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Garry Hollihead is backing British ingredients all the way from his new position as executive chef at The Northall (pictured, right). Square Meal went with him to meet some of the restaurant’s key producers.
‘Hotel restaurants are definitely a trend at the moment. But you find that chefs choose either restaurants or hotels and stick with them for most of their career,’ Garry Hollihead tells me on the long journey from London to Monmouthshire, south Wales, where we will meet one of his suppliers.
However, the three-times Michelin-starred chef’s illustrious tour of duty has included both restaurants and hotels: restaurants such as Sutherlands in Soho (for which he won his first Michelin star in 1988), high-profile Marco Pierre White joints L’Escargot and MPW Canary Wharf, and the upscale eateries attached to the Embassy private members’ clubs, which saw him cooking abroad in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Hotel-wise, there have been stints at Grosvenor House Hotel in London (where Hollihead trained under Anton Edelmann) and Dubai, and The Savoy.
Wherever Hollihead finds himself, building relationships with his producers is one of his first tasks. Now heading up The Northall, the second restaurant to open in Westminster’s Corinthia Hotel, he’s been keen to meet producers, despite putting in long hours to perfect the restaurant in time for its opening.
‘I try to get out of the kitchen and meet all of my producers as much as I can,’ Hollihead says. ‘I meet them all at least once. It’s good for me to see how they operate, as well as taste any new products.’
Of course, The Corinthia’s other restaurant, Massimo, made a lot of noise when it landed in London earlier this year. Has Hollihead felt any pressure to compete, or to focus on British produce to differentiate The Northall from its Italian neighbour?
‘No, no, I don’t go in for that,’ he assures me. ‘The two restaurants are completely separate; there’s no competition.
‘What we’re trying to do at The Northall is use the best ingredients available, and sometimes that means getting produce from abroad, such as Italian olive oil. Having said that, we use British rapeseed oil in some of our dishes... I’d say 90% of our produce is British.’
Hollihead’s love of nature and fishing informs his choice of suppliers: for fish and seafood alone, the restaurant uses seven suppliers.
‘Dylan Beam dayboats in Cornwall supply a lot of the fish for our main courses; we get our smoked salmon from Severn & Wye, then we use specialist suppliers for certain ingredients, like The Maldon Oyster Company for oysters. And we have someone at Billingsgate who we can contact if we need something the day boats haven’t caught.’
But today is all about charcuterie and cheese. Breakfast at The Northall sees a buffet of British-made charcuterie, all sourced from Trealy Farm, a farm and micro-factory based in Monmouthshire that uses free-range, traditional pig breeds (such as Gloucester Old Spot, Saddlebacks and Tamworths) sourced from a co-operative of local smallholders.
Before setting up Trealy Farm, entrepreneur James Swift and his business partner travelled extensively in Europe, teaching themselves the science behind charcuterie production and ‘magpie-ing’ techniques in order to come up with their own recipes and way of doing things. They have adopted the practice of ‘seam butchery’, which involves curing individual muscles rather than a whole part of the animal, such as the leg.
‘There’s no point making 30 different products if they all taste the same,’ explains Swift. ‘Each muscle has its own set of characteristics, so we cure and flavour it differently.’ The result is a range of melt-in-the-mouth charcuterie, from beech-smoked ham to a British take on chorizo (pictured, right) and sobrassada (a spreadable chorizo). Other products, such as Trealy Farm’s Monmouthshire ham, have made it onto The Northall’s summer menu (in a dish of air-dried ham with egg mayonnaise and celeriac salt).
At dinner, the restaurant wheels out an impressive cheese board that also showcases the best of British. Pride of place goes to Charles Martell’s Stinking Bishop (pictured, left), made on his tastefully ramshackle farm in Gloucestershire – our next destination.
Martell – a charismatic eccentric still full of vigour and passion for his products – is perhaps most famous for reviving the fortunes of Double Gloucester almost single-handedly when he started producing cheese using milk from his herd of Gloucestershire cows in 1972.
‘When I left school, my friends all planned to go and make their money in the City, then set up a farm back home in Gloucestershire,’ says Martell. ‘I realised I didn’t want to do the City part – I love Gloucestershire and I suppose I’m a bit of a hippy.
‘The cows were nearly extinct when I started making cheese. The BBC’s Food Programme heard about my story and came to do a piece on me. They called me ‘the last cheesemaker in Britain’. I thought, ‘No I’m not!’ and that spurred me on to start the revival. Thankfully, I managed to make a go of it.’
He certainly did: the artisan outfit now makes one tonne of cheese per week, in seven varieties, and Martell is now branching out to distil his own pear spirit.
After a full day of meeting his suppliers, it’s back to the kitchen – and dinner service – for Hollihead. ‘It’s hard work being a chef,’ he admits, ‘so you have to love it. But I like these people’s set-up, out in the country and making things they’re passionate about. That’s where I could see myself in a few years.’
by Nicky Evans, News and Online Editor