Frontin': Olivia Barry
22 August 2017
Joanna Clifford chats to another front of house hero about running a restaurant from this side of the pass...
“I don’t usually do stuff like this,” Olivia Barry tells me as we take a seat at the back of Adelina Yard, by the floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook Bristol’s waterways. “But then, I think it’s important that you have a voice.” She is very modest about the acclaim that she and her partner, Jamie, have gained. She never envisaged becoming a chef, let alone owning a successful restaurant.
Olivia grew up in Bristol, in a home where food was not only central to the daily routine, but also part of their Italian heritage. “I’m lucky that I’m from a foodie family. They never stop eating!” she jokes. Her mum was particularly influenced by her father, Olivia’s grandfather, who was a chef. Baking with her mum sparked Olivia’s interest in cooking. “I helped my mum a lot with the cakes. I just loved being around food.”
When Olivia left school and found herself at a loss for what to do next, it was her mum who suggested that she transform her love of cooking into a career path. “I never knew you could actually cook for a job and get paid for it!” she says.
Olivia secured a place on the specialised chef course at Bournemouth College for three months of intense training before undertaking work experience at St Albans and The Wolseley, both in London. She thrived in the intense environment and it helped her to overcome her homesickness. “I like the pressure of the kitchen, the way it runs. It was mostly hard being away from home and everything familiar, but you don’t have time to think about it. You just carry on.”
After completing her training, Olivia worked at the prestigious Wright Brothers, Galvin Bistro and Michelin-starred Murano. She talks with fondness of Murano, run by Angela Hartnett, where she learned that simple food requires the most complex, careful cooking. Murano also appealed to Olivia because of it’s more equal gender balance: there was a fifty-fifty split of men and women, whereas previously she had been one of the only women in a team of around 15.
Olivia believes that the restaurant kitchen is slowly becoming a more attractive place to work. “The mentality of the kitchen is changing. People realise that it’s really silly screaming at people. It’s not going to get them to do the job any better or faster. You spend 14-16 hours a day in the kitchen, so you don’t want to work in a place where everybody is screaming.”
One person Olivia met in the kitchen has been particularly important: her partner and co-owner of Adelina Yard, Jamie. They initially worried that owning a restaurant would place pressure on their relationship, but when her parents offered to help them out financially, they knew it was too good an offer to pass up. After extensive renovation (and a deep clean!) of the site, they opened on New Year’s Eve 2015.
“We didn’t want it to feel poncy,” Olivia tells me. “We wanted people to feel like they could come in.” Those who have been to Adelina Yard can attest that the atmosphere is relaxed and the food, though fine dining, feels accessible. Customers can watch the chefs working; perhaps you will see Olivia in the pastry section, her area of expertise. Olivia and the other chefs also serve the food, to break down the divide between kitchen and front of house.
Although at times the first year was quiet, they are now often busy with both newcomers and regular guests. “This year has been way above our expectations - it’s wicked!” Olivia says.
That’s not to say there haven’t been challenges along the way. For example, some have expressed concerns about footfall. Olivia disagrees the location is off the beaten track. “Queen Square and the Centre is right there (she gestures to her right), the harbour is right there (she gestures to her left). I think it works.”
The harbour development has helped to bring people into the area, as has the growing reputation of Bristol as a culinary destination. Compared to when she was growing up, Olivia says that the food scene has “gone a bit mad”. She isn’t surprised at the city’s increasing popularity. “Bristol’s cool, isn’t it? There are nice people here.You can be in the middle of the city, then get out to the country in ten minutes. For chefs, there’s a lot of good produce around here.”
For Olivia, though, opening a restaurant in Bristol was not about the local produce or the proximity of countryside. It was, quite simply, a homecoming. Family is very important to Olivia, particularly since becoming a mother. Being close to her parents has helped her to juggle the demands of a young family with those of business. When they first opened, her mum and dad looked after her eldest son, Oscar, every weekend for about six months.
Since having her second son, Olivia has taken a step back from the kitchen to focus on behind-the-scenes tasks. She manages the accounts from home and works one day a week at the restaurant, when Jamie swaps and looks after the boys. Sunday and Monday, though, are spent all together. To maintain a work-life balance, she says it is important that work doesn’t interrupt their days off. “We don’t do anything at the restaurant unless it’s desperate, because otherwise, you’ll always be there. We also need time as a family.”
Just as Olivia and Jamie share childcare, they also share the cooking on their days off. Oscar helps in the kitchen, too, and has his own little chopping board and knife. Their menu at home is far more limited, dictated largely by Oscar’s tastes: pasta bake, fajitas and anything with chicken. Oscar also loves to bake, just as Olivia did with her mum. “For breakfast, he’ll ask ‘Can I have some cake?’ and I’m like ‘No, not at nine o’clock!’. He could forever eat cake!”
When I ask about Olivia favourite food, it’s clear who has given Oscar his sweet tooth. “Dessert!” she says, “I like a good tart. Fruit tart, chocolate tart, any pastry. I can eat pastry at all times.” She loves the rich food at the restaurant, but meals are usually less fancy: “about 60% of the time I eat pasta and I love burritos, especially if I’m hungover!”
Even for a skilled chef such as Olivia, it is still the simple foods - a slice of cake, a bowl of pasta - that bring the most joy.