Rick Stein, seafood chef and champion of fishermen, has opened his first London restaurant in Barnes. Sophie Farrah finds out what gastronomic delights he has in store
After months of excited speculation, Christopher Richard “Rick” Stein OBE has finally opened the doors to his brand new restaurant in Barnes and his very first in the capital.
Hungry diners are already queuing up to sample Stein’s trademark seafood, but isn’t this the same man who once famously said that he would never open a restaurant in London?
“When we open somewhere it’s not about whether we’re going to make lots of money from it – it’s more about whether it’s a place that we’re excited by, and whether it’s somewhere that we feel is really ‘us’,” explains Rick.
“My son Edward had heard that this site in Barnes was for sale so I just wandered over there to have a look, and once I saw it – I just knew.”
The special spot that Rick is referring to is what was once The Depot restaurant, nestled in Tideway Yard on Mortlake High Street. The characterful cobbled courtyard, which once contained stables, a coach house and a steam engine shed for the old Barnes Council depot is instead now home to Rick’s new stylish al fresco terrace and laid-back brasserie, which literally hangs over the Thames thanks to its prime location on the ‘Barnes Riviera’.
“It just doesn’t feel like London! Especially right on the Thames,” Rick enthuses. “In a funny sort of way, it actually feels like one of our seaside restaurants, especially because it’s tidal, and we’re not radically changing it either; it’s just about emphasising the river as much as possible.”
In addition to the sweeping river views and the St Tropez-esque courtyard terrace, there’s also a small seafood bar inside serving fresh oysters, langoustines and sashimi, as well as a separate bar area for informal drinks and some great cocktails.
So with all this, plus the prime location and Rick’s international reputation, it sounds like a recipe for success, but there’s no denying that The Depot, a much-loved Barnes institution of more than 30 years, has left some pretty big boots to fill and a fiercely loyal customer base for Rick to win over.
“I’d never been to The Depot but I’d heard people talking about it with great affection and how it’s got these very loyal customers. After everyone knew what was happening I went in there a few times and I was given a right ticking off by the locals from time to time!” he laughs. “We can’t keep it exactly the way it was but most of the staff are coming back – the kitchen brigade and the waiting staff, and what we’re trying to do is bring in the same sort of food."
"The only thing I am worried about is simply that the menu is like it was, and because it’s the first restaurant for us in London I hope that people’s expectations aren’t for something more than what it is, which is a neighbourhood restaurant. Albeit hopefully a really well-run, humorous and welcoming local one!"
I take a look at said menu and I don’t think that Rick has anything to worry about. There is, of course, a heavy focus on seafood with Rick’s most iconic dishes, such as his delicious Dover Sole a la Meunière and spicy Singapore Chilli Crab both featured, but there’s also a few new dishes, including Stifado, a succulent rabbit stew inspired by Rick’s travels to Greece, with caramelised onions, red wine, cinnamon and currants.
“And of course fish and chips are very much on the menu!” he tells me keenly, “and they are exactly the same as we serve in Padstow!”
James Ram/Chetwode Ram Associates LTD 2015
Fruits De Mer
Speaking of Padstow – the Stein empire is somewhat synonymous with Cornwall – so much so that the aforementioned small seaside town is these days often referred to as ‘Padstein’. Rick and his ex-wife Jill own a remarkable five restaurants there, including their much-celebrated Seafood Restaurant, which they opened together in 1975. Then there’s also their wine bar, luxury holiday accommodation, cookery school, deli, gift shop, pâtisserie and a fishmonger’s.
“My family has had a house near Padstow ever since the early part of the 20th century so our connection goes back that far, and I’ve been very lucky because my association with Cornish fish goes back to when I was really little…” he tells me.
“My dad was a very keen amateur fisherman, and he also had a share in a lobster fishing boat in Padstow, so when I was younger we used to go out on the boat, and the fisherman is still one of my suppliers! He’s called Johnny Murt – he’s in his 80s now so he doesn’t go out to sea, but he still does crab for us!”
As well as his incredible Cornish collection, which beyond Padstow includes a further three restaurants and a pub, this charming and humble chef/restaurateur has made more than 30 cookery programmes, written over 20 cookery books and owns a further four restaurants in the likes of Marlborough, Sandbanks, and now Barnes.
“It really wasn’t a power thing to open lots of restaurants!” he laughs. “I just realised that we needed a group of restaurants that would turn over enough for us to employ the top quality management who could then run the business. That really stems back to the late 90s when I started doing television – I realised that if I wanted the businesses to thrive I would need management – I couldn’t do it on my own anymore.”
L to R: Jack Stein, Jill Stein, Charlie Stein, Rick Stein & Ed Stein
Now, far from on his own, the setting-up and running of Rick’s new Barnes venture has instead been very much a family affair. Rick and Jill’s youngest son Charlie is the restaurant’s experienced wine buyer and beverage expert, tasked with creating a carefully chosen wine list and an inventive selection of cocktails, whilst middle son Jack can be found cooking up a storm in the kitchen in his role as Executive Chef.
“The boys have all been working in the business since they were little, so it’s just in their background,” explains Rick. “I didn’t necessarily want them working in the restaurant business – I wanted them to feel they could go out and do other things, but it’s part of their DNA I guess!”
Rick’s first wife Jill is also still very much involved and, along with their eldest son Ed and daughter-in-law Kate, has been overseeing the interior design of the new site, which has a subtle industrial feel contrasted by comfy banquette seating, luxurious velvet cushions and vibrant hanging plants. It sounds to me as though Rick has got all bases covered, so what exactly is on his to-do list?
"Well for me it’s about doing the menus and it’s also about quality control, so basically all I do now is go round the restaurants and eat!” he laughs. “And I think I’ll be eating in Barnes a bit more than anywhere else now, because I live part of the week over in Chiswick and it’s only a 20-minute walk down the river. There will never be another question about where we go for a spot of dinner!”
Well Rick, welcome to Barnes. Or should I say ‘Barnestein’?
- Rick Stein's restaurant in Barnes is now open, for more information and to book visit rickstein.com
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