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Gezellig: a temple of conviviality

Gezellig: a temple of conviviality

by Great British Chefs 19 November 2019

Graham Long, James Comyn and Wieteke Teppema share a lifetime’s experience in top London restaurants. Now they’ve teamed up to open Gezellig – one of 2019’s most impressive new ventures in the capital.

Holborn may once have been a bit of a gastronomic wasteland so far as London was concerned, but these days it has a rather perkier reputation for good food, even if it doesn’t shout about it as loudly as Shoreditch, Mayfair or Fitzrovia. Parsons, Noble Rot, Otto’s, Anglo and L’Oscar are all in the near vicinity of the station, and so now is Gezellig – the area’s latest debutant, which sits on the ground floor of the magnificent Holborn Town Hall.

There’s no question – Gezellig is a beautiful restaurant. The recently refurbished town hall was originally built in 1894, and the building retains all its old charms today, from the glorious high ceilings to large period windows. Plush sage banquettes line the walls alongside French art deco posters and empty wine bottles, giving Gezellig more than a whiff of bistro elegance. Underneath, though, this is a legitimate new restaurant opening for the capital, with a powerhouse team running the show – head chef Graham Long, sommelier Wieteke Teppema and general manager James Comyn have worked at some of the best restaurants in the country, including The Square, Elystan Street, Pied à Terre, L’Autre Pied and The Ledbury. Graham’s food showcases influences from his time at Pied à Terre and the Sir Charles Napier, but it has evolved into something that is definitively his own at Gezellig.

Graham runs the kitchen at Gezellig, which is open from midday to eleven at night from Monday to Saturday
The gorgeous dining room is smart, but designed for people to let loose and have some fun

Graham’s upbringing wasn’t singularly focused around food – ’I wasn’t sat podding peas on my grandmother’s knee or anything,’ he jokes – but he has fond memories of good home cooking. ‘I used to help out occasionally, mainly so I could eat stuff, really.’ By the age of twelve or so he’d picked up a keen interest in food and slowly but surely, he found his way into the kitchen. After some time spent as a kitchen porter in a small hotel, he jumped in at the deep end and spent a day at Royal Hospital Road – then, as it is now, one of the most acclaimed restaurants in the country. ‘It was terrifying! I worked at Claridge’s for the opening there, too. It was a real trial by fire, but you learn a lot working in that kind of environment.’

Graham spent two-and-a-half formative years with the Gordon Ramsay Group before moving on to pastures new, notably the Sir Charles Napier – a favourite haunt of Raymond Blanc, Tom Parker-Bowles and Matthew Fort. The Oxfordshire pub-restaurant proved to be a welcome change of pace. ‘It was a very different way of working compared to the intensity of London,’ says Graham. ‘I realised that there are lots of different facets to cooking good food, and multiple ways of doing things.’

Still, Graham felt the magnetism of London pulling him away, and when an opportunity to work with Shane Osborn at Pied à Terre reared its head, he jumped at it. Graham took a big pay cut and a demotion to move into the kitchen at the two-Michelin-starred Pied à Terre, but the chance to work with Shane was priceless. ‘It was tough to start,’ Graham admits, ‘but Pied à Terre was such a great place to work at the time. Shane was a great chef but also really good with his staff.’

It was at Pied à Terre that Graham first met James Comyn, one of his partners at Gezellig. After Graham went travelling, the pair ended up working together in Hong Kong too, before returning to London and making plans for their own restaurant alongside Wieteke Teppema. ‘Wieteke was James’ flatmate back when we worked at Pied à Terre,’ Graham explains. ‘She was a sommelier at The Square then. We’ve known each other a long time, but we started talking about giving it a go ourselves about three years ago.’

Trompette courgettes with ewe's curd and broad beans
Pot-roast turnip with duck hearts and sorrel

The goal, says Graham, was to create something a bit more laid back and informal, but could also deliver the quality of food the trio knew from their time in the aforementioned restaurants. ‘We want to give people quality, but also somewhere where people can have a good time rather than feeling that they have to behave themselves.’ The name ‘Gezellig’ comes from a Dutch word which roughly equates to the idea of conviviality in English, but also implies a sense of cosiness, friendliness, warmth and fun. ‘When we were discussing the idea behind the restaurant, Wieteke kept mentioning this word, gezellig,’ says Graham. ‘It covers exactly the sort of restaurant that we wanted to create, so we decided to go with it as a name.’

The menu is pretty light on the Dutch influences, though the bar menu does feature suckling pig bitterballen – a porky croquette by all but name. The vibe is more general, modern and European – dishes like raviolo of braised veal shin, crisp sweetbread, pumpkin and Madeira; roast monkfish, mussel and seaweed broth, and ash-crusted venison with baked beetroots and smoked, pickled walnuts speak to Graham’s extensive time in high-end British restaurants. The team is also committed to embracing total sustainability, using local, seasonal produce above all else. ‘When I first started cooking, it was almost a badge of honour that you could get something from some far-flung place on the planet,’ says Graham. ‘That was the definition of luxury. We’ve evolved away from that idea for good reason.’ Gezellig doesn’t import ingredients from far away – instead the chefs work with local produce and use their expertise to create menus that are delicious and sustainable. ‘We also use every bit of the animals we buy,’ he adds, ‘and we run a dedicated vegetarian menu at all times.’

Gezellig is a restaurant for the modern age, catering to all at a very high standard. For Graham and his partners, it’s the culmination of two decades in the industry. ‘This was always the goal,’ he says in closing. ‘No matter what I was doing in my career, I always had an idea that one day I’d have my own restaurant. This is the restaurant I always imagined I would have.’

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