Harriet Mansell

Harriet Mansell

On returning to the UK, Harriet spent time at both Dinner by Heston and Hedone in Chiswick but soon found herself getting restless, ‘at that point I think I just wanted to be constantly travelling around,’ laughs Harriet. ‘I started to feel a bit stagnant staying in kitchens where there wasn’t much change happening. That’s why my food now is so reactive to the seasons, as it allows me to constantly change the menu.’ This restlessness eventually led to Harriet leaving London and spending a year cooking on a super yacht, before she joined The Wild Beer Co. as head chef. It was there she first really began to hone in on the style of food she’d ultimately want to serve at a restaurant of her own, cooking a hyper-seasonal beer pairing menu centered around wild foods (‘looking back at those menus, they’re quite similar to what I’m now doing at Robin Wylde’).

It took another few years for Harriet to get to the point where she felt ready to think about opening a restaurant of her own, but after spending more time working on yachts (cooking for high-profile clients including the Murdoch family), she eventually decided to settle down in Lyme Regis, near where she grew up. In 2019, the opportunity arose for her to temporarily take over the seaside town’s Pop-up Kitchen and within a matter of months the concept for Robin Wylde was born, ‘I just felt like there was a gap in the market around here for a tasting menu,’ explains Harriet, ‘and at the same time, I also realised that I was in one of the best places for foraging and finding seasonal ingredients. The quality of produce that farms produce around Lyme Regis is also insane.’

Harriet’s pop-up proved a huge success and led to her appearing on BBC’s Great British Menu the following spring. By the middle of 2020, she’d found a permanent space in Lyme Regis for her restaurant, and in October of that year Robin Wylde opened its doors, serving a set menu which captures Harriet’s passion for wild foods and seasonal cooking. ‘It’s not that wild foods are essential to my cookery,’ she says, ‘it’s more that it just seems logical to follow the flavours you get as you move through the year. When you look around and see flowers growing everywhere, for me it’s just obvious I need to play around with them whether that’s by making a syrup from flowering quince or a sorbet from lavender.’

This nature-guided approach employed by Harriet at Robin Wylde led to the restaurant being added to the Michelin Guide just a year after opening, and in 2021 Harriet opened Lilac, a sister restaurant and wine bar in Lyme Regis. Lilac shares Robin Wylde's ethos of following the seasons and showcasing Dorset's exceptional produce, but offers small plates rather than a tasting menu and serves them alongside wines chosen carefully by Harriet and her team.

She may have moved around a lot early on in her career, but so many of Harriet’s positions prior to opening Robin Wylde and Lilac, from her time spent at Noma to her work with the Wild Beer Co, were connected by her attraction to wild foods. It comes as no surprise therefore, that her own restaurants so clearly reflect this love of seasonality and locality. It’s Harriet’s immense skill at using these ingredients creatively in the kitchen though, that makes her food truly stand out.