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  • The coronavirus pandemic has been catastrophic

  • for the hospitality industry.

  • But Covid restrictions have been lifted

  • and restaurants are back.

  • I'm Tim Hayward.

  • I'm a restaurateur, cook and food critic.

  • I'm Daniel Garrahan.

  • I'm a Financial Times journalist and I love to eat out.

  • Today we've come to Bristol in England's west country,

  • home of one of the UK's hottest restaurant scenes.

  • But the pandemic disrupted supply chains,

  • led to staff shortages, and changed where we live,

  • work, and dine out.

  • We want to see how restaurants are adapting to all of these

  • and what the future holds.

  • Our first stop is Wilsons in a residential corner of the city.

  • Tim, Covid has been a nightmare for restaurants up and down

  • the country.

  • Bristol is no exception.

  • And it's not a city I know well, but we've come here today.

  • It's got one of the most exciting restaurant scenes

  • in the country.

  • It has.

  • I've been coming here for, well, I was born here, weirdly.

  • But I've been coming back here for years,

  • because I just think it's had the most

  • vibrant scene imaginable.

  • Lots of exciting little places run

  • by cool people in interesting communities and environments,

  • and this is one of them.

  • Wilsons was my favourite restaurant of the year,

  • two years ago, I think, in the FT,

  • because there's nowhere like it.

  • It's exactly what you want as your local.

  • The food is absolutely superb.

  • They've got a real farm-to-plate operation going on here.

  • Yeah, sustainability seems to be the buzzword at this place.

  • Should we go and check out the farm

  • and see what they're up to?

  • I think we should.

  • Let's do it.

  • 85 per cent of the stuff on the menu is from here.

  • So almost self-sufficient.

  • You're getting there.

  • That's the ambition.

  • The ambition is to be totally a unique experience created

  • from the earth in Bristol.

  • And does this mean that your menu is completely seasonal?

  • How often does it change?

  • It changes when it's ready.

  • Soon we're going to have loads and loads of tomatoes,

  • and we're going to have tomatoes on the menu for a long time.

  • And we're going to have tomatoes on one or two or three courses

  • because that's what we've got.

  • It would be simpler to buy it from somebody else,

  • but you know, that's not why we do a restaurant, right?

  • There's a simpler way to...

  • So why not go for the simple option?

  • Why do you do this?

  • On a purely professional reason, when

  • you pick something and put it on the plate

  • within a 24-hour period it is stunning.

  • You need to do almost nothing to it.

  • When you eat a freshly picked and cooked

  • beetroot it is unbelievable, the complexity it has.

  • On a moral level, we need to do whatever we can

  • in whatever way we can to make our little micro difference.

  • So what's the business case for doing it?

  • Better quality of product.

  • People will pay a premium?

  • I think people do pay a premium.

  • We don't charge a premium, but people will pay a premium.

  • When we said we wanted to open a restaurant

  • it was always going to be called Wilsons.

  • Initially I thought it was all about me,

  • but quietly Mary steadied the ship.

  • Mary's the captain who doesn't need lots of attention.

  • She just steers the ship, and it's her restaurant,

  • it's her name.

  • Russian capers, yeah, we'll pickle them once all of this

  • turns into capers.

  • Like a big farm, if you get a big crop or something,

  • you put it into preservation and storage

  • and things like that if you can.

  • Yeah, exactly, if we can.

  • Oh, this is great.

  • It's a really intriguing scale, isn't it?

  • Because this is just so much bigger than amateur gardening.

  • Yeah, and we're just trying to kind of,

  • because it's two of us doing it and we're not using machinery,

  • and we're trying our best not to use any machinery.

  • Things like crop protection we have to do, we've got deer,

  • we've got rabbits, we've got badger.

  • On top of everything else.

  • On top of everything else.

  • So when you think back to the start of the pandemic,

  • obviously you were producing some spectacular produce here.

  • Suddenly the restaurants are closed,

  • you don't know when they're going to reopen.

  • What did you do next?

  • What happened to all this amazing produce?

  • We donated a lot of it to the NHS.

  • We cooked a lot of it and gave it away.

  • We just would prefer that it went into mouths

  • and it went into bodies and went back into the life stream

  • than went into the bin.

  • We just kept on picking, kept on growing.

  • You can't stop this.

  • It's not like a restaurant that you can fire up in a week

  • and you can close it down in a week.

  • This is years of planning.

  • In normal times, in pre-pandemic times or post-pandemic times,

  • does that mean that there's less waste in the restaurant

  • than there would be if you were relying on other supplies?

  • I mean, to be honest with you, there's effectively zero waste,

  • because it depends how you define waste.

  • If waste is something that goes into a landfill,

  • we don't create any waste from this.

  • All the trimmings go into a bin, come back to the farm

  • and get composted and go back into the earth.

  • I'm also fascinated by your tubs over here.

  • What on earth are these?

  • So this is where we're making compost teas, as a part of not

  • overextending ourselves and what is possible for this plot

  • to produce.

  • We're trying our hardest not to bring anything from the outside

  • in.

  • And you use it like a spray on fertiliser?

  • Yeah, exactly.

  • So we're using minimal inputs from outside.

  • Something that is really important

  • and something that I think people should really focus on

  • is small scale local agriculture.

  • It means so much more than walking into a supermarket

  • and getting a certified organic produce,

  • because it can come from anywhere.

  • When you think back and reflect on the last 18 months,

  • did the uncertainty inspire creativity?

  • It probably had to.

  • Yeah, I think we changed a lot of things.

  • We did a lot of things differently.

  • We started new things, we started a bakery,

  • we started making videos, we started doing loads of stuff.

  • When people ask me about the pandemic,

  • I still say I wouldn't have changed it.

  • It's given me a fresh insight into what's important

  • and why I do what I do.

  • Our next stop is Little French, a short drive

  • up the road from Wilsons.

  • We've got much busier.

  • It was always, I think there was that idea of latent demand.

  • But then it's also just that latent demand has then just

  • continued to this sort of constantly busy.

  • I always wanted to be a neighbourhood restaurant.

  • And we still are a neighbourhood restaurant,

  • but it's also just attracting people from all over as well.

  • So the number of covers you can actually serve now,

  • on either side of lockdown, is more

  • than you had in the original restaurant

  • you went into it with?

  • Yeah, let me see, we were a 45-seater in here at its max,

  • and we had to reduce that down to about 20

  • at the height of spreading people out there,

  • so we put another 35 outside.

  • Now as we've been able to get people closer together,

  • we're doing more covers, probably half again,

  • our covers every day.

  • I'm guessing this is the sort of place

  • that professionals who aren't currently going to the office

  • actually live.

  • And they're getting all the benefits

  • of having a nice time with their families

  • and living locally and finding out local,

  • and you're supplying to that group.

  • Do you feel that decision to be neighbourhood has played well

  • for you through this?

  • 100 per cent.

  • The most supportive people are our neighbours.

  • Of course, as a restaurant, people come from far and wide.

  • But through lockdown, supporting us with our food boxes,

  • supporting us when we were a shop, supporting us,

  • It's all been community.

  • And then one of the things that I'm really keen to do

  • is always keep tables for locals.

  • There's always an opportunity.

  • I always...

  • I was going to ask, that's interesting.

  • So if it's my wife's birthday and I live two streets away,

  • and I can get a table on a busy night.

  • Of course we're full on the restaurant diary.

  • But call up, drop in, come and see us.

  • We will work it out.

  • And that to me is really important.

  • They've looked after us, I want to look after them.

  • And they're your bread and butter for life.

  • When you're not eating out and you see the quality of what

  • you're buying in supermarkets, which is all we seemed to have

  • had, people suddenly recognised what it that was important

  • to them in life.

  • And it's sitting around a table with their friends,

  • with their family, eating incredible quality ingredients.

  • And as soon as that's taken away from them,

  • I think people were nervous that that would be gone.

  • That if they didn't look after us there

  • was going to be this homogeneous high street where

  • the big boys moved in later, and you'd never get it back.

  • So you're still using lots of supplies just tight

  • around Bristol?

  • Around Bristol and Spain and France,

  • but it's the fact that I have people

  • that I've got relationships with for the last 15 years.

  • I have a relationship with a guy who's

  • got a 15-year relationship with a guy who's

  • got a 50-year relationship with these things.

  • But it's the restaurants that keep those alive.

  • The supermarkets want the ease of the most convenience

  • and the highest profit margins, whereas we're

  • looking for the interesting and the diverse

  • and sort of the more niche stuff where there's a story.

  • And that's the other thing I think people have.

  • Because they weren't eating out, they want the story.

  • They want to know more about where everything they've got

  • is coming from.

  • In amongst all of this, the small people

  • are the people that are going to really grow.

  • They'll stay small, I think, maybe we'll

  • have two or three sites.

  • Maybe we'll have two or three, but we're

  • going to become enormous, but that's

  • what's going to give the diversity and excitement.

  • And if I look at the high street here,

  • the independent bookshop, the fishmonger, the butcher's,

  • we've opened the bakery.

  • Good wine selection, the cheese that we

  • use in the restaurant and the meats.

  • The wine that you sell in the restaurant?

  • Wines that we're selling in the restaurant.

  • So rewind to March last year.

  • What was going through your mind at that point?

  • This restaurant had only been open eight months.

  • The restaurant had been open eight months.

  • It was, why now?

  • There were people desperate to sell produce, our butcher,

  • our veg man, all these people that we

  • wanted to keep working with.

  • People wanted bread, people wanted flour.

  • They wanted the basics in life, but they wanted the pleasures

  • as well.

  • So it was good bread, people always ask us,

  • can you make bread?

  • We couldn't make enough bread for people,

  • so we weren't baking bread.

  • I was buying bread in.

  • I thought, well, hang on a sec, there's a market for this up