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Head Chef Karl Martin of Old Downton Lodge speaks to Chef’s Table

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Karl has worked in the hospitality industry for 20 years. Starting his career at a small golf club in the heart of England, where at the age of 13 he became KP in the kitchen of the local golf club in Wolverhampton where his father ran the restaurant, followed by catering training at Henley College in Coventry. Since that time he has gained experience working in many different restaurants in the Midlandsworking with the likes of Peter Griffiths MBE, Simon Haigh F&B Director of the Eden Hotel Collection, Adam Bateman Group Executive of the Hotel Collection.

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Karl is now Chef Patron at Old Downton Lodge,  a restaurant with rooms on the Downton Estate near Ludlow.

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“Here at Downton Lodge we never force a dish, we class the food style as natural. Everything has a purpose. Its British country dining with a modem twist, with the emphasis on the ingredients and the marriage between them. We focus on the flavour and believe in treating the ingredients with respect.  Using nature and working with and preserving the seasons. We try to tell a story with our food. Where, nature to plate, is very important along with the traceability of the produce we use in the restaurant”.

 

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Being situated in the heart of a country estate, there is a wide range of produce that Karl has at his fingertips, from wild game to foraged fruits, nuts, herbs and mushrooms.  Giving the guests a unique dining experience where the quality of the ingredients and simplicity of the dish shine through.

The dining room is a small intimate 20 cover restauran, creating a 6 or 9-course seasonal tasting menu that changes every day, using the best of local produce in and around the estate and Herefordshire, Shropshire and the Borders of Wales.


 

FT: Who influenced you in the past? Who influences you now?

 

KM: There are a few, to be honest. My dad was a huge influence on me, I started where everyone should start, on the pots. Seeing the structure of a kitchen from the age of 13 has been a massive help and he was hard on me which has made me tougher as a person.

My two biggest cooking influences are Peter Griffiths and Simon Hauge. I learned so much from them. Focus, determination, drive, respecting people, ingredients and doing things the right way. Whether that be at work or in life. Both are huge inspirations.

Present day, it would have to be Claude Bosi and Gareth Ward.

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Living in Ludlow I won’t go a day without hearing about Hibiscus or a story about Claude. A true legend of Shropshire cooking scene and his food is inspirational.

I ate at Ynyshir Hall 2 years ago and can’t stop talking about it to this day. As a chef, I try to get as much flavour as possible out of the ingredients, Gareth and his team just blow my mind with the amount of flavour in every course. I left speechless!! He has been great to speak to as well, always offering good advice. A true gent.

 

FT: Which restaurant would you like to go to? (that you haven’t had the opportunity to visit yet)

 

KM: Restaurant Frantzen in Stockholm Sweden. I follow them on every social media outlet I can. Their food blows me away! I remember seeing them for the first time on a video on Facebook, I just sat there with my gob open! It’s on my 2018 list. Can’t wait,

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FT: If you could change any misconceptions about restaurants/food, what would they be?

 

KM: Fine dining! What is it! Some people have this misconception that some restaurants are “too posh”. I agree to a certain point but at Old Downton Lodge I couldn’t give a shit if they want to wear shorts and flip-flops. FFS they are paying customers. I want people to come here feel relaxed and have great food, wine and an amazing experience.

 

FT: How important is a Michelin star? A chef in France, who has 3 Michelin stars, recently asked that they are removed because of the pressure – thoughts?

 

KM: For some people, it’s not important at all, for some it’s a must (die trying kind of thing).

I remember a tweet from Michelin that said “cook for your customers!” A lot of chefs forget that they’re the most important people. I’ve never had a star, so can’t comment on the pressure, but we just try and enjoy it. It’s food at the end of the day. I’m here to enjoy my cooking, not drive my team into the ground. If it happens for us it will be amazing but if not and the customers are happy we are doing our job right.

 

FT: What is your favourite dish on the current menu/s in which you use produce from your most local supplier?

 

KM: Has to be the 3 day cooked Wagyu Feather Blade from Montgomery (supplied By Alternative Meats) it never comes off the menu! Only the garnish changes. We are very lucky to be so close to such an amazing product/producer! Really is world class.

FT: If you could invite any Chef past or present to cook alongside you for one night who would that be and why?

 

KM: Claude Bosi – it would be great  to cook with him in Ludlow and just a very inspiring chef. Marco in his hey day just would be amazing. An absolute hero of mine.

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My Favourite Tables – Two restaurants I have visited and why?

Restaurant (1): Ynyshir Hall- I’ve only been once but another trip is planned this year. Just one of the best in the UK and is for me soon to be world class.

 

Restaurant (2): Simpsons in Birmingham. I’ve been 3 times 1st was 18 years ago and twice last year. Just keeps going and evolving. It’s a great mix of classic and modern working well together.

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Matt Waldron, Head Chef at Llys Meddyg Talks to Chef’s Table

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Matt Waldron, Head Chef at Llys Meddyg

Matt started his career in a small country house hotel named The Glen yr Afon in Usk, completing his apprenticeship in cooking.  His interest in food science lead him to complete a degree in culinary arts and food science in The University of West London.  Staying in London Matt worked his way through some very established restaurants with Helene Darroze at The Connaught Hotel being his most influential.  After two and half years there it was time to come back to Wales.  Working as Sous chef at Restaurant James Sommerin in Penarth from the start taught him a lot about running a restaurant and all that comes with the territory.  After completing his time there he then moved on to work for Gareth Ward at Ynyshir, which holds a Michelin Star and 5 AA Rosettes.

Matt took over the kitchen at Llys Meddyg in the late summer of 2017 and has had a successful start to his time there.

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The food at Llys Meddyg is simple, concentrating on flavour, based on local produce from the coast, off the mountains and all the forage that is available to him around Newport Pembrokeshire.  Where ever possible he works closely with small local suppliers which gives him the ability to handpick the produce to ensure it’s the best he can get his hands on.

 


 

CT: Which Chef/s influenced you in the past? Who continuous to influence you now?

MW: Working for Helene Darroze in The Connaught for 3 years influenced me massively.  Her philosophy of using the very best products and treating them with respect and care.  Seasonality was a massive part of her menu.

Helene-Darroze

Closer to home a big influence is Gareth Ward at Ynyshir.  The way he creates his dishes, works closely with nature, the acidity of dishes, and just the simplicity of his dishes to the eye makes one of the most amazing restaurants in the UK.

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CT: What would be your last dish (to eat) “the death row question”

 

MW: My mums Sunday dinner.  Roast beef, roasties, and all the vegetables from dads garden.  Cant beat it.

 

CT: Which restaurant would you like to go to? (that you haven’t had the opportunity to visit yet)

 

MW: Piazza Duomo in Northen Italy.  The food at Piazza Duomo is inspirational due to the use of local food products from his kitchen garden and around Alba.  They have such amazing produce in that region and Enrico Crippa just showcases it at its best.  It is his take on Italian food with influences of Japan visible in his dishes.

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CT: What do you think about negative reviews?

MW: I think negative reviews can be a good thing.  No one is perfect and sometimes things don’t go to plan, but that’s life.  You have to see in what context the review was written in.  If used properly negativity can be flipped into positivity, ideas to improve something, maybe something that hadn’t been spotted before.  All reviews whether positive or negative are a good thing, but the people that write reviews just to get something for nothing should stop, it can be quite damaging to a business.

 

CT: If you received a call from Buckingham Palace asking you to create a Dinner Menu using the best of Pembrokeshire what would you feature?

MW: The main event would definitely have to be Preseli lamb, for me, it’s the best lamb around.  The abundance of seafood we have around us I would definitely have to use the crab from Solva and our vegetable guy Nathan who has an organic veg farm just down the road from us.  His vegetables are incredible.

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CT: What is your favourite dish on the current menu/s in which you use foraged ingredients or produce from your most local supplier?

MW: Preseli lamb, loin, rib and shoulder, Aubergine salad, yoghurt, charred onion, lamb soy

The lamb comes from the mountain opposite us.  The vegetables come from Nathan our organic veg supplier, and the yoghurt we make ourselves from milk from jersey cows about 10 miles away.

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CT: If for one night you could be invited to cook alongside any Chef past or present who would that be and why?

MW: Charlie Trotter.  His food is very classic, looks immaculate and focuses on seasons.  He introduced America to food styles not seen before, very bold for the time.  He was ambitious and wanted everything perfect, from the minute you walked in the door.

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My Favourite Tables – Two restaurants I have visited and why?

Restaurant (1):  Gareth Ward at Ynyshir.  The food is exceptional.  There is a continuous development there and the place keeps getting better and better.

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Restaurant (2): Restaurant Frantzen, Sweden.  It’s a combination of relaxed atmosphere and incredible food.  There is no stone unturned there, the attention to detail is out of this world.  If I could afford it I would eat there once a month.

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Chef’s Tables meet Grant Mulholland Head Chef at The Hand

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Head Chef Grant Mulholland started his culinary career journey at the age of 15 in a small country house hotel in South West Scotland in a small town called Castle Douglas. He originally went for a waiters job but come out with a chef’s assistant position and has never looked back.

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It was after three years at Catering College he moved into a commis chef position in North Wales then onto a position within Thistle Hotels moving up to head chef at a fast pace, finally he moved back to North Wales and was appointed head chef at The Hand at Llanarmon and he has never looked back and has gone from strength to strength achieving 2AA rosette and entry into the Michelin guide.

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Question: What would be your last dish (to eat) “the death row question” 

A: Last dish to eat is my mum’s haggis, tatties(potatoes)and neeps(turnips) washed down with a can of Tennents Lager.

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Question: Before you chose to be a chef did you have another career in mind?

A: School wasn’t a particularly good time in my younger life. As soon as I started to work in a small country house hotel I have never dreamt of looking into anything else, this is my dream job and always will be.

Question:  What do you think about negative reviews? 

A: Negative reviews can be good, constructive or they can be a bad thing. I work on the ethic that I put 100% passion into my work and so far has given me some very inspiring reviews of my food, any negativity I look at in a positive way and deem it constructive criticism.

Question: If there were a “Fantasy League” of Chefs who would make up your perfect brigade?  

A: My fantasy brigade I would head up is with all of my old head chefs, showing them what I have achieved in all my years in cooking. With my dad looking on at the hotplate giving me the encouragement he does every day.

Question: What foods or styles of cooking do you enjoy cooking the most and which do you most like to eat?

A: Fish cookery is a real passion as I have a great respect for Rick Stein and his ideas, it’s a precise form of cooking which in my mind takes a lot of skill to get correct.

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Question: What is your favourite dish on the current menu/s in which you use ingredients or produce from your most local supplier? 

A: Simply Beef, our locally farmed welsh black is only 1 mile from the hotel, it is the best beef I have ever cooked in all my years of cooking

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Question: If for one night you could be invited to cook alongside any Chef past or present who would that be and why?

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A: Rick Stein, for many years his passion and excitement for cooking have inspired me in my cooking and he adds a less serious element to the profession which is a great thing.

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My only Michelin star visit ever was The Waterside Inn in Bray and the taste of the lobster and white port sauce will never leave my lips.

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I would also eat in my own restaurant (Hand at Llanarmon) as the other 2 chefs I work with and have taught for many years and have them serve me the best food around.

 

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Here’s our little guide to making Veganuary a thing for you.

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Over the last year or so you may have noticed veganism gently muscle its way into the mainstream. More and more restaurants offer Vegan options or have positioned themselves as “totally” Vegan. So thats fine if you plan to dine-out all of January. Because like 60,000 thousand others you have pledged that you, will, be supporting Veganuary – won’t you…..

With demand increasing a bunch of major outlets have started offering plant-based options – Pret-a-manger has been leading the way in vegan ‘grab and go’ food, Wagamama recently started trialing a brand new vegan menu, and you’re now able to order a delicious sweet potato, chickpea and spinach curry with your pint of Guinness at many Wetherspoons. Unfortunately though there is nothing that really hits the mark, taste wise, in the To-Go range or Ready-Meals, that is until now.

All that is about to change with the launch by Tesco’s of a brand new plant-based range, Wicked Kitchen. The supermarket has worked with Chefs Derek & Chad Sarno to create the range, to ‘bring the plant-based market from niche to mainstream’. The range features vegan sandwiches, wraps, salads, ready meals and pizza. So if your New Year’s resolution is still intact and you want to give Veganuary a real shot, here’s what you can look forward to.

 

Wraps:

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Ready Meals:

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Pizza:

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All images Tesco

More information: www.tesco.com

 

 

 

 

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Chef’s Table talk with Chef James Sommerin

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James started his culinary career at the age of 12 working on a Saturday morning in an Italian restaurant in Newport, Chez Chiovanni, after leaving school he started his first full time cooking position at the Cwrt Bleddyn Hotel near Usk.

 

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It was from there, at the age of 16, that he decided to move to Scotland and worked at Farleyer House Hotel under the guidance of Head Chef Richard Lyth, it was whilst being taught by Richard that he gained the understanding of seasonality, quality and the essence of flavour. Whilst in Scotland he cooked at the dinner to celebrate the opening of the Scottish Parliament and was also shortlisted as Young Scottish Chef of the Year. after a few years working in Scotland, he met future wife Louise and after marrying and having their first daughter James decided to move his family returning to his home country- Wales.

Back in Wales in August 2000 he started at the Crown at Whitebrook as Sous Chef and became Head Chef in late 2003, four years later obtained his first Michelin Star, an achievement he is rightly hugely proud of. He retained the coveted Michelin star until 2013 when the “Crown” closed its doors. Recently reopened under new ownership as The Whitebrook

 

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2014 saw James and Louise open Restaurant James Sommerin in Penarth. James and wife Louise were determined to make the restaurant with rooms a success and are rightfully very proud of what they and their team have achieved. A Michelin star in 2016, AA Restaurant of the Year – Wales 2016-2017, 4 AA rosettes, Restaurant of the year 2016 for Wales at the Food Awards Wales and Number 34 in the Good Food Guide for 2017, also achieving 5 stars for rooms with the AA and Visit Wales.

 

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” We pride ourselves on being a family run business, with myself heading up the kitchen, Louise front of house and our 3 girls never far away “

 

Chef’s Table Asked:

 

Q: What would be your last dish (to eat) “the death row question”

A:  My late grandmother has always been my inspiration, cooking with her on the weekend gave me my love and passion for cooking and I will always be eternally grateful.  So I would have to say my late grans beef brisket, gravy & veg

 

Q: Have you ever been presented with a dish/ingredient that you just could not eat and where was that?

 

A: Durian Fruit – tried it in Singapore in 2012. It tasted horrendous, I can’t even put it into words.

 

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Q: If there were a “Fantasy League” of Chefs, who would make up your perfect brigade?

 

A: Richard Lyth, Michele Roux Snr, Grant Achatz, Alex Stupak, Brett Graham & Eric Frechon

 

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Q: What’re the most overused words on restaurant menus’ today

 

A: where can I start – Textures of, deconstructed & foraged!

 

Q: Having worked and trained in Scotland what food preparation or styles of cooking did you learn then that you still utilise today. What was on the menu for the opening of Parliament dinner?

 

A – oh gosh, butchery.

The menu hmmm, I’m sorry I can’t remember back that far it must be a sign of my age now.

 

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Q: What is your favourite dish on the current menu/s in which you use ingredients or produce from your most local supplier? 

A:  Old Cogan Farm Penarth where we get our Welsh Lamb which we serve with Broad Beans and Turnip.

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Q: If for one night you could be invited to cook alongside any Chef past or present who would that be and why?

C – That’s a tough one, I couldn’t narrow it down to 1 person.


My Favourite Tables – Two restaurants I have visited and why?

 

Restaurant 1 – The Greenhouse in Mayfair – fantastic cooking, every time we go (and we’ve been a few) staff are all very friendly.

 

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Restaurant 2 – Geranium in Copenhagen, cooking on another level

 

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Chef Alex Bond of Alchemilla Nottingham talks to Chef’s table

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Chef Alex Bond has been cooking since he was 19 years old and most of his working life has mainly been in Michelin-starred kitchens including 42 The Calls in Leeds, Restaurant Sat Bains in Nottingham, Auberge du Lac in Hertfordshire and Turners in Birmingham.

It has been for some time his ambition to open his own restaurant. Alchemilla recently opened in Nottingham is the realisation of that. Alchemilla has been two years in the making with the project to turn an old 19th-century coaching house, which had remained empty for over 150 years, into a modern light space for a restaurant, whilst retaining the character of the building.

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The food is clean, fresh and a talking point with diners as the menus have elements that they won’t  necessarily have tried before. Alex is a keen gardener and is also married to a gardener so he uses vegetables and plants as centre stage in the cooking. With the resulting dishes delighting and surprising people with the flavours that can be achieved by letting vegetables feature prominently in the menu.

We wanted to know a little more about Chef and his plans:

Q: Which Chef/s influenced you in the past? Who continuous to influence you now?

A: Every chef I have worked for has influenced me whether it’s for good or bad reasons, we can learn from all of these experiences whether its cooking techniques and philosophies, how I wanted to treat my staff or run my business

Q: Which restaurant would you like to go to? (that you haven’t had the opportunity to visit yet)

A: Top of my list at the moment are Hedone, Saison, L’astrance and Attica

Q: What is set to be the next ‘new’ ingredient? And which in particular interests you.

A: There’s been a real shift towards less protein in my cooking over the last 4 years and that seems to be a big thing in this country. I know it’s very Nordic but my plant-based cooking feels very British which I love.

 

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Q: If there were a “Fantasy League” of Chefs who would make up your perfect brigade?

A: I would have to go with Nathan Outlaw on the fish, Gareth Ward on the sauce, James Petrie on the pastry, myself on the vegetables, Tom Spencley and Tony Parkin on the larder

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Q: What foods or styles of cooking do you enjoy cooking the most and which do you most like to eat?

A: I love cooking with vegetables, a large hand dived scallop almost does the work for you whereas a cabbage or cauliflower needs thought, effort and skill

 

Q: What is your favourite dish on the current menu/s in which you use ingredients or produce from your most local supplier?

A: Cauliflower, roasted yeast, almond

 

Q: If for one night you could be invited to cook alongside any Chef past or present who would that be and why?

A: I would love to smash out a service with Pascal Barbot of L’astrance in Paris

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My Favourite Tables – a restaurant I have visited several times and why?

 

Restaurant (1): Ynyshir. Gareth Ward is doing some of the most innovative food in the country and I have had 4 meals there and it just goes from strength to strength

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NYE 2017 round-up of Events and Celebrations

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Mommi – London (Clapham Common)

MOMMI NYE Flyer copy

Menu is HERE

Dining Reservations HERE

Bar Reservations HERE


 

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Top Ten Most Popular Places To Dine

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Favourite Tables Top Ten Restaurants from the last twelve months has been compiled from the number of visits the restaurant’s page on the Favourite Tables website has received. This was then weighed against the social marketplace of active “Facebook” likes. More weight was given to restaurants with the most recent new likes on Facebook. 


Unlike some other “lists” which are compiled from single “Food Experts” comments or the hit and miss “drive-by” reviews some “Travel” websites favour. The Favourite Tables list has been formed from analysing the locations that were most popular with ordinary people using the website to find, great places to eat. Then the restaurant’s social media activity across Facebook, where real people “like” a restaurant because they genuinely had a good experience, is added as a rating.

The cumulative total creates a list of the most popular and best-loved restaurants:

Topping the list is the very popular 64 Degrees and Head Chef/Owner Michael Bremner

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The Top Ten UK Places People Have Wanted To Eat At:

1) 64 Degrees – Brighton

(http://www.favouritetables.com/restaurant/64-degrees/)

2) The Oxford Blue – Windsor

(http://www.favouritetables.com/restaurant/the-oxford-blue-old-windsor/)

3) Adams Restaurant – Birmingham

(http://www.favouritetables.com/restaurant/adams/)

4) Lympstone Manor – Exmouth Devon

(http://www.favouritetables.com/restaurant/lympstone-manor/)

5) Prevost – Peterborough

(http://www.favouritetables.com/restaurant/prevost)

6) House of Tides – Newcastle-upon-Tyne

(http://www.favouritetables.com/restaurant/house-tides/)

7) Randall and Aubin – London

(http://www.favouritetables.com/restaurant/randall-aubin/)

8) House of Feasts – Peterborough

(http://www.favouritetables.com/restaurant/house-of-feasts/)

9) Johnsons Steakhouse – Cambridge

(http://www.favouritetables.com/restaurant/johnsons-steak-house/)

10) Millworks – Cambridge

(http://www.favouritetables.com/restaurant/millworks)

A few restaurants have proved very popular recently and are just outside the Top Ten simply because they have only been listed for a short period so when looked at over the past twelve months the count of visits was lower.

Notably:
Beach House – South Wales (http://www.favouritetables.com/restaurant/beach-house/)

Barbecoa – London (http://www.favouritetables.com/restaurant/barbecoa-piccadilly/)

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Chef’s Table chats to Luke French – Chef Patron of Jöro Restaurant, Sheffield.

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Luke French

There are shipping container restaurants and then there are Shipping Container restaurants, Jöro in Sheffield is the latter. The restaurant is situated inside Krynki, a revolutionary new space created to showcase the best and most exciting independent start-ups and businesses from Sheffield, where they can share space, skills and innovative ideas.

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Chef’s Table & Luke French – Chef Patron at Jöro Restaurant in Sheffield

“I started off working as a Kitchen Porter at The White Pheasant in Fordham near Cambridge when I was 14 and then I got really interested in what the chefs were doing. I wanted to have a crack at it so I went full time into the restaurant after my GCSE’s.

I stayed at the Pheasant for about 4 years before moving into Cambridge and working in the university kitchens and local hotels.

“I was very lucky to have a couple of great restaurants locally and spent time at both Alimentum and Midsummer House. Sadly, I didn’t last very long at Midsummer, I bottled it! I was young and I definitely wasn’t ready for it at that time. Looking back I gave up on it way too quickly! I left to do a stage at The Fat Duck and ended up carrying on working there before travelling and working in Asia.

“I was not away long when the opportunity to take on the Head Chef position back at the White Pheasant was offered to me, which I jumped at. It was a couple of years later I moved to Sheffield to join The Milestone Pub Group in which over the six years I worked for them I progressed to Executive Head Chef for the Group.

Towards the end of my time with them, I began a pop-up restaurant called Joro (which translates as ‘Earth’ in old Norse.) to test myself and test the waters of Sheffield to see if they were ready for it. I ran the pop up for around 9 months in which time it gave me space to think and hone in what I really wanted to cook and serve, the style of service, find and train a team, and get some hype for the idea of opening a restaurant.

In December of 2016, we opened restaurant Jöro

Q: Which Chef/s influenced you in the past? Who continues to influence you now?

First of all of the famous chefs was Gordon Ramsay, I remember reading his books and watching him on TV when I was a kid, just starting to realize I enjoyed cooking and didn’t really have a clue about any other chefs in the world, I admired him! He got me interested in the industry. My first head chef Stuart Trangmar was a big influence, he is a great chef and taught me a great deal. He has a great palate and taught me a lot about flavour and tasting food. Heston Blumenthal was a big inspiration to me when I really started to pay close attention to cooking and I was obsessed with the science behind it so naturally, he inspired me a lot.

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I then began to really enjoy naturalness and simplicity of using ingredients once I realized how complex cooking can be but doesn’t have to be – Rene Redzepi and many of the Nordics – based chefs Like Torsten Vildgaard, Matt Orlando, Esben Holmboe Bang to name a few were where I would look to for inspiration. The most present inspirational chefs to me are Gareth Ward from Ynyshir in Wales and Kristian Baumann of 108 in Copenhagen, I really love what these guys are doing in their restaurants. They inspire me a great deal. Of course, my team influence me on a daily basis, they all have similar ways of looking at things and ideas organically come together very well.

Credit: Gareth-Ward-FJONA-BLACK kristian-baumann

 

Q: What would be your last dish (to eat) “the death row question”

It would have to be a roast rib of well-aged beef on the bone, with all the proper trimmings.

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Q: Before you chose to be a chef did you have another career in mind?

I wanted to join the military when I was a kid like most young lads probably do! But I was cooking before I left school and it felt good, so I didn’t look back. It’s the best job in the world.

 

Q: Which restaurant would you like to go to? (that you haven’t had the opportunity to visit yet)

Too many to mention! But at the top of the list at the moment is Ynyshir, Carters of Moseley and Casamia.

**Fortunately Chef, Ynyshir is featured on Favourite Tables so you can book directly when you’re ready…..

 

Q: Have you ever been presented with a dish/ingredient that you just could not eat and where was that?

I ate at the KOKS pop-up at Den Vandrette in Copenhagen, it was one of my most enjoyable dining experiences I’ve ever had, but there was one dish that I just couldn’t stomach. It was a little cracker with fermented lamb intestine fat shaved over it and it was just insanely strong in flavour, I just couldn’t eat it! I admired and understood the reason they serve it and its traditions, but I just couldn’t do it.

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Q: Which city or country is the most innovative in terms of food?

Personally, I think Either Denmark or Spain – the diversity and creativity coming out of them is insane.

 

Q: What is set to be the next ‘new’ ingredient? And which in particular interests you.

Well, It isn’t new, its thousands of years old but it is only now beginning to really hit a lot of chefs reach, and is gaining more attraction; it is Koji – grains that have been cooked and inoculated with Aspergillus Oryzae (a friendly bacteria). It’s the building blocks for soy sauce, miso, sake and so on.

We have been experimenting with it for over a year now at JÖRO, so early days! But it has completely changed the way we cook now and it is part of our cooking DNA. Incredible stuff. We began using it traditionally to make miso’s and following other recipes we’d researched, and then we took a different path with it and it is used in all sorts from bread to ice creams, brining and curing proteins etc. It is magical stuff.

 

Q: If you could change any misconceptions about restaurants/restaurant food, what would they be?

As a whole, the service we as an industry provide, and the food we deliver to guests is NOT expensive. The time, labour, thought and energy that goes into providing it all is worth far more than what we charge people for it. It really pisses me off when people think they are being hard done by in an honest restaurant providing high levels of food and service (all aspects of it) and I’m not just speaking about my own. We have such a high level of respect for the people that get our ingredients to us, whether it be a wine producer or farmer, and everyone in between. Sometimes this gets forgotten. People don’t think about what it has taken for them to receive it, from the welfare of an animal to sustainable fishing and farming etc to getting ingredients from them to training people to prepare and serve it, energy consumption, the people that take away the waste etc. It’s all relative, people must understand it more and I do think some restaurants give away too much, however, I do think that some milk it a bit too. It’s a tough topic.

 

Q: With the increased TV food programmes, is there a greater rivalry among chefs?

I don’t think so. Healthy competition! I think it has made us all more aware of each other, brought us together and in my opinion, it has made us talk more and help each other out. At the end of the day we always want to be the best at what we do, it’s natural, but I don’t think anyone should have a rivalry as such, surely this would stem from a personal problem between chefs and not what they’ve seen on TV… it’s more inspirational no?

 

Q: How important is a Michelin star? A chef in France, who has 3 Michelin stars, recently asked that they be removed because of the pressure – your thoughts

It is the highest accolade. It would make me very happy if we were ever awarded one, either where we are now or in years to come somewhere else. But first comes having a healthy, growing business, happy staff and happy guests, I think if these boxes are ticked and we get better at what we do every day then we can achieve it. But obviously, there is a tremendous amount of pressure to retain these kinds of accolades. I have seen what it takes to retain stars and it is pretty scary to think about if you were ever in the position where it was your reputation on the line…

 

Q: What do you think about negative reviews?

Some reviews take the biscuit, but the really bad ones are mostly just because some people do not understand or research into what it is we do and what we offer, or they have made it up! But everything is taken on board seriously and looked into.

All negatives lead to positives. It makes us work harder and focus more, failing is learning, learning is knowledge, knowledge is a big part of is what makes us better at what we do.

Everyone expects different levels of service, has different opinions and palates, and of course we can’t please everyone all of the time as much as I’d like us to, but so long as they don’t happen regularly and the business is not affected and what we do every service is the best we can, then I’m happy. You just have to take them on the chin and react proactively.

 

Q: You have said that although you love where the restaurant is right now the plan is to have a restaurant with adjacent access to land/farm (like Winteringham Fields) What influence do you see that having on the menus.

We would have better control over when and what we serve. Nature is my biggest inspiration of all so obviously being surrounded by open land would better our style of cooking better than a steel city, we’d have to travel less to forage, food miles would be less for some ingredients, to be more self-sustainable would be great, having to depend less on others. Ultimately it would just make me a happier chef so naturally I think it would benefit the menu, the happier we are the more creative we are and the better we cook.

Q: What is your favourite dish on the current menu/s in which you use foraged ingredients or produce from your most local supplier?

Wild Mallard with blackcurrant and cabbages. The mallards are shot 8 miles away on the Wortley Estate and brought to us the same day, sometimes still warm! The blackcurrants are from a mile away, picked by the team and preserved, the cabbages are grown half an hour away.

Q: If for one night you could be invited to cook alongside any Chef past or present who would that be and why?

Paul Cunnigham (Henne Kirkeby Kro), without a doubt! What a legend. It would be a good laugh with plenty of banter, and the look’s good too!

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My Favourite Tables – Two restaurants I have visited and why?

 

Restaurant (1): Fera at Claridges, London – always a solid meal with great service.

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Restaurant (2): Ashoka, Sheffield – banging curry.

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Chef Richard Bainbridge chats with Chef’s Table

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A couple of weeks ago Favourite Tables was in Norwich to meet with BBC Great British Menu “Veteran” guest chef Richard Bainbridge. When we arrived Benedicts Restaurant was not open. however, the greeting we received from the front of house staff who were preparing the venue, was warm and very professional. We immediately felt “at home”.

At the same time as coffees arrived Chef appeared from the downstairs kitchen.
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Chef’s Table with Richard Bainbridge – Chef Patron at Benedicts Restaurant in Norwich

It may be a bit of an old cliche but Chef Richard Bainbridge really is Norwich “born and bred”. In fact, he grew up within 5 miles of where his Bistro style restaurant Benedicts now stands. Richard and partner, wife Katya, opened the restaurant in 2015. Which was almost 23 years exactly from when his first job in a kitchen started.

Coming from a single parent family, not much money and being a Dyxlesia sufferer throw up its own challenges, which he dismissed as “the old sob story”. However starting at age 13 he worked hard took himself off to College where he had a chance meeting with and then started to work for the Chef Patron of local Michelin Stared Morston Hall. After Morston Hall and having never been on an Aeroplane, Richard left the UK at age 18 and took on a role at the Red Lion Inn, a 500 room hotel, in Stockbridge Massachusetts. The difference between the 32 covers at Morston to the mass catering of two dining halls at the Red Lion taught him a number of important lessons. When 9/11 happened one of only three people who called him from the UK (His Mum and Sister being the others) was Galton Blackiston from Morston Hall. Richard returned to Morston Hall two months later.

Later that year he moved to The Waterside Inn starting as a Junior Commis and left 4 years later as a Sous Chef, one of the youngest to work there at that time. He categorises this period as like going to University

 

Q: Before you chose to be a chef did you have another career in mind?

A: I wanted to be a Postman… But I’m Dyslexic so I could not read all the postcodes. It would have been my dream job because I could have got up early and be done by lunchtime that was in my head, plus my Mum told me they did a great pension.

This is a good story, well not really a story as it’s true. My mum did the books at a local pub/restaurant and my sister worked behind the bar, this was when I must have been thirteen, in fact, it was the day after my thirteenth birthday I did my first shift as a kitchen porter at the same pub. I immediately felt “at home” I really did. I felt this is something I can do. It may be because I realised that I could watch a chef put a dish together, I did not have to write anything down, and I could make that dish. So I watched everything I could to learn and still do. The end of that story is that twenty years later almost to the hour, so I was 33 and at six o’clock the day after my birthday Katja my wife and I got the key to my own restaurant.

Q: Who influenced you in the past? Who influences you now?

A: My Grandmother, she cooked in a very homely way and that has stuck with me. I want people who dine at Benedicts to have an experience that when they leave be it one or two hours later, they feel that they have just spent time being immersed in something that feels almost homely, a pleasurable time that evokes memories as much as creates memories. They don’t need to think its the best food they have ever had, but as they walk down the road after leaving us and if they think that was really lovely and a couple of hours well spent with the family or friends they are with, that’s perfect for me.

Also, a big influence in my career was and still is, Michel Roux Snr and my time at The Waterside Inn. Everyone worked really hard for 11 months without a break and would be flagging by the end of the year. He could have 70 staff in a room, talk in three different languages and by the end of a meeting we would all be skipping back to work full of his enthusiasm, which at the age of sixty-something which he was then, was inspirational.

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and Galton Blackiston who still plays a big part in my career. I worked for him at Morston Hall between the age of 16 – 18 and then I went back when I was 26 and was his Head Chef for 7 years. It was a chance meeting with him while I was at Catering College that lead to me working a couple of summers in his Michelin Stared kitchen, not really knowing at that time what a star was and how important it was. Starting off at the age of 16 working with a team of 4 chefs, Galton being one, and having that 1-on-1 time with him was a real springboard for my career.

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Q: How important is a Michelin star? A chef in France, who has 3 Michelin stars, recently asked that they are removed because of the pressure – your thoughts

I’m not sure we fit the perfect model for Michelin. Benedicts is just my wife and me, no big backers and no millions in the bank. So we will have to be around for awhile to even think of a Star. They have visited several times and have been really supportive of us as an independent restaurant, as have the AA and we think that Rosettes, could, be on the cards maybe next years. Which is incredible when you think we opened with just four members of staff two and a half years ago, to now where we have a team of 20 members of staff. Just knowing the guidebooks are paying an interest into us is massive. I would love to put Norwich on the culinary map much as North Norfolk is now. It would be great to have people come to the city for a foodie break and sample all of the great produce we have access to not just from around the coast, but from the farms and estates just outside Norwich.

 

Q: What would be your last dish (to eat) “the death row question”

A: It would have to be my mum’s roast chicken dinner. Even thou it is a bit bland overcooked and the greens are grey, sorry mum… but without doubt, the one thing we would have every Sunday, we would sit down and have a roast chicken it would be the highlight of the week, I would want peas and my sister would want sweetcorn, the Bisto would be wiped up and poured over. All that gives a sense of what food is all about and that represents to me now everything that food is about and what families are – Food is family and family is food and all the rest of it, and you can tie everything to one dish and that’s the one thing now that if I knew my time was coming to an end I would say mum cook me one of your roast dinners and bring it in to me… and I know I would say you’ve overcooked the chicken again. But something in my head would say this is so simplistic but perfect I would be ready to go then…. oh and a Muller Fruit Corner a Strawberry one

Q: How did you feel about being called a “Veteran” when you were a judge on the BBC Great British Menu. From the Central Region Chef’s Pip, Ryan and Nick who’s dishes impressed you the most.

A: I know right.. I have to be honest I was immensely proud, from being 26/27 when I first did the programme and I was too young and I wasn’t ready, I messed it up. But then to have the opportunity and be invited back on was incredible. I can remember Glynn Parnell sending me home on the Thursday and me saying to myself, I’m gonna prove you wrong and I will get to the banquet, alright it took me a few more attempts than I would have liked, but I got there and I remember halfway through when they judged me thinking I’m going to be you one day, I’m gonna have that position. Then to get the call to go on as a veteran, thinking this is brilliant. Getting to the banquet was great but this was the pinnacle of everything I’d started.

As for the Chefs from the central region, the minute Pip put up that starter I knew it would go all the way to the banquet, from the minute I tried it. Not saying the others did not put up some incredible food it’s just Pip’s dish had everything for the brief and the banquet. Then later sitting at the banquet next to Angella Hartnett and seeing Pip’s starter come out first, I felt good to have been a small part of that.

 

Q:  What is your favourite dish on the current menu/s in which you use produce from your most local supplier?

A: The supplier is Thornage Hall which is an amazing place that provides supported Living, work & learning opportunities for Adults with Learning Difficulties on a biodynamic farm in the beautiful Norfolk countryside. The organic vegetables we get from them changes throughout the seasons the quality is incredible and consistent. At the moment as we go into winter some of the dishes on the menu become more simplistic, more wholesome. So we have a carrot dish on just now that uses a nobbily looking carrot that is so pure and nurtured by the guys at Thornage. We roast that in Goats Butter with Chamomile and we roast it off, roast it off so it’s almost deep-fried in foaming butter. Then we finish it off with Chamomile Mayonaise, a carrot top sauce so we make an emulsion from the tops and then some pickled carrot discs, then we have some deep fried carrot tops and some raw carrot tops, some chickweed, that grows around the carrots, so they work together. It just shows perfect respect for the carrot and how it is grown for us by the people at Thornage Hall.

We know that everything is picked during the day and then drop it off at my house in the evening and we cook with it the next day and we respect every part of it.

 

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Q: If you could invite any Chef past or present to cook alongside you for one night who would that be and why?

Wow that’s a bit like what’s your favourite album or film. But I think to get the chance to work alongside Escoffier or to even just get a coffee would be incredible because the way that we cook in this modern world is based on his structure, the way that a kitchen is set up is because of him. A lot of the base things we use or expect in a kitchen today were revolutionary in his time.

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Again someone like Paul Bocuse just to spend a little time to understand how things have changed. It would be incredible, the industry has changed so much and I think we do need now and again to just remember that.

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I have just bought a book about Eugénie Brazier this first woman to have a three Michelin Star restaurant and the first chef, male or female, to have six stars across her two restaurants. Who then went on to set up a school for chefs that produced some of the top French Chefs including Paul Bocuse.

My Favourite Tables – Two restaurants I have visited and Why:

Restaurant 1) would be La Grenouillere just outside Calais http://lagrenouillere.fr 

Head Chef Alexandre Gauthier

Alexandre Gauthier

We closed Benedicts for a couple of weeks in the summer and headed to France. La Grenouillere is built inside an old farm building, just beside a stream. A magical place filled with “Steam Punk” ironwork (your phone doesn’t even work) with incredible classical French cuisine and regionality turned on its head, but at the same time we felt very “at home”

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Restaurant 2) would be St. John’s this place is not about the Glam-Rock of cuisine just great tasty food. St. John’s is my go-to place for a Sunday lunch.

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