Head chef Josh Searle on offering a relaxed dining experience


Head chef Josh Searle on the relaxed dining experience that makes Dylan’s in St Albans so special

Before coming to Dylan’s, where were you working?

I don’t really come from a traditional cheffing background. I worked for a few chain restaurants here and up north. I knew the chains weren’t for me and I wanted to get into something more serious so I began working in fine dining at a hotel which had 2 AA Rosettes. After a while, I found out Dylan’s was hiring a sous chef so I jumped at the chance. I’ve been here five years now (head chef for over a year) and I’m absolutely loving it.

Did you always want to be a chef? 

Yes, I always knew. I’d come in from school and watch Ready Steady Cook with Ainsley Harriott, or anything with Jamie Oliver. Growing up, I didn’t realise how hard it would be to actually become a chef; I thought I could just roll into it. At the beginning of my career, I struggled with the unsociable hours and didn’t want to give up my social life. One day, a head chef sat me down and told me I could be great if I knuckled down, and it really stuck with me. I just had to find the right place. 


Have you got a good team here? 

We’ve got such a great team here, everyone gets on so well because we’re basically a group of mates. The kitchen at Dylan’s isn’t anything like Ramsay’s kitchen with lots of shouting! We see each other more than we see our families so we’ve got to enjoy being here. Even during service when intensity is high, we’ve created a seamless system that works well, but is relaxed and fun.

Describe Dylan’s to someone who’s never been before…

It’s a relaxed vibe. We’re trying to achieve simplicity: food that you can connect with. If you go to a fine dining restaurant, you might feel out of your comfort zone, but here at Dylan’s, you can eat and relax. We try to put familiar things on the menu that we ourselves would want to eat at home: classics like scotch eggs, fish, steak, all done really well with fantastic ingredients.


Why do you think Dylan’s is standing the test of time in a really difficult period of time for hospitality and pubs? 

Like any business in the hospitality industry, we are finding things difficult because of rising costs. There aren’t many independent gastro places within the city centre of St Albans, and I think we’ve built up a good reputation. We have got a lot of regulars who say this is their favourite place to come to eat.

How do you find inspiration for your menus? How often do they change?

We try to change our menu every month. Some favourites stay on the menu permanently, such as our prime rib sharer because our regulars would notice straight away if we took it off! We try to change depending on seasonal produce and we have daily special boards.


What’s been your proudest achievement to date? 

It would definitely be getting this place into the Good Food Guide. It was so unexpected. Also getting named in the Top 100 Gastropubs was a huge moment as it was something we had been working tirelessly towards. This year: we’re aiming for top 50!


Is there anyone else on the Hertfordshire food scene that you have a lot of respect for?

I love Thompson, for a special occasion. I also really like The Plough in Sleapshyde, as they’re trying out a lot of fun things in the fine dining space. The guys at The Silver Cup in Harpenden are smashing it with some great food. Oh and I love to pop into The Boot on my break sometimes for their amazing tacos!

Do you ever feel pressure? 

Yes. I’m the type of person who always imagines the worst possible thing that could happen. But I think planning out the worst case scenario helps, so that I’ve always got an action plan in my head.

What do you like to do to relax? 

Sleep! When I can. To be honest, even when I’m not here, I’m always thinking about work.

Do you cook a lot for friends and family or do you like to take a back seat when you’re “off duty”?

Yes and no. Sometimes, I just like to switch off and I’d rather not cook. I think my friends and family find it a lot of pressure cooking for me. I’m currently living with my parents and my mum does a lot of the cooking. She’s always been the main source of inspiration for me; she’s the person that taught me how to cook. 

What’s your mum’s best meal? 

Curry. That’s what we grew up with. Alongside all the classics.

Why is Dylan’s called Dylan’s? 

The restaurant is actually named after our owner Sean’s chocolate labrador Dylan. He sadly passed away a few years ago, but he was a big part of the pub and used to come in every day. Sean was struggling to come up with a name for a while and then someone randomly said: what about “Dylan’s”? And it worked.

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