Andy Beynon

Andy Beynon

Andy Beynon

Andy Beynon made his mark on the UK's culinary map when he landed his first Michelin star just twenty days after opening his debut restaurant Behind. There, his seafood-led menu blends his classical fine dining background – learned under the likes of Matt Weedon and Phil Howard – with his own ingredient-focused style, which balances complexity and minimalism.

A deep-rooted appreciation of good food often goes hand-in-hand with a love of travel. The two are, after all, intrinsically linked – food is at the heart of a region's culture, reflecting not only its culinary habits but its traditions, geography and history. Seeking out authentic dishes or getting to grips with new ingredients at home is a pastime for many of us, and what first inspired chef Andy Beynon's love of food. His Italian heritage meant he spent much of his childhood surrounded by the country's fantastic produce, both at home and on visits there. ‘The produce in Italy is amazing and completely different to what we have here,’ he nods. ‘When you’re not used to that, you find yourself wanting it more.’ That rich bounty sparked a fire to learn all he could, he says, encouraging him into the kitchen from a young age (though he's the first to admit some of his earliest attempts didn't aways end up in culinary triumph).

At sixteen he donned his whites and entered the professional kitchen, first in Hertfordshire, where he grew up, before moving to the capital a year later. Though he was still a teenager, he was clear even then where he wanted to end up. ‘I always wanted to work in a Michelin-starred restaurant,’ he says. ‘It’s a stamp of quality, and I knew that’s what I wanted.’ It was an aspiration only cemented by stageing at the two Michelin-starred The Ledbury and joining chef Matt Weedon at his Cotswolds restaurant Lords of the Manor (it gained its star in 2009, just a year after Matt took over as head chef), to which he commuted from West London. There, he had his first full-time taste of a Michelin-starred kitchen, and found a mentor and friend in Matt, who showed him the ropes. ‘He took me under his wing and I felt he trusted me,’ Andy says. ‘We would go and eat at nice places, which were great experiences – I learned a lot during that time.’

Over the course of his twenties, Andy built on that initial grounding in classical fine dining, working in top-flight kitchens; there were stints with Michael Wignall at his Michelin-starred The Latymer in Surrey, and at Phil Howard's The Square, a restaurant which closed in 2020 but which had become known as a kitchen in which the country's brightest talents were shaped. ‘I had always wanted to work there really enjoyed it – it was such a prestigious kitchen with amazing chefs,’ Andy agrees. ‘Chefs built their careers there.' Those years, he says, were all about putting in the hours, sharpening his skills and developing his identity as a chef. 'I just remember being ridiculously tired around that time – I can’t even tell you how many times I fell asleep on a night bus in Walthamstow,' he laughs. 'The thing is, when you are working those hours and putting everything into it, it needs to be a place where you can grow and learn and The Square really was.’

Next, he joined Claude Bosi at Hibiscus (that closed with two Michelin stars in 2016), where he spent two and a half years before starting to yearn for more independence. ‘I knew I wanted to run my own thing and be more creative,’ he nods. ‘From there, I was on the hunt for what I wanted to do next.’ After a spell with Daniel Fletcher at Fenchurch, he joined Jason Atherton’s Social Company as a development chef. Though there were day-to-day elements overseeing sections, the recipe creation side of the role gave him a taste of working at a bigger picture level. By this point, he was ready to go solo and his next role, teaching at a culinary school, provided the space – and income – to focus on what that might look like. ‘It gave me the time to work on the side, to look at it and see how I could make it work,’ he nods.

The idea for Behind was born long before the restaurant became a reality. ‘I always knew I wanted my restaurant to be very customer-focused, interactive and creative,’ he says. ‘It was just a case of working on exactly how I could do it. For me, it’s important for chefs to be involved with customers.' He took the first steps towards bringing it to life just as Covid hit and, despite the damage it inflicted on hospitality, the pandemic initially brought Andy a glimmer of a silver lining – bargaining power in the negotiations over his self-funded restaurant.

In October 2020, Behind opened its doors in Hackney's London Fields. Despite its relatively sizeable home, the eighteen-seat chef's table restaurant is intimate, centred around a curved counter from which diners can watch the small team of chefs bring its intricate dishes to life, before they serve and explain them. The menu is seafood-led, celebrating sustainable, foraged and hyper seasonal ingredients, while Andy's laid-back nature guides its ethos. ‘There’s a big depth of flavour, with natural seasoning, and complex but still minimalistic dishes,' he summarises. 'There’s a real interaction between chefs and customers. It’s not a stuffy restaurant either, it’s relaxed, very much about a chilled atmosphere.’

There have probably been few riskier times to open a new restaurant, Andy acknowledges; ten days after his first service he was forced to close for the second lockdown. Behind bounced back, and after another ten days of trading – just twenty in total – he received the rather unexpected news that he'd received his first Michelin star. ‘It was just the speed of it,’ he smiles. ‘Just knowing how quickly they came in was amazing. It was really cool, and hearing the news was unbelievable. I had always wanted it – it was really emotional.’ The feat attracted headlines and the capital's attention, etching Behind's name on its culinary map.

Though Behind – and the possibility of adding a second star to its name – remains Andy's focus, he is keen to balance it with his other joy: travel. He can often be found forging connections with chefs overseas, who he might meet on city breaks and return to host pop-ups with (he's most recently done so in Lisbon, and previously hosted a Persian-inspired pop-up with Sally Abé), a passion which may well influence where we see him go next. ‘It would be nice to open in a different country and perhaps have a chef’s table somewhere that allows me to travel,' he says. 'For me, it's so important. It’s about getting to know the culture of the cities you’re in. You learn about different produce, different cooking methods; everything is from a completely different point of view.'