In the demanding restaurant business, nothing says success like longevity. And when you combine longevity with ongoing creative culinary renewal, you have something special: a place you can depend on and delight in. That’s what Betty Heydon and her team at Blackfriars have achieved for countless fans of her eclectic bistro and highly rated catering company in London. And Heydon shows no sign of slowing down, or changing her philosophy of caring for people through her love of food.
“When you feed people, you also feed their spirit along with their body,” says Heydon, who has owned and operated Blackfriars since its inception in the mid-1990s. “What I believe is that people should eat what they want. We, in this business, should cater to them. In the end, it’s a matter of having respect for all food.”
Located just west of London’s downtown core and its namesake, Blackfriars Bridge, the bistro has a unique location; within walking distance of the core but, in Heydon’s parlance, “away from the hustle and bustle.” Located in a heritage building (which once housed a broom factory), and situated in one of London’s oldest neighbourhoods, the bistro draws guests for what Heydon and her team of chefs create in the kitchen.
Led by Head Chef Jacqueline Shantz, with the assistance of Julianna Guy, Zakia Haskouri, Michael Moore and Justin Warren, Blackfriars features daily lunch and dinner specials along with a popular Sunday brunch. With such a breadth of talent, the chef’s specials really shine, such as the appetizer Canadian lobster tail with persimmons on a bed of locally produced hydroponic butter lettuce.
It’s All About Teamwork
All items are made in-house, including two types of breads. The kitchen is adept at handling special dietary needs including gluten-free, lactose-free and vegan. Shantz and Heydon have been working together for more than 30 years, and have a mutual understanding of how each other performs best. For example, Heydon has great respect for Shantz’ creativity and her special skill with grilling meats. Her grilled pork tenderloin medallions with polenta and calvados pan glaze are delicious and extraordinarily tender. Shantz welcomes Heydon’s own love of cooking, ability to “troubleshoot” recipes, and to plan caterings, conceive new menu ideas and search for products.
“Betty is our ‘Queen Bee’,” chuckles Shantz, who trained at George Brown College. Shantz apprenticed at the
Millcroft Inn before heading to Switzer-land, where she developed a love for skiing along with her own culinary style, described by Heydon as “cutting-edge with a respect for tradition.”
That tradition comes into play with the pine nut and almond crusted chicken breast, which hasn’t come off the menu in 17 years, and won’t, says Heydon. The “cutting-edge” comes into play when Chef Shantz changes up the plate from time to time with a different stuffing, such as feta-infused cream cheese and Swiss chard. A bistro classic is grilled beef tenderloin, playfully served on an Applewood cheddar and caramelized onion scalloped potato, finished with Sauce Diane and garlicky Roma tomato.
Blackfriars has a comforting feel with shades of purple and blue on the walls, a display of glass bottles and original art — some done by Heydon, others by guests —and the large blackboard menu, personally handwritten each day. With 12 tables of twos and fours the restaurant can be easily reconfigured to host groups, or can be rented out in its entirety.
Some of Blackfriars’ fans know the restaurant more for their catering than bistro dining. As one of London’s premier caterers, Heydon handles such prestigious accounts as The Grand Theatre’s special events, as well as weddings, home parties and corporate gatherings. The “personalized catering service” means that each client sets their own menu after a meeting with Heydon. “Our customers are special people to me,” says Heydon. “I know what they like. I feel an affinity to them. I know their families and the changes in their lives. We have customers who have been coming since the doors opened. It’s all very personal and so the cooking is very personal.”
Heydon infuses Blackfriars with a respect for health. While quick to point out Blackfriars is not a health food restaurant, Heydon is passionate about creating food that makes people feel good and is good for them. There are a lot of interesting fruits and vegetables, whole grains and fish on the menu, and an infusion of complete proteins for vegetarians and healthy oil consumption. Even her dessert classic, Bread Pudding, is carefully made with whole grains and without 35% whipping cream. “It’s not a heart-stopper and people look forward to it”, she says, smiling.
Ahead of the curve with her thinking and performance, Heydon is not entertaining thoughts of slowing down. “When you are doing something you absolutely love,” she says, “it’s more than a job, it is your life. And the customers are my people. By feeding people you get this intimate relationship with your clients, so how do you say goodbye to people you know so well?” Clearly, and thankfully, Blackfriars continues on with its own unique beat and contribution to the London culinary community.
Blackfriars Bistro and Catering
46 Blackfriars Street, London
lunch: monday–friday, 11:30–2:30 pm
dinner: monday–saturday, 5 pm–10 pm
brunch: sunday, 11 am–2 pm
JANE ANTONIAK operates Antoniak Communications and is the Social Media Editor for eatdrink magazine.