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Cateys 2016: Restaurateur of the Year – Independent

08 July 2016
Cateys 2016: Restaurateur of the Year – Independent

Sponsored by Brakes

Sam and Eddie Hart, Hart Bros Restaurants

Restaurateur brothers Sam and Eddie Hart have played a pivotal role in redressing the under-representation of Spanish cuisine in London since launching Fino in 2003 and the first of their trio of more informal Barrafina tapas bars in 2007. Their company, Hart Bros Restaurants, has also revitalised the iconic Quo Vadis, which first opened in Soho in 1926.

They returned to the UK to set up a restaurant inspired by the dishes served in Barcelona's Cal Pep, and joined forces with the group's executive head chef, Nieves BarragÁ¡n Mohacho, who was raised in the Basque country.

They opened the uber-cool 80-seat Fino as a contemporary Spanish tapas bar on Charlotte Street in 2003 to wide acclaim. However, its large size required a more formal, sit-down format than their original concept of an easy-going tapas bar.

The Harts had to wait until January 2007 to realise this vision, when they opened the first Barrafina in Frith Street, Soho, with 23 stools, an open kitchen and a fresh seafood display. Its potentially risky no-bookings policy led to 90-minute queues of eager customers.

A second branch opened on Adelaide Street, Covent Garden, in July 2014, complete with a Josper grill that allowed for new cooking techniques, especially for meat and fish. The group added the Drury Lane outlet in July 2015 with new dishes inspired by Mohacho's trips to Galicia, San SebastiÁ¡n and Mallorca.

Barrafina has won wide acclaim from both the critics and the public. The Standard's Simon Mills commented: "The tapas is not only the best in the capital, but up there with the tastiest on the continent."

The brothers closed Fino in June 2015, selling on the lease in March 2016, to focus on new Barrafina openings, but they have no plans to expand into a big chain. Speaking to the London Evening Standard last year, Eddie explained: "We won't homogenise the Barrafina ethos because each one is slightly different."

Quo Vadis was acquired in 2007 and reopened in 2008 after a makeover of both the interior and the menu under former Fino head chef Jean-Philippe Petruno. It relaunched as a British-style brasserie with a 90-cover dining room and bar and a private members' club. At the end of 2011, Jeremy Lee took over as head chef and the restaurant won the Menu of the Year Catey in 2012.

Earlier this year, the restaurateurs announced that they were to relocate the original Barrafina, which earned a Michelin star under Mohacho in 2014, to Quo Vadis, and confirmed that brother James would be leaving the City to join the family firm.

What the judges said

"Sam and Eddie are outstanding operators with a track record of making deft decisions. They create entirely relevant, exceptional restaurants."

Phil Howard

"Sam and Eddie are the epitome of the perfect hosts and restaurateurs, and jolly nice blokes too!"

Stephen Terry

The shortlist

  • Sam and Eddie Hart, Hart Bros Restaurants
  • Angela Hartnett, Chef-patron, Murano, London
  • Tom Kerridge, Chef-proprietor, the Hand & Flowers, Marlow, Kent
  • Nathan Outlaw, Chef-patron, Restaurant Nathan Outlaw, Port Isaac, Cornwall

The judges

  • Phil Howard, Chef and co-owner, Elystan Street, London
  • Oliver Peyton, Founder and creative partner, Peyton and Byrne
  • Alistair Sandall, Key account manager, AA Hotel Services
  • Stephen Terry, Proprietor, the Hardwick, Abergavenny

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