Wednesday, 15 May 2013

How to open a modern British restaurant

It's the restaurant you've always wanted. Why is it for about the last hundred years, smart and expensive restaurants in the UK have always been French or maybe Italian? You only have to think of the words 'posh restaurant' and you suddenly spring into a French accent, impersonating John Cleese's wafer thin mint sketch and flopping a napkin over your forearm.
Well hold on a minute, isn't London supposed to be the world centre of gastronomy now? And the rest of the UK its lush and fertile garden, to produce all its ingredients? Surely this is the new era, where British cooking is taken seriously, where menus are free of pretentious florid adjectives and we go back to a simple celebration of honest ingredients respecting the seasons?

Of course it is, you've read it in Restaurant Magazine and seen it on Great British Menu and that is why when you open your new restaurant, you'll be throwing out all those stuffy old continental cliches. No more stuffy old French sounding dishes or food terms on the menu. No more restaurant owners called Giovanni or places called Chez-something. No more white linen on the tables, no more gondolier or red dress flamenco dancer scenes on the walls. No more sommeliers, maitre d's, waiters with large pepper grinders or black waistcoats.

'Disciples of St John'* you are now free to give the world the gastronomic restaurant, sorry, 'business establishment which prepares food and drink to customers in return for money, specialising in the art or law of regulating the stomach' it's been waiting for. So here goes: How to open a Modern British restaurant.

This is a rejection of all those stuffy foreign influences and preconceptions about 'posh restaurants'. Stripping away all the stiffness, fussiness and ridiculous pompousness of French fine-dining cliches.
In fact, you don't even call it a restaurant, it is an 'eating house'.
Focusing on our green and pleasant land, its plentiful bounty, and confident our own rich history of food and drink can stand up on its own and be taken seriously on the world stage.
Your mantra is 'locally sourced seasonal ingredients' and you must frequently remind people of this.
You might also want to bring in some more influences from a more mystical, mythical, romantic nature.
Fairies, goblins, fawns, anything C.S. Lewis or Tolkien, all good.
The general idea is that someone - a man of the soil, at one with the earth, in an intimate relationship with his environment and its magical seasons, probably called 'Flynn' or something, has gone out at dawn, wearing a Viyella shirt, treading the sparkling moss down over the old grassy knoll, startling the odd sleeping toad, and trapped a wild hare in a snare made of hand-riven willow and barley twine. He has then foraged some rare nettle leaves, fungi and grains on the way home to serve it with, where he will skin it with the help of his two home-schooled children - Colan and Steren, who will sing pagan rhymes and sacrifice beetles to sun gods.

There is no ideal location, thus is the flexibility of modern British. Anywhere from a disused Nissan hut to a motorway bridge or Georgian Townhouse.

Some kind of simple brand, perhaps the humble eating house's name, hand carved into a pit-sawn board of recently seasoned (in a forest spring) local cherrywood.
Your website should include misty, folky idealised views of the British countryside. Antique maps, engravings, drawings evoking a pre-industrial age. Links to Dickens or Shakespeare all good, as are whimsical quotes about sustinence etc.
Fonts: Distressed Garamond, Futura, Gill Sans.

The look is '1956 Powis Square bedsit meets 1924 home counties grammar school'
Refectory tables. Danish modern chairs. Library/science lab cupboards. Institutional lighting. Glazed rectangular tiles circa London underground 1935. The odd fleur de lys. Edwardian doilies. Damask wallpaper. Thonet hatstand. Copper wine coolers. A trio of ceramic flying ducks.

The look is greasy flick & bedraggled beard for men. Obligatory stripy blue apron. Trimming of beef under the fingernail.
Women - 1940s washerwoman meets victorian matron (not maitre d'… see what I did there?). Scarf in hair. Flowery frock. Frumpy brogues.

Expensively produced on handmade paper.
Ingredients listed in bald English. Provenance. The more unknown and remote the farm the better.
Try to avoid slipping in to the comfort zone of lazy Frenchisms…. no 'sauce', always 'gravy'.
No 'pork' but 'pig'. You get the picture. If you can find a ridiculously long-forgotten name for something very ordinary to hopefully baffle and wow your guests, all the better.

Pewter. Earthenware pots, hand fired pottery (preferably with your own kiln,). Scandinavian stainless steel. Hand turned wooden salt cellars made by a family living in a wigwam near Glastonbury.

Your heroes are Jocasta Innes, Fergus Henderson, and you secretly envy Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall.
The food is a kind of Mrs Beeton meets the Modern Parents via Billy Bunter. Artisan. Foraged. You produce as much as possible yourselves, via your own farm, from which you pick the same day. You smoke your own meats, over oak chopped down from a local copse. You curd your own cheese. You churn your own butter. Lots of your ingredients, you should have last read about in a Beatrix Potter book - radishes, sloes etc
Craft beers. Dripping. Whey. spelt. Oats. Rare herbs. Offal. Skin.
Dishes come in three main designs: 'Lyme Regis rock pool', 'Faries' Compost heap' and 'Pixies' rockery'.
Desserts - perfect for a last minute bit of nostalgia, so lots of nursery favourites like suet pudding or rhubarb crumble, but with a witty twist, and how about a fun little throwback to our Enid Blyton /Just William past, with a recreated Tunnocks snowball, or vanilla ice cream wafer (rectangular cone) etc?

And don't forget to present the bill in an Odgen's Nut Gone Flake tin.

Melissa 2013

*  - thanks, @HRWright

Just been informed it's 'Nissen hut'. That'll teach me to do some research. Thanks @matt_hero


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