The brains behind London’s award-winning Australian eateries rustles up the things that make her heart sing.

Fourteen years ago, Shelagh Ryan moved to London from her native Melbourne. Yet even as she fell in love with the capital’s diversity, she found herself hankering for the famously excellent café culture that she’d left behind on the other side of the globe. Inspired to plug that gap, just a year later, she – along with co-founders Michael Homan and Caitlin Ryan – opened the doors to Lantana, an ode to Australia’s relaxed approach to fine dining, and London’s first-ever truly Australian restaurant.

Over a decade later, it has proved to be a punt that’s paid off: there are now four sites in the Lantana stable (Old Street and London Bridge have joined the original Fitzrovia café); it has scooped Time Out’s Best Café of the Year award among other accolades; and Shelagh has penned two hit books, Café Kitchen and Lantana Café Breakfast & Brunch. It has, it’s fair to say, been a busy decade. And it’s no stretch to see why Lantana has proved such a success; this is, after all, casual dining at its absolute best and most innovative.

Here, Shelagh takes ten minutes to share a few of her favourite things, from her foodie hero to the dish that reliably transports her straight back to Australia.

Follow Lantana on Instagram here.

Favourite place in all the world?

The Noosa National Park in Queensland. Growing up we spent every summer holidaying at Sunshine Beach and I have so many happy memories of fishing off the beach, early morning surfs and fish and chips. I’ve watched some incredible sunrises and sunsets from the cliff tops in the National Park, which is only accessible on foot.

Dream holiday?

I’m really close to my family and it’s been so hard not seeing the ones living in Australia for nearly two years because of Covid travel restrictions. My dream is to have all of us together, with our partners and kids, staying in this beautiful house we’ve stayed in before, right on the beach front on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland. We all love cooking, so there would be lots of big family meals and all of the cousins hanging out together.

Most coveted item right now?

We’ve just embarked on a long-awaited kitchen renovation at home and I’d love to have space for a charcoal/wood fired barbeque in our garden, like Bristol chef Genevieve Taylor uses. Cooking and eating outdoors is one of the things I miss most about Australia. There aren’t as many days of sunshine in the UK, which makes me appreciate eating outside even more when I can.

Proudest professional moment to date?

I was delighted when we won the Best Café of the Year award from Time Out London, a year after we opened our first café in Fitzrovia.

Your dream future project?

I’ve joked with a couple of Welsh friends about setting up a small guesthouse/restaurant in an idyllic part of Wales where they live. My dream is to be able to step outside my kitchen door and pick the freshest and most delicious produce to cook for guests. The menu would be super simple and seasonal, something along the lines of Coombeshead Farm in Cornwall or Water Lane in Kent, which I’m looking forward to visiting in a few weeks.

Most inspiring mentor, professionally or personally?

My father was a gentle, non-interfering parent but he quietly imparted lots of pieces of advice that definitely shaped my career choices: ‘Don’t chase money. Do what you enjoy. Always try to do the very best you can.’

Where would you live if you could live anywhere?

Fourteen years ago, I moved to London from Melbourne, which I thought was the best city in the world to live in, especially for a foodie. But now I’d have to say that London is my favourite place to live. I love the vibrancy, creativity and diversity of London - I just need to make sure I get out into the countryside every now and again to slow down and breathe in clean air!

What book is on your nightstand/ kindle right now?

I’m reading Oscar and Lucinda, an Australian classic by Peter Carey, which I’ve been wanting to read for years. It’s a love story set over generations and Carey writes his characters so beautifully.

Best film you’ve seen recently?

Rocks, a heart-breaking and quite confronting social realist film shot around east London. The lead characters are young girls from the area and had never acted before so there is a real rawness to it. Apparently, a lot of the dialogue was improvised. It’s hard to describe it. I watched it during lockdown and it reminded me that there are a lot of people living in really difficult situations and below the radar. It’s brilliant and original. Watch it!

Best binge-watched TV show?

I’ve just finished watching The White Lotus, which is hilarious but also pretty dark. It’s set in a Hawaiian luxury resort called The White Lotus. There are some scenes which really resonate for anyone who works in customer service, but thankfully Lantana customers are nothing like the deeply dysfunctional and unpleasant guests at The White Lotus!

Top podcast of the moment?

I love The Adam Buxton Podcast, Louis Theroux’s Grounded series and all of Kirsty Young’s Desert Island Discs programs. I love that I can delve into her past programs on BBC iPlayer. They are just fabulous interviewers that allow you to feel like you’re eavesdropping on a private and fascinating conversation.

Your hero?

Yotam Ottolenghi
Keiko Oikawa, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Yotam Ottolenghi. I think he has transformed the style of food that people eat and cook across the world. The fact that you can now put dukkha on a menu without having to explain what it is and find za’atar on the shelf of a supermarket has a lot to do with his influence. He has done so much to promote and de-stigmatise cooking with vegetables, which is crucial if we want to encourage people to eat less meat. I have every one of his books and probably cook something inspired by him at least once a week.

Favourite dish to cook?

One of my favourite things to make ever since I was a child is Pavlova, an iconic Australian dessert. My mum had a special plate with the recipe written on it and that is still the recipe I use today, I even included it in the first Lantana Cookbook Café Kitchen. The best part is the topping. I always make a lemon curd to use up the egg yolks and layer it with whipped cream and lots of fresh fruit – passionfruit, kiwi fruit and strawberries. It’s like a slice of Australian summer on a plate.

Favourite café/ restaurant?

Harvest is a hidden gem of a restaurant in Newrybar, a tiny town in the hinterland near Byron Bay in Australia. It has a bakery with a wood-fired oven, a delicatessen and a restaurant which uses the local produce from the area and also from their own kitchen garden. The food is simple and unpretentious but absolutely delicious because of the quality of the ingredients. It was definitely an inspiration for Lantana!

Most useful thing on your desk?

I don’t really have a desk as I’m always moving about, working from one of the cafes. If I had a desk, my most useful thing would be a pen pot, as I can never find a pen when I need one.

Which five people, dead or alive, would you find most interesting to be stuck in a lift with?

Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern
New Zealand Labour Party., CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Adam Buxton, Kirsty Young, Sandi Toksvig, Mark Riley, and Jacinda Ardern (pictured).
All people I greatly admire for their wit, musical tastes, compassion and principles. I think there would be some pretty funny and intelligent banter between them while we wait for the lift to be fixed.

Favourite building?

The Tate Modern. It’s hard not to feel awestruck by the sheer scale of the Turbine Hall when you enter the Tate Modern. Wandering through the permanent collections and temporary exhibitions is a wonderful place to while away a few hours of a weekend, finished off with a drink in the members’ bar, looking out over London.

Favourite Instagrammer or tweeter?

Ask The Hoff, a Londoner who gives recommendations covering everything from overseas holiday destinations, places to eat, beaches, pubs, etc. She lives in east London, so a lot of her London recommendations are easy for me to get to.

Your screensaver?

Highly unoriginal: a photo of my kids playing together when they were babies. If I’m ever in need of a quick mood lifter I can look at their chubby little faces and smile.

What would be your epitaph?

‘Don’t forget to breathe.’

By Nancy Alsop
November 2021

Tom Aikens, Chef
Liam Simpson-Trotman, Co-Chef-Patron of Orwells
Robin Gill, Great British Chef

Nancy Alsop


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