The Interview: Adam Byatt
The interview: Adam Byatt
The top chef on Michelin stars, living in south west London and celebrating 15 years of the highly acclaimed Trinity in Clapham…
As we set up for our photoshoot with Adam Byatt in his restaurant in Clapham’s Old Town, the chef is on fine form – he chats with a table of diners enjoying a late lunch (they’d been nudging each other as he appeared from behind the scenes) and appears very much at ease at the helm of the restaurant he launched some 15 years ago. He looks well, too – he’s been taking care of himself, he tells us, after 30 years of hard work, and, of course, a tumultuous 18 months for the hospitality industry that the pandemic brought.
His work life balance is sorted. Trinity is already booked up for the festive season, and it recently hosted Prince Charles and Camilla as part of the celebrations of 40 years of The Royal Academy of Culinary Arts, for which Adam works closely. “That was the proudest moment of all my 15 years of Trinity. The team was buzzing,” Adam says of the visit.
Now at the top of his game, Adam is not only chef-proprietor of Trinity – and its more casual offshoot ‘Upstairs’ – but also chef proprietor of Clapham’s Bistro Union and chef director at Brown’s Hotel in Mayfair, where he oversees Charlie’s Restaurant. The 47-year-old was born into a family of cooks – his mum was a professional chef, and his grandfather an army cook. Just before he turned 16, he won a placement at Claridge’s and worked his way up. He now supports young chefs as they enter the industry. He is also a firm believer in supporting local and is a patron of our Food and Culture Awards. “I am honoured to be a part of the awards,” he says. “South West London and Surrey are brimming with hospitality talent and these awards showcase the very best.”
Celebrating 15 years of Trinity
In 2006, together with business partner Angus Jones, he opened Trinity. It’s been damn hard work, Adam stresses, but the efforts have been rewarded with a restaurant that is a much-loved neighbourhood institution while also being amongst the top restaurants in London. His clientele is fiercely loyal – many bought vouchers when the restaurant had to shut, some spending thousands, all looking forward to when they could return.
Trinity’s Michelin star
“When I get a letter from a customer saying how much they enjoyed celebrating a special occasion at Trinity or when you have couples that have got engaged here, celebrated their wedding anniversaries here and then they come back with their children, you realise how much you mean to people… these are real ‘pinch me’ moments.”
Over the years, the cooking style has evolved, although the original ethos of being seasonal and sustainable remains. “The way that we cook and the way that we think about food hasn’t changed. But when you first start out, you’re an unknown, and you can’t put on the menu whatever you want. You put on dishes that will capture as many people as possible. It’s a business and you have to make it work.”
“I’m in an amazing position right now and I can put on the menu pretty much whatever I want to cook. But you first have to build up your reputation and get people to trust you. And I’m so grateful to the community here as without their support, we wouldn’t be in the position we’re in today.” He adds that the food now is far simpler than it was 10 years ago. “We are able to buy our supplies from the best producers in the country, and just let them shine.”
The future looks dramatic
As for his future plans, he says they are, “to be the best we can be. There are a few things coming up such as table-side serving stations – nothing crass – to add a little more theatre. Also, one of the things that has come out of the pandemic is our smaller restaurant size. Having less covers works really well for our business model so we’ll keep that. It’s also more elegant.”
Adam says that the pandemic was the hardest thing the restaurant has ever had to face. “It was just so shocking. Everything ground to a halt. But we shored everything up financially – we were in such a fortunate place to be able do that – and I actually went off and had the best four months I can remember for a very long time. I spent time with my family. I looked after myself, mentally, physically…
“We literally just put a big pause button on the business and came back, super refreshed and ready to go.”
The second lockdown, however, was hell. “It was winter and dark and horrible and I was thinking this is never going to end. Financially things were going to get very tight during a long period of time. And my team were really suffering mentally.” Adam describes how he worked closely with them, to make sure they were ok financially and pastorally too. Adam’s team stick with him – Chris Bolan has worked with Adam for nine years, four as head chef.
Having lived and worked in south west London for many years, Adam understands his clientele well. “Most of my guests are like me, they’re a similar age and with family – and I understand what they want in terms of great food, great wine, and that when they ask for the bill, they want to go home.” If he hadn’t become a chef, what would Adam have been? “I’m a creative so it would have had to have been something in that direction. I also like structure and discipline but I’m not sure I would have been cut out for the army – I’m not good with authority!” Rumour has it that he could have been a champion skateboarder…Adam laughs: “Yeah, I loved skateboarding. I was hanging around a skate park and actually ended up in a photoshoot and gracing a front cover, aged 10… how much fun it would have been to be a professional skateboarder…”
Skateboarding’s loss is the culinary world’s gain… and he’s gracing front covers for his skills as a chef. One that has managed to actually find some kind of healthy balance in life. “As I hit my 30th year in the industry, I realised that if I didn’t fix this problem of work life balance, I would just burn out, so I needed to future-proof my mental and physical health, for myself but also my business and everyone who works here.”
“It’s not perfect, because having your own business is really hard. You have to roll with the punches, that’s just how it is. So, I work hard and when I’m at work, I’m totally committed. I also have a very supportive wife and family.”
Adam Byatt’s family
Adam has a son, Jack, 17, and a daughter, Rosie, 13. “We make sure we have time as a family. Every Sunday, we cook together so we always know that no matter how gnarly the week is, Sunday night is where we can get together and catch up.”
Adam was born in East London but has mainly lived in south west London, including Earlsfield and now Wandsworth Common. “It’s just a lovely place to be with lots of green spaces and independent shops. I’ve never felt as at home anywhere else…”
Adam Byatt interview: Tina Lofthouse. Adam Byatt interview photography by Lucy Kane