You launched earlier this week. What's it like to open a restaurant so close to Christmas?
Last week was a nightmare. When you are opening a restaurant you need things last minute and that is difficult at this time of year. But aside from that it has been great. We have been extremely busy. We have 40 seats and we did nearly 100 covers on our first day. That would have been very difficult with a new team, but most of the people here have been with us for a long time. 1 York Place has attracted a lot of people who didn’t get it together to make bookings anywhere else. The disorganised are people after my own heart. I tried to go out for a quick bite earlier this week and I couldn’t get in anywhere.
We're guessing it was never your intention to launch this close to Christmas
Completing on the lease took forever. We started talking about this project in April and were meant to get the keys in July. The plan was always to turn the site around quickly. My wife Nessa had already planned what it would look like so we were able to get it all done in fewer than five weeks from completion to launch. The aim was always to trade for a couple of weeks before Christmas. Opening in January is obviously not ideal.
Tell us about the site
Back in the day it was a proper old school greasy spoon called York Cafe. I used to go to school round the corner and would go there for 30p cups of tea and 99p breakfasts. It was always heaving. More recently, it was an Italian place called Rosemarino. We weren’t really looking for another restaurant, we stumbled across it. We like the area because there’s a strong community feel. We will be able to develop a loyal local clientele here, but people also come to Clifton Village to go out.
How does 1 York Place differ from Little French?
We've retained the neighbourhood bistro vibe but the menu is more eclectic. We are more broadly European in our approach, taking inspiration from places including Spain, Italy and Portugal. Our menu includes English vermouth, trout roe and dill; potato soup with black truffle and chanterelles; hake with caramelised fennel, saffron, anis and clams; and a sharing plate of whole wood-grilled monkfish tail with rosemary manteca. I'm not discounting French food but Little French is Little French. Bristol is not big enough for more than one.
Tell us about your wine list
The cellar is chaos, there are boxes everywhere. I tried to be sensible and restrict the number of bins but I have failed. We have about 150 listings, which is rather a lot for a small place. But I’m pleased with the list. If you want to come here and spend some money you can do that, but we have a good range of more affordable wines and a big by-the-glass programme. We have diversity at all price points. I tend to write my wine lists before my food menu. Usually, I know what I want to drink before I know what I want to eat.
Where did you work prior to launching Little French?
I’m Bristol born and bred but I trained in London at restaurants including The Square and Moro. I enjoyed the Michelin vibe but got out of it fairly quickly as I didn't see myself going down that route. As soon as we had a family we returned to the South West. I oversaw the food at Lido Bristol, Thames Lido (in Reading) and The Glass Boat (also in Bristol) for about ten years. We launched Little French in Westbury Park in 2019 and followed up with Little Shop in 2021.
How is business in Bristol?
I don't want to say that Bristol is bulletproof because nowhere is bulletproof. But things are good. The city has taken a lot of people from London post-covid. You still have to fight hard to win business but there is cash here so long as you offer good value, which is not the same as being cheap.
When do you close for Christmas?
Our last service is Christmas Eve. We're closed Christmas Day and Boxing Day then it's straight back to it. We only shut our places for four days a year and are open seven days a week. I think it’s important that neighbourhood places are there when you need them. It’s just Nessa and our three children at ours for Christmas this year. We’re having roast rib of beef and my 10-year-old has also demanded eggs benedict for breakfast. I will also be opening a big tin of caviar but it will all be for me because I’m the only person here that eats it. Christmas is always a decadent affair at our house. The plan is to cook ourselves lunch and then fall asleep in front of the TV.