15 years of Trinity: Adam Byatt on the highs and lows of his Michelin-starred Clapham restaurant

by Henry Coldstream 9 August 2021

Since opening its doors in 2006, Clapham’s Trinity has risen through the ranks to become one of London’s most highly regarded neighbourhood restaurants. Henry Coldstream chats to chef proprietor Adam Byatt about what’s changed over the past fifteen years and how he’s kept Trinity relevant.

Henry is the features editor at Great British Chefs.

Henry is the features editor at Great British Chefs. Having previously written pieces for a variety of online food publications, he joined the team in 2021 and helps with all editorial aspects of the site. When not writing, Henry can usually be found eating and drinking his way through London's many restaurants and bars, or cooking in his kitchen at home.

In a city as big as London, with decent restaurants on practically every corner and backstreet, it’s hard enough to get bums on seats, let alone have a loyal, returning customer base. When Adam Byatt first opened Trinity in 2006, he wanted it to be a neighbourhood restaurant that people would want to return to again and again. Fifteen years later, with a Michelin star to its name and a reputation that reaches far beyond the bounds of Clapham, Trinity has achieved so much more.

Inspired by the likes of Chez Bruce and La Trompette, Adam was always determined for Trinity to become a mainstay London restaurant and even semi-based the design and feel of the restaurant on these classic institutions. However, that sort of status isn’t generated overnight and requires incredible dedication and commitment. Inevitably any restaurant will have its ups and downs but sometimes it’s a case of coping with the difficult patches and sticking to your guns — something which was essential in Trinity’s early days.

‘There’s been some incredible highs and incredible lows; I try to delete all the really negative stuff from my mind and focus on the positives,’ says Adam. ‘Sometimes it feels like it’s only been a few years since we started and other times it feels like two decades. The first five or so years at Trinity were incredibly hard and dark. Back then it was normal to only do four covers at lunch whereas now lunches book up months ahead. Was it because the offering wasn’t right? Was it to do with the restaurant being different? It’s actually none of those things; it’s all just part of becoming a mainstay. You have to stick to your guns, gain traction with your name and be able to stand the test of time.’

Once Trinity had become more of an established name, the question became how to stay relevant in such a crowded marketplace while still functioning as a viable business. Having already seen his previous restaurant Thyme forced into closure despite being fantastically received by critics, being relevant has always been and still is high on Adam’s list of priorities. ‘There are some incredible restaurants in London which you don’t hear of again because they’ve become irrelevant and it’s really difficult,’ he says. ‘In the beginning, I had absolutely no care in the world for accolades or notoriety. All I wanted to do was stay afloat so I’d do anything to generate revenue; I’d even do masterclasses between services sometimes. There was a point where the food was quite homely – steak and chips, shepherd’s pie, that sort of thing – and then in an attempt to stay relevant, we made the food more modern. Eventually, we reached a point where it was doing well but it just wasn’t brilliant, and we decided it was make or break time.’

In 2015, Adam took the decision to close Trinity for four months and invest heavily in a large-scale refurbishment with the aim of pushing for an elusive Michelin star. He maintained a similar style of cooking but simplified the food, paid more attention to how they were looking after customers and removed the unnecessary extra revenue streams. After just ten months, Adam and his team were rewarded with a star. At the same time he opened another restaurant above Trinity (aptly named Upstairs) which he believes was key to the continuing success of the business.

‘It’s the upstairs restaurant that really allows Trinity to shine because it means we don’t have to worry about set lunch menus to sell secondary produce. If we buy a duck, we don’t have to serve duck leg confit at lunchtime to make the margin up. It just delivers its menu at full price, with brilliant ingredients, and all those secondary bits and pieces move into the upstairs restaurant, where we serve small plates in a more casual, bustling atmosphere. It really suits the way I like to cook and I think it also keeps us really relevant.’

Plenty has changed in the restaurant industry since Trinity first opened, with sustainability and low-waste cooking more important than ever before. However, in this regard Trinity was always rather ahead of its time. Adam’s style of cookery has always been focused around cooking seasonally, which ticks the sustainability box, but the opening of Upstairs at Trinity helped to minimise wastage as well. ‘I wouldn’t say that fifteen years ago I set out to save the planet by making sure we used every bit of a chicken,’ says Adam. ‘I did it because I didn’t want to lose money and I quite like trying to be frugal where possible. The whole sustainable eating thing just caught up with it. Before it even became the thing to do we were composting all of our food waste and growing vegetables in it, just because it’s nice and fits the culture of how we like to think about food. Nowadays we’re not shy about taking the head of a huge turbot we’re serving downstairs, grilling it whole at the upstairs restaurant and serving it with chips and tartare sauce.’

Trinity may have evolved over the years in many ways, but despite the many accolades it’s still the same neighbourhood restaurant that Adam set out to open fifteen years ago – something which is incredibly important to him. ‘I obviously want to make Trinity as brilliant as it can be but it still remains a place for people that live locally; they still come in and recognise the food. It’s wonderful because when you’ve been around this long, you get to see the whole journey that people go on. People will come to Trinity for their first date, then they’ll come back when they’ve got engaged, then again for their anniversary and eventually with their kids. It becomes something bigger than a restaurant and that’s a really nice thing.’

After a year-and-a-half of on-and-off COVID restrictions which have wreaked havoc on the restaurant industry, we’ve all been craving that feeling of dining out in a familiar setting more than ever; eating in a restaurant we associate with happy memories. That’s why fifteen years on, Trinity is perhaps more relevant than ever right now. Adam admits that he doesn’t have any huge goals or elaborate plans for the future of the restaurant – he just wants it to continue being the best version of itself it possibly can be and hopes to be celebrating another anniversary in ten years’ time. And with bookings at Trinity still difficult to come by without planning months ahead, you’d be brave to bet against him.