Eat Local

Words: Neil Gill   Photography by Joakim Blockstrom

Eat Local

With Neil Gill


Psst. Want to know where the next cool on trend restaurant is? The next El Bulli, the next Noma? You probably already eat there. Or have eaten there.

The new next big thing is that place you went to 6 years ago because Giles Coren wrote a review. God bless him. As chance would have it, the restaurant he had a diktat to review that week was shit and owned by a Trump-haired megalomaniac. Giles, despite his crusty not quite trusty-farian old git disposition has actually got soul, so reviewed the good, trying it's best place not the PR'd to within an inch of its life, more corporate cash than it knows what to do with place.

If you're a regular of ours then hats off to you, you savvy restaurant picking motherfucker. You stayed on the bus.

The sheeple, who get on and off different buses, never really get anywhere, like the restaurants they've been to once. Like the ones we've all been to once. Shame on us. Gone in a puff of brilliant pop up smoke. I rarely read restaurant reviews these days. I took heed of the advice I gave my 14 year old daughter about how on social media (and in the press for that matter) you only get to see the polished, edited, 20 selfies and five different filter versions of themselves people want you to see. That's not all of who they are. It's the same with restaurant reviews and Instagram posts. (Twitter's a different game, a font of all evil, where bile lives and breeds, do yourself a favour and put the bird down.)

Straight up, there's better restaurants than mine in London, hands down. But there's also many a worse one that has been the darling of the food blogs, reviewed by all the hob nobs that churned my envy. Here yesterday, gone today. PR still has it's place, but it's a dark art-know this if yee are to meddle.

The list is dead. People used to have 'the list'. The 'I must go to these restaurants list'. People are growing bored of the #50best where the Chefs feed from the same trough as all the others on the list. Another 20 course tasting menu of litchen and ash? No, you're alright ta. Cool, savvy people now eat local. Local might even be across town. By local I mean your regular haunts. A few times a week or checking in a couple of times a year and everything in between. Local is not just about restaurants buying as local to them as possible, we support local farmers blah blah blah... What? In London? Give over. Provenance is still King but that's a complicated amalgam of food miles and displaced farmers. Expensive, poly-grown Isle of White tomatoes from some ex fat-cat city boy turned farmer or good ones from that cooperative in Sicily? Grain fed, diesel-delivered Scottish beef or grass fed, ship-brought Australian? Still important decisions. I still sweat over them. I always will. It's now in my DNA but let me worry about that, thank you. Let's talk about it by all means, but let me win your trust.

Eating local now also means being a local, a regular. Having a handful of favourite places, that you cherish and help nurture, go on their journey with. Learn with. Get better with. Genuinely support. Six Wu is my perfect customer. I have many perfect customers. They sustain us. We sustain them.

Six Wu, that's actually his name, cool innit.

He's one of our regulars, supported us as we've grown and got better. Richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. Sound familiar? Because it is a marriage. Sure he's had the odd dud dish with us. To be honest, I wish he'd had more. I wish we'd been bolder, and braver at times. When he does, he tells us, quietly in the nicest possible way. He's also had some of his best bites ever here, comparable, he says, with the experiences he's had at some of the World's greatest, most acclaimed restaurants, he gets about does old Wu. One example, the bread sauce balls with pigeon gravy. Made on a whim for him as a freebie, off-menu, off-shoot of a garnish he'd had and loved the week before. We went out of our way for him because he's a regular, one of our locals. We love him. We love all our regulars. It's polyamory- I'm told that's also bang on trend. It must be- someone's obviously getting my share! I jest, because we get all the love back from our regulars.

Six Wu often regales me of his love for my balls!

Not only does he tell me, more importantly, he tells others. It's called word of mouth and it's the best restaurant marketing strategy bar none. Regulars make or break restaurants not reviewers.

Why am I writing this now. Because after 7 years (I'm a lapsed Catholic, it feels biblical) of setting up, owning and running your favourite local restaurant I'm leaving. I'm upping sticks.

I'm moving on. I'm handing the reigns over to the team at Season Kitchen that have worked for and with me for these 7 years. Ben and Mattia in the kitchen and Val (Comedy French Waiter) out front. Why? Because I believe restaurants, good restaurants, live, breathe and succeed when good people are allowed time and space to grow by good people, good customers. I've been the conduit and the conductor of that for seven years. Now it's Ben, Mattia and Val's turn to continue the love affair with our good patrons. I believe the responsibility of ownership will force-feed and nourish Ben, Mattia and Val and help them grow and flourish in their new roles. I believe in loyalty, and in Le Patron est present ici. Perhaps my last roll is as a priest, blessing this new marriage. The lapsed Catholic in me likes that. A mild messiah complex one might say.

Now, are we cooking and giving hospitality at the level of Noma or Eleven Madison Park? No. But we're closer than we think. And doing so without the assistance of any un-paid ‘stagiaire’ labour (an incendiary topic which deserves an article of its own). The only advice I'll leave the new Captain's of the ship is believe in yourselves and be genuine in all you do. That is the new authentic.

And what next for me and my dog collar? First up, I've just opened Gilly’s Fry Bar in Finsbury Park, a Highball cocktail bar that serves fried food. Lord knows with the way the world is today there is certainly a need for some hard liquor. It’s inspired by Japanese Tempura-ya seen through the squinted eye of a 1980’s Sunderland Chippy!

And who knows after this I might just open another restaurant.