We talk to Sam Harrison about community spirit, food heroes and how he likes to spend his free time.
It’s hard to believe that it was only a year ago that Sam Harrison opened the doors to his bar and brasserie but August 5th will see the first anniversary of Sam's Brasserie and Bar. In just twelve short months Sam’s has become so synonymous with Chiswick that it’s a rare occasion that this establishment (or its proprietor) is not mentioned in media articles acknowledging the wonder that is our neighbourhood.
But what has this first year been like on the other side of the serving counter? I met Sam Harrison to discuss community spirit, food heroes and how he likes to spend his scarce off duty moments.
Was your idea of owning a restaurant in Chiswick anything like the reality?
It wasn’t that I was surprised, more so had my views confirmed that Chiswick is a great place to run a neighbourhood restaurant. We have had the most wonderful first year, and so much of that is down to our regular customers who have supported us since opening. I have greatly enjoyed getting to know so many people.
Has Rick Stein had much input throughout the year?
Rick is very much part of Sam’s and often visits bringing with him his inimitable passion for simple, good food. Running a London restaurant is very different from Cornwall and I think it is fun for him to have another venture where he can be more experimental with ideas he acquires from his travels. I must also mention my other fellow owner Rebecca who owns Sonny’s in Barnes- she has been an amazing support.
How is your Head Chef Rufus Wickham?
Rufus and his wife just had their second son so life is hectic for him at the moment. He’s so proud of how child friendly the restaurant is and never happier than seeing the dining area full of families enjoying their weekend brunches and lunches.
The restaurant scene in Chiswick has flourished at an amazing rate over the past year. How do you feel about the new competition?
I think it’s amazing what’s happening in Chiswick at the moment. Each new restaurant brings something new to the area making Chiswick a real eating out destination. People know that if they can’t get a table in one restaurant, then it is likely that they will be able to get one elsewhere. I do sometimes wonder how many restaurants one neighbourhood can handle. What it really means is that we have to work even harder to maintain our high standards with food and service.
Nick Jones (High Road House) is said to have used Sam’s as his benchmark for the standards of food and service expected in Chiswick, how do you feel about this?
That’s great of course and I am very flattered - he is an operator who I hugely admire.
I think the edge that independents have over the chains is that we can change what we are offering as many times as we wish. For example our menus are changed twice a day depending on what produce is available which means that on certain days a fish that is caught first thing in the morning can be on a customer’s plate that evening. Or Phil (Collins fruit & veg stall on High Road) will come over with a box of wonderful peaches so Rufus will create a dessert to go on the menu that lunchtime. Hopefully this means we can offer a more interesting product to our customers.
With regard to service, this is something we take very seriously. The majority of my team have been with me since day one. They are a great group of people and I trust them implicitly. They have chosen to work for me rather than anywhere else and I believe that comes through both in the quality of the food and in the level of service they provide.
So apart from Sam’s, where do you most like to eat locally?
I think the food at Le Vacherin is superb - Malcolm (John) is so passionate about what he’s doing. Anna Purna on the High Road do some very authentic dishes. There is fantastic sushi at Yoshi Sushi on King St in Hammersmith. But if I’m exhausted and want some quiet time, I take a newspaper along to Pizza Express and have an American Hot – it’s a no brainer!
How do you think the smoking ban will affect the restaurant / bar scene?
It will really change the whole dining experience for certain people and restaurants with outside space will be the main beneficiaries. We have always had a no smoking policy in our restaurant but from January 1st 2007, we will be going entirely no smoking – New Year, new start. In the long term I do think it will make going to restaurants and bars a far more pleasurable experience for all.
A number of Chiswick’s independent food retailers have been nominated as Food Heroes, who are yours?
We’re so lucky in Chiswick to have such a variety of independents. I can’t think of anywhere else in London that has the range of quality produce we have on our doorstep. The likes of Mortimer & Bennett and Macken Brothers are without a doubt excellent, but I think that Phil Collins (fruit and veg) also deserves recognition. I believe that as a community we should support these traders, they certainly warrant it and yes I have already placed my votes!
That brings me nicely to community spirit which you evidently have in abundance…
It’s important to support the local community after all it’s the community that supports me! Our regular customers have supported Sam’s since day one and I believe it’s important to give something back. Chiswick is unique in London for its community spirit and I believe that’s something that’s really worth being part of. Having rented in the area since we opened, I am now trying to buy locally and definitely think of Chiswick as home.
July 30, 2010