It's a big ask. Taking a small but perfectly formed neighbourhood restaurant of 50 seats into the heart of the West End's luvvieland, expanding it along the way and, oh yes, taking on an F&B operation at the same time. Total potential covers in one night? Approaching 400 over all the dining outlets. An undoubted opportunity. A risk? Certainly. After all, the industry is littered with the fall-out from over-ambitious expansion projects.
But if anyone is up to the task, the two Adams (Adam Byatt and Adam Oates) probably are. I've never met two such organised chefs. Every i and t of the transfer of their highly acclaimed Thyme restaurant from South London to Covent Garden's exciting Hospital site has been dotted and crossed. From the 26-page staffing manual, to the bespoke chinaware and cutlery, to the graphics on the business cards: menus, wine and cocktail lists, suppliers, the flow of work in the huge main kitchen - the thought lavished on everything is impressive.
"You can't possibly take on a project like this without having some kind of structure to your business. It's all well and good being creative and visionary and serving wonderful food, but if there's no system and it's totally dependent on you as a person then it's a pretty useless thing. I feel very strongly about that," Byatt says. (He's the one that does most of the talking, by the way, with Oates adding his pearls of wisdom where appropriate).
We're sitting, all three of us, in a tiny chef's office, overflowing with coats, computers and mobile phones that leap into musical life with irritating regularity. It's two weeks prior to the restaurant's opening (on 4 November) and, in time-honoured tradition, the restaurant - apart from its vast kitchen, stretching out into infinity before the office's peep-hole of a window - is a building site. Chippies, electricians and plasterers are all beavering away, oblivious to the racket and clouds of dust they are throwing out. To stop any untoward interruptions, Byatt locks the door. No escape for anyone.
A brief history of Thyme
For anyone unfamiliar with the Adams Family scenario and its Hospitalisation, here's a potted history. Byatt and Oates met some 14 years ago when they were working in the kitchens of London's renowned Claridge's hotel. Their careers diverged for a while subsequently, but reconverged in the kitchens of Philip Howard's two-Michelin-starred Bruton Street restaurant, the Square. They left the Square two-and-a-half years ago to give birth to Thyme in a less-than-salubrious part of Clapham, south of the Thames.
Critical acclaim wasn't long in coming. The national reviewers (barring the Sunday Times's AA Gill) loved the classically-based modern fare that the chefs (Byatt at the hot station, Oates in pastry) put out. They loved the … la carte concept of modest-portioned dishes - tasting menu-esque, but not so small - that Thyme made its own, which enabled them to sample a myriad of food without the consequence of finding themselves welded to the chair at a meal's end. "I think I'm in love," opined Terry Durrack in the Independent on Sunday at the time; "Sweet Jesus but it's good," raved the Observer's Jay Rayner; while the Guardian's Matthew Fort declared the boys were putting out "forceful… well-focused and rich" flavours.
"We didn't expect to become successful so quickly. Not at all," Byatt says. "We viewed Thyme as ‘let's do our own thing and not work for anybody else' and didn't think beyond that." Those blinkers didn't stay on long, as the restaurant's success meant it soon outgrew its neighbourhood roots and the Adams cast their eyes north-westwards to Chelsea or South Kensington and a larger - say, 80-seat - dining room.
Enter restaurant manager and fixer Anders Baath (ex-Bank Group and Fifteen), who put them forward as possible leasees of the fine-dining restaurant (and contractors for F&B at the private members club) at the Hospital, a converted medical building slap bang in the middle of Covent Garden. Baath was the vice-president of club and guest relations at the Hospital, whose multi-functioned purpose was the vision of entrepreneurial owner Paul Allen and rock musician Dave Stewart of Eurythmics fame. Chicago uberchef Charlie Trotter had been planning to make his debut on the London restaurant scene at the Hospital, so for Byatt and Oates to pull off the deal was something of a coup.
|Adam Oates (left) and Adam Byatt have moved their restaurant to the centre of London.|