Trivet: a welcome addition to the neighbourhood

Trivet: welcome to the neighbourhood

by Pete Dreyer 03 December 2019

We talk to Jonny Lake and Isa Bal about leaving The Fat Duck, the importance of proper sauces, and what inspired them to open a neighbourhood restaurant in London Bridge. Photography by Tom Osborne.

Pete worked as a food writer at Great British Chefs.

Pete worked as a food writer at Great British Chefs.

Jonny Lake spent twelve years at the three-Michelin-starred Fat Duck in Bray, all told. He started in 2005 as a chef de partie and quickly ascended the ranks, eventually becoming head chef in 2009. He won almost every award there was to win in his time at the helm of the restaurant – Michelin stars, AA Rosettes, and a consistent place in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, to name a few. When he departed in 2017, he left The Fat Duck as an unassailable icon of world gastronomy. So, what does one do when they’ve seen and worked at the very top of the tree for the best part of a decade? For Jonny, there was still one huge ambition that remained unfulfilled. ‘I think any chef ultimately wants to have their own restaurant one day,’ he says.

Not every chef gets that opportunity, but after twelve years in Bray working with Heston Blumenthal, the time was ripe for Jonny to break out on his own. We’re sitting in the dining room of his new restaurant, Trivet – named after the table utensil that implies a sense of balance. Trivet has only been open for a number of days; when I arrive in the morning, a team of builders are busy applying finishing touches to the restaurant. The patio doors have been removed, inviting the cold winter’s morning into the main dining room, along with a blaze of early morning sunshine.

‘Part of me still doesn’t quite believe it,’ Jonny continues, warming his palms on his coffee cup. ‘When I come in the morning or leave at night and I’m locking the door, it feels unbelievable that I’m here.’

Trivet is not a solo venture, though. Co-founder and business partner Isa Bal was head sommelier at The Fat Duck for almost as long as Jonny was head chef; between them they bring a wealth of experience that few in the capital can match – two decades in one of the world’s very best restaurants. Openings of this calibre don’t happen very often, even in London. Trivet may well be the most important restaurant opening of the year in the UK.

Warm wooden tones feature heavily in Trivet's refurbished dining room
The other half of the dining room can be separated by a sliding wooden door, making it perfect as a large private dining space

The pair had known for a while that they wanted to open a restaurant, but it took them some time to distill the essence of what that restaurant would be. ‘We left within about six months of each other, didn’t we?’ Jonny asks, turning to Isa. ‘When you’ve worked at such a high level for so long in one place, it takes a while to come out of that and really understand what you want to do.’ If you go to Trivet in the hopes that it’ll be a Fat Duck outpost in London, well, you may be disappointed. The restaurant certainly aspires to the same level of quality and it inherits all the knowledge and expertise of its founders, but Trivet is far more approachable; neighbourhood-y, even. Jonny’s cooking is precise but comforting, far from the avant-garde, multi-sensory exploration that made The Fat Duck so noteworthy. ‘We always felt it would be a destination restaurant,’ Jonny explains, ‘but we wanted it to be accessible, not hard to get into. We’re still using the highest quality of ingredients, serving great wines and cooking fantastic food, but everything is done in a much simpler way.’

‘We don’t want to become a place where you have to book a long time ahead,’ Isa adds. ‘We wanted to create a place where you can just come in, relax, eat and drink. You can sit at the bar and read a newspaper if you want to.’

The wine bar is a key part of that philosophy. Trivet will no doubt be popular for some time and tables may be hard to come by – an unavoidable side effect of running a good restaurant – but the wine bar at Trivet allows space for people to come in and enjoy the experience without having to book in advance. ‘The food we’re serving at the bar is a little simpler than what were doing in the restaurant,’ says Jonny, ‘but it still has the same complexity of flavours.’

‘That's something that often frustrates me,’ says Isa. ‘Sometimes you’re running around and you suddenly find yourself hungry, but can't find anywhere you can actually have a good plate of food. It's olives or nuts or something like that. There's not much else when you hit certain times of the day.’ The wine bar at Trivet does offer olives and nuts, but there are also proper plates of food. There’s Ligurian braised rabbit with Taggiasche olives and potato purée, fried polenta with Gorgonzola and grated Wiltshire truffle, or a rib-eye with French fries, salad and onion ketchup for those craving a steak.

Dante’s Pici – pici pasta, red mullet and artichokes
Chicken with a vinegar sauce

With any new restaurant opening, the focus tends to be on the food (especially when it comes to chefs of Jonny’s calibre), but food and wine share equal billing at Trivet; the idea from the outset has been to develop the experience around the synergy between the food and the wine. ‘There was a period at The Fat Duck where we did quite a few dinners with specific winemakers or wine regions,’ says Jonny. ‘We’d go and visit these places, really understand what they were trying to do and how the food and drink developed together in those areas. Working on those projects really formed a lot of what we do now at Trivet, in terms of how food and drink work together. It was never going to be myself taking care of the food and Isa doing a wine list. It all develops together.’

The menu at Trivet is simple – an à la carte of five starters, five mains and five desserts that includes dishes like salt-steamed turbot, coco beans and tarragon oil; Iberico pluma, beetroot and shiitake mushroom and pici pasta with red mullet and artichokes. Once you’ve ordered, Isa is on hand to guide you through an extensive wine list that covers not just classic and new world wine regions, but also ancient wine growing countries like Armenia, Georgia, Turkey and Greece. Trivet uses Coravin wine systems to offer an amazing range of wines by the glass, many of which would only be available by the bottle in other restaurants. Many of these wines – particularly those from Armenia, Georgia and the like – are bottles you would never see on any other wine list. These are not easy wines to find, and there aren’t many sommeliers who have the knowledge and experience to present a wine like this to a customer. Access to Isa’s vast expertise is just as essential to Trivet as Jonny’s superlative cooking.

Sauce-making is another area where Trivet really separates itself from other restaurants. Sauces is a notoriously difficult section in a kitchen, so much so that many kitchens have found workarounds to avoid the traditional toils of creating them from scratch. At Trivet, Jonny and his team really focus on this neglected area to deliver properly made, delicious sauces. ‘It was really important to us that we put a lot of work into the sauces on all of the dishes,’ says Jonny. ‘It’s so important to the end product. Whenever you read about matching wine with food, people always talk about what wine goes well with that ingredient, but really, it’s the sauce that links it all together. Roast chicken is roast chicken, but depending what sauce you serve it with, it completely changes the context of the dish and gives you the opportunity to make it much more interesting, in terms of the dish but also the wine pairing.’

Roast pigeon, persimmon and chervil root
Hokkaido Potato – baked potato mille feuille, sake and white chocolate mousse, butter and sake gelato

It’s fair to say Jonny and Isa have a great deal of expectation riding on their shoulders. Much has been said already about Trivet and what this restaurant could become, in time, but the pair are keen to stress that they’re in this for the long run. ‘This is a passion project – we’re doing this because we want to, not because we need to,’ says Jonny. Just as The Fat Duck didn’t become a phenomenon overnight, they’re both happy for Trivet to evolve organically. ‘The Fat Duck changed so much in the time we were there,’ says Jonny. ‘We have our vision of what we want Trivet to be, but it’s the people that work with us that will help to form that.’ Still, the restaurant has only been open a few days and already they’re setting the bar extremely high. The ‘Hokkaido Potato’ dessert – a baked potato mille feuille with sake and white chocolate mousse, butter and sake gelato – is already a bona fide Instagram star. Isa grins. ‘If you do what you do well and put everything you have into it, then surely everything else will follow.’