Bill Granger reveals his recipe for success, as he opens his 17th eatery.
Australian restaurateur Bill Granger, he of the famous toothy grin, boyish good looks and easygoing culinary style, has built an impressive global business on what he calls “sunshine food”.
“I’m always thinking about sunshine and light,” he says, no matter if it’s at an outpost in Bondi, Clerkenwell or Waikiki.
“Australians live very much for the pleasure of the day to day, whether it’s entertaining friends at home or sitting out in the street on a milk crate having a coffee. I’ve always celebrated our outdoors lifestyle with fresh, seasonal and simple everyday food.”
It’s an ethos that’s stuck and flourished across different cultures and locations. Granger, who opens his 17th restaurant this month in the upmarket environs of London’s Chelsea, says his approach is just as it was when he first started in 1993. “I’ve been doing this a long time and consistency is key,” he says, on a recent morning in London. “A good restaurant is one where you feel the owner’s taste and point of view.”
Granger, along with wife Natalie Elliott and their daughters Edie, Ines and Bunny, moved to the UK in 2009.
“I’d been coming back and forth since 2000 doing book promotions and TV appearances, and people would say, ‘Why don’t you open in London?’” says Granger, who at the age of 47 has penned 11 bestselling cookbooks and fronted five TV series. “But one Sunday morning Natalie said, ‘If we don’t do it now, we’ll never do it.’” Elliott has long worked behind the scenes. The first Granger & Co opened in 2011 in trendy Notting Hill and others soon followed.
“I’m always one of those cooks who makes too much when people come to dinner – if there are six people coming, I cook for 10. It’s really important to be generous,” Granger says. The same goes for his restaurants. “I believe in spending money on a great chair or putting more vegetables on the plate,” he says. “That’s where it all has to start from and it’s why people want to come back.”
The self-taught cook’s ventures in London, Japan, Seoul and Hawaii all bear the hallmarks of his Aussie roots. But while the menu remains largely the same at each, they all have their own personalities.
Where the first Bills restaurant in Sydney’s Darlinghurst was, “easy and welcoming, like a sunny kitchen with a big table,” he says, the Notting Hill branch is about, “sitting in a friend’s kitchen, having a chat and a gossip”. For Hawaii, Granger wanted it to feel, “like a rich surf bum’s beach house”. In Seoul, the look is minimal and modern.
Japan is another source of inspiration. Granger opened his first cafe there in the beachside city of Kamakura in 2008. “The people are so lovely and the service culture is incredible. Every time I’m there I learn so much.”
How Granger made the world fall in love with breakfast and brunch was by chance. “The only site anyone would give me at 24 was one with restrictive hours, from 7am to 4pm,” he says of the old pub on a higgledy-piggledy corner of Liverpool St, Darlinghurst.
He started doing American-style breakfasts because, “I’d gone for a holiday to the US and my idea of the most glamorous thing you could do was to go for a hotel breakfast, even at a motel where you’d get toast in a little plastic bag on a tray. I loved what felt like the luxury of it,” he says, laughing.
So fluffy American pancakes became his now-iconic ricotta hotcakes and savoury corn fritters were about, “doing something that wasn’t eggs”. (Last year, The Washington Post even credited Granger with inventing avocado on toast, so prolific has been his global reach.)
Granger fell into cooking while working with Chrissie Juillet at La Passion du Fruit in Paddington in the early ’90s, and experimented at night by renting the tearoom space to run a makeshift supper club. “It didn’t have a proper kitchen so I had to cook all the food at my parent’s place,” he recalls. “I used to cook the asparagus in an electric jug and heat up the soup with the coffee machine steamer.”
His initial inspiration for Bills was Sydney itself. “I’d seen what Maurice Terzini had done as an Italian all-day at Caffé e Cucina when I lived in Melbourne, but I wanted to do something very Australian instead. Up until then, anything considered good had to be European.”
Granger has always been happy to take risks. “I always think ‘What’s the worst that can happen?’ Maybe because I grew up in a flat at the back of my father’s butcher’s shop, the idea of having my own shop seemed normal.”
For the latest Granger & Co restaurant in Chelsea – UK trademarking issues restrict him from using the name Bills – the entrepreneur worked with longtime collaborators Julie Meacham and Bruce Nockles. The pair were also behind the recent ’60s-inspired refurbishment of Bills Darlinghurst.
Later this year he will open a branch in Osaka. No matter where he goes though, “it’s all about looking after people and making them happy.” Spoken like a little ray of sunshine.
BRUNCHING EMPIRE Bill Granger’s