What are your earliest memories of being interested in food?

I’ve enjoyed cooking since I was very little, and remember a time when I was obsessed with baking and experimenting with different flavoured flapjacks, as well as fried bananas with a variety of toppings. The climax of these experiments was inevitably a fried banana flapjack. The rest is history.

What would you say has inspired your cooking the most?

My time at In de Wulf in Belgium, working for Kobe Desramaults.

Describe your culinary style…

My food has its roots in classical French cuisine, inspired by the time I spent cooking in Europe. To that I add a few modern touches but always let the ingredients speak for themselves.

What would you say is the main focus/concept for restaurant Portland?

The concept is quite straight forward; we try to use the best ingredients we can find, cooked as simply as possible, but with plenty of love and imagination. Served by people who are passionate about food and making other people happy.

What do you think had made this menu so successful?

Since it is a very small menu, it allows us to keep the standards very high and with the menu changing nearly every day our customers are able to return over and over again and always have a different experience.

What are your most indispensable ingredients?

Alliums – all kinds, citrus and good quality butter. We get our butter from Neal’s Yard dairy; it’s lightly salted, made from whey and tastes kind of cheesy (served with our miso bread).

What kind of experience do you aim to give guests at your restaurant?

I hope that from the moment a guest walks through our door, they know straight away that they are in safe hands and they proceed to have a truly unique experience.

What would you say has been the most memorable moment in your culinary career so far?

Probably getting a Michelin star at the age of 24, simply because it came as such a shock.

If you could go back in time, what advice would you give your younger self, starting out a career in the world of food?

Work hard, be humble and treat your colleagues with respect – you’ll do alright.

What’s next for you/ What projects do you have lined up?

We have some exciting projects lined up – with a second restaurant confirmed to open this summer – right now it’s all about taking Portland to the next level.

What is your guilty pleasure?

I have an extremely sweet tooth. I also love to drink Negronis. Not sure which is worse!

What restaurant is currently at the top of your list to dine at?

I’ve always wanted to go to restaurant Michel Bras.

Find out more about Merlin here…

Images |Keiko Oikawa