Plating up delicious digital morsels.

On a quiet country lane, just a couple of miles outside of the picturesque town of Henley-on-Thames, stands what looks like an unassuming white-washed 18th-century pub. To the casual observer, it may appear pretty but unremarkable. And yet, those who have ever crossed its threshold, know that what lies on the other side is less traditional coaching inn and more total knock-out gourmet delight.

All that is thanks to husband-and-husband team, Liam and Ryan Simpson-Trotman, chefs and co-owners of Orwells Restaurant in the pretty south Oxfordshire village of Shiplake. Far from operating it as a run-of-the-mill pub, in the ten years since it opened, it has been named The Good Food Guide’s Restaurant of the Year (2017), as well as consistently being included in its Top 50 UK Restaurants. The boys have racked up four AA Rosettes – an accolade which ranks Orwells amongst the best restaurants in the country – while the good and notoriously hard-to-please reviewers of The Times, The Telegraph and Mail on Sunday have lavished praise upon this now stalwart. The pair also appear regularly on the BBC’s Saturday Kitchen and BBC2’s Great British Menu.

It all began when the they met at The Goose, where Ryan was a newly Michelin Star-garlanded head chef, having cut his teeth at Sketch, The Langham and The Elephant. Liam had just joined the team after notching up kitchen hours at 60 Hope Street and Bovey Castle – and the rest, both personally and professionally, is, as they say, history.


The Simpson-Trotmans’ focus is on high quality and sustainable food, with everything sourced locally where possible. Such dedication is not simply lip-service either; they have their own smallholding, at which they grow some 75 per cent of all of the fruit and veg served at the restaurant. Liam, meanwhile, is also a beekeeper; any honey you eat at Orwells are from his own bees, and the rest is sold to support Friends of the Earth’s ‘Bee Cause’. It’s little wonder, then, that the Sustainable Restaurant Association has awarded Orwells a three-star gold rating – not least because they send nothing to landfill, and scrutinise in minute detail the ethics of every one of their suppliers.

Next spring, the pair will open a second venture, although, at the time of writing, details were still very much under wraps. We, for one, are excited. As, no doubt, will Tom Parker Bowles be; he wrote of his visit to Orwells, ‘We’re impressed. And happy. These lads can cook. This restaurant rocks’. Amen to that.


Here Liam shares the podcast that kept him hooked through lockdown; why everyone should read George Monbiot’s book on rewilding Britain; and how he can never shake the first YouTube clip he ever saw from his consciousness.

My favourite website...


Amazon. I am not a massive fan of traipsing around shops searching for things. Plus, as I am always busy on the go at work or down the garden, this website is basically my lifeline.

My favourite app...


BBC Sounds. This app is great, as I listen to BBC Radio 2 all day if possible. I mean, mornings without Ken Bruce POPMASTER or afternoons without Steve Wright are just not something I want to think about.



My favourite podcast...


Louis Theroux’ series, Grounded. These have been amazing to listen to whilst in lockdown. It’s a series of Louis interviewing various celebs over the now ubiquitous Zoom. It gave you snippets into their life and their early years and it feels so natural and not scripted. I loved the Boy George episode as I am a fan of his anyway. Also the KSI episode was interesting – we work with a lot of young folk, so it’s nice to keep up with the YOUTUBERS who are smashing life.

My favourite YouTuber...


Uncle Roger… I love this. It’s just a bit of fun all about fried rice!
 

My most recent buy online...


Parasol holders for the Orwells garden from Amazon.
 

Last book you downloaded or read...


I love Audible as I am always on the go. Before kitchen life, I would always have a book on the go. Nowadays it is digital and I get through more books this way. My last download was Feral by George Monbiot, a book about rewilding the UK, both land and sea. It came to my knowledge during lockdown and I thought it was so fitting, since we were all in our houses, flats, bungalows etc and nature was winning. People noticed and heard the birds more, the trees seemed greener, the sky bluer and wildlife was loving life as there were fewer humans out and about, fewer cars on the road, fewer planes in the sky. For a short time, the world was less polluted. If you have not read it, do so.

The most useful gadget/item on your desk...


My automatic watch winder.

Most useful digital resource during lockdown...


As we pushed on with our Community Shop, our deliveries stepped up a lot. Organising the route was proving difficult until I discovered the Circuit app. Amazing! You pop in all the addresses you’re delivering to, calibrate and it works out the fastest route from your start point. It allows you to say how long a drop will take and gives you an ETA for when you will be back home, as it gives live traffic updates. If you have never used it, I highly recommend.

First thing/app you look at on your mobile when you wake up/in the morning...


I will always look at BBC News and BBC Weather. I have been doing this for years. It’s just good to keep up with current affairs, because as soon as I head into the kitchen, it’s head down and crack on.


Last thing you binge-watched...


The Walking Dead on Amazon Prime. It is rare that Ryan and I sit down to watch TV. It has to be an extremely good movie or a series that makes us on edge, like Line of Duty. We started watching TWD in April and almost finished the ten series, with 16 episodes in each series! I know, a lot of watching TV – in fact, probably our year’s worth in three months!

Social media allowed me to meet...


My now husband Ryan Simpson.

My screensaver is...


My grandad, my grandma, my dog Remi and me. It was taken in 2013 when my grandparents came to visit Henley for the week. I have it there as a reminder, as I lost all three of them in a short space of time, from May 2019 to September 2020. It’s such a happy reminder every day that I was so lucky to have them in my life and they still are there, every day.
 

My standout online memory...


I always remember the very first YouTube video I watched many, many years ago. I was a strange Japanese game show where young girls popped their heads into a dome with meat strapped to their heads and then a rather large lizard was released inside. You can imagine the carnage that was to ensue.


My pet online hate is...


Pop-up advertisements… need I say more?

Do you have any online rules or resolutions?


I have my phone set to sleep mode between the hours of 12am – 6am daily. A grey screen displays, I cannot access any application and I can only be disturbed if one of my favourite contacts try to get in touch, or if an alarm is triggered for a vehicle I own. Sleep is important, especially when you work sixteen hours a day.

The Internet. On balance, a force for good or ill?


The internet is a good platform for all. Like everything in life, it has its ups and downs and right and wrongs. Everything in moderation is fine by me.

By Nancy Alsop
August 2021

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