Balancing act: Jonny Lake and Isa Bal's Trivet

30 October 2019 by

Jonny Lake and Isa Bal recognise it's a tricky time to open a restaurant, but the pair hope that Trivet is indeed stable on uneven ground. Drawing on inspiration from baked potatoes in Japan to ancient wine trails, the site will be anchored by their ultra-modern yet relaxed style. Emma Lake discovers what's in store

Chef Jonny Lake and master sommelier Isa Bal considered a multitude of alternative names for their debut restaurant before settling on Trivet.

The two former Fat Duck colleagues chose it partly for its implications of balance, warmth and stability, but mostly because of its universality – trivets have, after all, been used in almost every ancient civilisation.

This range of interpretations all provide inspiration to the two magpies of gastronomy, for whom a simple baked potato spurred the idea for a highly original dessert (more of which later).

The name is not the only thing that has been carefully considered about this new long-awaited opening, first revealed to the public in June 2019. Lake and Bal first met when they arrived at Heston Blumenthal's three-Michelin-starred restaurant in Bray, Berkshire, within weeks of one another. Twelve years on, early in 2018, they departed from their respective positions of group executive chef and group head sommelier.

Jonny Lake Isa Bal Trivet 2-2339
Jonny Lake Isa Bal Trivet 2-2339

Lake says: "We both left at a similar time, but for different reasons, and we started talking and said we've got to do something together. We were trying to work out what our restaurant would be, and it took a long time and a lot of conversations before we made a decision.

"The name was very important to us. It's less about a cooking apparatus and more about what it represents. The Wikipedia definition says trivet is ‘the most stable apparatus on uneven ground' and I couldn't think of anything more fitting. I cannot imagine a worse time to be opening a restaurant. We're officially opening on 29 October and it's been a running bad joke that at least we'll get two really great days' trading."

The Wikipedia definition says trivet is ‘the most stable apparatus on uneven ground' and I couldn't think of anything more fitting. I cannot imagine a worse time to be opening a restaurant.

Mellow yellow

When guests arrive at Trivet in London's Bermondsey, they enter a large ground-floor space flooded with natural light from floor-to- ceiling windows looking on to the historic Guinness buildings opposite. To the right of the entrance is a large marble bar, serving a menu of snacks, small plates and larger dishes such as Ligurian braised rabbit with potato purée and Taggiasche olives (£19).

To the left of the entrance is the restaurant, which can seat 65 covers across two rooms, in the centre of which is an open kitchen featuring a bespoke grill by Mark Parr of London Log Co. Other focal points are provided by a central wine display room and a large yellow sofa, colour-matched to a 1980 Mercedes 230E that Lake bought as his ‘family car' after joining the Fat Duck, later sold to Bal (sadly, its current location is unknown).

Jonny Lake Isa Bal Trivet4Q5A3744
Jonny Lake Isa Bal Trivet4Q5A3744

Far from presenting guests with a map and leading them on a highly stylised journey, as is offered at the Fat Duck, Trivet will be an informal environment, open from midday to midnight. Lake explains: "The Fat Duck will always be a big part of us, and there are aspects of it that we wanted to take with us. We did talk about what we want the guests to get out of Trivet, but there's no comparison – the Fat Duck is a unique restaurant. Our ideal guest is going is to eat some amazing food and be comfortable here for two, two-and-a-half hours, and then they're going to come back again and again."

Artichoke, salsify and autumn truffle
Artichoke, salsify and autumn truffle

Trivet will offer an à la carte menu of five starters, five mains and five desserts, with the concept informed by Lake and Bal's travels and experiences. For example, the pair reference a sake research trip in Japan as the inspiration for a dessert. Lake says: "We were in northern Japan and all I'd read about beforehand was fish, fish, fish, but one night we were in a small restaurant – we had a lot of grilled fish and some simple robata – and near the end of the meal, this baked potato appears, wrapped in tinfoil and with a big pat of butter on it.

"I hadn't seen potatoes in Japan – French fries, yes, but not potatoes – so it really surprised us, and it was amazing. It was the best-tasting baked potato I've ever had. We knew we had to do something with it. I have pictures of Isa in the kitchen in the restaurant in Japan, asking them to give us some of their potatoes, which I brought back wrapped in newspaper.

"We've ended up with a dish we call Hokkaido potato. It's a baked potato millefeuille with a sake and white chocolate mousse and a butter and sake gelato. It comprises baked potato skins in the puff pastry, potato purée whipped into the sake and white chocolate mousse, and baked potato salt on top of the gelato. Then, on top of that, there's very thinly sliced confit potato glazed with butter and sugar. I love it."

HokkaidoPotato.Baked potato Millefeuille,sake, and whitechocmousse, butterandsakegelato
HokkaidoPotato.Baked potato Millefeuille,sake, and whitechocmousse, butterandsakegelato

Despite the originality of the dish, Lake stresses that challenging people is not on the agenda. He explains: "The food has to be good. There's no point putting something people haven't seen before on the menu and then it's terrible. The dish is in a classic form – the potato terrine on top could be apple."

The duo's travels have prompted other dishes, including a starter called Dante's pici, a take on an eggless pasta shaped into noodles. It was introduced to them by a guide in Tuscany, who gives his name to the dish. Traditionally served with a veal and pork ragù, Lake has instead incorporated red mullet and artichokes with a Chardonnay and butter sauce.

Lake adds: "I need to tell Dante that it's on the menu – it means a lot to be able to associate it with him." Bal adds: "The dishes are personal to us, they're not dishes you can have anywhere else. In that sense we have created something."

Time travel

Trivet's drink offering will incorporate sake, local spirits, beers and classic cocktails, a list of 350 wines and some fermented offerings currently in the experimentation phase.

The wine list will be presented following the journey of early makers. Bal explains: "I wanted to do something a bit different with the wines. Wine-making goes back to 7,000 or 8,000BC in modern-day Georgia, Armenia, Turkey and northern Iran. That sparked an idea. On the menu we're going to list 7,000BC followed by the wines from those regions, and follow the timeline to northern Greece in 4,500BC and through to today."

Each wine will be accompanied with notes, including if it is traditional, natural, biodynamic, organic or even ‘slightly challenging'. Bal adds: "I'm hoping it will trigger questions from the diners so that we can tell them more. When you have 350 wines, it's not easy for the diner to choose, so our job is to communicate with them as clearly as we can to prevent disappointment. If we have to, we can replace it, but we don't want people to be in that situation."

Roastpigeon, persimmon and chevril root
Roastpigeon, persimmon and chevril root

Lake adds: "It's a very relaxed, informal service, but at the same time very knowledgeable and confident. We want people to be as comfortable as possible, to enjoy themselves. Sometimes the structure of a more formal service can be really off-putting and we don't want that."

This relaxed ethos extends to the staff, where jobs are not necessarily defined by their titles. Lake says: "We understand people come to the job with different levels of experience and abilities, but in front of house there's no separate sommelier team; everyone does everything. It's the same in the kitchen, where there's no dedicated pastry team.

"We've obviously been very fortunate to find people who have good backgrounds in both, but we just want people who are open-minded. Even if all they've ever done is pastry, we want them to be interested in other aspects. The people who are working here may want to one day have their own restaurants, and to do that you need to see everything."

Jonny Lake Isa Bal Trivetchicken with a vinegar sauce.</p><p>trompette mushroom, mashed potato and glazed turnips.
Jonny Lake Isa Bal Trivetchicken with a vinegar sauce. trompette mushroom, mashed potato and glazed turnips.

The Trivet kitchen lacks some of the equipment and space Lake had at his fingertips at the Fat Duck, which has required some left-field thinking, such as preparing stocks overnight in the oven, but both he and Bal stress the importance of preserving skills.

He says: "At the Fat Duck, the science was always a bit oversold and what it was really about was just understanding what you needed to do to a dish to make it better. It's having that understanding, knowledge and skill to look at something and say: ‘this is what I want to do, this is what I know, this is what I'm starting with – what do I change?' It takes a lot of understanding, but you can make amazing things."

When The Caterer visited, Lake's team were in situ, having cooked for the first soft opening the night before, and the chef says he has enjoyed telling them stories about what has inspired dishes and exploring their ideas. It's something he says was instilled in him while working for Italian chef Gualtiero Marchesi at L'Albereta in Lombardy, crediting the chef with showing him how to make an "interesting restaurant".

Bal adds: "Ultimately, it's food and people are going to eat it – it has to taste good and it has to look good. The creative process is sometimes almost a selfish process – you enjoy it and you get a buzz from it. You just hope part of that excitement is transferred to the diner."

About Trivet

Trivet, Snowsfields, London SE1 3SU

Covers bar: 22; restaurant: 65

Restaurant manager Melissa Fergus

Head chef Michele Stanco

Opening Tuesday to Saturday, midday to midnight

Opened 29 October

From the menu

Starters from £14

  • Dante's pici – pici pasta, red mullet and artichokes
  • Veal sweetbread, raw mushroom and cumin

Mains from £26

  • Chicken with a vinegar sauce
  • Roast pigeon, persimmon and chervil root

*Desserts from £10

  • Hokkaido potato – baked potato millefeuille, sake and white chocolate mousse, butter and sake gelato
  • Gianduja fondant with white coffee gelato

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