Woman in Progress: Alexandra Olivier, Restaurant Twenty Two

If you live anywhere near Cambridge, or anywhere in east Anglia really, and haven’t eaten at Restaurant Twenty Two, then you are missing a trick and a glorious meal. We have eaten there a lot and enjoyed each visit, especially the seven course tasting menu! Don’t just take our word for it, Restaurant Twenty Two was featured in The Telegraph as one of the “excellent restaurants you won't want to miss in Cambridge”. So many things make it special; the setting in a Victorian townhouse, the seasonal menu, knowledgeable and friendly staff, brilliant wine list and, of course, the exquisite food. Needless to say we are excited to have Alexandra Olivier as our Woman in Progress!

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Woman in Progress: Alexandra Olivier, Restaurant Twenty Two

I am Alex and co-owner (with my endlessly talented work and life partner Sam) of Restaurant Twenty Two in Cambridge. My working life started out very differently…. I studied law at university and went on to train and practise as a commercial property solicitor before taking over Twenty Two. I enjoyed my work, had a lovely life and met some amazing people but I always felt that it wasn’t really what I should be doing. Sam had always wanted to have his own restaurant and so, when Twenty Two came up for sale, I was ready to take the jump. We took over last January and after 3 months of very intensive refurbishment (painstakingly carried out by Sam, my parents and myself) we opened in April. 

What’s the one thing in your life that makes things easier?

Definitely Sam. He wholeheartedly supports everything I want to do and has been there for every breakdown (and there have been a few). Plus, it makes a front of house job a lot easier when the chef's food is always so delicious!

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What’s the one thing you couldn’t live without?

Apart from the essential people (Sam, family, my girl friends and my lovely dog Dougie) it would have to be sleep. It is so important for me to have regular, good sleep to be able to function properly the next day. Running a restaurant is very physical (especially when the restaurant is spread over 3 different floors!) and so rest is really vital. 

What’s one thing that you would stop if you could?

I wish I could change people’s perception that working in a restaurant isn’t a ‘proper’ job. As an employer we strive to give the team the best working conditions we can, real career progression and a place they are happy to spend their days (and nights!) in. It is incredibly long hours and very intense but it is also hugely satisfying and an exciting place to be.  

What one piece of advice would you give yourself 5 years ago?

Absorb everything. I didn't know back then that we would have the restaurant but I experienced lots of things that help me one way or another in the job I do now. You never know where you will end up and so it is important to learn as much as you can along the way, 

What one piece of advice would you give yourself 10 years ago?

Relax! I was such a huge worrier about what was going to happen in life that I found it very difficult to relax and enjoy myself. Your early twenties should be spent having fun and enjoying life with no ties, not fretting about what’s going to happen next! As much of a cliché as it is, things always work out as they should in the end.

What are you most proud of?

Definitely the team at Twenty Two. We have kept all of our key staff members from day one and each of them have brought so much to the success of the restaurant. When you spend as much time together as we do it is important to get on and, crucially, respect each other. Every day I am amazed at how good they are and the commitment they bring to their roles. 

What’s the best lesson you’ve learned at work?

Somebody once said to me (excuse the bad language!) that a great mantra to live by in business is, “don’t be s**t’” and I really try and apply that to everything I do. In many situations it would be easy to take the easy option and not do the best you can but for a business like this to work, in such a competitive industry, you have to do the best you can in every decision you make and every thing that you do. 

What’s the best lesson you’ve learned at home?

The importance of switching off. Sam and i live above the restaurant and really do live and breathe it all week and so when we close on Sundays we try and get out and see friends, go down to London or just go for a lovely long walk to get some time away and switch off. The restaurant is all consuming and so it is so important for me to have a bit of time away from it, it definitely means I come back fresher. 

Coffee or cocktails?

I wish I could say cocktails but I think these days it’s more likely to be coffee!!! 

Did you expect to be doing what you’re doing right now?

Since we met (12 years ago!) Sam has always been an excellent chef and I have enjoyed being front of house so I had always hoped that one day we would have our own place together but it is a dream for it to be in the beautiful city of Cambridge and with an amazing team around us.  

Are you done yet? What’s next?

Definitely not! We are still in early days at Twenty Two and so we want to continue to evolve to be the best we can be. Looking ahead long term, we would love to have a second place but we are very happy where we are for now. Finally, it has always been a dream to complete an MBA and so hopefully I will have time for that too!

What does the idea of a ‘Woman in Progress’ mean to you?

I think my idea of it is quite simple, just a woman doing the best she can in the circumstances she faces and trying, as much as possible, to enjoy life along the way. 

Thank you Alex! Now lovely reader, we advise you immediately email Alex at alex@restaurant22.co.uk to make a booking. You can see more about Alex, the restaurant and team on Instagram and twitter.

Photographs by Tim Green who you can also follow here.

Alex, Sam and their dedicated team.