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M Restaurants was founded by Martin Williams. Inspired by his global culinary experiences, ethically sourced ingredients are elevated through various international cooking techniques. Martin is CEO of Rare Restaurants, which operates both M and Gaucho Restaurants. Martin talks to us about his career highlights, the inspiration behind M restaurants and M Canary Wharf, which is opening soon.
I started cooking about the age of three, baking with my mam in the afternoons. As a family, we’d also have big Saturday night dinners and Sunday lunches, and when I was older, I’d love to cook these.
I didn’t immediately jump into restaurants when I grew up. I studied acting and was an actor for three years, supporting my studies by working as a kitchen porter, a barman and waiter. When I was 24, I decided to go all in and focus on hospitality.
I’ve been in the hospitality industry for twenty years. When I started out, there were many excellent chefs but not that many renowned English chefs. I worked really hard to understand the business side of hospitality, as well as the culinary side. As an Englishman in our sector with a brain and work ethic, I was a rarity at the time; I think I fast-tracked my own career because I was so determined, and I applied my passion for food and my head to everything I did.
I spent my 30’s travelling the world: South Africa, Japan, Australia, the USA and everywhere in between. I was lucky enough to have some of the best dining experiences in the world during that period, and a lot of the food we offer at M Restaurants is inspired by those places and cuisines.
We describe M Restaurants as a gastro playground. We want to offer the best dining experience, but we don’t take ourselves too seriously either – there are a lot of fun elements in what we do. We’re opening M Restaurant in Canary Wharf soon, and we’ll have a ‘sensory dining menu’ with Bang & Olufsen audio, for example. Diners that are part of the experience can wear Bang & Olufsen headsets while they eat blindfolded to offer something totally new – it’s going to be really special.
We wanted to create a community where like-minded individuals could connect – they are usually people who are into food, wine, travel, sports and business. We have beautiful members lounges and arrange events and experiences in and out the restaurant venues - we run an annual event which is on a trackside yacht at the Monaco Grand Prix, for example. We also host golf days, events at the international rugby, and similar events.
A long time ago, I was in a pub that had a ‘Narnia this way’ sign stuck on a door, and I thought maybe it went somewhere exciting. Sadly, it turned out it was only a cupboard, but it served as inspiration for how I wanted members to feel about going into our member’s spaces through a secret door. I wanted to create intrigue and a real ‘wow’ moment. We wanted to build a member’s club that is more than a restaurant- a community; so that’s the philosophy at the heart of it all, but it’s not too uptight or serious. Members also get preferential booking, priority booking and access to our private dining spaces.
Two highlights stand out. Opening my first M restaurant was amazing from a personal achievement perspective and also the opening event itself. The great and the good came for the launch, and we had Tinie Tempah perform. That was a very special moment for me as M in Threadneedle Street was my first solo venture.
The second highlight was when we merged Gaucho and M Restaurants in 2019 and leading the enlarged business as CEO. I’d worked at and led Gaucho before setting up M, so bringing the two companies together under the same umbrella felt very right and created great opportunities.
I’m sure launching M Canary Wharf is going to be the next defining moment for us – I think people know what to expect from the brand and are excited by what we’ll offer.
The Newfoundland building is the highest in Canary Wharf, for starters. We have huge floor to ceiling windowsand spectacular canal views: our diners will be able to look down on the water all around the building. We’ve played off that water theme and used the Cote d’Azur and superyachts as inspiration for the interior – so sleek, modern, clean design. We have prints by Slim Aarons, a Mirabeau Provençal herb garden with lavender, rosemary and lemon, so it’s a restaurant that plays to all the senses. But this isn’t a restaurant that takes itself tooseriously. Again, we wanted this gastro playground theme to shine through, so it’s great fun.
We offer accessible, very good dining experiences – an upgrade on midmarket dining: there’s huge demand for very good, premium restaurants that aren’t Michelin starred.
We see very strong brunch trade, so we’re offering brunches with themes too, so a hip-hop brunch, St. Tropez Beach Brunch, rosé brunches and things like that.
Sustainability is also a big theme for us as a business and our patrons. We’ve thought very carefully about how to deliver that sustainability. For example, our beef is carbon-free, a project that’s taken us three years to research and perfect as we had to think about every part of the process. We also source our greens from Crate to Plate, which allows us to use a special, purpose-built container to grow greens on-site. The system requires less energy and water than traditional farming and it reduces waste to nearly zero. As the greens are grown on-site, there’s also no transportation required, either. Things like this are very important to our clientele and our business.
I am very lucky to own a beautiful home in Wandsworth Common, but I’ve always had a plan with close friends to share ownership of properties in different places around the world, rather than just being able to buy one place. I like the idea of being able to enjoy different experiences and countries.
The idea is we’d share ownership of a few properties. We’d probably think about buying in places like the Côte d’Azur, Napa, Cape Town and New York – basically, places that are great to visit and have delicious food and wine!
For more information, visit www.mrestaurants.co.uk