Five minutes with… Bill Granger

The cook, food writer and restaurateur behind Granger & Co on Londoners’ love of eating out, the rise of independents and the joy of RuPaul’s Drag Race

Food and Drink 17 May 2021

Chef, restaurateur and food writer, Bill Granger
Granger & Co chopped salad of edamame, courgette, tomato, cabbage, crunchy chickpeas, beetroot, corn and citrus sesame dressing

Why do you think the idea of getting back to restaurants has been so important to people?

During the initial lockdown, I think we all enjoyed being at home. Being part of this big mad city we all live in is wonderful, but being at home for a moment felt like a treat. We could reconnect with home. But I think people realised over time that we’re social animals and we need people around us. Restaurants help us enjoy our cities. I can’t wait to get dressed up again and go out and see the theatre of the city. What I missed most of all was feeling like you’re part of something bigger. It all went very micro. Strangers are connected everywhere around the world, but we are also very isolated and that was the hardest part about this last lockdown.

A lot of people changed their lives and moved out of the city and they enjoy that. For me, I love cities: the energy, people and creativity. I love that when you go to a restaurant it feels so lively: the energy, the atmosphere, movement, noise and people watching. I think going forward in the restaurant industry, we’re all going to appreciate what we have a lot more. The staff will appreciate us, we will appreciate the staff, the customers will appreciate the restaurants and the staff will appreciate the customers more – the whole cycle.

Granger & Co serves sunny and easy going, delicious food
Granger & Co serves sunny and easy going, delicious food

You opened your first restaurant in London 10 years ago, do you think the restaurant scene has changed a lot in that time?

I think the most exciting thing is the rise of the independents. Before now there were a lot of groups and chains, there was more money. It is so expensive opening a restaurant in London, but I think what’s happened is that the chains that made everything so expensive reduced and left some space for more independent offerings to get in. All this great talent is filtering through and younger people are being able to open restaurants. People are also are living in neighbourhoods that aren’t as expensive as all the prime West End spots, where it’s easier for restaurants to start. They have great customers who love going out but don’t necessarily want to travel to the West End every night.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

I think as long as you’re working hard, someone will always see and help you move to the next step. Don’t worry too much about the long term. Do what you can do well and see if you can get noticed. And if you can’t then maybe it’s time for a change. Sometimes I just have to think OK, I’m going to do a good job of this, even though I hate spreadsheets or budgets and I’d much rather be picking fabrics and tasting food.

Do you have a role model?

I love what Ruth Rogers does and her vision. She creates an environment where she looks after everyone so well and people want to stay and work. Ruth Rogers has trained generations of chefs. For me, that’s the thing that gives me the most meaning and pride: creating a business where people want to work for you. So often with hospitality in big cities, people are a bit like cannon fodder, they are used and discarded but at the best restaurants, you can have jobs for life. I see that at the River Café: the staff are always the same, Ruth has long-term people. It means they care. My daughter worked at the River Café as a bartender, and she just couldn’t believe the food she was fed – even lobster when they had extra! That generosity really comes through.

Granger & Co, King's Cross
Granger & Co, King’s Cross

What ingredient can you not live without?

Salt will fix anything. Sea salt is the seasoning that lifts everything up. Maldon sea salt is my favourite. I’ve tried all the other salts but I still go back to Maldon for the texture of it.

Where’s your favourite place to eat in the world and why?

Tokyo, because it has an endless array of restaurants and because of the craft. There is a Japanese attitude that you never achieve something, you’re constantly working to refine and never achieve perfection. I just love that about Japanese culture. The restaurants in Tokyo are beautiful and the food is extraordinary. I feel so fortunate to be able to experience it with Japanese speakers who are friends. It’s a whole other world.

What are your biggest passions outside of food and drink?

I love interiors, art, culture. I’m really interested in any modern culture, I just I lap it up, and have to know what’s happening. That’s the joy of living in a city like London, I can’t wait for it to activate itself again. It’s not the same trying to do things online, you need to go out and be immersed in it. You can get overwhelmed by it but now it’s been taken away I really, really miss it.

What do you like to do on a day off?

I like to walk, to take it easy, and cook: a busman’s holiday. And pottering around the house. I’ve enjoyed reconnecting to home during lockdown and spending a bit of time pottering. I enjoy having no plans and just walking in London and letting the city sort of take me away for the day. I just adore that about London, it’s such an adventure every day.

What’s one positive you’ve learned in the last year that you’ll take with you into the future?

I think to enjoy what we have, to really cherish it.

If you could choose anyone from today or history, who would be your ideal dinner party guest and why?

During lockdown, I have been watching RuPaul’s Drag Race with my girls and if I didn’t invite [UK drag queen] Bimini Bon Boulash, they would murder me. Bimini is a vegan so I’d have to cook a plant-based meal but that’s alright, my girls don’t eat meat. I must say the whole RuPaul’s Drag Race thing has been so great during lockdown. Just a nice, reaffirming, lovely show, I think it’s great.

Granger & Co has restaurants in King’s Cross, Notting Hill, Clerkenwell and Chelsea. For the latest opening times and information go to The Notting Hill and Chelsea restaurants also offer delivery and click and collect