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Back home in south London with Adam Byatt, Head Chef
Clapham has only been my home for 3 years, so I'm not privy to all that’s been and gone. Having said that, in that time I feel I’ve really gotten to know the area, the people and the appeal. Coveted for its palatial green spaces, café culture and soaring real estate, Clapham basks in a certain reputation that proceeds it. Despite a long list of pros, what Clapham still doesn’t boast (although there is shift of late) is a plethora of interesting or intriguing places to tuck in. Clapham Manor, Knife, Dairy and the Rookery are at the top if what is essentially a sparse list given the expendable income and diverse community that resides at SW4.
That list for a long while (in my humble opinion) has been topped by Adam Byatt’s Trinity. Now part of a three pronged attack on the locals of the “common” including Bistro Union (very good, a must try) and most recently Trinity Upstairs, Trinity still remains a beacon of light in an otherwise underwhelming line up.
With a recent awarded and well deserved Michelin star, as well as a Bib Gourmand for the new Upstairs offering, Tealight was thrilled to carve out a little time with Adam for a sampling of his food and an interview.
Lucky enough to have Bistro Union (one of three of Adam's Clapham trio) just along from where I live, I have met Adam a few times, sampled a lot of his food and experienced each of his different restaurants. This day was indeed a whole other affair. Getting a couple of hours with a Chef recently awarded his first star while he preps for evening service is quite unique. As a regular on Saturday Kitchen and the Great British Menu, Adam isn’t short of PR opportunities, but he also knows me as a foodie and as such he was kind enough to open up Trinity’s doors and let me and the Tealight team discover his world.
As a regular on Saturday Kitchen and the Great British Menu, Adam isn't short of PR opportunities but he was kind enough to open Trinity's doors and let us discover his world.
42 years old and in the game for 25 years, it is a cliché to say food is in Adam’s blood, but that doesn’t make it untrue. His Grandad a cook in the military, Adam entered to chaotic world of the kitchen at the tender age of 16 working at Claridge's up to 21. If you visit Trinity you may see a sense of Adam's French Gastronomic apprenticeship paid-for by Claridge's, which he states was the turning point in his life when academia suddenly made sense.
Working under John Williams, at the starting point of his life as a Chef, Adam said it was extremely hard. Not there to learnt to cook, but to learn how to work in a professional kitchen amongst Claridge's 80 Chefs at the bottom of the pile, he was of course, thrown around a bit.
It was during his time at Claridge's when Marco Pierre White's "Boiling point" TV programme was launched, along with his book White Heat. This was probably the first time that Chefs were exposed to a TV audience. Adam absolutely loved it and wanted to be a part of every minute. So much so, Adam's Dad drove to Harvey Nick's and asked Marco to sign a book as a present.
Full circle, when White Heat's 25th anniversary edition came out, Adam is quoted in the book. One signed copy, one quoted copy. Pretty cool eh?
Let's not lose focus here - this is about nothing other than sacrifice and hard work. Books, TV programmes, you and I only see the glamorous front-end. What people don't see is that sacrifice required to achieve a position of success.
What does a Michelin star Chef's week look like? In the restaurant until midnight 5 days a week, sometimes 6.
It's clear to see why the failure rate is so very high. Is there another career where the rate of failure (interpret failure how you will) is so high?
With one day off a week, Adam says he rarely leaves South London. With its busy restaurant scene, we can understand why. Chez Bruce, Peckham Bazaar for a special event or if it's his Son's choice, May the Fifteenth. The benefits of being Adam Byatt – getting to keep your favourite wine in your favourite restaurants. If venturing outside of South London, Colbert the French Bistro in Sloane Square is on his list.
We've spent a lot of time talking about his three current restaurants but, where did it all begin for Adam?
For those of you familiar with Clapham's food scene 6 years ago, it was Thyme. During the fateful dates of September 2011, Adam opened Thyme the day after the twin towers tragedy. It was his first venture as brand Adam Byatt. Recognising the benefits of his talents, Thyme put Adam on the map a Chef worth watching, giving him headway and gaining a reputation, quoted by Jay Rayner as "that breakthrough restaurant that all Chefs have"
As we beavered away in preparation for the photoshoot, at the invitation of Adam, I plonked myself at the pass whilst he carried on with prep to conduct the interview. I’ll say at this point, despite being able to depend upon a sizable brigade of Chefs, Adam was peeling banana shallots, reticent to sit and talk, conscious of not making a dent in the prep list. This to me as an ex-cook speaks volumes of the Chef, leader and restaurateur.
The interview quickly turned into a conversation and less a formal Q&A. Adam’s complete obsession with all things food and my fascination for anybody that has climbed such a hard and competitive ladder made for easy talking. The chat continued as the first dish was served.
Dashi cracker, bbq scallop roe and seaweed
A deceptively simple dish. Just a few crackers with your usual looking garnish of micro herbs coupled with what appeared to be unglazed profiteroles? No. This dish was beyond well thought out and crafted. It was so far from what canapes normally are. No rehashed classic combos or mini starters, these were little pinches of genius. The dashi cracker intense in flavor, I asked about the method to make them, Adam reeled of a casual list of six or seven processes. Each cracker enhanced by a spot of BBQ scallop roe (as you do) and the obligatory herb garnish. I could have polished off a dozen without blinking. To add there were choux pastry buns filled with a super smooth cauliflower puree packed with truffles (not oil….truffles). As the last bun cooled as I ate it, the texture reminded me of a perfect profiterole from a French bakery filled with crème pat, what we tasted was savory heaven.
Tartare of big eye tuna, pickled cucumber, Cornish crab and avocado
As Adam continued to prep his chicken liver ragu, still engaging in food chat, the next dish promptly arrived. Tuna tartare, not a dish that turn heads or tries to impress. What you only want from a dish like this is for it to deliver on freshness, subtlety and a balanced set of with appropriate garnishes and seasonings. This dish hit the mark on all fronts. Of course, the tuna was top notch and prepared in a way that each bite was tender and succulent. The concassed pickled cucumber was delicate and in no danger of over acidifying the fish. To cap off nicely, a clever avocado mouse, that little element of rich fattiness you get from great avocados just right for the occasion. Not revolutionary but easy to get wrong and even harder to excel in this way.
Roast Cornish Cod, smoked anchovies, bagna cauda and mussels
When I say cod is way down on my list of preferred fish or even seafood it’s an understatement. It probably comes from my childhood, boil in the bag overcooked fillets, drowned in cloggy parsley sauce. In my opinion cod cooked that way is single handedly responsible for most British people not eating fish beyond their traumatic childhood years.
The joy of not choosing a dish and letting Chef decide is the delight of discovery. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had great cod, amazing cod, but rarely. This “pave” of cod was sublime. Not a stich over cooked nor gelatinous for being under done. Just on point. That for a Chef like Adam isn’t a big deal. What raised this dish to truly impressive levels and marrying so well with this Cornish fillet, was the taste of mussels. A mussel minestrone and a mussel fritter along with a wee serving of anchovy emulsion and a few florets of Romanesco, made this creation one of those dishes you just sit back and shake your head at.
Poached Yorkshire rhubarb, set vanilla custard, blood orange sorbet and aerated white chocolate
To finish Adam clearly wanted to remind us spring is here. A very pretty assemble of Rhubarb, quenelle of crème Brule (cooked the old way in the oven in a large pan then set) aerated white chocolate (a process Adam revealed has taken at least 10 attempts to perfect) and a blood orange sorbet. Under the photography lights the dish needed devouring fast. Not a problem, the freshness and balance was great and it took a huge amount of will power to not pick up the plate and slurp every last drop of residual liquid.
Three years ago, I dined at Trinity and I instantly assumed Trinity had a Michelin star, only to find out afterwards that wasn’t the case. So when you are at your peak, you have a high end restaurant that’s evidently successful, how do you attain that elusive first star?
It suddenly became clear that a first star is a commitment from the entire team on laser like focus on every step of operating a restaurant. Adam told me how, when they decided to try and get a star, they revolutionised how Trinity operated.
A maniacal focus on procuring the best ingredients possible available to London's Chefs, knowing and understanding where each ingredient comes from, to have that guarantee you are using the best possible ingredient. Down to the cream, the milk used to make coffees, even the flour. Absolutely everything.
Now Trinity has the most incredible supplier network that took 1 ½ years to revamp. We all know out of blood, sweat and hard work comes pride – knowing that the milk and cream you found in Northumbria is used to make tarts, ice creams, soups, cappuccinos is used by only three restaurants in total in London is pretty special.
This maniacal focus doesn't stop at dairy products, it's a principle that applies across the board. Trinity's salt is roughly 5x the price per kg than that of supermarket salt. Trinity's focus on its supplier network was an incredibly complex task to implement but the results are simple. Trinity's diners now enjoy the best ingredients available to Adam and the team from across the UK; the principle has a ripple effect across the food they deliver to diners.
Revamping Trinity's supplier network was a huge cost and workload gamble that paid off. Trinity earned its first Michelin star on 6th October 2015.
It goes without saying that food isn’t the definitive factor in a restaurant like Trinity, setting, service, ambience all crucial elements. Yes its true, we would all rather go to a place that is a little rough around the edges if the food is amazing and not if its plush but crap grub. What is the perfect blend according to Adam?
It's about giving diners that feeling they have arrived somewhere serious and to give you the confidence that you are going to have a very high quality meal. Each member of the waiting staff has only three of four tables to make sure they can give you ultimate care and attention.
Adam has the benefit of his three operations which mean the diner has a choice of experience. A more formal setting in Trinity with no music (no the atmosphere is not stiff like you're thinking), Trinity upstairs with a more casual atmosphere, music and louder conversation or Trinity Bistro, with a proper Bistro feel to it.
When Adam told me Trinity was a 10yr project of his, to create the most amazing neighborhood restaurant, I was slightly taken back. Another sign of total commitment to achieving the best over 10 years.
As soon as we walked in through the super slick Trinity styled door we felt as if we'd jumped into the West End, in the most upmarket, elegant restaurant you would go to for your anniversary. What you don't know or feel at this point is that within the hour you will be eating the finest possible ingredients available in the UK but being treated like a neighbour.
It's safe to say Trinity is a special occasion restaurant with a 500 bin exceptional wine list to match.
Food, service and attention to detail. Can we term the above Adam's Algorithm?
Anyone who has half a brain knows that Cheffing is one of the toughest jobs out there. Sitting 'out back' on steps to Staff accommodation, into double figure espressos on a split shift, and deep into a packet of Malboro Lights are some of the memories we have.
However, the Chefs that thrive are a different breed. Hard as nails and blessed with unrivalled talent; setting up and operating three successful restaurants, Adam is one of those.
He never seems to be phased, always remains calm, collected and appears to just love what he does.
I promise you, when you eat at Trinity its shines through into the final product. Clapham for many is not central enough, so Trinity may get bypassed by a few. For those not in the SW catchment, I strongly recommend making whatever journey it takes to visit what I think is one of the best restaurants in London.
Until next time!!