Alyn Williams, Chef Patron, Alyn Williams at The Westbury

The  Staff Canteen

It’s been five years since we last featured former National Chef of the Year Winner and Michelin star holder, Alyn Williams.

He was just about to embark on his new venture, opening Alyn Williams at The Westbury, when we caught up with him and since then he has achieved his goal of holding a star in the Michelin Guide UK and 4 rosettes in the AA Restaurant Guide. Having spent ten years previous to opening his eponymous restaurant at The Westbury, working as a head chef in London with Marcus Wareing and Gordon Ramsay, he wanted to make a name for himself away from the two Michelin-starred chefs and he has certainly done that!

The Staff Canteen spoke to Alyn about his success, developing a food style of his own and how the dining scene has changed since he first started cooking.

Alyn Williams at The Westbury
Alyn Williams at The Westbury 

Looking back to when you started the restaurant, was it as hard as you expected to step out on your own?

I’d been working for Marcus Wareing and Gordon Ramsay for ten years previously so that’s pretty hard! So really I was ready for it. It was more enjoyable than hard. I’ve been running kitchens at a high level for a long time so I knew what to expect, it wasn’t a surprise and I just got on with it. Before we opened I had nearly a year to prepare so I was in a luxurious position that I could get everything exactly how I wanted it before we started. So I really enjoyed it.

Having worked for Marcus Wareing for such a long time was it nice to be able to focus on you as a chef and your style, your food?

I liked working for Marcus I had a good time. I was with him for eight years and I was head chef for five of those which I enjoyed. But it’s always nice when you do your own thing because you don’t have anyone to answer to. Marcus was always a great support and he was always there to help out if I needed it but that then went and I’m now in that position. It’s always liberating when you do your own thing and work on your own vision of what you want.

Talking about your own vision, is there anything you would change from the past five years?

No I don’t think so, you make mistakes but if you don’t make mistakes you don’t learn from them. I’m a great believer that through adversity comes good things, sometimes you get into sticky situations but what you learn from it is more beneficial.

Top five restaurant meals

Le Champignon Sauvage 1990

Chalet Mounier (Les Deux Alpes, France) 1992

Le Manoir aux Quat saisons 1994

Indian Accent (New Delhi) 2014 

The Ledbury 2015

Five most influential chefs in career

Mark Askew

Angela Hartnett

Marcus Wareing

David Everitt-Matthias

Michel Perraud 

Top 5 comfort foods

Pie & mash with liquor and stewed eels

My Dads minestrone soup

My Mums stovies (Scottish style pommes Boulanger)

Heinz tomato soup with toasted crumpets

Properly cooked Porridge 

In our last interview with you, you said you didn’t have your own style. Do you think you that’s something which has now developed?

It’s quite mercurial because it changes. As the seasons change and the years change you find your path. I wouldn’t say there is a distinct style, if you looked at images or recipes of mine I don’t think you would see a pattern – although it’s easier to see that from the outside. You’re probably better of asking my regular guests! People do say that the food has got more mature and has got better and more confident.

Alyn Williams at The Westbury - 50 day aged pork,Roscoff onion,sage,cider,Cumberland gravy

50 day aged pork,Roscoff onion,

sage,cider,Cumberland gravy

And do you think your food has developed to the stage where you hoped it would be?

I think so. I always enjoy when we change menus which is every eight weeks or so, because at that point you know that menu inside out and it becomes a routine. So it’s always nice to mix it up and change it and it’s exciting to do that. When we change the menu its lock, stock and barrel – we don’t keep anything on we change the whole thing. As it’s a tasting menu it all has to fit together and I don’t believe in pulling out one thing and just replacing it.

Are menu changes something the team enjoy as well?

I think they probably enjoy it less than I do! But no it’s good, they are learning then and seeing new things while at the same time picking up new techniques. And those are the things which make this job enjoyable.

Talk us through some of the dishes on there at the moment?

Right now we’ve got a shellfish dish, which is a native oyster from Mersea in Essex and a Scottish scallop. They sit side by side, the oyster is cold and has a Japanese feel to it and then the scallop is roasted with a really simple seaweed butter sauce. Two really simple things but at their very best. We’ve got a main course of beef with artichokes, truffles and seps – really autumn feel, it’s like a hot blanket, really comforting. We’ve got a foie gras dish with squash and cranberries; a monkfish with clementine, chestnuts and divan which is a type of curry seasoning. So it’s all very much of the moment, it’s great to harness the ingredients of the season and it’s something I’ve always done but I do it much more now.

Are they all your dishes or do you encourage your chefs to have an input?

I have a brilliant head chef and sous chef, the three of us are the creative trio if you like and between the three of us we come up with dishes. We’ll sit down once or twice a week to talk about food and menus – so if one person has an idea we’ll discuss it, cook that dish and tweak it if it needs it. A tasting menu is like a jigsaw so it all has to fit and follow a harmonious line and between us we find that line.

>>> Take a look at the latest head chef jobs here

Alyn Wiliams at The Westbury - Treacle tart,orange,mascarpone
Treacle tart,orange,mascarpone

In 2011, we asked you what your goals for the business were and you said success. Do you think you’ve achieved that?

Success is relative, I think we’ve achieved more or less what we wanted to achieve but achievement in restaurants, I think, is a day to day thing or even service to service. If you have a really crap service you’ve not been very successful and you feel it’s a blot on your copy book. Success for me is every day we are happy with what we’ve done, we are polishing what we have got and we are moving on.

You also mentioned you wanted your own star which you got in 2012.

Yeah, we got it after ten months. 2012 was a great year and we got all of the accolades out of the way if you like. But we’ve moved on now, we got 4 rosettes in the AA Restaurant Guide which was a really nice thing to achieve, I was proud of that as it sets you apart from the pack. I like the AA Restaurant Guide, I’m quite fond of the whole thing. It’s easy to talk about Michelin stars whereas rosettes people don’t talk about as much but they are still relevant and I think it’s a really good guide.

You won National Chef of the Year in 2012 – that’s a big commitment as well as having just opened your first restaurant!

I entered it in 2011 as well and that was the month before we opened, I came second. National Chef of the Year really is a big commitment and I have remained with them since then and I’m on the committee now which is really nice. Did you enter National Chef of the Year for yourself or the business? It was a personal thing, I was actually advised by some PR people not to do it. They said I should be a judge not a competitor but I didn’t agree with that and it was definitely a personal goal. It’s a great list of people who have won it, some big names have been winners.

For me it was competing against myself and proving to myself I could it. The line-up of judges now is ridiculous, if a bomb dropped on Olympia all the Michelin stars would be gone!

>>> Read more about National Chef of the Year here 

What about your team, how has that evolved over the years?

It’s a transient industry, people move on fairly regularly and you want to learn from as many people as you can. My sous chef has been here since I opened he started as a commis and he’s really good. There’s usually one or two who stay as the core and that is about how you treat people, motivate them and keep them involved. Quite a few of the front of house have been here from the start but that’s more a testament to Giancarlo Princigalli the Restaurant Director than it is to me. The kitchen is reasonably stable but you go through ebbs and flows, all of sudden you might have half of the brigade leave but it’s just one of those cycles.

>>> Related: Giancarlo Princigalli, Restaurant Director, Alyn Williams at the Westbury

And how has the London food scene and kitchens themselves, changed since you started as a chef?

I started in the mid-eighties so everything has changed. Great credit to the guys who were around and doing great things at that time so your Pierre Koffman, Marco Pierre White and Nico Ladenis but you could probably count the great chefs then on your two hands. You can’t shake a stick at great chefs now because there are so many talented cooks around. Back then if you wanted to eat really well you had to spend a tonne of money, put a suit and tie on and go to a fancy French restaurant usually in a five star hotel.

Alyn Williams at The Westbury - Foie gras duds,Medjool date,yoghurt,fresh chestnuts

Foie gras duds,

Medjool date,yoghurt,fresh chestnuts

Now, there is so much choice and it’s of such high quality as well. The casual scene has raised the bar hugely and on every level of food now there are brilliant people doing amazing things. So much has been made of stripping back and being casual that we are bound to see that cycle coming round where we are back to a bit like here at the Westbury, a bit more luxurious, table clothes and being pampered a bit. As much as I like things stripped back it comes to a point where I want to sit in a comfortable chair, with beautiful linen, silverware and be really looked after.

What are your future plans for yourself and the restaurant?

I don’t have any plans to move on from here but I am at an age now where I do have to start thinking about these things! There’s potential for consultancy coming up overseas but the thing is you don’t want anything to impact too hard on here.

I’m not a stay away chef, I’m not one of those who have their name above the door but are never there – I like to be here pretty much every day. I think if you take yourself out of it, it loses a sense of being yours.

>>> Read more in The Staff Canteen Meets series here

In these challenging times…

The Staff Canteen team are taking a different approach to keeping our website independent and delivering content free from commercial influence. Our Editorial team have a critical role to play in informing and supporting our audience in a balanced way. We would never put up a paywall and restrict access – The Staff Canteen is open to all and we want to keep bringing you the content you want; more from younger chefs, more on mental health, more tips and industry knowledge, more recipes and more videos. We need your support right now, more than ever, to keep The Staff Canteen active. Without your financial contributions this would not be possible.

Over the last 12 years, The Staff Canteen has built what has become the go-to platform for chefs and hospitality professionals. As members and visitors, your daily support has made The Staff Canteen what it is today. Our features and videos from the world’s biggest name chefs are something we are proud of. We have over 500,000 followers across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and other social channels, each connecting with chefs across the world. Our editorial and social media team are creating and delivering engaging content every day, to support you and the whole sector - we want to do more for you.

A single coffee is more than £2, a beer is £4.50 and a large glass of wine can be £6 or more.

Support The Staff Canteen from as little as £1 today. Thank you.

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 24th November 2016

Alyn Williams, Chef Patron, Alyn Williams at The Westbury