The Grazing Sheep
When The Grazing Sheep closed unexpectedly in December 2017, residents and visitors of the Waterfront lost a much-loved venue; unique in its quirky/industrial chic design and with beautiful views of Common Quay and beyond, what was once the ideal destination for a coffee stop or catching up with friends over lunch was lost. Fortunately, the restaurant was given a new lease of life when father-and-son team Bart and Julian Bisbal took it over earlier this year; successfully reopening on 30th April with an abundance of fresh ideas for their new venture.
Chef Julian started working with his father – whom he calls his ‘best friend’ – six years ago, under Bart’s Suffolk Country Inns business hat. “I started at the lower ranks and worked up to opening The Swan at Monks Eleigh for him. Two years ago, I left Dad as an opportunity came up to work in Barcelona under one of my idols, Ferran Adria.” Julian has also worked with Michelin-star chef Michel Roux, but admits he is predominantly a self-taught chef; “When I go home, I don’t watch TV. I look through cookbooks, or Google techniques – cooking is my life and my passion; it’s what drives me,” he tells me.
So how did Julian and Bart expand from country pubs and world-class kitchens, to taking on a whole new dynamic with a Waterfront restaurant? “When I came back from Barcelona, I worked in a 3-rosette standard kitchen, which was great; but I went through a rough patch mentally. My dad approached me with John [Howard]’s offer of taking over The Grazing Sheep. I just said, ‘let’s go for it!’”
There was a possibility of rebranding the venue from The Grazing Sheep, but Julian and Bart were overruled – by Julian’s mum! “Mum is Welsh!” Julian explains, “We would have wanted to make it our own, but The Grazing Sheep just stuck. It has its good and bad points; people already know it with this name, but they will also expect everything to be the same. We need customers to know that our menu won’t be the same as Rita’s: our menu evolves with our ideas. All of our sweet offerings are still gluten-free; we source them from a local lady who bakes them all fresh for us. Her cakes are stunning!” Julian assures me that The Grazing Sheep will also offer vegetarian and vegan options for their customers.
The menu focuses on locally sustainable and homemade produce; something Julian is very proud of. “From our meat – currently being reared in Stoke-by-Nayland – to our bread, specially made by the Anchor Bakery just across the river; I want everything that goes onto our plates to be fresh and top quality. I may buy the puff pastry, but I make the croissants by hand. That’s what we want The Grazing Sheep to stand out for; the reason why people come back. I want the quality of the food we serve to reflect my perspective of what food should be. I’m a perfectionist and I want every customer to be happy.”
The Grazing Sheep’s new menu is fluid: offerings vary according to new ingredients and ideas, seasonal availability, and how well dishes are received. Julian explains that it can even change from one day to another: down to his focus on providing only the best to their customers; and the reason why you won’t find a copy of the restaurant’s menu online. Some items will stick around: popular dishes such as avocado on toast and lasagne will maintain their home on the menu, but Julian is keen to encourage diners to explore the different menu options weekly, as new, tantalising dishes come on board.
Tapas and wine evenings on Friday and Saturday nights will lead The Grazing Sheep very comfortably into summer dining, and Julian is excited to offer bespoke, personalised private dining options to groups and parties. “If someone wants to book a table for a large group upstairs, we can accommodate that. I meet with them beforehand to discuss what I think they would enjoy. I want to offer an experience that is memorable, with the best food I can make you, for a price that suits your budget.”
Superior food, created with passion, paired with stunning views and warm, welcoming service. The Grazing Sheep has truly reignited its prominence on our Waterfront and looks set to soar to new levels under Julian and Bart’s wing. The Grazing Sheep is open from 8am for breakfast, and closes at 6pm during the week. On Fridays and Saturdays, they are open from 9am to 10pm – perfect for weekend wine and tapas to enjoy while watching the sunset!