By Louisa Shulman – March 2010
Having lived in Mill Hill for the best part of 25 years, I am pretty well qualified to comment on the changes that have taken place on the Broadway. Over the past two decades it has had its fair share of pharmacies, stationers, fruiterers, convenience stores, boutiques, cafes and restaurants, but rarely has anywhere drawn the community together in the way that new eatery Half Full has.
In the 12 weeks since opening, owners Jo Gerard and Johnny Rayner have welcomed a steady stream of regular customers, whose faces have become more and more familiar. This is exactly what the brother and sister team had in mind when they decided to go into business together. “We have always wanted to run our own restaurant and provide a sociable place for friends and families to gather in a homely environment,” says Johnny. With the daily papers spread out on the sizeable bar, minimalist yet rustic décor and a warm welcome when you walk through the door, this is very much a home-from-home setup.
Johnny and Jo each bring different things to the table. Johnny, 37, has been married for 11 years and is father to twin boys. He had several part-time jobs in the restaurant industry to earn extra money to see him through school and university, and on leaving went full-time into the trade, working his way up to become manager at two brasseries in south London. Nine years working in media and communications followed, earning him business and marketing skills and eventually he left to set up a restaurant/bar with his brother in East Finchley. Sadly, he passed away a few years later, and Johnny left the business.
Jo, 39, has three children and lives in Mill Hill. She is the organised one of the pair, with solid business acumen that she inherited from her late father and great vision when it comes to design and layout. “The site, formerly a sushi restaurant, needed a complete refit, both front of house and in the kitchen. We had a clear idea of how I should all look and we worked closely with an old friend of Johnny’s who runs a business that focuses on brand identity and creation to bring our dream to life,” she says.
The result is a rectangular-shaped restaurant with wooden floor, wooden tables, trendy iron chairs and a fantastic granite-topped oversized bar that lends itself to eating at (hence numerous bar stools). This is great for people popping in for a snack on their own and it is full credit to Jo, Johnny and the staff that so many customers feel comfortable to do that.
Half Full is essentially a Spanish restaurant with many tapas plates on the menu, but there are many other dishes, too. They are all homemade. “It is as authentically Spanish as we could make it bearing in mind that we wanted to operate from 8am through to midnight. We also had to consider the likely dietary requirements of our local clientele, and UK food and hygiene regulations. Hanging Iberian hams from the ceiling simply wasn’t an option!” laughs Johnny. They certainly seem to have come up with the perfect balance. Full English breakfast is served all day as well as many egg dishes, pancakes, bagels and a healthy yoghurt/granola/fresh fruit option. All-day dishes range from a selection of big hearty soups, salads and open sandwiches through to paella, burgers, roasted cod, ribeye steak with the best chunky chips in Mill Hill and, of course, a fantastic selection of hot and cold tapas dishes. Apple and blackberry crumble, warm chocolate mud cake, crème brulee and churros are among the options for dessert.
Chef Fadel Hassaine worked with Johnny at a previous venue. He trained under Gordon Ramsay and gained much of his experience working under his direction at the Boxwood Cafe in The Berkeley hotel in Knightsbridge. Experienced and passionate about food, he specialises in middle eastern and Spanish cuisine. Under his expert direction a team of sous-chefs and cooks work quickly and efficiently in the kitchen, meaning that customers never have to wait long for their food. Presentation is appetising without being pretentious, the service is friendly and courteous and everything I have eaten has been tasty, substantial and reasonably priced.
The wine list is concise and well thought out, with all wines available by the glass. Cocktails are great and served with aplomb. “We really pride ourselves on our coffee,” says Jo. “We serve Illy coffee, which is Europe’s best, and you won’t find a cheaper cappuccino on the Broadway!”
Half Full has firmly staked its claim on Mill Hill Broadway, sitting comfortably alongside the shops and other restaurants. Jo and Johnny are increasingly satisfied to see that it is regularly completely full at peak times. Booking is advisable for weekend brunch and in the evenings. The restaurant is also available for private hire – it can seat 48 or hold 80 for a cocktail party. It is a welcome addition to the area, offering good food, friendly staff and a welcome bolt hole. Whether you visit Half Full for breakfast, mid-morning coffee, lunch or dinner, a warm welcome and a quality culinary experience is guaranteed.