By Laura Husband
Within a year of opening and with his first head chef hat on, Brett Graham was awarded a Michelin star for The Ledbury in London’s trendy Notting Hill.
Five years later he accomplished what goes beyond most chefs’ wildest dreams – bagging a second Michelin star. With the unassuming Aussie at the helm, The Ledbury has quietly gone from strength to strength and now, only 13 years after opening, it has come tenth in the Elite Traveler Top 100 Restaurants in the World.
The chef is modest about The Ledbury’s most recent addition to a growing list of accolades: “I hope it’s a reflection of how we look after our customers and also the quality of our product. We have a great, energetic young team who love what they do and I think that passion comes through,” says Graham.
Never content with resting on its laurels, The Ledbury is about to undergo a mini spring clean: “We are having a small refurb to update and improve the facilities in the kitchen and front of house. This will enable our service to be better coordinated.”
The West London restaurant offers contemporary French cuisine using British ingredients that thanks to Graham’s upbringing down-under have a hint of the Pacific about them. It could also be due to his Australian heritage that the place oozes a chilled out yet accomplished atmosphere. He explains: “I want to create a relaxed, comfortable room where people enjoy themselves and feel at ease, where they are completely looked after by our staff and don’t have to worry about anything – and they enjoy the food.”
When asked why his restaurant doesn’t have a formal dress code, his laid-back response says it all: “Just because you don’t have a tie it doesn’t mean that you are not dressed well enough for dinner.”
Graham believes food and service are important to making a great restaurant but his secret extra ingredient is looking after every customer that walks through the door.
“I try to connect with my customers and add value to their experience. We are constantly changing the menu so regulars always have something new to try. It means a lot when people re-visit and over the years I have built many friendships with loyal, regular customers,” he says.
The change in season excites Graham, so it’s no surprise that his menu focuses on quality seaonal ingredients. This might also explain why the Aussie’s London-based restaurant doesn’t have kangaroo on the menu. Graham is a keen huntsman and lists roe deer as one of his favorite ingredients – it could be that he’s caught some of the ones on the menu himself.
“I love cooking with lots of different ingredients. My favorites are Roe Deer, Woodcock, Morels [wild mushrooms], Jerusalem Artichokes and Mackerel. I have lived here for many years now and I am interested in using local produce, which is fresh and seasonal,” he explains.
Brett’s culinary journey began in Newcastle, Australia, where he worked in a simple fish restaurant as a teen. He hasn’t looked back since moving to the UK to work at the Award-winning The Square with his idol Philip Howard.
His other inspirations include Alain Passard (chef and owner of L’Arpège in Paris), Rene Redzepi (the mastermind behind Noma in Copenhagen), and last but not least fellow Aussie chef Peter Gilmore.
One chef Graham suggests we should keep an eye on is Ollie Dabbous who has a restaurant in London’s West End. “Although I’ve not eaten there yet, Dabbous is a restaurant I hear great things about and the chef, Ollie, seems to have built a great reputation for his business.”
Graham recently visited Hedone in London’s Chiswick and calls it an exciting up-and-coming restaurant. “Michael Jonsson’s use of ingredients is superb,” he says. Michelin obviously seconds Graham’s opinion as it was awarded a Michelin Star in the 2013 Michelin Guide.
He dedicates so much effort to The Ledbury, it’s not often that he finds the time to dine out at other London hot spots.
“When I’m not working I like to stay local to where I live and eat at casual restaurants. Time away from the restaurant is rare so traveling to central London is not something I do often.”
The Ledbury’s success is arguably even more impressive given that it’s based in one of the world’s most innovative culinary cities and Graham believes it is for this reason that the restaurant needs to keep evolving and give its customers the food they want to eat.
“I hope we remain full for many years to come. The early days were very tough here and having a full restaurant makes my job easier.”