Gabriel Waterhouse

Gabriel Waterhouse

Gabriel Waterhouse

Determined to move away from the world of traditional fine dining, Gabriel Waterhouse started a supper club out of his own Hackney flat. Over time, this has evolved into his own permanent restaurant The Water House Project, where he serves a regularly changing tasting menu to guests in a deliberately relaxed and convivial atmosphere.

When choosing to eat at a fine dining restaurant, there are a few preconceived notions you’re likely to have; conversations will be hushed, tables clad in white and chances are, you might not ever see the chefs who prepared your meal. Although establishments like these still very much exist and have their place, the rise of supper clubs and casual fine dining has seen high-end restaurants gradually become more and more accessible. Since hosting his first eponymous supper club in 2015, Gabriel Waterhouse has been set on striking a balance between serving elegant food and creating an accessible, sociable environment, and at his now-permanent restaurant The Water House Project, he continues to do just that.

As a child growing up in rural Northumberland, Gabriel has memories of shoots happening near home and helping to pluck the pheasants afterwards, ‘people would hang them outside our front door and I’d go and pluck them with my dad,’ says Gabriel. ‘I think seeing the end result of the animal on the kitchen table actually affected me and my brothers a bit because we all became vegetarians for about seven years! It did also give us a sense of ethics in terms of treating animals though.’

It wasn’t until his gap year after school though, that Gabriel really started to get into cooking, ‘there was a point before I went off travelling which I’d planned quite badly,’ he laughs, ‘so I ended up being on my own at my parents’ house quite a lot and that’s when I started thinking more about cooking.’ Rather than initially chasing a career in cookery, Gabriel instead went off to the University of Liverpool to study philosophy but by the time he left three years later, having worked in a local French restaurant in between terms and realised he had a skill for it, his mind was made up.

Gabriel moved to France for three months after university to work in a restaurant in the Alps, before coming to London to work under esteemed chef Herbert Berger at Innholders Hall. Joining a highly experienced team who had been working together for almost twenty-five years, Gabriel was able to quickly master the basics of classical cookery, ‘working in that kitchen felt like my training,’ he says. ‘It was a very nurturing environment and it gave me that classical grounding, which I think is important in most styles of cookery.’

After two years at Innholders Hall, on the recommendation of Herbert, Gabriel left to take up a position at the Michelin-starred Galvin La Chapelle, which initially proved to be a bit of a shock to the system, ‘I remember finding the first few months incredibly intense,’ says Gabriel, ‘in terms of the pace and the level of responsibility. It was very much a sink or swim environment but I do think you need that sometimes.’ Over the course of the time Gabriel spent at La Chappelle, he was able to work through all of the different sections of the kitchen as he further honed his skills, but all the while he longed for an environment that wasn’t so all-consuming.

‘I wanted to still be cooking food of that level,’ he explains, ‘but without all the baggage that comes with it. There’s so much structure in a restaurant like that. You’re constantly going through the same motions and have to be very focused the whole time; everything started to feel quite robotic and it would take a while to get out of that headspace. At the same time, I was also very aware that I’d been cooking other people’s food for years and was keen to move away from that and try and discover my own style.’

In 2015, whilst still working at La Chapelle, Gabriel decided to do his first ever supper clubs out of his Bethnal Green flat, initially just for friends and family and then for paying customers. ‘I just bought two tables and put them together in my living room,’ he explains, ‘I was basically serving tasting menus out of my kitchen, which I’d change every month to push me to create new stuff. A lot of it for me was also about getting rid of that disconnect between what goes on behind the scenes in a restaurant and what customers see.’ His intimate twelve-person dinners proved an instant hit, and Gabriel was allowed by Jeff Galvin to take Friday and Saturday evenings off work, so that he could continue running them. Gabriel named his supper club concept The Water House Project and, after six months of balancing his time between restaurant shifts and hosting dinners, he left La Chapelle to make it his entire focus.

The Water House Project quickly outgrew Gabriel’s home kitchen and relocated to a warehouse on Vyner Street and then to Mare Street, before finding a larger, permanent home near Regent’s Canal in 2021. Whilst its relocation led Gabriel to move away from the communal dining aspect of the concept, there’s still a distinct focus on the connection between the chefs and the customers, ‘it was really important for me that there was no barrier between the kitchen and the customers,’ he explains. ‘That connection between us as a team and our guests is definitely a focus.’

The food has always been just as important as the ambience for Gabriel though, and throughout the various iterations of the Water House Project, his style has constantly evolved, ‘I’m always seeking to grow and improve what I’m doing,’ he says. ‘if the dishes aren’t getting better they shouldn’t be on the menu. I always want to retain a balance between having a very natural aesthetic but one that’s grounded in really good cooking. I'd definitely say it's the combination of flavours and ingredients that drives my food though.’

It was a bold decision from Gabriel to leave behind the world of traditional fine dining in 2015 to forge a path of his own, but it’s one that has more than paid off for him. Not only has he created a unique restaurant which breaks down the barriers between chef and diner and proves that the ambience of a supper club can be recreated on a larger scale, but he’s also continued to develop into a wonderfully thoughtful chef of immense skill and creativity.