After two years in Scotland he headed for London, taking at head chef role at Café Rouge (no connection to the chain) where the owner was set on establishing a highly rated restaurant. It was here that Bryan Webb experienced fine ingredients for the first time – fresh tuna, wild mushrooms, foie gras – and within six months the restaurant had achieved an excellent rating in the Good Food Guide.
He was then appointed head chef of Hilaire, on Old Brompton Road in London, where he took over from acclaimed chef Simon Hopkinson (becoming chef-proprietor four years later). Cooking here for fourteen years, he moved away from the nouvelle cuisine he had dabbled with in the past and settled into the style of food he still serves today – simple, seasonal and with fantastic flavour. Interestingly, Bryan Webb cites two chefs he has never worked with as his greatest influences. Franco Taruschio of The Walnut Tree, who cooked that seminal meal of his youth and whose fresh, humble cooking he has tried to emulate. Similarly Simon Hopkinson whose classic French cuisine – “good, honest food” as Bryan Webb describes it – left a lasting impression.
His food at Hilaire placed the emphasis on fresh, country ingredients, highlighting quality Welsh produce, accented by beautifully made chutneys, pickles and preserves. Typical dishes included an amuse of Welsh house-cured duck with pickled fruits, followed by a starter of Potato pancake with sautéed foie gras and plum chutney. Mains could include Roast sea bass on tagliatelle with crab sauce, or expertly cooked Partridge with spiced cherries and bread sauce. Dessert could be Pear Charlotte with blueberry compote, or St. Emilion au chocolat. In 1998, Hilaire was named 9th best in the country by the Independent, in conjunction with the Good Food Guide.
In 2002, Bryan and his wife Susan embarked on a tasting trip around the world, before returning to Wales to set up Tyddyn Llan, a restaurant with rooms. Still producing ingredient-driven dishes – where the finest produce, even down to the basics, are sourced with care and respect – Bryan Webb’s plates reflect his drive to produce honest, seasonal, tasty food. But his understated presentation belies his mastery of classical technique and in 2010, Bryan Webb (and his wife, who runs front of house) won a Michelin star, one of only four restaurants in Wales to hold such an accolade. They have held it ever since.
With starters such as Oysters with laverbread and Stilton, or Terrine of calves’ liver, Bryan Webb blends traditional French cuisine with British ingredients, showcasing Wales where possible. Despite the frequent menu changes that seasonality brings, his Steak au poivre never leaves the menu – a dish he first experienced back as a teenager at The Crown. Other mains could include Breast of Madgett's Farm duck with potato pancakes and spinach, or Roast pigeon with braised butter beans and wild mushrooms. Dessert, perhaps, a Chocolate cheesecake with chocolate cream-stuffed pithiviers and crème fraîche.
Bryan Webb’s rustic, flavour-driven cooking can also be enjoyed at home. His cookbook, Bryan Webb’s Kitchen, came out in 2010 and includes his signature dishes and recipes inspired by his food heroes, amongst many more. Also in the book are tales of the couple’s eating travels around the world and details about their valued suppliers.
The Good Food Guide says of Bryan Webb’s food that “seasonal clarity is his touchstone”, noting “the intelligence and culinary know-how” of this “serious-minded eatery”. Writing in The Guardian, Matthew Fort says his food calls for “cultured appreciation and the expression of deep pleasure”. But the best description of what Bryan Webb is striving for comes from the chef: “the kind of food you want to eat yourself”.
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