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Interview: Chef Adam Wood to front new Garden House restaurant in Cambridge

The Garden House, a new restaurant set within the Graduate Cambridge hotel, is due to open in July.

Chef Adam Wood at The Graduate Cambridge. Picture: Keith Heppell
Chef Adam Wood at The Graduate Cambridge. Picture: Keith Heppell

Nestled on the banks of the River Cam, the restaurant will be run by experienced chef Adam Wood, whose previous job was at London’s award-winning Perilla. He will lead the kitchen with his focus on open-flame cooking and seasonal East Anglian produce.

Special ‘Cambridge’ dishes, such as the Cambridge Burnt Cream Tart, will also be a feature. The Garden House promises to be an approachable and seasonable, contemporary restaurant. There will also be a Garden Bar, as well as a café and co-working spaces, a terrace overlooking the river, and private dining – all developed in partnership with White Rabbit Studio, the creative arm of White Rabbit Projects.

The original Garden House Hotel stood on the same site for much of the 20th century. Most recently, it was Doubletree by Hilton. Adam and his team will source seasonal and local produce from East Anglian suppliers, farmers and gamekeepers for the new restaurant, drawing upon the rich agricultural history of the area.

Vegetables will come from Flourish Farm, just outside Cambridge – an entirely horse-powered, biodiverse small holding that produces some of the best veg Adam says he has seen. The Chapel & Swan Smokehouse in Exning is another supplier he plans to use, describing their produce as “absolutely amazing”.

Meat will be provided by Huntsham Court, specialists in traditional breeds and high-welfare farming. “I don’t think you can open a restaurant in this day and age and not try and focus on where you are and what’s growing around you,” said Adam, who moved to Cambridge from London earlier this year.

“The preparations have been great,” he says. “I came on board with White Rabbit in January, so I’ve had a lot of time to do all my dishes and do all the testing and everything I needed to do while we were in lockdown.

“It was quite good because they have a kitchen in King’s Cross, where I basically had a professional kitchen to use in a shut restaurant. The dishes went really well, it all got signed off really quickly and I was able to go on to the costings and the slightly more boring stuff now!

“But I’m looking forward to getting open so we can start cooking food again, because I feel like I’ve forgotten how to cook with the amount of time I’ve been away from a kitchen. It’s been quite a weird year...”

Chef Adam Wood at The Graduate Cambridge. Picture: Keith Heppell
Chef Adam Wood at The Graduate Cambridge. Picture: Keith Heppell

Aged 18, Adam relocated to London from Wales, where he grew up, to follow his dream. He realised that he wanted to be a chef at around the age of 15. “I moved to London to work for Marcus Wareing,” he recalls.

“I spent three and a bit years working for Marcus, mostly at the The Gilbert Scott, which was the restaurant he opened about a month before I moved. I went there as a commis chef. It was pretty chaotic and it was pretty full on, and it was back in the day when mental health wasn’t such a prominent issue as such. Chefs were worked to the bone and the hours were ridiculous.

“It was a tough place to work but it was a great place to work. I learnt how to cook there. It was the case with loads of restaurants back then – if you stuck it out, you really benefitted later down the line.”

Adam’s next job was working for Phil Howard at The Square, the two-Michelin Star restaurant in Mayfair. “It was a great place to work and somewhere that really refined everything I’d learnt from Marcus Wareing,” he said. “I can’t speak highly enough of it – it was tough, but if you go and work in any of these top-end restaurants, they’re all tough.”

Adam then did a bit of travelling, working in Melbourne, Australia for a time, before starting work at Perilla. “We put a massive emphasis at Perilla on guest experience,” he explains, “and I think that’s something I really want to bring – is that everything we do, we do it to make that dining experience the best that we can possibly offer the guests.

“Because that’s what we’re there to do: we’re there to cook really delicious food but ultimately our role is to make the people who are sat in the dining room have the best time they can possibly have – and I think that often gets overlooked, in lots of different aspects of restaurants.”

Adam became involved in The Garden House project after he met Chris Miller from White Rabbit on the television show My Million Pound Menu. “It’s basically like a Dragon’s Den-style restaurant concept,” he said of the programme, revealing that he and a friend were initially contacted by the BBC after running a little pop-up in Islington while Perilla was going through a refurbishment.

“We thought it would be a laugh and we thought it would be something that would be beneficial to us, so we gave it a whirl and got through and then met Chris and a few other industry leaders.”

Fast forward a couple of years and, in the middle of lockdown one, Adam and his friend were approached by Chris and asked if they would be interested in potentially being part of The Garden House.

“My friend Gethin [Davies] was involved in it from the start,” said Adam, “but the role wasn’t quite right for him he felt at the time. He’d actually just taken a new job which he was pretty set on so it just came at the wrong time for him – whereas I’d been at Perilla for four years so it was probably coming at the right time for me.”

Adam says a large, two-metre, custom-made grill has been installed in the kitchen, within the dining room. “We’re going to focus on cooking over fire, especially in the restaurant space,” he said, “because we want The Garden House restaurant to be the shining light in all of this.

“Obviously, the bar and the garden and everything that comes with it is also going to be fantastic, but we want that Garden House restaurant to be a restaurant by itself. We want the local community, people who live in Cambridge, to come and eat there – not just the people who are staying in the hotel.”

Adam, who says he is “super excited” about working in Cambridge and being part of the city’s thriving food scene, continued: “We want to focus on using the best ingredients. I’ve worked in kitchens for 10 years now – in some of the best kitchens in London, and I’ve gone away from the idea of having lots of things on the plate, or having lots of technique involved.

“I want it to be simple, honest cooking that serves the best ingredients, cooked over fire. To me, there’s nothing better than having a barbecue with your friends, or sitting around a table and sharing a big whole fish, or sharing a big cut of meat, or whatever it is – that communal fire-led, sharing concept for me is the best way to eat, and I want to bring that feeling to The Garden House.”

The Graduate Cambridge hotel, previously the Doubletree by Hilton Cambridge City Centre, will undergo a complete interior renovation that will include all rooms, common spaces, fitness club and pool. The Garden House will be on the ground floor, alongside the bar and café. The Garden House and Graduate Cambridge will open in July.

Visit gardenhousecambridge.co.uk, and follow the project on social media at @gardenhousecam.

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