – so,street food but in a bricks-and-mortar unit that is going to become the new daily stop, the new Pret A Manager category. Where you used to get your prawn sandwich from Pret, you will now visit a quick, fast-casual Mexican guy, ramen guy, bao bun guy. That is going to become much more popularised.
I think that whole sandwich bar thing will turn into much more a drop in, pick up, fuel and go – almost like petrol station for your body, with your meal replacement drinks and coffee and orange juice. Sort of a sustain centre rather than where you actually enjoy food.
To enjoy something, you will hit these fast-casual joints and all the chain stuff is going to disappear… That’s all going to go away and all become tiny little units, so you go there for ramen, fried chicken, Mexican and tacos. And then there will be me and a few other people with white tablecloths at the top.