Restauranteur, Sam Harrison, and business partner Fanny Stocker have become well-known in West London with their restaurant Sam’s Riverside and Sam’s Larder having become favourites amongst locals.
From opening Sam’s Riverside restaurant in 2019, to expanding to three Sam’s Larder sites in Chiswick, Hammersmith, and Brentford, we speak with owner, Sam Harrison to discuss all things local, food and community.
ABOUT SAM HARRISON
Sam Harrison was born and raised in Fulham, opposite Craven Cottage by Bishops Park, living on one of the Alphabet streets off Fulham Palace Road.
Brought up in Fulham in the 1970s, many parts of the river, in particular where Sam’s Riverside restaurant is now located, were not so developed; “Fulham was a very different place when I was growing up compared to now” explaining how the stretch of the river has completely transformed from a no-go area to a popular walking route.
From Fulham, he moved to Hammersmith, then to Chiswick and is now based back in Hammersmith.
This is the only part of London I’ve ever lived. I am West London born and bred
SAM HARRISON’S HISTORY IN THE FOOD INDUSTRY
Sam has worked in the food industry since the age of 16 working in all types of restaurants from burger joints to high-end restaurants.
Having never worked in any other industry, Sam said it becomes a way of life, almost addictive. He feels very fortunate to have worked with good people along the way, people he was able to learn from, who supported him and trusted him to run their restaurants.
Previously worked as far afield as restaurants in Canada and Sydney, it was only when he came back from Australia in 2003 that he considered opening his own business instead of working for someone else. It was then that he started his first restaurant Sam’s Brasserie Chiswick and Harrison’s in Balham.
IT WAS ALL MEANT TO BE – HOW SAM’S RIVERSIDE STARTED
When Sam Harrison sold his restaurant Sam’s Brasserie to the Hawksmoor Group in 2015, he had some time to himself and questioned whether he wanted to open another restaurant. However, when the site by Riverside Studios became available, it was too tempting to say no.
He mentioned that he had heard of Riverside Studios before purchasing the space and that the Head of Riverside Studios at the time was asked by the estate agent selling the space, ‘who do you imagine operating this space’ to which he answered that he had always been a fan of Sam’s Brasserie in Chiswick. It was a coincidence that the estate agent knew Sam well and got in contact with him about the site.
Sam’s business partner, Fanny, was from a restaurant background and became Sam’s bookkeeper when he had his last two restaurants. When deciding whether to start a restaurant alone, he said that he was thankful that he decided to go into business with Fanny. ‘We share the roles. Loosely speaking I do more the front of house stuff and she is brilliant with numbers and helps with the bookkeeping to make sure everything is in line.’
Overlooking the Thames, with outstanding views of Hammersmith Bridge, Sam’s Riverside is well-known for its unbeatable views.
When deciding whether to open our Hammersmith restaurant, it was impossible to ignore the view. Not many restaurants have a view like this, even those high-end restaurants in the City, and that alone was a selling point. It is truly special.
With Sam’s Riverside being in Hammersmith, Sam said the accessibility is a real pull factor, and that the majority of his customers do not have to travel much more than 10-15 minutes. While he hopes people will still travel, he knows that it is predominantly a local customer base at the restaurant.
‘It is a real centre for several places including but not limited to Fulham, Hammersmith, Chiswick, Shepherd’s Bush, Barnes, Brackenbury Village and Notting Hill.’
Sam mentioned that ‘most residential restaurants do very little business early evening and we can be busy from 5 pm. Most nights we are booked up, but we can always squeeze people in and there’s always the bar. It’s interesting many people book to eat at the bar as some people love it and enjoy the experience. But we normally have walk-ins at the bar and when we have our terrace open, we will have lots of walk-ins. We had it open on the bank holiday weekend which was fantastic.’
Sam’s Riverside menu focuses on the best seasonal produce across the UK, offering a selection of British and Mediterranean dishes from oysters, lobster and crab rolls and rib-eye steak to linguine, salads, and tarts.
Head Chef, Ashley Tinoco, who was formerly at The Ritz, oversees the 15-strong kitchen team, and works closely with Sam on the menu, recommending, testing, and tweaking dishes.
While Sam is not a chef by trade, he has been in the food industry for a long period of time and knows what ingredients to use together and what food and wines work together. He said, ‘I have notes everywhere with ideas and am constantly thinking of new recipes and dishes to include.’
For the Coronation weekend, Sam and Ashley researched King Charles III’s favourite dishes and devised a special menu for the weekend.
There have been many cases where Sam has spoken with their suppliers who have suggested certain dishes based on what is in season or what they have available at the time. He adds ‘the key is for us to work with our suppliers and help each other out.’
For example, the Isle of Wight tomato tart was added to the menu because the tomatoes are fresh and in season. The pork neck steak was included in the set menu due to Sam knowing the butchers well and understanding their supply flow.
How do you choose your suppliers?
Sam is passionate about working with small artisan suppliers, from fruit and vegetables to meat, fish, and seafood.
They use small buyers whom they buy fruit and vegetables, cheese, smoked salmon, and wine from directly.
Wines have been handpicked by Sam, many of which are from vineyards Sam has been to himself and has built strong relationships with. They have an array of choices to enhance the meal.
HG Walters in Barons Court is their main supplier for meat, including aged Hereford beef and free-range pork, and the Wright Brothers who have their own boats coming out of Brixham in Devon provide the finest sustainable seafood, oysters, and shellfish from the UK.
Many of Sam’s customers are those he has known for years, including friends of Sam’s mum and dad who on the day of this interview visited for lunch, people he has known since he was a child and people whom he has known for almost 20 years from owning Sam’s Brasserie.
‘You form proper relationships and have a history together. I have people who come here three or four times a week but then other people who may only come once a year but come once a year every year for 20 years so in their own sort of way that is regular and maybe they only go out one special night a year.’
A stand-out story for Sam was that of a couple who had their first date in his old restaurant, got engaged in the old restaurant, visited Sam’s Riverside when they were expecting a baby and celebrated the birth of their first child at Sam’s Riverside as well which he said, ‘it makes me feel old but special that I have seen the relationship grow’.
An additional memory was that of a woman who introduced herself saying that he wouldn’t recognise her but when she was two, Sam’s Brasserie (his first restaurant) was their favourite and she wanted to come back to his new one.
These stories and experiences are what a local business is all about. And why I wouldn’t want to work anywhere else.
The importance of customer experience
Sam highlighted the importance of excellent customer service as a local business, explaining how he must work harder because ‘say if we were based in the West End and someone had a bad experience, the next evening there will be another tourist or someone else visiting. Whereas in West London if someone doesn’t have a good experience, they will tell people’.
He stated that due to many of their customers being locals there is only a certain pull of people in the area, so ‘you want to impress every single person and try to turn them into a repeat customer whether that is once a week or once a year, whatever it is that is something.’
When discussing the importance of customer experience, Sam explains how many restaurants can overcomplicate it and get wrapped up in the cuisine or try too hard to be the cool new hotspot. ‘In the simplest terms if you smile, say hello, and look after people. You won’t go that far wrong.’
I am very proud of my team, the restaurant and the food. The most important thing is looking after people and ensuring they have had the best experience possible, then anything else is a bonus’Sam Harrison, Owner
A huge benefit for Sam’s Riverside is its proximity to the Riverside Studios and the Eventim Apollo. Sam explained that there are limited choices of high-end restaurants near these venues which has been a bonus for the restaurant because ‘depending on what shows are playing, we often experience a pre-show and post-show crowd.’
Last summer, he explained that the Sister Act the musical had played at the Eventim Apollo, which led to an astonishing number of people dining and drinking pre-show and post-show, ‘a lot of people had travelled far and saw it as their special day out, just like people do when they go to the West End, so are more willing to dine or have some drinks in a high-end restaurant like ours’.
Similar to the performance of Winnie the Pooh, which had been showing in Riverside Studios at the time of the interview, which he explained led to an increase in the number of families booking from mid-day for pre-show meals.
HOW DID SAM’S LARDER BEGIN
Sam’s Larder was born out of lockdown as an extension of Sam’s Riverside in Hammersmith.
Sam explained that during lockdown, restaurants were offering takeaways and deliveries, however, he quickly realised that their food doesn’t lend itself to that and that he couldn’t bear if his food turned up cold or not as they had originally sent it, therefore decided delivery was not an option.
At the time, Sam had a storage space adjacent to the restaurant and decided to transform it into the now Sam’s Larder, filling their shelves with fresh, local produce from their favourite producers.
He said that ‘when you remember the first lockdown, everyone was so locked away and actually going out to the shops was the outing of the day’. He explained how people had more time to think about their food shopping, and many were willing to spend more money on high-quality food and wine as they weren’t spending it on anything else.
‘We knew that people living in the flats surrounding the restaurant would be interested, as there were limited shopping options nearby offering good quality food.’
Sam’s Larder – Chiswick
Turnham Green Terrace had always been a favourite of Sam’s. ‘It is a real foodie street, with a wonderful array of restaurants, coffee shops and independent boutiques’ so when the site became available it was straight forward decision.
He said that ‘other people might think differently but I think it is one of the best sites in Chiswick as you get a double-fronted site, near Turnham Green and the tube station. The footfall is brilliant.’
While Chiswick has several incredible pubs and coffee shops, he mentioned that there are a limited number of wine bars, so with the site being four times the size of the Hammersmith site, he decided rather than filling it all with retail or putting a kitchen in there, he would offer a space for customers to have coffee, brunch, and post-work drinks.
With the store being open until seven, and the weather improving, Sam reckons when they can open the windows, which they have done a couple of times and found to be successful, he will appeal to many more customers wanting to relax and enjoy the beautiful weather with a drink.
While they sell their products in-store, they have expanded to Deliveroo, outside catering, office takeaway food and also the food-saving app Too Good To Go.
Sam Harrison said that ‘when you have a store like ours providing fresh produce, nearly every day you will have some that will go out of date so there is potentially a lot of waste. Normally we sell out of pastries and bread however using Too Good To Go has helped us to limit our wastage of products like fruit and vegetables.’
Sam’s Larder – Brentford
The most recent extension of Sam’s Larder is in Brentford Project.
Sam said that he saw the ‘Brentford Project and weirdly I contacted them but at the same time, they were trying to contact me because they had been to Sam’s Riverside in Hammersmith and loved the look, the food, and the atmosphere, and wanted a flagship restaurant themselves.’
It turns out that the Brentford Project did not want a big chain restaurant, but rather someone who is independent and understands West London.
While the restaurant is not yet open, Sam’s Larder is currently only offering coffee and pastries due to the space being shared with the concierge short-term. He said that in the meantime it works out well as when people go to collect their keys, they will also get a coffee. He said, ‘it is like a get-to-know-us when you move in’. He explained how eventually the Larder will become like the Chiswick site.
When designing the space, Sam did not want to copy and paste the same design like other chains do, because he said ‘while Brentford and Hammersmith have similar audiences, Brentford has a slightly younger crowd than Chiswick and Hammersmith so I wanted to cater to everyone in the area’.
How do you choose your suppliers for Sam’s Larder
Sam wanted to stock each of the Sam’s Larder sites with unique offerings that his customer could not get in any other store, and from as many small suppliers and producers as possible.
The shelves are stocked with everything he adores from his favourite producers, including but not limited to outstanding British cheeses from Neal’s Yard Dairy, bread, pastries and cakes from Sciascia Story Artisan Bakery, fruit and vegetables from Phoenix Farm and Oui Chef, and chilled Rock Angel rosé and other wines curated from their restaurant wine list.
Frozen by Sam’s Riverside
Frozen by Sam’s Riverside, is available to buy in Sam’s Larder stores, which customers can either cook in the oven for an hour or store in the freezer for three months. He explained how ‘I think psychologically people think you have the defrost it, but you can simply put it in the oven for an hour and it’s ready.’
The range was born out of lockdown when Sam’s customers said they missed their food and asked what they could have instead because while they were getting deliveries the food was not restaurant quality.
He said ‘we all had those moments in lockdown where you just wanted to have comfort food’ so as a solution, his team decided to create their frozen range whereby they would cook the food using fresh and high-quality ingredients in the restaurant and sell it in their Sam’s Larder sites.
Sam and his team recognised that not many other restaurants were offering customers frozen food, only delivery so took this as an opportunity to provide customers with a healthier comfort food that is easy to cook, made from fresh ingredients and high-quality.
He spoke of the benefits of frozen food, how with frozen food they don’t have to add any preservatives, unlike ready meals, which are packed full of unhealthy ingredients to make them last.
As a nation, we eat far too much processed food and ready meals and I get why because of convenience and I do it too. But I don’t think the press has really highlighted how bad these preservatives really are for our health and I want to change that.Sam Harrison, Owner
Since launching, Sam has been overwhelmed by the popularity of their frozen range. He mentioned a local actor who almost every Thursday or Friday night buys his goan prawn curry from Sam’s Larder and on his way home told Sam that he goes to the Indian restaurant to get his rice (as Sam’s Larder do not sell rice) but he prefers Sam’s curry.
WHAT SAM HARRISON LOVES ABOUT WORKING AND LIVING IN WEST LONDON
Sam said, ‘West London is my base’, he can’t imagine not living near the River Thames. He likes the fact that he has the River, an array of beautiful parks and a lot more greenery than the rest of London all within walking or cycling distance. For those wanting to go out for the evening, he explained that London is easily accessible.
West London has that sense of space and almost tranquility that you don’t get in majority of London. I am happy with where I live. It is safe, clean and has a real sense of community, I love that when I am walking or cycling I am not surprised to wave or stop to talk to someone on my route. I’m sure other part of London have that but it always feel strong here.Sam Harrison, Owner
WHAT’S NEXT FOR SAM HARRISON?
Alongside Sam’s Riverside restaurant opening in Brentford, Sam Harrison is also opening a Sam’s Kitchen around the corner from Sam’s Riverside in Hammersmith.
Sam’s Kitchen came along when the owner of the cafe who had been there for 17 years wanted to sell. The owner was a big part of the community, where a lot of their customers were Sam’s customers too, ‘they would go there for breakfast and coffee and use us for dinner and lunch.’
Sam liked the idea of somewhere people could visit to have breakfast and coffee. He said that his ‘customers will predominantly be locals. All these flats with not a huge amount of offering and everyone wants a good cup of coffee.’
SAM HARRISON’S ADVICE FOR STARTING A BUSINESS
When discussing what advice Sam Harrison would give to others wishing to start a business he said ‘go and learn the business you want to go into. I was 32 when I opened my first restaurant. You can make mistakes and learn from them. Gaining experience is invaluable and will make it much easier when you come around to having your own business.’
He mentioned that it is important to ask for advice. ‘Don’t be afraid to ask. I hope I encourage people to ask a question. There is no shame in not knowing.’
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