The Guardian - Word of Mouth Blog
12 June 2009
So we've changed MasterChef Mat's mind on the tables and given him more work to do in his refit. Now he wants your opinion on the menu
OK, so the plants are gone and the window frames have turned green, but what's happening inside?
Photograph: Mat Follas
First of all, thanks everyone for great comments in my first bloodspot, helping me with the decisions I'm making in the opening of my new restaurant, The Wild Garlic (I know not everyone likes the name, but I do and we're sticking with it!).
Just to update you on some of the design decisions we've made - we're going with Marnie Moyle's tables because we love them (and in the interests of time) but, as so many of you recommended, we are re-designing them so most will be square tables that can seat two or four people, can be pushed them together for larger parties etc.
About the, ahem, Keeler chairs - we haven't seen anything else that we can get in time for opening. I quite the idea of some one-offs as several of you suggested, so that may be a development for the future. But we've been sitting on the Arne chairs for a week now and they really are very comfortable (the main issue, as everyone pointed out), in fact my wife has now pinched one for her office.
We've left a small bar (I found the original oak bar top hiding in a back room and have recycled it), the seating in front will be fairly casual but can also be used as an overflow dinner table, so wine and coffee during the day, then maybe 'non-booked' seating in the evening.
About the loos - the raft of comments last week about how important this area is have made me take a serious look (I got the message loud and clear, thank you) and I'm now replacing the carpets that I previously thought I could live with. We're replacing the carpets, lights, hand dryers and toilet seats with new ones, as well as applying a fresh coat of paint. Key question, we've got a brand new hand dryer, do we need paper towels as well? Or do people prefer them to be made out of cloth?
So on to the most crucial aspect of any restaurant, and the one I've agonised over: the menu. The killer question I want answered is: what's your preference between organic and well managed locally produced food? Personally I look for well managed locally produced food first but I wonder if organic still has the hold over consumers?
We're not campaigning particularly with our food. It should be in season. We want the primary ingredient of a dish to be British, local if possible - if it's not available, then my feeling is that we should change the menu. But are we ready to go to an all British menu? I don't think we are, and I'm not planning to trial it with my restaurant launch. I think if the star of the dish is local, other ingredients can be imported. However. I know this type of thinking is being mooted by foodies and a couple of weeks ago I read this compelling article by Jay Rayner. It's an interesting idea and maybe something we could do in a year or two.
We have tried to price the menu at the right level to make a living but also to provide fair value for money, rather than thinking what we might be able to charge for short term gain trading on the MasterChef factor. I'm very conscious this won't last long - besides, is it just me or is the list of 'celeb' chefs going bust getting longer by the day? I intend to be in the kitchen for the summer, doing the cooking, and greeting customers when I can, but it's going to be the food not the novelty that I hope will impress the local people who I expect to be my core business and who I want to price for.
The draft menu for Mat Follas's Wild Garlic restaurant
So we've designed the draft menu you see here to provide a good three course meal for about £30, with the ability to stretch to four courses and a £50 spend for those who want it, and I really want your thoughts on this. With regards to drinks - wine is not an area of my expertise, and I'm not too proud to admit it, so I'm happy - and lucky - to be working with master of wine (and occasional diving buddy), James Handford who is writing a fantastic bespoke wine list, short and with a few key vineyards and wine starting at under £13 a bottle.
And of course, I need to put some of my MasterChef dishes on the menu, but which ones? We thought the 'smoked scallops', the 'crab thermidor' and the 'lavender mousse' should feature, as they're the dishes everyone talks to me about. People seem very interested in the trio of rabbit dish too, but they usually add "but I never eat rabbit", so I'm pondering this interesting fact. The trio can be a very wasteful dish if you don't use the leftover meat. I've been using it to make a smoked rabbit pate recently and I wonder if I should incorporate that into the dish, or stick with the MasterChef-winning rabbit starter. So my final question is simple. How many of you would eat my trio of rabbit?
Mat likes ...