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Steins in the Spotlight

 For four decades, the name Rick Stein has been synonymous with first- class seafood, Cornwall’s Padstow and TV shows that have taken us around the globe exploring different culinary cultures. Now, two of his sons, Jack and Charlie, are following in Rick’s footsteps and evolving the family business to ensure it continues to thrive in today’s competitive restaurant industry.

I meet with Jack and Charlie at the family’s Barnes-based restaurant – the first of the group to open in the capital – as it celebrates its one-year anniversary. Their fraternal camaraderie is immediately apparent – there’s a lot of joking and teasing each other as siblings who get on well do – as is the impression the Steins are a close-knit family. Also evident is that the restaurant – which is in a stunning Thames-side location on the site that was formerly The Depot – and the area of Barnes and south-west London, have become an important component of the Rick Stein Group.

“We want to connect with the community as much as possible as it’s very much a neighbourhood restaurant,” explains Jack, the group’s chef director since 2017 and the second eldest of the three Stein boys (older brother Ed is creative lead on all interior design for the business). “Barnes is unique for London as it has a real community feel and we want to be part of that.” This includes supporting local charities, such as the Barnes- based RNLI, as well as hosting charity events. DJ and TV star Chris Evans recently took over the restaurant for a Children in Need auction, with Joanna Lumley, Mary Berry and Judy Murray hosting tables. “It’s great to be able to do these charity events in London and we’re keen to do more,” Jack adds.

Considering how tough the restaurant industry can be, I ask whether it’s been challenging opening in London. “It’s been a lot easier than we thought as it was an existing restaurant, the staff were well-liked and well- known by the locals,” Jack replies. “To have done this from scratch would have been really difficult. The staff had an intense period of training with us and everyone really clicked, especially front-of-house staff, maître d’s and managers. It’s really important for us to have people on board with us, particularly as Barnes is a strong community and the staff knew the locals. And, as Dad lives in Chiswick, he can be here a lot too, which is great.”

The staff visibly play a significant part in the business and ensuring they’re fulfilled career-wise is hugely important to the brothers. They acknowledge that having a London-based restaurant is good for staff development, as chefs in the Cornwall-based restaurants can have a stint in one of the world’s foodie capitals. Yet all staff are given training in product knowledge.

“It’s not just about telling them what’s on the menu, it’s taking them to fish markets and showing where we source ingredients, allowing them to feel fulfilled with their product knowledge,” Jack adds.

The same philosophy applies to beverages. Charlie, the youngest of the three brothers, selects all the wine for the group’s restaurants, as well as working for London-based The Vintner wine merchants. He points out that investing in the staff, by taking them on wine trips to build their knowledge base, for example, ultimately delivers a better experience for guests. It’s also one of the reasons Charlie and Rick decided to launch a cocktail list at the Barnes restaurant, after collaborating with the internationally renowned, award-winning bartender Mr Lyan (Ryan Chetiyawardana), creating an exclusive list of unique cocktails inspired by Rick’s travels.

“It was a real coup for us to work with Ryan, he’s won every award going, he’s a genius with flavour and we thought Barnes was a good place to showcase them,” explains Charlie. “His whole ethos is about pre-batching in a really intelligent way, which gives our bar staff more time to talk through the drinks with our customers. These collaborations keep staff motivated, people are super interested in it and it opens up opportunities for them to really gain a passion for it.”

Charlie has also been behind the launch of the group’s own limited-edition gin with Cornwall- based distillers Tarquin’s. “I wanted to create a gin using botanicals that could be collected around the Cornish coast, and spoke to Jack and Dad about the flavours,” he says. “The finished gin has a very Cornish identity and it’s available at all our restaurants and to buy online; we’re really proud of it.”

The rest of 2018 is shaping up to be a busy one for the brothers. They’re bringing back their successful food and wine evenings to the Barnes restaurant, with six planned for this year. “Growing up, we would go to wine regions on holiday, so we bring stories from there that we think people will enjoy, interspersed with wine chat. We did one here last year that was great fun, and I want to make the evenings here more of a showcase, as Barnes has got the catchment area of people that love and know their wine,” says Charlie. “Plus,” adds Jack with a cheeky smile, “these wine dinners allow us to go a bit off Rick’s menu…we’ll still incorporate it, but it’s like having your own restaurant for the night! Holding these evenings is something we love doing and the customers can feel that.”

As well as a couple of TV projects in the pipeline, following his first solo TV series last year, Jack Stein: Born To Cook, Jack is also launching his book World on a Plate in June. As children, when Rick Stein’s Padstow restaurant would close during the winter months, the family would head off travelling and enhance their culinary knowledge along the way. “Dad has always been keen to showcase cuisine from overseas in our restaurants but using Cornish ingredients; for example, our fish taco has cod in it rather than mahi mahi. But we’d never marketed using British produce to create world food so I stole that idea off him and turned it into a book!” he laughs.

Having so much experience of the world’s cuisine, could they pick a favourite? Both wholeheartedly agree that Spanish cuisine is high on the list. “It’s not as formal as French or Italian and they’re more prepared to experiment with ingredients, plus they have some of the best restaurants in the world,” says Jack. And Spain has some amazing, underrated wines too, adds Charlie. “Many people go for Rioja, but Navarre is a great region for wine. We recently went on a family trip to Majorca where we had an amazing lunch with brilliant wine and I said ‘that’s going on our wine list’. I hope I put together a wine list that shows real love and care has gone into it, and that there’s a family connection to it too.”

Naturally, one of their culinary inspirations is their dad. But, adds Jack, their admiration extends to “anyone who’s running a restaurant, particularly with a family,” he says. “The industry’s tough; you have to give it passion, commitment and work hard.” A philosophy that’s certainly going keep the Stein name in the spotlight.

Fruits de mer © James RamCharlie and Jack SteinBarnes