Granger & Co. first bought its healthy Australian flavour to London in 2011. With its new flagship restaurant now open in Chelsea, Cally Squires went to meet the man behind it all.
Even before it opens, there is a buzz surrounding the opening of Granger & Co. in Chelsea. When I meet with restaurateur and founder Bill Granger, I can easily imagine the vibe of the finished article, as colourful dishes are plated up for a waiting photographer and coffee-drinking staff in training mode fill the downstairs tables.
Although Granger & Co.’s first site was in Notting Hill, “I’ve always loved Chelsea,” declares Granger. “A lot of our customers came there from Chelsea and a week wouldn’t go by where people wouldn’t say ‘When are you opening in Chelsea?'”
Finally that time has come, and it has been several years in the making. “We were looking for a long time, and then Cadogan had this great masterplan for the whole area, turning it back into a local street for local residents. Pavilion Road is fantastic now with Natoora, Bread Ahead, a great cheese shop, a great wine shop and Provenance the butchers who supply our meat. We are using Bread Ahead for our bread, too, which makes it a local community, which is Cadogan’s vision.
Granger could not emphasise more how much he sees the place as a local restaurant. “Eighty per cent of our customers are regulars who come a few times a week and we become part of their neighbourhood, which is what appealed to me. I always like locations that are residential, and Pavilion Road felt like a very local street.”
He was also drawn to the street because of the environment. “Of course being Australian, having outdoor space, greenery and a big windows is a bonus, too. That connection with nature is great.” And the neighbours, “Vegan cafe Wulf & Lamb is opening, which is nice, as it’s great to have a couple of restaurants together.”
A bonus, but not a surprise given Granger & Co.’s healthy reputation, is that he is also excited by the arrival of the KXU gym opposite. “People can come down here and do an exercise class and then get a juice.”
Once Granger found the perfect site, it was on to the interior design. “I’m obsessive about all the details. It’s quite an unusual space because it’s triangular and split over two levels. So I had to think how best to create moods, and I really wanted to create cosy rooms, and for it to feel like a townhouse.”
The finished product doesn’t disappoint. “I wanted everywhere to be different so people could find their own favourite spot. The private dining room is a quieter corner and is tucked away, for when you want something more intimate. Downstairs I see as lively and bustling, and upstairs a bit more peaceful like a classic sitting room.”
Like his own working dynamic [Granger has been working with his wife for 16 years] the designers who worked on the restaurant are a Sydney-based husband and wife team called Meacham and Nockles, who Granger describes as “long-time collaborators.”
Despite obsessing over the design details however, Granger insists they “just create a space” and it is the customers who “really create a restaurant and give it its identity.”
He’s built it in style – pale pink marble and Terrazzo leather – a dream come true for the Instagram generation, which Granger welcomes. “What I love about Instagram is that you can keep in contact and reach out to people you don’t know very well and make relationships. And it’s great that everyone is so interested in food, although for me we’ve all got to wait while my middle daughter takes photos of her food!”
He and the team were even conscious of online posting when buying for the 120-cover restaurant. “When we were looking at tables we were thinking about how they would shoot. We had our plates printed with colour, as you’ve got to make it fun for people if they’re into shooting, you have to give them props.”
How does he describe his career? “I love working as a creative director, so working really closely with the designers and chefs here. I’m not a fully trained chef but I create the food that I want to eat. I come at it from a customer’s point of view, and I see myself as a well-meaning amateur. Everything in the restaurant comes from cooking at home.”
The vibe of the menu seems to be healthy but hearty, although Granger points out there is balance and treats are allowed too. “Here you can get a coffee, nice glass or wine and a cocktail but also a simple chia pot and the chopped salad at lunch is my favourite. You get a big bowl of vegetables with lean protein like salmon, chicken of halloumi and it’s fuel. We definitely have an Australian attitude which is freshness and lots of flavour.”
Granger also cites his miso brown rice porridge with fresh mango and coconut yoghurt as another favourite. However diehard fans of his books and other restaurants will be pleased to know there are a few new dishes coming which are going to be exclusive to Pavilion Road. “A beautiful burani which is an Iranian dish with lovage and fresh vegetables. A few things that are a bit different – we’re having fun!”
Granger and his family have lived in London for eight years now. “The thing I miss most about Australia is probably swimming in the ocean every day, and family. But London is an amazing city, the people are wonderful and it’s great for walking. It’s a great mixing pot – you can never be bored in London.”
He thinks Australia used to be ahead on the foodie front, but now London has caught up. “20 years ago, it wasn’t one of the great restaurant cities but now people come here and straightway think about where they’re going to go eat. Restaurants and food are very much part of life in London now.”
As is Granger himself – he doesn’t even have plans for another book at the moment. “I’m just focussing on the restaurant as Chelsea is our biggest one. It’s our London flagship!”
Granger and Co is open now at 237 Pavilion Road.