In 2001 he moved to Gordon Ramsay at Claridge’s (a return to the site of his college placement) working for head chef Mark Sargeant during the opening, before taking up a place at Ramsay’s (now three-star) Royal Hospital Road. He says of his year there: ‘Gordon was an excellent boss to work for, exceptionally demanding, as you would expect in a three-Michelin-starred restaurant, but also a very caring person – something not always said about him. He looked after his loyal staff very well and taught us a lot about working in a top-level establishment. I thrived on the pressure and discipline. As a youngster I was a bit of a tearaway and, as I developed as a chef, found that a military-style organisation in the kitchen was what I personally needed.’
After a spell running the kitchen at the Groucho Club, he returned to work with Marcus Wareing at Pétrus (now moved to the Berkeley Hotel), working as head chef when Wareing won his second Michelin star in 2007. He describes this as the most fundamental part of his career, where he learned the level of attention needed for both the business and culinary sides of such an operation. He also took on his lessons in dedication, commitment and consistency, saying he now bases his own style of management on this education, although adjusted to his own temperament and goals.
The food he was cooking at Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley – a mix of classic French and British influences – was some of the best being produced in Britain at the time. A typical meal could feature a starter of Scallops with mustard pickle, lime mayonnaise, cucumber and baby leaf, followed by Best end of pork with fennel purée, buttered turnips, apple and mustard-sage crumbs and an Apple tarte Tatin,
In 2011 he opened his own restaurant, Alyn Williams at the Westbury, keen to build his own reputation and cook food that was truly his own. 2012 was a year of career highlights for Alyn Williams, winning a Michelin star after less than a year and scooping National Chef of the Year.
He says his food has evolved considerably over the past few years, moving away from the dishes he created with Wareing in mind, to those of his own palate and personality. French classical technique is still at the heart of his cuisine, but his myriad influences and inspirations are also evident, such as his use of Asian flavours in his Tandoori scallops with chickpeas and yoghurt and Pork ‘noodles’, piggy tea, mustards, kombu and shony.
His food is characterised by beautiful concentrations of flavour – from big and bold to just a suggestion – with his treatment of diverse textures showing real flair. Awarding his first star, Michelin says: ‘The cooking is creative and even playful but however elaborately constructed the dish, the combinations of flavours and textures always work.’ The food is very much his own, with his nuanced, individual stamp on every dish. He says he is cooking much more gently now than before, innovating, but without creating for creation’s sake.
Alyn Williams’ food is not only seasonal, he separates each season into ‘micro-seasons’ and frequent menu changes centre on this philosophy. Alongside brilliant meat and fish menus there is also an unusually excellent vegetarian menu, inspired by the tedious asparagus and risotto dishes he had seen his vegetarian wife endure over the years. Still drawing on the appreciation of vegetables he gained in his childhood, such produce is treated with reverence and craft in his kitchen, as with his Laverbread ravioli with roasted onion stock and Welsh beach vegetables. Meat is not side-lined, however, as can be seen with his Beef sirloin with white asparagus, Solomon’s seal herb and craft ale, and game makes a frequent appearance on his menus as well.
Despite the regular menu changes, some dishes have established themselves as signature plates, well received by critics and customers alike – his Smoked egg with celeriac and black truffle soldiers, for example. Soft, lightly runny yolk with a light hint of smokiness, sourdough soldiers smeared with a deeply umami truffle paste and carefully treated celeriac for texture and an extra layer of flavour. His Walnut whip dessert shows a similarly nostalgic whimsy, with layers of nougat glacé, handmade vanilla marshmallow, delicate chocolate coating and gold leaf.
Alyn Williams had already established himself as a chef capable of cooking at the highest levels of British cuisine, and he is now quickly building a reputation as the architect of one of London’s most exciting tasting menus. With light, sensitive preparations and flavour combinations that dazzle with their nuance and subtlety, as The Guardian concludes, tasting Alyn Williams own cooking ‘was well worth the wait’.
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