Restaurants with Rooms

Adding rooms to your restaurant is an excellent way of adding a revenue stream but, more importantly, it increases the distance your customers will travel to see you. Chandos Elletson went on his travels.

Stéphane Borie, chef and owner of The Checkers Inn, with his wife Sarah and her sister Katheryn

Stéphane Borie, chef and owner of The Checkers Inn, with his wife Sarah and her sister Katheryn

I visited five very different restaurants each with rooms and restaurants that ranged from one to three stars. I was very impressed with what I found because this trend demonstrates that chefs are increasingly switched on to revenue streams outside the kitchen and that's exciting.

First up was The Checkers Inn in Montgomery, Wales, which is home to The Frenchman and The Farmers Daughter’s. The Frenchman is the chef, Stéphane Borie, and The Farmer’s Daughters are his wife Sarah and her sister Katheryn Francis.

Stéphane has a star for the restaurant, Sarah doubles up as the pastry chef and front of house and Katheryn brings her skills as a trained nurse to complete a formidable trio, to whom service is paramount and the rooms have equal standing in the business.

I was given a very comfortable room with a large bed and a big bathroom with a deluxe shower. This ticked all my boxes. In the past if I had wanted to take my other half to have a meal at The Checkers we would have had to have found accommodation elsewhere and it would have been unlikely that we could have found anything nearly so comfortable.

A ROOM AT The Checkers Inn in Montgomery, Wales

A ROOM AT The Checkers Inn in Montgomery, Wales

But because we could stay at the restaurant meant that we could make a special journey and experience not just the food but also the room and this turned out to be the key to success.

"The rooms must complement the food and the restaurant," Katheryn explained. "Our guests are coming for a Michelin-starred meal. They quite rightly expect that to be excellent. It's the same with the room. This has to be beyond their expectation and everything has to be right."

In my room everything was perfect right down to the home-made biscuits beside the kettle and it was nice to be able to enjoy a good meal and then just walk upstairs to bed. Talking with Katheryn made me realise how much work goes into the rooms which cannot be the preserve of the chef. There needs to be a separate staff for this which is sometimes the wife or partner(s) of the chef or another team.

At The Walnut Tree, near Abergavenny in Wales, Shaun Hill has two cottages that are a short walk down a path from the restaurant which can be taken for a night or two. Each cottage has a couple of bedrooms, a sitting room and a kitchen. But no-one from the restaurant has responsibility for the rooms.

THE WALNUT TREE INN, Abergavenny

THE WALNUT TREE INN, Abergavenny

 "I don't know anything about rooms," Shaun Hill told me when I visited. "I don't want to make beds or check fridges. I also don’t want to offer breakfast. So, I got a local hotel to service them for me. They are experts at housekeeping and this way I get to spend my time in the kitchen. We put basic food in the fridge and the guests look after themselves in the morning. It works very well.”

At The Star Inn in Harome, North Yorkshire, chef Andrew Pern has had rooms for a number of years in a separate building over the road from the pub. My room had a pool table in it and was amazingly appointed with a huge bed and a magnificent bath.

However, it wasn't until the next morning that I really saw how different The Star Inn was to the other places I visited. Breakfast was served in a huge room downstairs at an enormous round table with a splendid buffet all laid out. All the guests sat round together communally which was unusual and actually a great experience. Not far away was an open kitchen with stools where the chef was making the cooked breakfasts to order.

"We're in the middle of hunting and shooting country here and I wanted to create something that could be hired out as a whole or that was communal if guests just wanted a room,” said Andrew. “It's great because it’s self-contained meaning that for a shooting party I can go over there and cook for them. I love that because it means that we offer something unique."

GETTING READY FOR BREAKFAST AT THE STAR INN, HAROME

GETTING READY FOR BREAKFAST AT THE STAR INN, HAROME

 At the three star The Waterside Inn, Alain Roux told me, "We've had rooms for nearly 25 years. But once we added them the business completely changed. It's now a non-stop operation. Guests arrive at 3pm and lunch guests can still be here at 6pm or even 7pm. Checkout is at midday and that's when our lunch guests start to arrive.

“We’ve added rooms gradually and we’ve never done anything other than a continental breakfast that comes on a tray. However, we do make all our Viennoiserie by hand every day. These have to have the same mark of excellence as our restaurant food.”

ALAIN ROUX SERVING BREAKFAST

ALAIN ROUX SERVING BREAKFAST

ONE OF THE COTTAGES AT THE WATERSIDE INN

ONE OF THE COTTAGES AT THE WATERSIDE INN

Regional Revolution: Rules? What Rules?

Chandos Elletson continues his trip up North with stops at both The Walnut Tree Inn and House of Tides

Another facet of the enduring rural revolution is that new school may be trendy and exciting but old school is not a thing of the past. Where Sat Bains is at the cutting edge of modern professional cooking, Shaun Hill is at the opposite end of the spectrum. Though he began his career in London he has long been a rural chef - first at Gidleigh Park then at The Merchant House in Ludlow and now at The Walnut Tree in Abergavenny in Wales.

I am a huge devotee of Shaun Hill. I loved going to visit him in his kitchen in Ludlow when he cooked alone and still maintained a Michelin star. He pulls no punches and his food is simple and excellent as any of his thousands of fans will tell you.

Shaun Hill has stood the test of time and withstood all the advances of technology and trends and yet his food is as fresh and modern as it could be.

He doesn't do any growing and there is no tasting menu but there is serious technical cooking and judicious buying.

We started our chat on a hot subject: tasting menus or menu dégustation.

"Nico (Ladenis) used to call them menu disgusting. I rather agree with him," Shaun said with a smile.

"Tasting menus present problems. It puts you as a chef into safe territory as you always know what you will be preparing, but it makes marginal dishes a problem. Offal is gone and so are molluscs and there'll be no brains.

"The big problem is food allergies these days. I don't have to ask guests any more in advance. They tell me when they book. So my menu is designed around what I like to eat but structured in a way that allows everyone a fair shot at eating something they can enjoy."

The menu at the Walnut Tree is generous and it does have a way of making your mouth water. Shaun asked me if I'd like to eat something while we talked and I spotted a game terrine on the menu. It's something you don't see much these days.

"I used to make terrines when I worked for Robert Carrier back in the 1970's. Terrines were the dish of their day back then. At Hintlesham Hall I made about nine different types. Terrines are still good when they are done traditionally. You can't mess with them. They sell well but they need help like with a little piccalilli or a salad."

SHAUN HILL’S GAME TERRINE

SHAUN HILL’S GAME TERRINE

Needless to say his terrine was flawless and it raised an interesting point which to me has always been important: technical skill in cookery. Shaun Hill's terrine was every bit as refined and delicious as the sablé pastry at Sat Bains.

Shaun Hill could modernise his dishes to the level of Sat Bains but it would be a waste of time.

"Chefs must cook for themselves. If you don't you will never know when to stop and you will be forever checking what you do against others and that is a mistake. We all have a duty to our guests. They come to eat my food. They don't come to eat my interpretation of some other chef."

In Newcastle, Kenny Atkinson first won a Michelin star for his restaurant, House of Tides. It's located in the centre of town, a stone's throw from the River Tyne. I wanted to meet Kenny because he's another of a new breed of chef that is changing the face of fine dining into something much more approachable and in a place like Newcastle that is no mean achievement.

KENNY ATKINSON

KENNY ATKINSON

"There are better restaurants in Newcastle than ours," he told me. "But we score because we really look after our customers and when they come back we reward them. We are not as expensive as some places and this is deliberate. I'd rather be busy and make less money than charge a lot and be empty.

"My food is produce led, nothing new in that, but where we are different is the way our menu is structured. We have two tasting menus: a regular and a vegetarian. But you can have two courses if you want or three and we have a slogan on the menu that says: "Shy bairns get nowt." This means: "don't be afraid to ask!" If you want to mix and match off both menus - go ahead! We're here for you.

"I have a fine dining background in country house hotels. I found this very formal especially when it came to dress. At The House of Tides we are all about informal but the food has to have an edge to it that is interesting and delicious enough to make a great night out.”

“I have a lot of fun with my food. Take the mackerel dish that I once did on Great British Menu. It's described as Mackerel, Gooseberries, Lemon, Mustard. To cut a long story short it's a sliced white bread put through a pasta machine, spread with English mustard and then used to make a spring roll shape filled with mackerel. This is fried ‘til crisp and served with a gooseberry purée and a smear of mustard on the plate."

Now is a great time to be running a restaurant in the sticks. Whether you are old school, new school or somewhere in between you can innovate to your hearts content - so long as you understand that technical skills cannot be ignored. Good cooking is good eating. No amount of technology can ever replace it.

MACKEREL, GOOSEBERRIES, LEMON, CUSTARD - ONE OF KENNY ATKINSON’S DISHES AT HOUSE OF TIDES

MACKEREL, GOOSEBERRIES, LEMON, CUSTARD - ONE OF KENNY ATKINSON’S DISHES AT HOUSE OF TIDES

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