The incredible journey of Ellis Berrie and his brother Liam
In 2009 a Liverpool family man decides to change his life and that of his family, leaving everything and buying a caravan park in a remote place in North Wales. From here begins the adventure of Ellis and Liam, better known as the Barrie Bros.
Ellis and brother Liam took over the cafe at the Anglesey campsite when they were nineteen and twenty-one respectively, and have built it from an unassuming breakfast shed into a fully-fledged, nationally-acclaimed restaurant.
Initially taught to cook by his grandparents, Ellis was already attending a Saturday cooking school by the age of twelve. He hadn’t even left school before he was working with Chris Marshall at the Radisson Blu Filini in Liverpool – one of the city’s best restaurants at the time. By seventeen, Ellis was working full-time with Chris in the kitchen at Panoramic 34, and though the team was small and the hours were long, the experience confirmed to Ellis that he was where he wanted to be.
But the gruelling day-to-day of the Panoramic gradually took a toll on Ellis, and after a year he decided to take a break from the restaurant kitchen. He was on sabbatical in Australia when the news arrived – his dad had just bought a caravan park in the middle of nowhere and the family were being scrambled to help.
The Barrie family became the new owners of an Anglesey caravan park and their lives changed overnight. They re-mortgaged the family home in Liverpool and moved to Newborough to run the campsite they now owned. Ellis came home from Australia and dived into the makeshift kitchen with his grandad, whilst his brother Liam returned having finished a degree in building surveying and proceeded to tidy up the campsite and build new pitches.
Romantic as they may be, those first years were still hard at times, and Ellis freely admits that the campsite made no money in its early stages. ‘The site was so run down, we had to reinvest everything to bring it up to scratch,’ he explains. ‘We could have kept it as a cafe with Liam working at the front and myself at the back and we would have probably had six months of the year off and a bit of money in our pockets!’ That was never the plan though – Ellis’ ambition and creative drive as a chef meant that in some sense, The Marram Grass was always destined to become something special.
As the campsite grew into a sustainable business, Ellis started to put his plan into action for the restaurant. He built relationships with local suppliers like Halen Môn Sea Salt and Shaun Krijnen at Menai Oysters down the road. He taught himself new techniques, brought new staff into the kitchen, and over time, built The Marram Grass into one of Wales’ best fine dining restaurants. Once upon a time, Ellis and his grandad served £3.50 all-day breakfasts to lucky locals and campers out of this glorified shed – today, Ellis and his team serve some of the best food in Wales, with incredible Welsh produce at the heart of it. ‘I absolutely love what we’re doing now, and I love what I’ve learnt,’ he adds. ‘Being here in Anglesey allowed us to avoid the limelight and make our mistakes. We kept learning from them, and then the place just started to work.’
The Marram Grass is one of Wales’ worst-kept secrets these days, but truth be told, Ellis and his family were doing what they do for a long time before anyone realised. Although the restaurant had a growing reputation locally, it was Ellis’ appearance on Great British Menu back in 2017 that really launched him and his restaurant to stardom.
That ambition is just as evident around the grounds of the site as it is in the restaurant. The Marram Grass has undergone numerous expansions and evolutions over the ten or so years since its inception, and when Ellis and Liam decide to do something, they don’t do it by halves. When the pair started work on their kitchen garden a few years ago, they drafted in a permaculture expert, who mentioned that they could use a couple of pigs to turn the land over before they started. When she returned a couple of days later, she found two pigs happily installed in the field. Ellis chuckles to himself. ‘She said, ‘bloody hell, what have you got these pigs for?!’ and I said, ‘you said to get pigs!’ Pigs are a nightmare to keep – they’re really hard work – so we put the kitchen garden on hold and we started a pig farm instead!’
There are about forty pigs living at The Marram Grass now, which means Ellis is not just a chef – he’s a fully-fledged breeder and butcher too. ‘We’ve got a butchery going in soon,’ he says excitedly. ‘We do all our own butchery here anyway, so it makes sense to take it out of the restaurant and give us more space in the kitchen. Anglesey and Welsh pork is excellent quality – the pigs are reared outdoors and fed properly. We’re planning on making our own sausages, burgers, bacon and that sort of thing, and then we’ll sell them online and at the restaurant.’
You might have guessed by now that Ellis and Liam aren’t the sort of people to only have one big project on the go at once. The pair are also busy renovating the private accommodation on site, as well as building a multipurpose studio to keep up with demand for their cookery demonstrations.
The brand new LERPWL restaurant just opened in Liverpool certifies that Ellis and Liam, the Barrie Bros, are one of the most interesting realities in the United Kingdom, two incredible guys, full of ideas and revolutionaries.
The perfect example of how to understand and approach the food world in these modern times.