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Interview with Bunmi Okolosi, General Manager at Lockhart

Posted on: January 28, 2014

GM Lockhart Bunmi

A FOODVERDICTS EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW

Olubunmi “Bunmi” Okolosi is General Manager at Marylebone restaurant The Lockhart. Serving American cuisine, it was founded by two Texan couples. Bunmi’s previous manager positions included Dinner by Heston Blumenthal and most recently, Peruvian restaurant Lima. FoodVerdicts caught up with Bunmi in Lockhart’s bar to talk about his front of house career, the American comfort food trend, his latest venture, and red undies.

Bunmi, tell us about your career in hospitality. You started out as a chef, but soon switched to a front-of-house role, didn’t you?

My nan was a chatter box and it was through her talking to a friend that I got my first job at 15 when I was studying for my GCSE. It was in a pub called the Royal Oak in Langstone, Hampshire. Fast forward a bit and I went to hospitality school, Southdowns College – which by the way is now a leading UK Gold accredited hospitality school. It was here that I was taught food preparation and cookery skills for 3 years but at 18 I discovered a suit and BANG!

Lately, we’ve heard many complaints by restaurateurs that recruiting good staff is increasingly hard. We know this topic is very dear to you. What do you think can or should be done to encourage youngsters to choose hospitality as a career, and what’s holding them back?

For me this is part of a wide battle with people like Simon King, Operations Director of the Fat Duck Group, where we along with others have partnered with The Hospitality Guild to show that hospitality is a fantastic career. [Editor's note: See video below, in which Bunmi participated.]

I firmly believe – and this is something I believe my peers share – that it starts younger than at 15. You need to be highlighting our industry to toddlers, as in my view you should be taught manners and basic table etiquette at this age. For me the battle to get more people into hospitality starts at 1 not at 16! It’s also about highlighting to the parents, they are the biggest influencers of their child’s career early on. We need to show them how rewarding the industry is today, and not like it was 20 to 30 years ago.

Food and Beverage Service: Hear from some of the Hospitality Guild’s Food and Beverage heroes about how they have succeeded in this fast paced and exciting sector. (Click here to watch it on YouTube.)

Let’s talk about your new role, General Manager at Lockhart. The restaurant has been open around 5 months now; how has it been going? How’s the neighbourhood?

Well, in all honesty it’s been the toughest opening I’ve done as we’ve had an amount of disasters in the kitchen with faulty equipment of the likes I’ve never seen. We are now past that and are pushing on! Our neighbours are the best! This street has such a feel of community and oneness, that The Portman Village should be proud. I can only see things getting so much better, it really does feel like New York’s Greenwich Village. We are the only place that does cocktails at a mixologist level on our street and this is something we will be talking about more in the coming months. Our bar manager Emilie Campsato-Mouragne is dynamite and Londoners will love her.

[Editor's note: We hear that Lockhart will announce big news shortly. Make sure you follow us and/or Lockhart on Twitter.]

Has the American comfort food trend – which we’ve seen for 2 or 3 years now here in London – surprised you at all?

Yes and no, in some cases I love how the Shake Shack / Five Guys argument goes that their burgers are, well, not as good as what is currently here, i.e. basically they’ve missed the boat! However, like (Polpo founder) Russell Norman does and so many more, all are inspired by our cousin across the pond. We at The Lockhart have the USA in our blood so for us it’s about ensuring that what we do is authentic to our approach. I’m off to Dallas for some R&D in September and hope to bring more ideas back as well.

You’ve been part of numerous high-profile openings that got a lot of media attention from the start – Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, Lima, and now Lockhart. As you know, we at FoodVerdicts believe in restaurant reviewing by experts. Do you share this view? What’s your experience with critics and bloggers?

Personally I love the food critic and blogger scene, I believe there is a space for all of them as both traditional and new media have their respective place and readership. What I do firmly believe, however, is that the success of restaurants isn’t firmly rooted in a ‘Good Review’ any longer. With platforms such as yours, there is an army of ‘food critics’ out there, you just have to engage them!

Also, and not to blow your horn, but I love your model as you’ve fused the traditional and new media to make FoodVerdicts something very special and unique in a market that can be a bit samey-samey.

OK, some brief questions for the end. Favourite cafes and restaurants in London (other than your own!)?

Favourite Cafe: Albion (I opened it back in 2008). Favourite Restaurant: Sushi Say (Best local Sushi House in London).

Funniest front-of-house experience you’ve ever had (and that is printable)?

I was giving a Bunmi style super pumped fully loaded interactive briefing to a team of 20 staff at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, when I bent over and my trousers ripped revealing my bright red undies!

Silliest rumour about restaurant service that isn’t true?

It will be taken over by robots!

And finally, Desert Island book and Desert Island cocktail?

Book: The Wheel of Time. Cocktail: The Portman (a “Buzz Free” cocktail with apple, lime, and mint served at The Lockhart)

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For more details and reviews, and how to book a table, see our Lockhart restaurant profile.

On Twitter, Bunmi can be found @TheMaitreD, and The Lockhart tweets under @LockhartLondon.

The Lockhart
22-24 Seymour Place
London W1H 7NL

Opening Times (at time of publication): Sun/Mon closed, Tue-Sat lunch 12pm-2:30pm, dinner 6:00pm-10:30pm

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