Roger and Sue Jones are always full of surprises with their latest amazing scheme to wow the trade and guests alike with another wonderful food and wine experience at their multi-award winning restaurant, The Harrow at Little Bedwyn. But they have kept their biggest surprise for the end, at least for the future of The Harrow, as they have announced they are to close their much-loved, and highly respected restaurant in order to move into the slightly less stressful world of consultancy, wine judging – and (hopefully) writing for The Buyer.
Roger and Sue Jones are looking forward to a new, much quieter, life away from the cut and thrust and daily pressure of running one of the UK’s most respected and award-winning restaurants at The Harrow at Little Bedwyn.
So where do you start with news like this? It has been quite a ride for Roger and Sue over the last 21 years running The Harrow at Little Bedwyn, but the time has come for them to start new projects in food and wine as they announce they are going to close the doors on their much loved restaurant.
The news will come as a shock to their guests and food and wine suppliers from all over the world who have come to see the Jones’ more as friends than as customers. When they finally do – on March 28 with their last service for guests – they will be able to look back on a long list of awards and accolades, including in no particular order:
- 12 years of Michelin Stars
- AA Restaurant of The Year
- AA Wine List of the Year (twice)
- The Decanter Restaurant of The Year
- The Times Top 100
- Hardens Top 100
- The Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence
- IWC Restaurant Wine List of The Year
- The World of Fine Wine, Three Stars and Judges Award
- Roger was also a patron for Welsh rugby captain’s Sam Warburton testimonial year.
What, though, has really made The Harrow a very different type kind of restaurant is the enormous steps Roger and Sue and their team have taken over the years to host events and special dinners that have helped to raise enormous sums for a number of charities, most notably including Ty Hafan, NSPCC Wales, Chefs Night Out and The Welsh Guards.
They have also worked closely with many of the trade’s major wine wine bodies, hosting Restaurant Australia, and organised a whole series of events for New Zealand Wine Growers, Wines of South Africa and Wine Australia, both at the Harrow but in New Zealand, South Africa and Australia. These include setting up the Mamba Riedel Decanter Awards in 2003, and the Tri Nations Wine Challenges and Sparkling Sundays.
The Jones’ love for and connection with the wine trade has even seen them start making wine of their own in South Africa under the Jones Family Collection name.
The final decision
So what made Roger, in particular, want to retire from the kitchen that has made all this possible. He is typically honest and to the point: “I always said the day I wake up and feel that I am not excited about going to work in the harrow kitchen is the day I retire, and that day came last month after an enjoyable lunch at Mel Brown’s new enterprise The Laundry in Brixton, eating a brilliant Hereford Beef Tartare washed down with Comte 2000. The next day, with a 16 hour shift in The Harrow kitchen, did not seem that exciting, and that was it. I texted Sue and said I was hanging up the apron and have since with Sue been planning the closure.”
Sue said she is looking forward to the next chapter in their adventure: “The decision has not been easy in many ways but we feel that we have achieved everything and more than we can and it is time to move onto other things. Our experience has been made possible by the loyalty and support of our dear friends and family, not forgetting top suppliers, talented winemakers and an amazing trade that has seen us through so many highlights”.
In fact it’s likely the wine industry will be seeing more of them in the future as their decision now frees them up to explore new ideas and projects, many of which will be in the trade.
As Roger explains: “The kitchen shift may be over, but I certainly have not finished on the wine side, and also look forward to many new challenges on my consultancy work, www.rogerjonesconsultancy.com. So even though I will be turning 60 next year the slippers are not coming out quite yet.”
Major wine figure
He has already had a major influence on the wine industry, far more so than any other former Michelin chief of his stature. He is a rare breed to have shared that Michelin star experience with wine judging and wine writing. First mainly with Caterer, then Harpers and now The Buyer.
Roger’s career as a chef has certainly come a very long way from when he first started working on a caravan site at the age of 16. He went on to cook for the Queen and the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. He was the youngest ever head chef to run State Banquets at The Guildhall London, as well as catering for super star global pop artists and multi millionaires.
But it was at home at The Harrow where Roger and Sue really made their name with the trade and can look back on their 12 years with a Michelin star with great pride.
His wine judging has seen him be part of the Decanter World Wine Awards for over 10 years, and is also a regular member of Decanter’s monthly tasting panels. He is a panel chair for the International Wine & Spirits Competition, brand ambassador for The Champagne & Sparkling Wine World Championships. He also judges for The Pinnacle Awards, and The Taittinger Sommelier of The Year Competition.
Roger is also one of the founding members of The Buyer, helping to advise and guide Peter and I on creating a website the premium on-trade might be interested in reading and will remain a key part of what we do in the future.
To the future…
As to the immediate future Roger and Sue still own the freehold for The Harrow, with no ties or backers, but have put the property on the market and will continue to live above the shop (as it were) until it is sold. They also plan to continue with their charity work, and their current charities www.annavictorious.co.uk and www.tyhafan.org, a hospice for life limited children.
But before that they will need to get ready for a typical weekend in the life of The Harrow. Three days of sold out events to support and promote South African wines with a series of lunches and dinners. They also hope to “try and fit in an Australian and New Zealand wine weekend in”, but, says Roger, “the booking system has gone mad with guests trying to book in before we shut.”
Before they do let’s all raise a – very large – glass of wine to Roger and Sue for all they have done for the hospitality, restaurant, and wine trades in their wonderful careers and let’s keep the rest of the bottle for what is going to happen next.
Could not have done it without The Harrow team
Over the last two decades Roger and Sue have also been able to give opportunities for a host of new stars in the hospitality sector who have gone on to forge exciting careers of their own in restaurants, bars and hotels…some have been with them for the whole journey. Here’s Roger’s personal appreciation of them.
John Brown …from kitchen porter to head chef
John aged 17, popped into The Harrow in 1999 to help out washing up for the night, 20 years on he is still here, promoted over the years all the way up to head chef and family member. From the early days when he moved in to live with us, to settling down as a family man, John has been the backbone of The Harrow kitchen.
The relationship has been strained at times, notably when he made Roger his Best Man for his wedding (what was he thinking). There are tales of the three-day trip to Neath and Carmarthen that still haunt some participants and would make grown men weep.
Nicholas Walley SJS MIH…kitchen porter to waiter
A local 16 year old who tried his hand as a kitchen porter back in 1999 , and can be proud to be our worst ever, after a busy Saturday night he was delighted to receive his envelope with his wages, and his little face was gleaming when he saw how big the envelope was. Sadly for him it was filled with all the debris from the kitchen floor that he had failed to sweep up! Luckily the kitchen decided to send him front of house to work, the rest is history.
Nicholas is currently general manager at The Bristol Harbour Hotel, having worked at The Ritz, The Vineyard at Stockcross (deputy GM), Donnington Valley (GM), The Atlantic Hotel, Jersey (GM).
Nicholas says: “When people ask me how I got into this amazing industry I always tell the story of how you both educated me in food service and wine and how lucky I was to find you both. You helped me to find my path in life and I was always be in your debt for that.”
Peter Hinchcliffe…general manger
Peter started his career at Northcote, before joining The Harrow as general manager in 2007, before going global working with The Dorchester Collection, Kempinski, Millennium, Copthorne and Marriott Hotels in Nairobi, Abu Dhabi, Tbilisi and Yerevan. In his spare time he now teaches young pigs to swim.
Isabelle Habes PHD…commis chef
Isabelle joined the team as a 24 year old who was studying a PHD in Neuroscience (she had already gained a First in her Masters). She completed her PHD by the age of 25 and then went to work with multi Michelin star chefs in Europe as a development chef.