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Surrounded by Richmond Park and Petersham Woods, Michelin- starred restaurant The Dysart Petersham is a delight of the senses. The venue is located in an Arts and Crafts building from 1904, with an open log burning fire, original windows, and rustic tables that create an intimate and relaxed atmosphere. Originally a gastropub, the business was purchased 18 years ago by Managing Director, Barny Taylor, and his family.
“Initially, we carried on running The Dysart as a gastropub,” says Barny. “But, in 2010, we decided to go from trying to be a good gastropub to trying to be an excellent restaurant and we started recruiting top chefs until we found our current Head Chef. That process taught us that we not only needed a skilled, creative, aspirational, dedicated Head Chef, we also needed someone that could be part of our team.”
Head Chef Kenneth Culhane started his cooking career at Patrick Guilbaud, a two star Michelin restaurant located in the centre of Dublin, being the first Irish chef to work in their kitchen. He then moved across to London, winning the Roux Scholarship in 2010 and from there across the world to Sydney and New York. Throughout his career the focus was on gaining a lot of experience in different places and learning his craft in order to develop his own style of cooking, so when he accepted the Head Chef position at Dysart Petersham, he knew he would be capable of getting it to the Michelin-star level it is at today.
When the owners decided to change the venue from a gastropub to a restaurant, they knew it was going to be a gradual process, but they were motivated by a shared objective – to build a reputation as a place of quality, individuality, and warm hospitality and hopefully to end up winning awards such as AA Rosettes and a Michelin star. “After being included in the Michelin Guide in 2014, we knew that inspectors were visiting our restaurant on a regular basis. Then, in 2019, we finally received an email that invited us to the Awards ceremony. We didn’t get a lot of information on the process, but it was an aspiration that we all worked hard to turn into reality,” explains Barny further.
The style of cooking at The Dysart Petersham is grounded in classical French tradition, enhanced with the freshness of Asian flavours and ingredients. Serving local produce is a major area of focus for the restaurant, a reason why the owners have decided to run their own small garden, which supplies the kitchen with various herbs, vegetables, foraged foods, and edible flowers in the summer. Simplicity reflects further in the methods of cooking, as the chefs only use pots, pans, fire, heat and hard work to bring ideas to the plate.
“Local is fantastic, but quality is paramount,” states Barny. “It might not be possible to source locally all year round, but this is why it is important to research the best farmers and build relationships with them. We recently visited Namayasai Farm in Lewes, run by Robin and his wife, who are growing English and Japanese vegetables, herbs and fruits, completely biodynamically, without any herbicides and pesticides. We also use local butchers, such as Walter Rose & Son in Wiltshire, or producers from the British Isles.”
The food menu was created as a seasonal evolution of tastes, alongside a few signature dishes, available all year round. For example, as the seasons change from summer to autumn, so does the star of the soup dish, from pea to beetroot. The Sea Bream starter, however, is a permanent resident on The Dysart Petersham menu due to its popularity. With a Japanese influence that is testament of the time the Head Chef ’s visited Tokyo, the dish features charred sea bream, with a punchy, zingy, fresh ginger sauce, champagne vinegar, and a radish cooked in seaweed stock.
Being able to cater for all customers is part of the restaurant’s ethos. “Our garden gives us abundant, delicious, local vegetables to cook with, whether it’s Swiss chard, courgettes, courgette flowers, or tomatoes. We offer vegetarian options within our choice menu and then a specific vegetarian or vegan tasting menu, but what we aim to do with each and every guest is understand the extent of their dietary requirements and adapt accordingly,” Barny adds.
An equally important aspect for The Dysart Petersham is the wine and drinks menu. Concise and quirky, the drinks menu was carefully curated and completely redesigned during lockdown by Barny. The alcohol-free, coffee, and tea selection received a makeover with the help of a couple of specialist suppliers – Difference Coffee and Lalani & Co, to be able to introduce them as pairing options alongside the tasting menu. The beers and gins are all locally produced in the UK, while the wine menu features a good selection of English wines, as well as wines from all around the world.
During lockdown, the restaurant carried out further refurbishment works that improved the quality of the venue. “We enclosed some areas with walls and glass screens, as we felt they were a bit open and susceptible to traffic from people moving around the restaurant,” says Barny. “We also took that opportunity to make it absolutely spotless when we reopened. Although there weren’t any major works done, the small redesign ideas improved the feel of the restaurant, making it more intimate and comfortable for our guests.”
Prominently placed in the restaurant for an added feeling of intimacy is a rosewood Bechstein grand piano of the 1890s. Music plays an important role in the atmosphere and personality of the venue and before COVID-19, Barny, who is also a trained classical musician, used to curate a music programme that involved monthly evening recitals. “Music was a big part of what we did in the dining area and we hope to start it again next year with some smaller one off concerts. To us, the synergy between the creativity of the food and the service is represented in the creativity of the musicians and the composers,” explains Barny. Fortunately, the classical recitals are due to resume in February 2023.
As a family-run business, being connected with the local community, as well as the restaurant community is a priority. After being invited to join Jeunes Restaurateurs (JRE), an association of young top chefs and restaurateurs that share a never-ending passion for gastronomy, The Dysart Petersham became one of the founding members of JRE-UK & Ireland. The JRE Guide is being used by consumers as a benchmark to decide where to stay and eat as they travel around Europe. It is also a great opportunity to network with other great businesses in the hospitality industry and create further growth.
Regarding the future, The Dysart Petersham is planning on setting up an on-site kitchen garden, while also continuing to improve its location and services. “Quality time, luxury, and comfort are our fortes and the reasons guests choose us. Our tables are there to be used for as long as our guests wish to linger. All of our decisions are made around quality and guest experience and that will continue to develop in the future as well,” concludes Barny.