Michelin star for The Dysart
We catch up with The Dysart in Petersham to find out about its Michelin-star win, and how it discovers many of its ingredients just down the road
There’s local sourcing and then there’s sourcing from the locals. And The Dysart has not only captured the attention of the community, which contributes seasonal goodies to the restaurant, but also the folk at Michelin, who recently bestowed a star upon them.
Meeting chef Kenneth Culhane and MD Barny Taylor, their enthusiasm is much in evidence. “We source ingredients that have been beautifully looked after,” says Ken. “It’s about a chain of care. Ingredients are local, seasonal and are ethically produced.”
“We have a gardener down the road in Ham that is cultivating produce for us in his garden,” says Barny. “He brings us potatoes, courgettes, tomatoes, herbs and more – always beautifully in season.”
Adds Ken: “We even have someone locally who rears two pigs a year – one just for us. We have our own bee hives and we’ve had locals bring us things in the morning such as pumpkins or beetroot, and we’ve put them on the menu. We also work with small producers. One farmer in Sussex emails me on a Sunday with what they have and I’ll need to snap it up there and then or it will be gone.” The drinks list is carefully put together too. While the wine list is international, gins and beers are British – many local, including Becketts and the Park Brewery.
And their efforts were recently recognised with one of the highest accolades in the restaurant industry with a Michelin star. “We were over the moon,” says Ken. “You never really know for sure until the awards night but we knew that the head of Michelin had been in and had the tasting menu, and we’d had a long chat with one of the inspectors.”
It is a long way from the pub that Barny and his family bought back in 2004. The Taylor family live locally and Barny and his sister had worked at The Dysart in between university studies. “My only experience in hospitality back then was in pulling a few pints. My father [Nicholas] brought his life experience, having had a successful career as a lawyer.”
“At the beginning we took over a gastropub that would serve about 300 Sunday lunches – find a seat and order at the bar! We gradually started to reduce covers and increase quality – homemade chips and burgers, superior quality meat etc. were our first steps.” In 2007, they also undertook a refurb. The result was a natural restrained style of restaurant that made the most of the arts and crafts features such as its leaded light windows. They kept the bar though, which was fashioned from a Napoleonic warship.
The Dysart is open Thursday to Sunday: “It’s about making sure we maintain the standards we have set ourselves,” says Barny, “but also about quality of life for the team. We ask a lot of the staff when they are working so they need to have time to rest and live their lives outside of work. Whilst on duty we work really hard but always make sure we have a good time doing it!”
Ken joined in 2011, having already had an illustrious career, training with the likes of Jean Georges Vongerichten at Jean Georges in New York and Guillaume Lebrun at Patrick Guilbaud in Dublin. In 2010, he won the Roux Scholarship, with only one chef a year receiving the award. The Irish chef was also part of the team at The Ledbury when it won a Michelin star. Ken started out at the Shelbourne in Dublin but he admits it was something of a baptism of fire. “They put me on the meat section but soon realised that I’d had no experience from actually cooking from scratch.” But he quickly built up his skills and his ambition took him to Patrick Guilbaud. Although it took some persistance – after several letters receiving no reply, he actually turned up on the doorstep and said he had to see the chef. He even offered to work for free for three months: Guillaume Lebrun saw how serious he was and took him on.
Working with Japanese chef Tetsuya Wakuda in Sydney, Ken saw a more relaxed approach in the kitchen, with the brigade treated more as a family. This has made him an ideal fit for The Dysart. The team is small – just 13 front-of-house and in the kitchen. And there are no plans to fundamentally change, despite its Michelin success. “We had 100 reservations come through online in the first 24 hours after the award,” says Barny. “But, for us, our plan is to keep up the quality.”