Aspire Meets…Isobel Cardwell

Join us as we meet Isobel Cardwell, Restaurant Manager at Tom Kerridge’s Bull & Bear restaurant inside Manchester’s Stock Exchange Hotel. 

Some people are drawn to the hospitality industry, others are born to it. Isobel Cardwell is one of the latter.

Her father, a chef from the age of sixteen, ran the kitchen of their small, 25-cover family restaurant in North Wales (“the locals loved it”). Her mother, meanwhile, managed the front of house.

“I’ve grown up around it, it’s second nature to me,” says Isobel, as we take in the spectacular surrounds of The Bull & Bear, where she is Restaurant Manager.

Opened in November 2019, the Bull & Bear in Manchester is part of the Tom Kerridge group of restaurants, which includes Kerridge’s Bar & Grill in London, the one Michelin star Coach in Marlow, and the lauded Hand & Flowers, also in Marlow and the only pub in the UK with two Michelin stars.

It was the appeal of working in a Tom Kerridge restaurant that drew Isobel here. The fact that the restaurant is located in a Grade II-listed former stock exchange, now hotel, owned by former Manchester United footballers Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville further adds to the star appeal of the place.

Drive, determination and direction.

It is one thing to know what you are good at, another to know where you’d like to be, but knowing how to go about it is another thing entirely. It requires a rare combination of drive, determination and direction, traits that Isobel is clearly not lacking.

“Because I am good at it (hospitality) and confident in my abilities to do it, as soon as I moved to Manchester I worked really, really hard and got to the places I wanted to be. That was my direction. I knew this was going to be it then.”

Isobel’s first experience in hotels came as a runner at the ABode in Manchester. “I didn’t even speak to guests most of the time,” she remembers, “but I really pushed myself and eventually became Assistant Restaurant Manager.” 

When El Gato Negro, Manchester’s critically-acclaimed tapas restaurant by chef Simon Shaw, came calling about an AGM role, she jumped at the opportunity to progress. “I thought ‘this is going to be a challenge, I’ve never worked in a high street restaurant, I don’t know how they work’,” she says.

Isobel was soon thrown into the deep end and quickly learned it was a different ball game. “In a hotel, you’ve got lots of different departments that look after different things. Whereas in a high street restaurant you look after everything,” she says.

It proved to be a steep learning curve, but Isobel was determined to dig in, enjoy her time and learn what she could over two years, before moving back into hotels and “getting back into the guest experience” at Stock.

While her first year at the Bull & Bear has been dominated by the coronavirus lockdown, it hasn’t prevented Isobel from looking ahead. Has she considered moving further up the ranks of the Tom Kerridge group in the future? Isobel smiles. You get the impression that she’s already got it mapped out.

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