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Redefining the dining experience at Carousel

The Templeton cousins behind Marylebone’s Carousel have redefined the dining experience with a programme of chef residencies and cultural workshops. Luxury London meets them to find out why the restaurant’s revolving door policy is striking a chord

If the Templetons were born in a parallel universe – let’s say rural Virginia during the Great Depression – they could be the less straight-laced, dinner-party throwing relations of The Waltons. The likelihood of John-Boy, Mary Ellen and Jim-Bob opening a mountainside small plate shack in Jefferson County is rather far-fetched, granted, but having burst onto the scene with their immersive pop-up dining experiences, I imagine that the Templeton cousins could easily pull off a Come Dine with the Waltons-themed evening, should they ever have the inkling. What’s more, like their fictional counterparts, they seem to genuinely get on, despite working alongside each other day in, day out.

“We all used to live together actually,” Anna begins. “We had a rule that after 6pm we weren’t allowed to talk about work, otherwise we would have gone insane!”

The curfew seems to have done the trick, and the quartet – Ed and his brother Ollie, and Anna and her brother Will – have thrown their collective efforts into creating their Blandford Street culinary and creative hub, Carousel, which opened in 2014. 

Known for its revolving line-up of chef residencies, exhibitions and workshops, the three-storey venue pioneers a different type of dining experience, far removed from no-bookings venues or white tablecloths and silver crumb dustpan places. At Carousel, guests can throw clay and practice sun salutations at pottery or yoga club and then sit down to a dinner cooked by the cream of the culinary crop.

The team are in high spirits when I meet them – there’s a lot of talking over each other, and jumping in to finish off sentences in that telepathic way siblings have. 

“Our dads are identical twins,” head chef Ollie says by way of explanation. “We were driving back from our annual family holiday one year and were all dreading going back to work, so we decided it would be cool to do something together. We came up with the concept of Mile High [a series of pop-ups inspired by the golden age of travel] and Anna and Will’s dad recorded the conversation on his phone as evidence,” he laughs.

Mile High was the cousins’ first foray into experience-led dining events. At the time Ollie was working at Moro on Exmouth Market, but the others had jobs in TV, events and advertising, so the joint career change proved to be a complete baptism of fire. 

Thankfully, they emerged unscathed and after a year of successful events hosted under their umbrella company, Shuttlecock, and much roaming around town on jobs, it became apparent that the nomads needed a permanent home. They eventually came across the premises tucked away on Blandford Street. 

“It had been empty for a few years,” says Anna. “The landlord championed the idea of getting someone like us in to spark off something different in the area. When we saw the size and scope of the space, it became clear that it wasn’t just a potential home for Shuttlecock, but for something bigger, so we came up with the idea for Carousel.”

The concept, in a nutshell, involves inviting chefs from renowned restaurants across the globe to come to Carousel for a two-week residency. The dinners are ticketed (namely to reduce waste), and diners book a spot and pay in advance for the set five-course tasting menu. The lunch service is more of a drop-in affair, with Ollie in charge of the seasonally-inspired menu of small plates. 

Carousel has had a who’s who of chefs stepping up for their fortnight-long turn manning the hot plate. Cooks hailing from the likes of NOMA and Oaxen Krog have stove surfed over to Marylebone in the past – not that the Carousel team likes to name-drop. It isn’t all about attracting those of the Michelin-starred ilk, however – there are plenty of emerging chefs represented too, who the team hear about through word of mouth, or discover on their travels. 

“Having only one sitting is key because we don’t want people to feel rushed. It’s not about being hurried through and told you only have your table for two hours. We want guests to get to know the chef and the food"

“We wanted to create a communal sense of experience,” says Ed, who is in charge of front of house. “There’s an open kitchen and in the evening there’s only one sitting, so guests can see the chefs in action. It makes it more of a performance.”

“The guest chefs come out at the beginning of the meal to introduce themselves and talk about the menu they’ve devised,” Anna continues. “Having only one sitting is key because we don’t want people to feel rushed. It’s not about being hurried through and told you only have your table for two hours. We want guests to get to know the chef and the food.” 

Ollie has been tasked with masterminding the chef’s calendar, although he admits it’s a job that has been made much less daunting by the friendships he has fostered along the way. “It’s an amazing opportunity for me and the team to learn, we’re always challenged,” he says. “Other restaurants might have one menu for nearly a whole year, but we change things up every two weeks.” 

The fortnightly shake-ups in the kitchen are supplemented by a programme of workshops (spoon carving, anyone?), fitness classes and art exhibitions in the on-site gallery and workshop space, which Anna and Will take the lead on organising. Will is also in the process of programming the next year of events in the new gallery space, Carousel: Next Door, which has just opened on the corner of Baker Street.

“There’s been an interesting turn away from the super fine dining, white tablecloths type of set-up. Now a more relaxed atmosphere has really started to take the lead,” he says, adding that the events arm of the Carousel merry-go-round is an important starting point for introducing people to what the space offers, both day and night.  

It must be a symptom of being surrounded by some of the world’s most influential and experimental chefs on a nightly basis, that when I ask the cousins to describe their fantasy dinner parties, Ollie draws a blank, Anna says she would opt for a low-key barbecue with friends, and Will would settle for some “sick Thai food”. 

“I just want to go to Tayyabs with Arsène Wenger,” says Ed, as the others erupt with laughter. Curry for two with Arsène Wenger is almost as far-fetched as the sight of John-Boy in an apron, but when it comes to a fantasy dinner party, Marylebone’s residents could do worse than settle for a place at Carousel’s bountiful table.

Coming up in the kitchen
25-29 April: Diego Rossi (Trippa, Milan)

April workshops
22 April: Pop-up pottery with Finola Maynard
29 April: Life drawing with Dan Whiteson

April exhibitions
Until 27 April: Araminta Blue, Carousel: Next Door 
Until 23 April: Margaux Bonopera presents The Dose Makes the Poison, Upstairs at Carousel

71 Blandford Street, W1U, www.carousel-london.com