In 2011, when Brett Redman and Samantha Lim opened the original outpost of their restaurant, Elliot’s, in Borough Market, they introduced London to a new kind of formal dining — simple, deliciously prepared food, served in an elegant but unpretentious setting.

Since then, many aspects of the couple’s approach have become mainstays of London’s food culture — small plates, natural wine, exposed brick.

In 2021, ten years later, they opened a second location, in Hackney — a slightly more grown up sibling to Borough, with a refined, mid-century feel. We caught up with Samantha and Brett to talk food, wine and achieving balance.

How would you describe Elliot’s in three words?
Delicious, fun, casual.

What does simplicity mean to you within the context of fine dining?
Doing the basics right, the best that you can.

Have you had any mentors or inspirations that have guided you throughout your career?
No one individual has been a mentor to us, as such. But we’re constantly inspired by colleagues and friends, both in and out of the hospitality industry. And of course, travel and a love of eating and sharing food creates hundreds of memories and inspirations you can draw on constantly.

How did growing up in Australia inform your relationship with food?
I think being Australian both made us serious about what we do and stopped us from taking ourselves too seriously. If that makes any sense?
Growing up there also exposed us to a diverse variety of cultures and cuisines, so as a result we are very open-minded about what good food is. We’ve never viewed ‘good’ as meaning only fancy or fine dining. We appreciate simple things done well.

How much of an adjustment was moving to the UK in terms of climate and availability of fresh seasonal produce?   
A bit of a shock at first! Lots of cabbage and root vegetable salad and sooo many beetroots! But now pioneering UK producers and farmers are prioritising regenerative agriculture and soil health, which are crucial for amazing quality produce. Having Europe on our doorstep also helps.

How do you divide the responsibilities of running two restaurants between you and how do you maintain a healthy balance between your professional and personal relationship? 
We’ve never really spoken about it formally — the responsibilities just seem to divide quite easily between the two of us. There isn’t any ego about it and we understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses, so it’s been very natural.

It’s definitely hard to maintain a balance between work and life, though, as we’re always “on call”. We try to maintain boundaries, so that it’s not always work chat, and make sure we take time off together.

Both your original Borough market restaurant and your more recently opened Hackney outpost are beautifully and distinctively designed spaces. What was your approach to the aesthetic side of Elliot’s?

Thank you! We’ve always really wanted both spaces to be a reflection of the Elliot’s dining experience; a sense of simplicity, elevated by fun details, colours and textures.The Borough restaurant has more of a buzzy, sexy ambience, to harmonise with the energy of the (usually heaving) Market. Hackney is more spacious and chilled — a haven, set back from the madness of Mare Street.

Your approach to cooking is very community-focused, stemming from your origins as an apprentice in your local neighbourhood bistro. How do you go about fostering a similar sense of community and warmth in a city like London? 
I think it starts with our team. London’s a big place and can be overwhelming, so we like to focus on the people around us and try to look after them the best we can, both personally and professionally.

What is it about grilling over charcoal that you think breathes such life into food? 
It’s the most natural and oldest way to cook. Nothing is really added or taken away, the inherent flavours of the produce are just accentuated. It’s pretty instinctive, which we find leads to better cooking and better food.

You were quite ahead of the natural wine movement. What was your introduction to the concept of natural wines and why do you think they’ve caught on in the way that they have?
It really started because we felt the wines needed to match the ethos of the menu and the business by supporting and working with small scale independent suppliers. That’s how we first discovered natural wine and got introduced to Isabelle Legeron, one of the early pioneers of the movement, who we worked with and learnt a lot from.
So much love goes into making these wines and you can really taste it in their expressive qualities. Over the past few years, I think people have been searching for things that feel authentic, like someone actually made them, rather than some distant corporation. With natural wines, you can really feel the winemakers’ dedication to the earth and the product.

What advice would you give to young chefs hoping to start their own restaurant?

Oh god. To be realistic about what it entails! A lot of hard work and perseverance and a few inevitable bumps along the way. You have to really want to do it because you love it and can’t imagine doing anything else. In the end, the extra effort will become normal and then you’ll see what you’re really capable of!

What do you like to do on your days off from the restaurant(s)?

What days off?!

Where do you like to eat in London?

We tend to stay close to where we live, which (luckily for us) is Hackney. We go to Sonora, Bright, Koya, E5, Towpath, Toconoco, Brawn, Rochelle’s Canteen, Smoking Goat, Som Saa and Dumpling Shack within walking distance. We also love going to 40 Maltby Street whenever we get a chance, though sadly not often enough!

What do you think the next big movement in food will be?
Big trends will always come and go but it would be great to see a continued focus on environmentally and valuing people and the planet before profit!

Finally, this year we ask all of our Journal interviewees to complete the following phrase:

You Must Create… whatever makes you feel good! 

It can be a phrase or just a word. For us, You Must Create is both a mission statement and a call to action.