Rachel Walker finds siblings, parents and couples make a winning combination
You can’t choose your family, so the saying goes. But you can choose whether you work with them day in, day out. It might sometimes seem as if Britain’s high streets are lined with Pizza Expresses and Nando’s, yet a huge 81% of all restaurants and hotels are still family run. It’s indicative of an industry that has its roots in people’s front rooms. From traditional coaching inns to trattorias and curry houses founded by first-generation immigrants, feeding the family has always had the potential to become a business by luring in passers-by.
Nearly all the restaurateurs I spoke to emphasised how much work went on behind the scenes. While the best family-run restaurants still have a front-room feel, the reality is that most are underpinned by hard-nosed business nous. The Sethi siblings are an example of a modern family business that has quickly built a diverse restaurant portfolio.
That’s not to say the old-fashioned way doesn’t work any more. At the Guardhouse Café, in Brixham, Lucy and Alex Foley treat their staff, and indeed anyone who wanders in, as an extension of their family.
It’s the warm welcome and familiarity that set these restaurants apart from slick chains. It’s impossible to replicate the experience of sitting in a dining room where one sibling is waiting front of house while the other is heading up the kitchen, and the parents are at their regular table in the corner, bursting with pride.
LONDON AND THE SOUTHEAST
Bringing the Party
The Palomar, Soho, W1
This is the sister restaurant of Machneyuda, in Jerusalem, known for its modern Israeli dishes and party atmosphere. The Palomar was brought to London by siblings Zoë and Layo Paskin, whose backgrounds as club manager and DJ guaranteed that the good-time vibes travelled as well as the dishes. Go with a friend, grab a seat at the bar and enjoy the small plates and big flavours with a glass of Har’el syrah from the Judean Hills.
Finger on the Pulse
Gymkhana, Mayfair, W1
Karam Sethi saw overnight success with Gymkhana, famed for its gamey riffs on traditional Indian dishes such as wild muntjac biryani (£28). Soon after its launch, he founded JKS Restaurants with his brother Jyotin and sister Sunaina. Since then, everything they touch seems to turn to gold, as seen with their new Sri Lankan restaurant Hoppers and partnerships with Bao (steamed buns) and Bubbledogs (hotdogs and champagne).
The Groaning Table
Honey & Co, King’s Cross, W1
The shelves in this dreamy Middle Eastern kitchen heave with jars of preserves and the countertops are laden with cakes . It’s run by Sarit Packer and her husband, Itamar Srulovich, who met while working in a kitchen in Tel Aviv and are famed for their home-style feasts. Breakfast can be ordered “for the table” (£16.50pp), as can dinner (£26.50pp). If you’re left feeling inspired, then pop by their Honey & Spice deli just across the road.
Spice of Life
Moro, Clerkenwell, EC1
In spring 1997, Sam and Sam Clark got married, bought a campervan and set off on a culinary adventure through Spain, Morocco and the Sahara, which led to the launch of their Exmouth Market restaurant. Almost 20 years on, their dishes remain a source of inspiration for chefs and one of delight for diners, thanks to dashes of dukka and sumac, pomegranate and pistachios. Dessert is always a highlight, as is any sherry pairing.
Blanchette East, Brick Lane, E1
A sibling to Blanchette Soho, a modern French bistro founded by brothers Maxime, Yannis and Malik Alary and named after their mother, Blanche. Alhough it’s “small plate” tapas, the portions are generous. Start with the hot merguez sausage rolls and harissa mayonnaise (£5) and leave room for the blackcurrant financier (£6.25). It’s a dainty dessert befitting the elegant, belle époque-inspired interior.
The Manor, Clapham, SW4
Husband and wife team Robin and Sarah Gill have a knack for creating the ultimate neighbourhood joint, and this latest addition to their south London empire is no exception. The new breakfast menu sets the tone, with fried duck egg, crispy pig’s cheeks, ’nduja and borlotti beans (£9). Faultless restaurant dishes in homely surroundings.
Tooting, London SW17
Three years ago, twin brothers Livio and Lorenzo Belpassi quit their jobs and embarked on a culinary tour of Italy to learn the art of hand-rolled meatballs. After being regulars on the street-food scene, the pair have now set up their first bricks-and-mortar site serving their trademark casual Italian in Tooting. Try the meat — or veggie — balls served on a bed of polenta or pasta, or an old-school meatball sandwich.
Spitalfields, London E1
Harnessing the excitement and jostle of India in this teeny restaurant, Gunpowder is known for its mouthwatering dishes, brought to London by founders Harneet Baweja and his wife, Devina. The menu is inspired by generations-old recipes from Harneet’s native Calcutta. Expect fun and innovative Bengali dishes, from spicy venison and vermicelli doughnut (£4.50) to the rasam ke bomb (£2.50), a pani puri-like crisp shell and shot of spiced water.
WEST AND SOUTHWEST
Taste of Japan
Unlike most canteen-style Japanese chains, Edamamé is a cosy place. It’s situated on Holywell Street and run by husband and wife Peter and Mieko Galpin, who serve homely dishes, from breaded chicken katsu to miso ramen, and of course, bowls of edamame soy beans. Sushi is served on Thursday evenings only. There are often queues snaking down the street, so arrive early.
Simpsons Fish & Chips, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire
It’s been a big few months for Simpsons, crowned fish and chip shop of the year 2016. It’s no surprise the judges were won over by the crisp batter, soft, sweet cod and chunky chips (£9), as well as the sustainable sourcing and workshops that the owners, Bonny and James Ritchie, run for schoolchildren. The award coincided with the 40th year Bonny’s mother had spent in the industry, showing that the flair for frying runs in the family.
When the head chef left Sue and Paco Sanchez’s trattoria, their sons, Peter and Jonray, stepped in. They started replacing pizza and pasta with their own innovative dishes. The evening set menu (£98) changes each season and has propelled Casamia to Michelin status. Sadly, Jonray died last year, but Peter still runs Sanchez Brothers, with the empire now including a pizzeria nearby, Pi Shop, and soon, Paco Tapas.
The Pony & Trap, Chew Magna, Bristol
Ten years ago, Josh and Holly Eggleton restored a 200-year-old pub in the Chew Valley. Within five years the talented pair had scooped a Michelin star, followed soon after by chef of the year for Josh and front of house of the year for Holly. It’s easy to see why: the choices here flit effortlessly between impressive tasting menus (£70) and unpretentious pub classics, with attentive service to match.
Guardhouse Café, Brixham, Devon
Breathtaking views and a warm welcome from owners Alex and Lucy Foley make this a memorable pit stop for anyone exploring the Devon coastline. It’s located in a clifftop nature reserve, so it’s not unusual to spot porpoise, guillemots and cirl buntings while enjoying an excellent cup of coffee and wedge of homemade cake.
Ben’s Cornish Kitchen, Marazion, Cornwall
“She’s the glue that holds the whole thing together,” says Ben Prior of his mother, Jayne, who helps run the restaurant, while he heads up the kitchen, often with his brother Toby. Family harmony is reflected in balanced and confident plates of food: the catch of the day served with jersey royals and asparagus is understated, but it’s cooked to perfection and beautifully presented.
The Carew Arms
The recently relaunched Carew Arms is a family affair, thanks to owner Tremayne Carew Pole bringing on board his sister-in-law Emily Watkins, best known for her appearance on Great British Menu. Working as a consultant, she takes a fresh approach to modern pub food, with particular emphasis on local ingredients. The yarg and Tribute rarebit starter (£4) is a must.
EAST, MIDLANDS AND NORTH
Pump Street Bakery, Orford, Suffolk
The baking skills of the father-daughter team Chris and Joanna Brennan have turned this 15th-century building into a mecca for anyone who loves a good crust, short pastry and fluffy pancakes. Be warned: it’s very easy to pop in for a loaf and find yourself at the communal table an hour later with a bacon sandwich and prune sauce.
Keeping it Close
Market Bistro, King’s Lynn, Norfolk
The samphire is from the local salt marshes, the pork is from nearby Emneth and the sourdough is freshly baked every day at Market Bistro. There’s a homely feel here, not only because of the wooden floor, beamed ceilings and farmhouse chairs, but also because of the hospitality extended by chef Richard Golding and his wife, Lucy.
Restaurant Sat Bains, Nottingham
It may be located next to a flyover and have pet rabbits lolloping round the courtyard, but this place, run by Bains and his wife, Amanda, is an exercise in not judging a book by its cover. The two Michelin-star standard is clear from the tasting menus (from £85): dishes include duck egg 62C, which bagged Bains 10/10 on Great British Menu.
Joseph Benjamin, Chester, Cheshire
Brothers Joseph and Benjamin Wright’s bistro is known for its small menu of European classics: mackerel rillettes, bavette steak and tantalising desserts. The success of their informal but elegant dining has led to the opening of Porta, a tapas and wine bar next door, with another site launching in Altrincham this month.
63 Degrees, Manchester
This modern French restaurant gets its name from the temperature that chef Eric Moreau believes meat should be cooked at. The result is a tender chicken, served by Moreau’s wife, Florence, or son Alexandre. A la carte prices reflect the sophisticated dishes, but the set lunch (£20 for three courses) and Tuesday-night tasting menu (£25 for five) are a steal.
The Westwood, Beverley, East Yorkshire
Matthew and Michele Barker make a formidable team at this converted Georgian courthouse. The twins were brought up in their parents’ gastropubs, so it was no surprise when chef Matthew and front of house Michele went into the business. Service is slick, portions are big and the Sunday-lunch sirloin of local beef (£14) comes with all the trimmings, including IPA gravy and a huge yorkshire pudding.
Rogan & Company, Cartmel, Cumbria
Both this and L’Enclume, the acclaimed restaurant around the corner, are run by Simon Rogan and his partner, Penny Tapsell. But while world-class L’Enclume has prices to match (lunch menu, £130), Rogan & Company presents a more affordable option (three-course lunch, £24). It might look like a gastropub from the outside, but the dishes have Rogan’s precision and sophistication.
WALES, SCOTLAND, NORTHERN IRELAND
La Cuina, Cardiff
It’s rare to hear Catalan in Cardiff, but this family-owned restaurant and deli is an exception. Founder Montserrat Prat came to Britain as a Spanish teacher and set up La Cuina four years ago. The authentic ingredients have attracted a Catalan team and, in turn, crowds of hungry diners keen to try the beautiful dishes and impressive selection of Catalan wines.
Waste Not, Want Not
The Gallery, Barry
Glamorgan sausages come on a menu that also lists foraged nettle pesto and mugwort jelly, which helped scoop the chef-proprietor Barnaby Hibbert Welsh sustainable restaurant of the year three times in a row. His cooking is also great value (two-course lunch £16.50), while the Wednesday steak nights are particularly popular. If you go for the 26oz T-bone to share (£50), a doggy bag might be a good idea.
Cail Bruich, Glasgow
It’s the 10th anniversary of this restaurant, run by local brothers Paul and Chris Charalambous. Modern dishes on their tasting menu (£55 for seven courses) feature Scotland’s best ingredients, such as mackerel ceviche, venison tartare and foraged sea buckthorn garnishes. The lightness of touch and sense of patriotism are also reflected in the drinks menu.
Braidwoods, Dalry, Ayrshire
Only those in the know will spot the sign pointing down a farm track to this whitewashed cottage, where husband and wife Keith and Nicola Braidwood have been cooking up a storm since 1994. Scallops are plump and sweet, and loin of roe deer is beautifully tender. Great-value food (three-course lunch, £28) in understated surroundings.
Ninth Wave Restaurant, Isle of Mull
It’s nearing the end of the season for John and Carla Lamont, whose restaurant is on a remote croft. As always, it will reopen in spring, when the wild sorrel and borage start to appear and will be picked and used in dishes, along with John’s daily catch and produce from Carla’s kitchen garden. It’s dinner only (£66 for five courses), served with a slice of the good life.
Wine & Brine, Moira, Co Armagh
Chef Chris McGowan and his wife, Davina, celebrate the renaissance of traditional Irish cooking with dishes inspired by local produce and the tradition of ageing, curing and pickling. The short menu showcases game and offal, pressed terrines and local draught beer, and lunch is good value (£14 for three courses). Don’t shy away from the trifle, which is pure joy.
Chef Stéphane Borie heads up the kitchen in this modern French restaurant set in a 17th-century Welsh coaching inn, where he is joined by his partner, Sarah. (Her sister Kathryn runs a slick front-of-house.) The six-course tasting menu (£65) showcases classic cookery, from mousselines to veloutés and pithiviers, made using local fish and game, and served in a modern, elegant fashion.
The word bia, meaning food in Gaelic, nods to chef Roisin Llorente’s Irish heritage, while Bistrot references the French background of her husband, Matthias. The couple cook alongside each other at this bijou neighbourhood restaurant, creating home-style dishes such as slow-braised pork cheeks (£15) and caramelised rice pudding (£5). A great option for a chilly day, where the food is just as warming as the welcome.