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The child of a poet and museum curator, Merlin Labron-Johnson was arguably destined to be creative. At just 16, cooking in the kitchen at school in exchange for free meals, he realised he wanted to be a chef. Soon, after a stint at Ashburton Cookery School, he was working in restaurants. The first, The Elephant in Torquay, wasn't exactly to his liking. Following his brief initial foray into hospitality he moved to Abode in Exeter, which seemed more aligned with his desired direction. From there, aged 18 and with no French at all, Labron-Johnson went to work at a ski resort in Switzerland where he sharpened his skills (and polished his French too).
The Albert Premier Hotel in Chamonix, proud owner of two Michelin stars, was his next stomping ground. It was here that he gained his appreciation for classical French cooking. After France, Labron-Johnson headed to Belgium. More specifically the now-closed In de Wulf, a world-famous avant-garde restaurant where there were no timers and barely even recipes. Headed up by the legendary Kobe Desramaults, this was a game-changer and Labron-Johnson stayed for two years, eventually becoming sous chef.
Portland was Labron-Johnson's first solo restaurant, located in Fitzrovia on the eponymous street. With the goal of making fine dining more relaxed and approachable, the restaurant hit the ground running, earning a Michelin star in its first nine months. Just a year later, he opened Clipstone around the corner, leaning further into approachability.
After opening a restaurant in The Conduit, a forward-thinking member's club, plus a stint in Sicily, he headed back to the countryside. It was Bruton in Somerset that he opened Osip, the restaurant he currently runs and the winner of our SquareMeal Top 100 Restaurants in the UK awards. Perhaps his most personal opening - choosing his middle name for the restaurant as opposed to the street name for Portland and Clipstone - Osip has won the hearts of foodies all over the UK. This tiny restaurant only seats a handful of covers, offering hyper-seasonal farm-to-table tasting menus, often featuring vegetables from Labron-Johnson's allotment. Housed in a former ironmonger, Osip is an intimate setting. The decor is pared back, with dried flowers adorning the walls. Here, there is no menu. Instead, Labron-Johnson and the team take diners on a culinary journey using what is best and fresh that day.