How a melting pot of flavours and influences shaped the Michelin-recognised Haywards in Epping
It’s quite a massive pat on the back for Epping when it enticed a chef as good as Jahdre Hayward to open a restaurant here. During his career to date, he has worked with some amazing chefs – “I really enjoyed working under the likes of Anton Edelmann and Terry Clark, and it was Raymond Capaldi at the National Gallery who really elevated my understanding of ingredients and modernised my thinking,” he says – and travelled the world on quite the culinary journey, which included studying in America and working in Australia. And, yet, it was in Epping where he opened his eponymous restaurant.
“I met my wife Amanda while working at the London Capital Club and her family are from Epping,” Hayward explains. “She introduced me to the area and I love it here. Amanda’s family own a pub and had always wanted to open a restaurant. We decided to convert one of their outbuildings, which was formerly a coach house and stable, and the result is Haywards.”
The feeling of love is certainly mutual, starting from the unique setting, situated on the edge of Epping Forest in the grounds of The Forest Gate Inn, a 17th century freehouse owned and run by the Stokes family for over 50 years. “The setting and design of the restaurant are really important to us,” Hayward says warmly. “We have always wanted to ensure that the experience is positive from the first enquiry right through to when guests leave at the end of their meal. We wanted to create an elegant and comfortable environment to match the quality of our cuisine.”
The a la carte menu, in particular, highlights Hayward’s approach to ingredients, with each dish titled simply from what has been used to concoct it. “Our menus are seasonal, so myself and the team look at the ingredients that are in season and build our dishes around them,” Hayward explains. “We use produce from our garden – we are so fortunate to have that space – and take inspiration from restaurants I visit, from trends in the industry and also from my huge collection of recipe books. Although I focus on modern European styles, I really love Asian food, particularly Japanese. Following my time in Australia and discovering many different ingredients I do now often use Asian ingredients in my dishes too, such as dashi and miso.”
Hayward and his wife, who is also front of house, have certainly won the hearts and minds of foodies both local and further afield, with evidence of that on show outside the building. “We are recommended in the Michelin guide and do have a Michelin plaque,” Hayward says on the high praise the restaurant has received. “We also hold 3 AA Rosettes, which is fantastic as there is only one other restaurant in Essex with that accolade. That association does add pressure for sure, however it also focuses us on maintaining our high standards and consistency in our dishes and quality of food as well as service. We are always looking for ways to improve and add to our offer. We are proud of what we have achieved and how hard our team work to maintain these standards.”
Despite all the success Haywards have enjoyed, even they could not escape the pain of a global pandemic. “The lockdowns were extremely tough on the business,” Haywards admits. “We never imagined that from that weekend in March 2020 when we first had to close what the rest of the year would hold and how we would need to adapt and change the business to keep everything going and to be able to re-open. It has been incredibly stressful at times. Our team of chefs are great and really have worked hard and been behind us the whole time while we set up our new weekend coffee trailer and offered the take-away service through the lockdowns. Our kitchen staff and front of house too have been amazing. Everyone has supported us throughout.”
Fingers crossed discussing hospitality closures will become a thing of the past and Hayward and his team can concentrate on doing what they have done so well since opening in 2013. “We wanted to bring fine dining and modern European cuisine to Epping,” Hayward looks back to day one. It’s fair to say that it has been mission accomplished.
111 Bell Common, Epping, CM16 4DZ