Pushed on whether the Guide had really had enough time to review the restaurant properly, a spokesman told Fine Dining Lovers: “We were aware of Andy Beynon’s background, so we were very keen to try the food at Behind, and we weren’t disappointed – it’s seasonal, delicate and balanced. Regardless of Covid-19, we visit a restaurant as many times as necessary to be confident high standards are produced consistently before awarding a Michelin star. It’s testament to Andy and his team that they have achieved this at Behind in such challenging circumstances.”
Mushroom 'tea and toast'. Photo by John Carey.
It’s an achievement that placed Behind alongside the likes of Daniel Humm’s Davies & Brook at Claridges in London, and Merlin Labron-Johnson’s Osip in Somerset as a newly one-starred restaurant in the latest Michelin Guide to Great Britain and Ireland.
Beynon, once Jason Atherton’s development chef, has completely self-funded the restaurant, which aims to give a “behind the scenes” experience of chefs at work, and has a strong focus on sustainable seafood. That means, he says, “a stupid amount of loans... I put my flat on the line and just sort of really went for it.” The nature of the restaurant means it’s already Covid-safe, he says – the chef’s table allows for sufficient distance between dining groups and between diners and chefs.
Native lobster muffin. Photo by John Carey.
He’s also only been doing one sitting for lunch and dinner when he has been able to open, and he has a small team of just six, though he’s too new a business to qualify for the government’s furlough scheme. The restaurant is located in Beynon’s neighbourhood of London Fields, an area he clearly loves and one which is suitably moneyed now to swing for a chef’s table/tasting menu-style restaurant, albeit with more of the mid-range pricing found around these parts, as opposed to the luxury tasting menus further west. Negotiations with landlords were taking place as the pandemic hit, but if anything, he says, the Covid disruption has allowed him and his team to fine-tune the food and the service to the point where Michelin felt the restaurant deserved a star.
“It doesn’t stop here, the next step’s two stars,” he says. Confidence isn’t a problem then, but does this put undue pressure on him? Many chefs might not be happy to be judged on their first 20 days of opening. “Absolutely not. It's giving me the energy to keep going, to know that I'm doing it well. When we reopen, we're only going to reopen stronger.”
Chocolate, salted pine and ricotta. Photo by John Carey.
Beynon won’t be drawn on whether he spotted the inspector or inspectors who frequented the restaurant in that magical 20 days, even though with just 18 covers, it would be hard not to spot something or someone (perhaps the “repeat customer” mentioned in this interview?). He obviously doesn’t want to rock the boat. Many of his old bosses called to offer their congratulations after the announcement, a select group of chefs he is now very much a part of.
Without doubt, Benyon is a great, well-connected chef whose well thought-out concept was afforded a little extra time to hone it properly. Opening a restaurant in a pandemic hasn’t been easy, of course. But it’s gone as well as it could have given the seesawing nature of England’s Covid response. And perhaps an astute person at Michelin spotted the potential for an extraordinary story? We all need those.
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