Industry Insights: Harvey Ayliffe, Exec Chef at The Rosarium

From flowers to food, and always about family: our Industry Insights interview with Exec Chef Harvey Ayliffe

Working his way up London's restaurant scene, Harvey Ayliffe has cooked for the world's most famous dinersincluding the late Queen! It's immediately obvious when speaking to Harvey that he has an intense love of food. And it's been a pleasure to work with the experienced chef creating The Rosarium, an enchanting restaurant located underneath Waterloo Station alongside the Alice’s Adventures Underground experience. 

In our latest Industry Insights blog, we chat with the down-to-earth but passionate food veteran about everything from his inspiration to what makes the perfect dining experience… 

So tell our readers a bit about yourself…What's your backstory and how did you get into your current role of Executive Chef?

"Well I actually used to work in Covent Garden, the flower market. And I didn’t start cooking until I was twenty-four, when I went to college before working in Gentlemen's clubs. I started at Brooks’s and The Saville Club. And then from there, I went to Le Caprice, which was pretty much the most famous restaurant at the time”.

“Then I went to Bentley’s Oyster Bar & Grill before opening J.Sheekey. And after J.Sheekey I moved to another private gentleman's club when my first child was born. Following that I joined The Ivy and was there for nearly three years. Then onto Soho House, where I was Exec Chef before I went to Rules (the oldest restaurant in the world) then back to Soho House. I was also at 34 Mayfair (Caprice Holdings again) for nearly five and a half years and went to Bluebird, Chelsea just before the lockdown. I was then doing my own events before coming into this, married with three children…".

Wow! So you were actually quite late into cheffing then and worked your way up pretty quickly?

“Well yeah…and looking back I’m quite glad I didn’t waste my early years working late nights and got to enjoy myself…I think it was about ten years until my first Head Chef position and then from there to Exec Chef. But the thing is that cooking isn't really a job, it’s kind of a way of life if you know what I mean? You’re either all in or not”.

I couldn’t see anyone doing such hard work and long hours if they weren’t incredibly passionate about what they were producing…

“Yeah…and especially when I was doing it the wages were very poor. It was more about getting these places on your CV than it ever was about money…I mean they’d work you; you wouldn’t ever get overtime, you’d get your set money. The shift was meant to be eight hours and you’d be working twelve…And in those days, especially in London (I got lucky as I started just when the boom happened) it was a small community. The next place you went to would know where you’d come from, so it was really important that you got good references”.

The Rosarium

How do you approach your job and what does it involve?

“Well when I was Exec Chef with Soho House, I was looking after twelve sites—one was in Berlin, one was in Chiswick, one was in Mayfair, so you’re just sort of overseeing. And I didn’t actually enjoy it that much. I class myself as a cook; I’m very much hands-on and I know you can get what’s called an ‘Exec Chef One Site’ but generally you’re looking after more. You’re in charge of a lot so it’s quite hard to keep the consistency up over five or six different choices at seven different places, especially if some aren’t even in the country…It’s all about having the right people. In a kitchen, you’re only as good as the people around you really. If you develop a good team at one site and then you expand and take those people with you, it’s a lot easier".

Describe your inspiration for The Rosarium…

“Well, I’ve worked with (celebrated chef, restaurateur, and food writer) Mark Hix for quite a while. And about eight to ten years ago there was this big thing where food was very British. Now as much as I love it, I didn’t feel like it expanded on it enough, y’know? Then we went into Asian and it was a bit more mixed. But regional food’s coming back more I think. And for me, this kind of tells the story of what Britain is now—it’s very diverse. That’s what The Rosarium's menu is to me. It’s very diverse, very eclectic. And it’s just about little tweaks, y’know? Like we did ‘Cod in a Chip', rather than fish and chips. And pie and mash, but it’s vegan. And there are also things like the baked bass dish that’s a nod to the Indian influence in Britain”. 

“I just feel that you shouldn’t be too restricted because there’s only so much sausage and mash and fish and chips you can do! The feel at The Rosarium is very British, our products are all British. But I think you’ve also got to show what modern Britain’s about. The Rosarium is about great products treated with a lot of love, cooked really well with great flavours—and interesting as well". 

"And in terms of Faber’s design, well I think the first thing you notice when you go into a restaurant is the decor. So if you get that right—and I think the team's done an incredible job—you’ve already started scoring points. If diners come in and think, ‘Wow, this looks amazing!’, then all of a sudden they start feeling good…".

The Rosarium

Well to me, it seems like it’s going to be a menu that will appeal to a lot of people“ when I first started out in the industry we ate out a lot. We went to all the Michelin-starred restaurants, me and my wife. And as soon as they heard the way we talk (Harvey was born in the East End, his wife is a South Londoner) the way we were treated, it wasn’t comfortable. And I thought, ‘We aren’t coming here to pray at the altar of this amazing chef!’. Food shouldn’t be like that. Food’s about enjoying yourself, feeling comfortable. Do you know what I mean? You should feel really relaxed. The food should be interesting but it should be tasty. And you should feel full when you’ve eaten it”. 

“That’s why I've always loved Caprice Holdings Restaurants (which make up the majority of Harvey's CV) because the service is really nice and they treat everyone the same. Those restaurants are perfect for anyone who eats out a lot. You want to go out and have a nice meal but you don’t want to necessarily be challenged. Even now when I go to a restaurant with a tasting menu, I only ever go once—as great as it may be—because I’ve eaten everything!”. 

“That said, it’s still about using the skills you’ve got. I like the fact that there are things here that you probably couldn’t just go home and replicate because of technique that’s been honed over the years. But for me, it’s not all about the chef. A restaurant is an experience, so everything’s gotta be great. If the food’s not great or the service isn’t great then it’s a problem. It’s everything together…You’ve got to cook for the people. And that’s how I try to build a menu. There’s nothing better than looking at a menu and seeing four or five things and thinking, ‘I’d like that, but I’d also like that’, that’s a great menu to me…”.

Who, or what, inspires you?

“Well, I’ve read so many books because I just absolutely love cooking! It’s not like, ‘Oh it’s my job’—I love food, I love products. The kitchen, it makes me feel great and I love the team around me. I just love cooking, that inspires me! I’ve been lucky enough to work with some really talented chefs who are great people, but in terms of inspiration it’s because I honestly do love it. I know some chefs get bored of the cooking—they don’t want to do it, they want to do the office work. But for me I love food, I love cooking, I love restaurants…I say to my kids, there’s nothing better to do (than something you enjoy) 'cause then it’s not a chore, is it? I cook at home, it’s something I love”.  

The Rosarium

Do you have a favourite dish, cuisine, or place to eat?

“I mean it’s hard to choose…But I suppose if it was my last meal it would be a fruits de mer with a great mayonnaise. And then Dexter beef—I really love a great steak—with some amazing chips and Béarnaise sauce, followed by trifle. I love trifle. So it’s quite simple, but cuisine-wise, it’s anything. I mean I’m really into Asian; Japanese I really like at the moment. I really like Spanish, there’s not really a cuisine I don’t like…You know what, I just love a great product that’s cooked really well. I’m interested in all food. And in terms of restaurants, I love Scott’s in Mayfair because of the seafood…".  

What do you think makes the perfect dining experience?

“Great ambience, great service, great food…I just think to feel comfortable—to be made to feel comfortable—that’s so important! Waiters that make you feel comfortable. And of course, good food. I mean, everything’s not got to be perfect every time, but for me as long as I know people care and that they’re trying…I mean you can go down the pub and have a great meal, so I don’t think it has to be high-end. Just someone having a great personality, caring about what they do…”. 

If you could choose to cook for any three people (alive or dead) who would they be and why? 

“Well…this is gonna be a bit emotional as I’ve recently lost my mum…So her and my wife. And it would have to be my children as well because I get more enjoyment from them. They’re honest critics, they’re the best critics! It’d be my family…I mean I’ve been lucky enough to cook for—in one place or another—pretty much every film star. And I’ve even cheffed for the late Queen. I've cooked for everyone. So for me, the best thing is family—to sit around a table with family and eat is the most amazing thing…”.

The Rosarium

Is there anything you know now that you wish you'd known when you were just starting out? 

“I tell you what I know now that I wish I'd known then and it's that sometimes you need to take a deep breath and a step back! Especially when you’re starting as a head chef, as sometimes you get yourself frustrated and stressed and you’re the only one that’s getting frustrated and stressed! I think if you handle the pressure and deal with it properly, it doesn't seem like pressure. It's mainly you putting pressure on yourself anyway I think…So, be calm!”.

“See, when I started they used to shout—all the chefs. That was the thing back then. And the guys I started out with worked with Gordon (Ramsay) and Marco (Pierre White), and it was very much about shouting. But that’s not the way to manage people anymore. I prefer to take them out after the service and talk to them one-on-one and you get a lot more from it than screaming and swearing…And I think if you love it you’ll push yourself anyway. A lot of people go in for it and to be really successful you do have to love it…”.

Do you have any predictions for the future of the industry?

“Well, I just think because of the cost, the manpower, things are pared right down now. There were always these great kitchens with loads of chefs in them. But I think now it’s stripped back, so you’ve got great food but there’s not so much play on the plating, if you know what I mean? The whole restaurant industry is becoming a lot more stripped back, which in a way is good. And in terms of trends moving forward, again I think it’s more about regional foods now—whether that be regional Italian or regional Spanish. I think we’ll see a few nice French restaurants pop up and Greek seems to be the big thing as well. And rather than just under the banner of 'French' or under the banner of 'Spanish'—more regional product with more regional cooking. So for instance, at The Rosarium good examples would be pie and mash, and ‘Cod in a Chip’, because for me, being born in the East End, they’re London dishes…”.


And we don't think it gets much more ‘London’ than The Rosarium, with its theatrical inspiration, exciting menu, and fantastic location! We hope you've enjoyed our chat with Harveyfor more Industry Insights interviews, keep an eye on our socials and website! 

Faber and Company specialises in the design and creation of one-off, location-specific restaurants and hospitality venues. From the studio and workshops, its team crafts Immersive HospitalityTM experiences designed to engage with meaning and emotion. Don’t hesitate to call 0203 393 8403 or email to find out how the team can help bring your vision to life!

The Rosarium Website

Craft your

The Pocket Guide to Experience Mapping your Restaurant

Learn More