Brett Graham, the 33-year-old chef-patron of The Ledbury, is one of the most respected chefs in London. He's the only Australian currently to hold three Michelin stars, and The Ledbury, with two, recently leapt ahead 20 places in the World's 50 Best Restaurants Awards list to number 14. But if Graham is a kitchen superstar, it's definitely in the quiet-achiever mould.
It was The Ledbury that really put him in the public eye, but his ascent prior to that was steady. Graham was brought up just outside Newcastle, NSW, and during his three-year stint at Banc in Sydney he won the Josephine Pignolet Young Chef of the Year Award, which allowed him to travel to London, where he was taken on at The Square in Mayfair, a two-starred fine-diner. "I was so keen just to learn as much as possible," he says, "and seeing all the new produce was a big eye-opener."
In 2002 Graham won his next Young Chef of the Year Award, while working at The Square. "In the 20-odd years of running The Square there are maybe half a dozen chefs who have really stood out," says The Square's chef and co-owner, Phil Howard. "Brett was the cream of this elite crop - hugely inquisitive, immensely energetic, extraordinarily gifted, but most importantly, just a great cook." Graham is also a serious eater, a quality Howard finds lacking from all too many chefs. "This is ultimately the raison d'être of his cooking and the very reason it is so successful," Howard says. Howard was so impressed by Graham that he and The Square's co-owner, Nigel Platts-Martin, put their own money behind Graham when he set up The Ledbury.
Though Graham's cooking was very well received when The Ledbury opened, it has steadily improved. "Brett is the only chef in the country who manages to unite creativity, innovation and deliciousness in not only a harmonious way but where the whole is significantly more than the sum of the parts," says Howard. "His cooking is elegant, pure, sophisticated and utterly delicious."
Graham's style has shifted from what might be called Modern French in the early days, to a style that uses British ingredients and is more firmly rooted in the English countryside. Dishes such as flame-grilled mackerel with smoked eel, Celtic mustard and radishes, or loin of venison baked in Douglas fir with beetroot, red wine lees and smoked bone marrow, tease and surprise the palate.
Graham is also now the co-owner of The Harwood Arms, a Michelin-starred gastropub in Fulham, south-west London. He doesn't cook there, but he does contribute directly: one of his hobbies is game shooting, a pastime he shares with another Harwood Arms co-owner, Mike Robinson, who has the shooting rights to a large country estate only an hour outside London. Their shoot frequently finds its way onto the menus at The Harwood Arms. Graham has put down roots in London, and he and his partner of 11 years, Natalie James, are getting married later this year. "I love England," he says.
"I seem to have settled here permanently."